8 out of 12 months of year 2022 has been spent not living from a place of permanent abode. Needless to say, it feels extremely foreign that we now have a place to call home and come back to every night. For the first time since April, we've unpacked our luggage and they sit empty while the wardrobes are filled. I think more than the comfort of living a more settled state of life, we rejoice that we are back where our hearts yearned for so much. For 10 years since the last time we were here, we longed for the day we would come back. If you were to tell me in January that we would be back in December, I would have probably felt that you were making some kind of sick joke.
Dreams aside, there is a stark difference between living and travelling in a country. As we complete setting up home here in the UK, we took stock of our lives and uncovered some shocking truths about living here.
SHOCKING TRUTH #1
Direct income taxes for regular folks is between 20-30%. Higher earners pay 45%. Income taxes are way higher than what we are used to in Singapore.
SHOCKING TRUTH #2
Due to Putin's war, Europe now faces an extremely difficult energy/cost of living crisis. It can cost up to £500 (SGD800) for the monthly gas bill alone. Most people heat homes with gas boilers and there are people who can't afford to even turn on the gas anymore. We've had to turn our heating down from 21-22 celcius to 17-18 celcius because we realised the bill was going to be quite astronomical. This cut the bill by more than 50% but it also means we have to put on an additional layer! There's enough hardship in this world, we really don't need anyone to add to that...
SHOCKING TRUTH #3
Strikes are legal and they do happen. For Singaporeans of my generation, the word strike is what moms threaten us with when we mess up the house and take her work for granted. Other than that, it is almost a dirty word to utter in public.
Strikes can mean no train services, no bus services and even reduced staffing in hospitals etc. But this is how society here achieves equilibrium on the scale of work and pay.
SHOCKING TRUTH #4
Despite the cost of living crisis here, your grocery bill in Singapore is DOUBLE of what we pay here. So it must be a cost of living catastrophe in Singapore.
Milk costs SGD$2.23 for two litres. (In SG: $5.95 to $6.50)
Broccoli costs SGD$0.30 for 375g. (In SG: $3 for 250g Aussie broccoli)
Fresh loaf of Gluten free bread SGD$3.15 (In SG: $12-15)
Fresh Chicken thighs 2kgs SGD6.30 (In SG: $14 and above)
Rice is so far the only thing we found expensive to buy here. ($17-20 for 5kg). Almost every vegetable, fruit, cereal, meat, dairy and sauce is cheaper. We were absolutely shocked because we thought we had a chain of supermarkets that is a social enterprise. It is supposed to be FAIRprice?
SHOCKING TRUTH #5
Eating out costs a bomb here in UK. An average fast food meal costs £30 (SGD50). We really can't just grab our phones and order a take out. Eating out/taking out is for special occasions or just once or twice a month affair. We cook or bring sandwiches whenever we can!
SHOCKING TRUTH #6
Your average 4 room HDB flat can buy you 3 flats or 1.5 Semi Detached houses here in Britain. You can buy a 3 bedroom suburban maisonette flat for less than SGD150,000 in midland cities (1.5 hours from London by rail). Most of these are also freehold.
SHOCKING TRUTH #7
Public transport costs SGD2.50 for a single trip here in Leicester. The maximum charge in London for an entire day of rides is about SGD14.30. People walk when your destination is a stop or two. Renting a public bicycle also makes sense.
SHOCKING TRUTH #8
You can buy an old but reliable runabout car for under SGD5000 (including one year of road tax, insurance and general maintenance). It is yours to drive FOREVER.
SHOCKING TRUTH #9
Healthcare is FREE. (Permanent residents and Citizens) Foreigners who reside in the UK on a visa usually pay a one-time health surcharge when getting your visa and are also then treated for free.
Yes you are treated for free for all hospitalisations, A&E visit, specialist visits, whether you require cancer treatment or brain surgery. Small charges like prescriptions do cost for outpatients. But it is a fixed cost of £108.10 for an entire year.
SHOCKING TRUTH #10
It rains 159 out of 365 days here in the UK. It rains 167 out of 365 days in Singapore. So I don't understand why UK gets the reputation for being miserably dark and wet.
And the point of pointing out these shocking truths is to challenge our preconceived notions about other countries. All throughout our travels we've realised that people can have very little and still feel contented. People can have a lot and yet feel like they have nothing. There are people in Britain who cannot afford to heat their homes, there are people in Singapore who cannot afford to buy nutritious food for their children and many others worldwide who are unnecessarily burdened by the rising costs of fuel.
We can be thankful for what we have and never stop trying to make life better for ourselves and those around us. An act of kindness can go a long long way.
HOW IS LIFE THEN?
Shocking truths aside, we've been trying to squeeze an outing here and there between the winter showers. We try out best not to complain about the weather even though it is very British do so. It really beats perspiring and getting eczema flare ups!
The weather is wet, windy and cold but our hearts are so full and warm. You hear me saying that very often but it is real.
The wide and open spaces are what we came here for! Deep in my heart, the green and pleasant land is one of the greatest pull factors about Britain. Having grown up in a city that flattens its forests and historical places rapidly, these things have become very very precious to me.
In all our travels, we've learnt of the healing powers of nature. It is a blessing to go into the woods, breathe fresh air, not perspire and walk free. It is an immensely freeing experience to only hear the sounds of nature and see the animals roam.
We also took the opportunity to take the kids to the Great Central Railway in Loughborough. (Read as "Luffbra") It is one of those places I would ride my bicycle to and watch the steam trains go by in my undergraduate days. When I got married, I took my wife to the same steam railway not expecting her to enjoy any of the geeky outdated antiques. But she saw my perspective of how it is important to preserve old things. It connects us with our history, it roots us and it incredibly comforting to return to a place you know will remain the same.
I'm grateful beyond words that I was able to visit this place as a single man, a married couple and now as a father of two. Perhaps visiting this railway could be our new Christmas tradition for all future generations! You can see the train move on our Instagram page: www.instagram.com/hiroandjack
HOW ARE THE KIDS ADJUSTING?
These shocking truths don't really affect the kids as much as their parents who have to make the pounds and pence work out. They are getting used to the cold but learning is business as usual. They get their daily dose of regular English, Math, Tamil and Science along with age appropriate TV programmes on the BBC.
It is one thing reading about steam power and another to experiencing it happening before you. The kids are amazed at how that huge machine actually comes alive. That's how we try to make it fresh and exciting for them. The sense of wonder fuels lifelong learning. Not skills future credits. We need to rekindle our own sense of wonder so that we'll WANT to learn! It shouldn't be out of desperation to keep a job but should be out of a genuine desire to pursue knowledge.
HOW ARE THE GROWN UPS ADJUSTING?
We are getting back the hang of cooking our own yummy food, loving football and having to vacuum clean the house. So far I've also been quite successful at trying not stall our little manual hatchback because most cars here in UK are stick shift (manual gearbox).
We dared not expect 2022 to end the way it has. It feels good to be grounded again. As the year draws to a close, we have a little more reason to look forward to the new year with optimism and hope. We wish the same for you.
Thank you for being around in 2022! We hope you'll stick around and continue to journey with us in our odd lives next year.
We pray you'll have a very joyous year ahead with a lot of hugs, kisses and time spent with your loved ones.
Signing off for 2022.
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org