By: Amy Brook-Partridge; photography by Ken Tan
Sue Levens left the US to go backpacking 32 years ago and has never looked back. She tells us about her journey and how coming to Singapore has brought her one step closer to “home”.
You won’t find many people who don’t like Nassim Road. It’s the artery that leads from the green and pleasant Botanic Gardens to the hustle and bustle of Orchard Road, with residential condominiums lined up against expansive embassies and high commissions. Sue Levens’ three-bedroom ground-floor apartment is a classic example of the peace and convenience you can expect from the area.
The Levens’ condo opened in early 2013, perfect timing as they were relocating from Kuala Lumpur in April that year. With both children grown up and living in Australia (daughter Jessie, 28, a vet in Canberra, and son Samuel, 24, finishing an international business and finance degree in Sydney), Sue and her husband Peter were looking for a convenient home that could accommodate family visits.
“I wanted to be able to walk to a grocery store, as we had made a conscious decision not to have a car. We’d come from living in central Kuala Lumpur, a growing metropolis, and I was tired of the construction noise. I wanted somewhere green and quiet.” Being within walking distance of the Botanic Gardens was also a requirement, so their current home was ideal.
It quickly becomes apparent that someone in the household is a keen photographer. Pictures of family, landscapes, animals, and flora and fauna adorn many of the walls.
“My main hobby is photography,” confirms Sue, “and most of the photographs in the house are ones I’ve taken. I’ve also decorated my husband’s office suites with a big installation of squares, each a landscape, all from the outback in Western Australia.” Sue also plays the piano, loves arts and culture, and has recently taken on a new job as a graphics artist for the Bamboo Telegraph, the membership magazine of the American Women’s Association.
She clearly has many skills and interests; she even points out plans to mosaic one of her living-room side tables, something that she’s never done before but is keen to try. Her 32 years on the road have enabled her to experience and explore many new places and things.
Sue headed off backpacking in 1982, which included a six-month stint in Singapore. She met her husband Peter, a New Zealander, in Kuala Terengganu in Malaysia, before she headed back briefly to the US and he to Australia. They were reunited in New Zealand, got married in Darwin, and both children were born in Australia. Just after son Samuel was born they moved to Trinidad, where they lived for four years in a beach bungalow. “There was very little there: a market, some Chinese shops, a ‘pluck and gut’ chicken shop – it was a little challenging with Samuel so small, but we worked it out.”
There followed moves to Houston in the US, then to Caracas for eight years where they experienced a political coup and a national strike, three years in Buenos Aires, then Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and now Singapore.
The family arrived here with very little furniture, just the lounge set, rugs and dining table. Sue’s realtor introduced them to Origin Asia and some other retailers, but Sue felt the style of Origin Asia’s pieces would fit well with their own aesthetics.
“Rebecca Mo was really easy to work with; she was able to build pieces to fit, and her furniture has a contemporary style with a warm feeling. With all of this greenery around I didn’t want it overly contemporary, but the lines needed to be clean and not too ornate.”
Sue was able to sit down with Rebecca and design all of the furniture to fit in the apartment. “She’s amazing when it comes to that – so creative,” says Sue.
In our conversation, Sue mentions that she and Peter were extremely happy to move to Kuala Lumpur. Given their previous placements, I’m curious as to why. “Because it brought us into Asia, which is a step closer to New Zealand, where we have always wanted to retire to.” This subsequent move to Singapore has brought them closer still, not only to New Zealand but to their children; seemingly, it’s one of their happiest moves yet.
Sue’s memories of Singapore
“When I stayed in Singapore for six months in the early 1980s, I lived on a boat on Sembawang Harbour, part of a Malay kampong. I would row the boat to shore, walk up the long dirt road, have chicken rice from my friend Johari’s mother’s stall, then get on the bus and go down to Rank Xerox on East Coast Parkway, where I worked.
“It’s very, very different now; in those days Singapore had just started becoming what it is today. I don’t know how long Lee Kuan Yew had been Prime Minister, but by then he had really laid the foundations. Little India has still retained some of its flavour, though; the first Thaipusam I saw blew me away – the passion, the belief, the way the Hindus express their faith.”
“We love to ride our bikes along the River Walk early Sunday mornings, and stop for a leisurely breakfast at one of the cafés along the waterfront. We like Café Em; it’s shady and has eclectic patio furniture and a nice view of the river.” – Em by the River, 1 Nanson Road, Gallery Hotel, 6836 9691
“Scour the local eateries for the tastiest laksa. For the absolute real deal try Sungei Road laksa; it’s only $2.” – Jalan Shui Kopitiam, 27 Jalan Berseh
“Spend the afternoon in Little India and wind up on Haji Lane for a cold drink.”
“Shop for organic produce at Organic Himalaya Nepal at the monthly Loewen Garden’s Farmer’s Market, followed by the best-ever eggs Benedict at The Pantry. Their hollandaise sauce is lemony and smooth and to die for.” – The Pantry, 75E Loewen Road, 6474 0441
“Poke around the antique shops out by the old Turf Club under the bridge.” – Junkies Corner, 2 Turf Club Road, 9791 2607
“Every Monday I explore a new nature reserve or park with the American Women’s Association’s walking group.”
“Sit at an outside café on Orchard Road watching the world go by, and the Ferraris race by. Our local is La Forketta, at the end of the road.” – La Forketta, 1 Nassim Road, #01-01, 6836 3373
“Photograph the orchids early in the morning in the Botanic Gardens Orchid Garden.”
Origin Asia for home furniture and furnishings – 372 River Valley Road, 6733 7384
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