In the Spotlight: The Polished Singaporean

WHAT?! We are already into the Lunar New Year! Can’t believe 2015 is moving into its second month now. At The Hooting Post, things are getting more exciting as we constantly evolve (change is the only constant!) to improve our content offerings so we can share and learn along the way.

This year, we will welcome a new addition to our little family! Erm, THP’s family, that is. Yep, we will have a spunky lady to join us as a guest writer role and we’re really honoured and excited much!! She’s a Singaporean, but has since relocated to the UK, so expect to read refreshing insights of the classy city. And if you’ve been following us on Instagram and Facebook, that is where our humble family is holidaying at right now – baby V gets to meet her Godma after their first meeting at 3 days old :)

So, for this month’s interview, the spotlight will be on her! Meet Andrea Kang Gruszka, also known as The Polished Singaporean on our blogazine ;) She takes time to share how her otherwise “normal” life in sunny Singapore got thrown into an unexpected trampoline, bounced her into the arms of an ang moh who swept her off her feet at one of the most unlikely meetings. Guess fate and luck are not within control, mostly! Without further ado, read on!

Hello Andrea! Our readers are excited to know about your story. Do tell us about yourself please!

I’m 100% Peranakan, born and bred in Singapore, proud Convent gal all the way, and then majored in Corporate Relations and Events Management in Poly, following which, Journalism and Mass Communication in Uni. So the last 8 years of my professional working life has revolved around the Editorial, PR & Marketing and Community Relations industries.

In my unprofessional life, I surround myself with the wonders of photography, classic novels, musicals, acrylic painting, dance and all things Disney! If I had all the money in the world, aside from investing in land and a traditional children’s bookstore, I would probably be the biggest collector of books, dvds and all things Disney that you have ever known!

My husband and I recently moved to the UK and we have been living here for over a year now. We are expecting a little baby gal this June and as the Brits say, we are chuffed to bits about it! =p

So, how did you snag yourself an ang moh? Heh! Did your mother faint?

Oh yeah, did I mention that our little gal will be half Polish? =p Well, my mom loves to say that it is pure fate for my hubby and I to end up together, having met half way round the world and enduring many challenging years of long-distance relationship. As a young adult, my mom used to say, “You so chor lor and stubborn, I doubt you will be able to marry a Chinese Singaporean man, I think only angmo can tahan you!” =p

So our love story began in North London where we were both volunteering for a Catholic meditation charity. We were given board and lodging in their Meditation Retreat House where we lived in community with many other volunteers. At its busiest, our retreat house could have at least seven volunteers and almost 10 retreatants, from all over the world. Aside from cooking, cleaning and caring for our guests daily, the volunteers would busy ourselves with organizing retreats all over the UK and Ireland, as well as manage our website and publishing arm.

I suppose it was amidst all these chaos that L and I caught each other’s eye. We connected almost instantly from the minute he opened that little blue front door and welcomed me into the house. His warm yet cheeky smile and humorous take on life was perhaps what first drew me to him. Not to mention he’s darn good a cook too!

The bright blue door where our eyes first met!

The bright blue door where our eyes first met!

But our 暧昧 was short-lived as he was due to return to Poland in Dec that year and I was due to return to Singapore five months after. It was only after I was back in Singapore that we decided over countless hours of Skype and emails that we were gonna try this out! For some reason, we weren’t too disturbed about the vast distance that separated us, we were more occupied with counting down to the days till we could see each other again.
How different are Singaporean Chinese and Polish cultures? Any memorable shocks?

Oh actually, you would be surprised how similar we are especially in food and traditions. Well geographically, Poland and China is only separated by Russia so we are practically neighbours! But seriously, we’ve got 饺子, they’ve got Pierogi and the dumplings all look the same! Even the stuffing is pretty similar – pork, veg, mushrooms…

Pierogi - Polish Dumplings (Photo Credit: Roadtrips R Us)

Pierogi – Polish Dumplings (Photo Credit: Roadtrips R Us)

We’ve got Chicken Macaroni Soup, so do they! Granted that their definition of macaroni is not the short-bent-tubular-shaped pasta that we’re so used to but their broken-angel-hair-like-short pasta goes really well with chicken soup too!

Rosol z Kury - Polish Chicken Macaroni Soup (Photo Credit: Kuchnia Prezydentowej)

Rosol z Kury – Polish Chicken Macaroni Soup (Photo Credit: Kuchnia Prezydentowej)

As far as traditions go, Polish families value filial piety just as much as the Chinese do. The kids live with their parents until they are married and sometimes, there will be two or three generations living under one roof, especially with parents living with their eldest son and his family. So when it came to birthdays and festivals, a typical Polish house was not different from a typical Chinese house during CNY – everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, would gather at the house of the eldest family member, each bearing tons of gifts and food and sometimes even money packets, just not in an angbao.

And as we were preparing for our wedding, I realised that the Poles are just as superstitious as we Chinese are. For example, as our wedding dowry, L’s grandmother would not allow us to receive a crucifix pendent as part of our jewellery set because it means we will be bearing a cross for the rest of our marriage. And when we entered my parents’ home for the first time as a married couple, my parents were to present us with three auspicious items: a bottle of vodka, a loaf of bread and a bag of salt. These were to signify wealth and comfort so that we will never go hungry or thirsty (physically or metaphorically) for the rest of our marriage. Cool huh?

It’s not easy maintaining a relationship, much less a long distance one. How did you guys cope with the separation and the issues that came along?

So over the course of three years, we celebrated our relationship across three countries – Poland, Singapore and the UK. Each year, we would take turns traveling back and forth, depending on where L was working at that point in time and whether he was back home visiting family instead. Although each visit was short-lived (coz we could only take 2 – 3 weeks off work at a time), we felt our love and relationship strengthening as the months and years went on.

