Seventy per cent – a Singapore love story

A homage to the day we immigrated to Singapore in 2012 for Rob’s work.  I returned to Melbourne six years later, almost to the day. Rob stayed on another three months, while I prepared our house for our new life back home in Castlemaine.

Our new life in Singapore begins at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday March 11, as I walk to the immigration counter at Changi Airport.

“I am immigrating to join my husband on a dependent spouse visa and this is my API,” I chant, having rehearsed this with Rob, who is now waiting anxiously on the other side with our luggage.

The uniformed young man scans the letter efficiently, holds my passport up and examines my face.

I smile weakly, then remember that I probably look nothing like the grim-faced woman of seven years ago in the passport photo, so quickly turn it into a frown. “Sorry, forgot that you shouldn’t smile,” I say.

“Is okay,” the young man says, smiling back.  “You have to take these papers to the immigration office along with your boarding pass and passport, and they will explain what to do.

“Would you like a sweet?” he adds, indicating a bowl of wrapped lollies, as he stamps my passport vigorously. “Welcome to Singapore.”

I walk through to the other side, like a newly-wed crossing a threshold, leaving Jane the journalist and busy mother behind for a new life as Jane…the well….who knew?

“Easy,” grins Rob, as he tucks my passport away with all the other immigration documents and together we wheel our luggage towards an orderly queue for a taxi, where a thin older woman wearing a brown uniform and white gloves waves taxis in and out.

With all my clothes, personal possessions and papers crammed into four cases, we need an oversized taxi and magically, there is one waiting, like Cinderella’s pumpkin coach.

The driver, a small man with a big smile, wearing a crisp white shirt and matching taqiyah, (a Muslim skull-cap) is undaunted and quickly assesses our luggage, arranging it deftly in the tall boot.

“The Loft, in Nassim Hill,” Rob says, and smiling and nodding the driver speeds off.

It is raining of course, and through the streaks and droplets on the passenger window, I marvel again at the orderly beauty of Singapore –  tropical splendor restrained.

It is impossible to feel sorry for myself, even though only a few hours earlier I, too, have been weeping at leaving my daughter behind in Melbourne.

“Singapore is so beautiful,” I say,

“Thank you, thank you,” the driver replies, nodding and smiling appreciatively.

“Are you a local?”

“Yes, yes,” he says, and like all people confined to a small space for any length of time, he tells us his story.

It is not my story to recount, but as it is a love story, and there are never enough of these, so I will try to tell it as he did, and hope he will forgive me for any liberties or inaccuracies.

About 30 years ago, M, as I will call him, received a phone call. It was a wrong number. But the voice belonging to the girl apologising on the end of the phone appealed to him, so he kept her talking.

“Why are you calling me?” he asked. “How did you get my number? Who are you?”

She replied and soon the apology turned into a conversation, which emboldened M to ask whether he could see the face that belonged to this intriguing voice.

L, as we shall call her, laughed, saying her parents were very strict, and that he would have to come to her house and meet them first.

M agreed, and wisely took his sister along to the meeting, offering her as a friend – knowing that this would make the meeting easier.

When he and his sister arrived, he discovered not one girl, but three. Which was the mystery caller? He looked at them all and managed to pick the right one. “I can tell by her voice,” he tells us proudly

He liked the face that matched the voice, and she liked his, so they decided to keep seeing each other forever and get married.

But just before the wedding, M fell sick with typhoid. (In those days, sanitation in Singapore was not very good, and you could be unlucky, M explains.)

L sat by his bed throughout. “She never leave,” M tells us.

Not even when by M’s mother advised her  to break her commitment and find another boy, as M was unlikely to survive.

But L remained steadfast.

The following week, however, when she and M’s mother came to the hospital to visit M, they were greeted by a nurse who told them that the patient had died. Sure enough, in the room, a white sheet was drawn over the body.

Immediately the two women collapsed with grief and shock. Wanting to say their final goodbyes, they lifted the sheet, whereupon they once again collapsed weeping – this time with joy.

The unfortunate man under the sheet was not M. He had been transferred to another hospital.

M recovered and a joyful wedding followed and now 30 years later, L and M are the parents of three grown children, two girls and a boy.

Throughout that time, like most couples, they have had many adventures. M has worked many jobs to support his family, including as a project manager on construction sites in the Middle East.

He tells us proudly that  he is supporting his eldest daughter, who is at university studying to become a teacher.

The second girl wants to study dentistry, he explains, but as much as her parents would have liked to offer her the same support, they can’t afford to yet, so she must get a job to help support herself throughout her studies. Their son is completing his secondary education and is hoping to study commerce.

And his wife – the girl with the magical voice –  how is she?

She is the household manager, M replies. “I leave everything to her,” he says, with pride. When they married, M told her that she should dress well, like a working woman, and so she does to this day.

M’s eyes sparkle and shine as he speaks, so much so that am prompted to say, “You must love your wife very much?”

“Yes,” he replies, but I never tell her ‘I love you’.”

“Why not?” I ask in astonishment.

“I love her 70 per cent but I always keep 30 per cent for myself,” he says, smiling, as if revealing a clever secret.

“Why?” I plead again; remembering that in my culture, anything less than 100 per cent can be grounds for divorce.

M tell us ominously that he has seen what happens when you love too much. His father-in-law was an example. “When his wife die, he cannot go on. In one month he is also dead,” he says. “This is why I keep 30 per cent for myself,” he says, smiling broadly.

“How would you feel if she kept 30 per cent for herself and only loved you 70 per cent?” I ask.

“She is the same,” he says emphatically. “In 30 years, she never say, ‘I  love you’ .”

He sees my puzzled face in the rear vision mirror and explains further.

“Love is not ‘I love you, I love you’”, he says in mock coquettish style. “Love is what you are doing…every day.”

We arrive at our new home and the lesson in love ends.

“Thank you, my friend,” Rob says, settling the bill and shaking his hand, in his customary cordial manner.  “Good luck to your family.”

We are alone in a new country.

“Wait here,” he says, showing me to a wooden bench near the guards’ gate at the entrance of our new home. “I’ll take these and then come back for the rest.”

I sit on the bench surveying the park-like grounds, while my husband’s weary figure disappears into the distance as he wheels the first lot of our luggage, past the pool and up a ramp to our apartment.

Love in action.