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Expat Interview: Singapore to Chicago and back

Expat Interview: Yiqi

Meet Yiqi: Yiqi is a former Chinese journalist in Singapore who quit her job to follow her husband to Chicago in 2015. She writes about her experience as a Singaporean Chinese living in Chicago and her observations about the American culture from an Asian perspective at Singaporean in Chicago.

Read what she has to say about her time in Chicago, and take a look at the city through her eyes with a selection of photographs from her blog.

1. When did you move to Chicago from Singapore and why?

I moved to Chicago from Singapore in August 2015. I quit my job and accompanied my husband to Chicago as he got enrolled into a Master's programme in Chicago.

2. What are some of the differences you adjusted to in the US?

Singapore is a tropical country that is hot and humid all through the year. However Chicago has distinct seasons and a pretty harsh winter, so I really need to arm myself with lots of thermal wear and appropriate skin care products. Even so, I still woke up with sore throat when I first reached Chicago because the air is just so much dryer than Singapore.

Chicago in Winter

Another thing that caught me slightly off guard was the number of beggars lining the streets. In Singapore, I seldom see beggars and even if there is one or two beggar occasionally, they are very passive.

As for its people, I personally feel that Americans generally give off a more sleek and confident vibe, much more so than Asians, which made me feel a bit intimidated initially. I need to tell myself not to be intimidated and that I am just as good as anyone.

3. What are some things that the US does better than Singapore?

I guess the US is stronger in the arts sector and the arts scene is more vibrant. For example there is quite a lot of public art in Chicago, and there are often street performers on the streets. Such performances lend a more lively vibe to the city.

I am also very impressed by Americans' eloquence and confidence which I think I should learn from.

4. What are some items you missed while in the States and how did you cope?

Singapore is often termed as a food paradise and we have many delicious and affordable food. When I was in the States, I really miss eating fishball noodles, laksa, lor mee, chicken rice, fried kway teow etc. All these food items just cost about 3 USD and could make for a filling meal.

University of Chicago

Over in the States, there are near zero Singaporean food, at least in Chicago, so I really miss such food. This is especially so because I am someone who likes Chinese food and I don't quite like cheese, which is often found in American food. My parents and in laws mailed a lot of Milo packet drinks, dried scallops, dried mushrooms and lots of bak kut teh (Singapore's pork ribs soup) spices for me to cook in Chicago.

However after some time, I realised that supermarkets in Chinatown actually stock many Chinese food items that I like so I don't have to ask my parents to specially mail over from Singapore.

5. How did you make Chicago feel like home when you first moved there?

I did bring a couple of family shots along with me to Chicago so that I could frame them up and put them in my apartment. I also joined a few expat and Singaporean gatherings in a bid to reach out and know more people.

6. Where are three or your favourite spots in Chicago?

My 3 favourite spots will be The Art Institute of Chicago, Lillstreet Art Center and Joong Boo Supermarket. As I am a member of the Art Institute, I sometimes go to the museum to look at art pieces when I have spare time. When I am done, I will head to the member's lounge for a free drink and just chill.

Art Institute in Chicago

I am also a student at Lillstreet Art Center, so I go to the art center about twice a week for art classes like watercolour, portrait drawing etc. I really like the slightly messy and artsy vibe that Lillstreet Art Center gives.

Another place I like is Joong Boo Supermarket, which is a Korean supermarket that stocks all sorts of Asian food products. I find it cleaner than the ones in Chinatown, and it also has a small cafeteria in the supermarket that serves nice Korean food at cheap prices. It also sells sashimi at really affordable prices. I usually go there when I have sashimi craving. I will have my cheap lunch there, before shopping for groceries to cook for dinner.

7. America is a much larger country, how did you find travelling around to different cities?

In Singapore, I will complain to no end when I spend more than one hour travelling from one place to another. But over here, even just in Chicago, it is very big. I really wanted to go to some famous spots like Chicago Botanic Gardens and Morton Arboretum but every time I check the map and the way to get there, it is just so far

I think I need at least 2 hours to get there and I need to change trains and buses too. So that would be about at least 4 hours to and fro, which is why I have yet to visit a few places that I actually really wanted to go.

The Bean

After I reached Chicago, I have travelled to Orlando and San Diego. Because the U.S is so so far away from Singapore, (I spent about 24 hours to reach Chicago after including flight and transit), I feel that I must visit more cities in the U.S because a few hours of flight time is definitely more tolerable than a 24-hour flight.It is great that there are so many options for domestic travel in the U.S.

8. What is the most expensive part of living in the US?

To me, eating out is expensive in the US. Firstly, the dishes cost more expensive, and if you add in the tip you will be even more expensive. Singapore is considered a city with a very high cost of living, however we have options for cheap food in the form of food courts, hawker centres and coffeeshops where a dish starts at 2 USD.

However in Chicago, I think the cheapest food for one meal starts at about 7 USD and I am referring to fast food or fast-casual food. Another thing is that Singapore has no tipping policy whereas it is the norm to tip at least 15% in Chicago, so it is quite pricey to me.

9. What is one thing you wish you’d known before moving to the US?

South Gardens, Chicago

I wish I had known more about the study and work options in the States before moving over. As I didn't do much research or plan about what I should do prior to moving to Chicago, I actually feel a bit lost about how I should occupy myself when I reached, and probably wasted some valuable time in my search for study and work options.

10. Now that you’re back in Singapore, what are three things you had get readjusted to?

Other than the hot and humid weather which I've always hated in Singapore and which I have to get readjusted to again, there is absolutely nothing else that I need to re-adapt to.

I can still remember what buses and trains to take to different places, the exact book shelf that stocks my favourite author's books in the library etc, in fact it feels like I have never left, which is pretty amazing.