Independence is such a strong part of my identity. Something I was so proud to become once I graduated from grad school and proudly wore on my sleeve as I went from one job to the next, one apartment to the next, and one bill to the next. I was making a life for myself. At first I was barely “adulting” as I tried my best to fill my bank account and still look halfway cute by NYC standards, but as I perserved was more than proud of what I had been able to create for myself and then contribute to our family.
So much of that independant identity is encouraged by life in the U.S. You really feel like you’re failing when you ask for help, but the truth is we ALL need help to get from one step to the next. I’m not sure why we even pretend as if everything is by one’s own design. Whether its your family, a friend, a boss or a stranger, no one goes through life unaided. Frankly, if we dropped this idea that we are supposed to do it alone, we would all be in a much healthier place.
With that said, I really wasn’t ready for the explicit push of dependancy that is handed to you when you become an expat spouse in most countries.
Follow me on a journey to living life with a Dependant Pass….
As soon as we left quarrantine, our family made our way to the Ministry of Employment office (MOE). Singaporeans LOVE acronyms. You gotta learn quick if you want to speak like the locals do :)
Anyway, the MOE is the government office that handles issuing your I.D. card. You receive an Employment Pass if you are being sponsored to work in Singapore and the Dependant Passes for anyone in your immediate family that will be with you.
My husband was handed his Employment Pass and the kids and I were given our Dependant Passes.
You read that right, the children and I were now officially known to the government as dependants of my husband. Say what now?!?! Talk about a severe shift in marital power. The fact that we are allowed to live here is already a privilege (as many who try to come to different countries know) but I just never imagined not living with equal rights to my husband.
Even though we were the same people, this government assignment didn’t sit well with me. And becuase I have zero poker face, everyone else saw that too. Here I was an Independant American woman, but in the eyes of this country, I had the same rights as my children.
Ok, we knew that things were going to be different. Let’s not totally lose our cool….yet.
What does this mean in practice??
So what does this really mean? Well, let’s walk out into the world and actually see how this affects my day to day.
The first order of business was going to get food. But in order to go anywhere in Singapore in Sept 2021, you needed to download and receive an app called TraceTogether (TT), which showcased your vaccine status. But you couldn’t get this until your I.D. was processed and my dependant pass was taking a lot longer than my husband’s employment pass. Ok, I’ll just call to see what’s happening…no response until my husband inquired. Hmm, well that was weird but it was handled.
Ok, now I need to get the kids to school. I took responsibility for getting the kids to and from school until we could get onto the bus service routes. We had decided to live without a car for a bit since we were right in the middle of the city and not knowing if a car was even necessary. But that meant either taking the subway/city bus (MRT-Mass Rapid Transit) or a taxi/Uber (Grab is one of the more known car services out here). So being very used to Ubering my way through NYC, I downloaded the app and started to use the service. It was ok at first, but without a Singaporean issued credit card, my rides were getting canceled and I was only able to take taxis that accepted cash only.
I was living in a high tech society but only able to use cash and I was running out of cash fast. When I started to request that my husband hand me wads of cash each day as I left the house, getting a bank account became my first priority.
I need cash
I’ll just get access to our joint bank account. I had tried to do this back in the U.S. but it had proved beyond difficult. Now that I was here, I’ll simply run to the bank while the kids are at school and work that out myself. Oh no no no! You’re gonna need your husband for that too. And it’s not an easy process. No joke.
Off we went to a Singoporean bank where my husband was able to easily open an account, so that I could be added on to a joint account and get access to OUR money. Easy right? Wrong again.
It took us about 3 hours to get an appointment. There are a lot of controls put in place here to cut down on fraud, which we totally understand and appreciate. But the line of questioning was where things got dicey, as they kept pressing us on how much access does my husband want me to have. Does he trust me? Should I be able to move money around without his permission? How much should I be able to take out? They asked not just once but a few times. They kept reminding him that once he gave me access, he wouldn’t be able to claw it back with any ease. It went from odd to insulting pretty quickly. And I kept trying to impress upon the bank manager that this was my money too, but that didn’t seem to change the process or line of questioning.
What I didn’t appreciate enough was that as an extended guest in this country, I simply would not have the same rights and treatment as I did as citizen in my home country. That fact perhaps is only circumstantial, it doesn’t change who I am, but may shift what I am able to do and how I’ll be treated in daily interactions by some. Although I am a child of immigrant parents, I myself have always had the rights of full citizenship and the privileges that provides one. Those may not feel as significant when you've always had them, but when they are gone, you're gonna feel it.
Mostly it’s changed my ability to simply go out and handle certain “official” things on my own, including the ability to work while in country. That’s honestly been the single hardest thing to accept, but also the challenge has pushed me to come up with many more creative outlets, that I think will serve me more as I walk through this unique chapter.
So what happens when what you think of yourself and your circumstances around you don’t line up? It’s tricky, especially if you’ve been living one particular reality for most of your life. You can outright reject the circumstances that led you there. But you can’t ignore reality (or maybe some people can). What I think this is teaching me is how to truly know myself, regardless of the circumstances I am in.
What do I believe about me, who am I, what do I still need to learn, how are my needs different now than 3 months ago, 6 months ago, 5 years ago? It requires a lot of introspection. Strip away all of the things that prop you up and may hold meaning to you but honestly are not who you are. Take all that away. Strip away your title, company, country. Now, who are you?
That’s what I’m finding out and that’s what I’m building to be even stronger. Day by day.