Moving to Melbourne: The Good, The Bad, and the In-Between

Everything about moving to Australia that, to me, was and is riveting and satisfying, but also anxiety-inducing.

It’s no secret that I’m as sentimental as they come. A quick scroll through my Instagram story highlights will reveal an excessive amount of #throwback photos.

friends in elevator

So naturally, as I’m on the verge of completing my last semester in uni, I just had to meticulously reminisce my time in Melbourne.

Arriving

My Situation

Those of you who know me will know that when I first arrived, I was still in a five-year relationship. Lengthy as it may be, a good run, it was not. Not for me, at least. Prior to meeting him, I’d already spent my entire life holed up at home. With him, somehow everything and yet nothing at all, changed.

Physically, I’d never had more freedom in my life. I was perpetually out of the house for work, hangouts and dates—I’d hardly spend a day at home.

But at the same time, I was stuck in a mental prison of Why am I not good enough’s and I need to be skinnier because he wants me to be’s. Emotionally, I was trapped in an endless cycle of feeling unwanted, subpar, and insane.

marie stella melbourne

So post-move, it was only about two to three months before we ended things for the better.

That said, I’d already imagined my entire experience here revolving around the fact that I was attached. Cafe dates, walks by the beach and high tea sessions—all with the one that I loved the most.

And though losing my grip on that mental picture laid on the sweeter side of bittersweet, the situation was still hard to fathom.

Living alone

People always ask if it gets lonely, and it sure as hell might seem that way. But following my personal series of unfortunate events, I was just content that I finally had room to breathe and be my own person. It felt more peaceful than dull; more liberating than uneventful.

Naturally, moving out of your teenage home comes with a set of anxiety-led questions: How much will I miss home? Can I handle everything on my own? Will I even be able to make friends? What if I end up alone?

marie stella friends melbourne

I truly lucked out because I did not need to worry for long—I was quickly acquainted with a group of decently friendly fellow Singaporeans.

We made it a point to check in with each other and organise specific days to come together and de-stress. Our Thursday potluck dinners, Friday night drinks and Sunday market excursions are what really got me through the roughest of patches.

Culture Shock

Thankfully, the biggest cultural difference that came as a shock to me was the disparity in supermarket self check-out systems.

Oh, and the prevalence of pot—but that was really more expected than shocking.

In Melbourne, you have to bag each item before scanning the next. It sounds ridiculous now that I’m typing it out, but as a kan cheong (impatient) Singaporean, that itself is an incredibly frustrating challenge to overcome.

woman in grocery store
Image by: Anna Shvets via Pexels

In Singapore, most shoppers simply go for the regular human-operated checkouts since they also assist with bagging your items.

And because the self-checkout bagging areas are not weighed, typical procedure is that one person scans while the other the bags—making for a highly efficient system. Of course, this also means that random spot-checks are much more frequent.

I can't count the number of times that extra step completely slipped our minds and we end up muttering all sorts of Hokkien curse words under our breath.

It took some time to adjust, but it certainly makes a lot more sense to me now because it saves everyone a significant amount of queuing time.

Homesick days

I’m aware that for the better part of this article I’ve yakked on about just how satisfying it has been to have gotten away from my home country. And I mean every word of it. Howbeit, homesick days are inevitable.

So before leaving Singapore, I made a list of food that I had highly anticipated longing for: chicken rice, prata, nasi lemak, teh o peng, Crystal Jade, 香港街珍记 (Hong Kong Street Treasures), and so on.

It must’ve been a good six months before I truly started craving Asian/Singaporean food again.

Previously, risotto, pasta, and pan-fried fish were all I’d cook at home (evident if, for some reason, you follow my cooking adventures on Instagram). Now, you’ll find me cooking a comforting plate of chicken rice every single week without fail.

COVID-19 & not moving back to Singapore

I was rather iffy about including the effects of COVID-19 as part of this post—it’s all anyone talks about these days, and frankly I’d just like to hear the end of it. But as much as living in denial seems like a good idea, it’d be a pretty flaccid attempt that everyone would just see right through.

At the start of the year, the fires of the pandemic reached the shores of countries all over the world, leaving virtually no one unscathed. Whether or not you’ve fallen victim to the virus, one thing holds true—you’ve been affected in some kind of way.

christmas family dinner

For me, the conditions of lockdown do not just limit me from seeing my friends, but my family as well.

Plans that were made to catch up in Queensland had to be cancelled. Potential to return home for the festive season is no longer within the realm of possibility. And most concerning of all, my prospect of getting a job is wearing thin.

There's something deeply disheartening about knowing you lack the option of quickly and conveniently moving back to your family home in the event that your ambitions don't pan out.

Perhaps it’s the daunting, yet very real, possibility that you might end up broke and on the streets, in the cardboard box of last month’s Kmart purchase. Perhaps it’s the humiliating picture of everyone—friends, family, acquaintances—witnessing your biggest failure yet.

“Oh? She’s moving back to Singapore? I thought she wanted to stay in Melbourne!”

“Yeah, but she didn’t manage to get a job lor. What to do?”

Do I regret moving?

Short answer: Not in the slightest.

Sure, a lot more is at stake now than ever before. But I suppose it’s a high risk high reward situation—one that I’m aware I even have the privilege of possessing.

And of course, when I skim through Instagram stories and see all my friends get together for our McDonalds supper ritual, my heart cries and yearns, wishing I was there.

melbourne sunset richmond

But at the end of the day, moving to Melbourne gave me the independence I needed to induce self-reflection and introspection. It gave me the space to discover who I am outside the borders of Singapore’s social and cultural norms. It taught me lessons I never would have learnt, even had I moved home amidst the pandemic.

And now, on to graduation.

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