Wawel Cathedral - The resting place of Polish royalty and other distinguished Poles.

Wawel Cathedral – The resting place of Polish royalty and other distinguished Poles.

In 2011, L decided that he would relocate and give Singapore a go! However, after nine months of struggling with unemployment, we decided it would be best if he went back to London and I joined him there instead. But as all love dramas go, luck wasn’t on our side – I wasn’t able to get the visa that I needed to remain in the UK. So we were back to square one.

Despite the huge disappointment, we were still committed to each other. So on 29 Dec 2012, we finally took the leap of faith and tied the knot with a simple yet traditional Peranakan cum Polish wedding!

Everyone thought that with a marriage cert in hand, it would now be a breeze to settle down in one country or the other right? Well, everyone thought wrong! It took ICA a whole year to the reject his PR application and no appeal with our local MP would help our case. So between his previous employer in London hounding him to come back and my very sad salary, we decided to move to London for good.

Busy swans crossing the road along the River Thames.

What were the major challenges living abroad, just the two of you? How has it changed you as a person?

Parakeets spotted at Andrea’s backyard! Talk about being surrounded by nature.. heh.. wait till the squirrels and foxes come visit!

Well L has been living in the UK for the past 10 years now so this is literally second home for him, but for me, coming from the hustle and bustle of Singapore City, I was rather impatient with the locals for the first couple of months. It didn’t help too that we were living in Surrey, on the outskirts of Central London where the pace of life was even slower than the usual British pace. It took the broadband company one whole month to set up our landline and internet. It took L’s company two months to provide us with all the supporting documents we needed for my EEA Family Permit. It then took the Home Office another two months to approve my visa and then another one month for the HM Revenue & Customs to set up my National Insurance Number. By the time I was legally employable, we had been living in the UK for almost seven months!

Look, it’s Autumn! Tri-coloured tree spotted in Sunbury Park!

But the up side of it all is my lesson on patience. I’ve learnt to take things as they come and not bulldoze through every experience. I’ve learnt to stop and smell the roses and not constantly feel like I need to be juggling four tasks at a time. I’ve learnt to appreciate polite small talk with total strangers and not hurry them to give me what I want. I feel like I’ve emerged a more pleasant person than I was in Singapore where everything is get-go from the minute you wake. I think I’ve also learnt how to “not sweat the small stuff” which has really made me a much easier person to live with.

According to a 2014 report by Savills, London is the most expensive city to live and work in! Now that London is presumably your 2nd home, how do you tackle the expenses?

As much as the slower pace of life still tests my patience daily, I am actually rather thankful that we’re living in Surrey as the cost of living is significantly lower than living in Central London. Technically, Surrey is located on the South-West border of Greater London, about a 40-minute train ride away from London’s iconic Big Ben, and this allows for all the perks of being close enough to the hustle and bustle of London’s West End but yet distant enough to not suffer the same prices in housing, food, clothes and the daily necessities.

This may sound ridiculous but the same piece of salmon filet in Waitrose Piccadilly Circus would cost at least 10% more than it would at our local Waitrose and the prices will continue to dip as you move further north or west of Central London. The same rent for a bedroom with shared bathroom in Central London will get you your own private 2-bedroom apartment with living room and en-suite bathroom up in Liverpool.

Unfortunately, prices are not that low here in Surrey but I suppose they’re allowed the slightly upscale standard of living because some economists deem our neighbourhood as Britain’s Beverly Hills. Our little studio apartment is apparently in close proximity to where some of the wealthiest celebrities live – Jenson Button, Elton John and Andy Murray, just to name a few. So while we are able to save a pound or two at our local supermarket, housing prices are soaring in this leafy borough and it’s very unlikely that we will be proud home-owners for a long time coming.

This English home sits beautifully along the streets of the quiet town. Can you guess that this is a Dental Clinic?!

However, if you’re intending to move here for a job placement or studies, stay tuned as I reveal some top tips on living on a shoe-string budget in a posh neighbourhood!

Oh, and your little one will be arriving soon – congratulations! How has preparations been for the new parents?

Oh we are soooo clueless on becoming first-time parents but the healthcare and maternity support here has been such a great help! We have been soaking up everything we need to know from the numerous mother and baby clubs, magazines and welcome packs available. And to top it all off, these services and products are provided completely free of charge for all expectant mothers!

There is so much help and support out there that you can’t help but make comparisons to the healthcare and support mothers received back home in Singapore. And compare I definitely will so keep your eyes peeled for your monthly fix on all things maternity – freebies, healthcare, classes, funding, etc etc….
So… I guess, our readers will be reading more about you in time to come!

I can’t wait to get cracking!

 ***

Wow, that was almost a whirlwind ride through the years that we’ve just experienced! Certainly happy to hear that your family is keeping well, Andrea! I’m sure our readers are curious to find out how exactly to get with it in the UK without the need to spend tons! New parents who are residing in the UK or are planning to move there, stick around to find out all those cost-saving tips as well! And for the rest of us in Singapore, many folks often lament about the high costs in Sing, having to pay quite abit even for our public goods and the high charges for several aspects – let’s see how the UK compares too!

The Polish Singaporean series will kickstart in March 2015 – don’t miss it! Follow Andrea on Instagram too!

Enjoyed reading our exclusive interviews with different personalities? Know of someone who has an inspiring story to share or have gone through toughest of times to emerge stronger? Let us know by dropping us a note at thehootingpost@gmail.com! Connect with us at thehootingpost(at)gmail.com | Instagram | Facebook too!