Why We Left Sweden

Two months ago Min’an and I left Sweden for good. It’s been a difficult decision, but we knew we had to do it to move on with our lives. If you haven’t seen us in Stockholm for a while, this post will explain why.

Sweden has been so sweet to us

When we first came here, we thought it would just be a stepping stone to move to London. After all, what’s so charming about Stockholm? Little did we know that after six years, Stockholm changed us in ways we wouldn’t have expected. We are grateful that we’ve had the chance to learn a completely new system of being. We got to experience what real winters feel like and get a good glimpse of why Scandinavians are as content as they are.

If I have to pinpoint what Swedes do differently than others, is that they do things for the long term. The system works based on the assumption that everyone will do the right thing. And why would anyone do the right thing? It’s because … winter is coming. Every year. If they want to survive (the winter), everyone has to work together towards it.

Snow plowing to keep the city functioning

Our dreams can’t happen in Sweden

We caught the startup bug in Sweden, and we can’t let go of it. The country has several famous unicorns, such as Spotify, Minecraft, and Klarna. And while I was looking for an office, I came across SUP46, a wonderful coworking space in the middle of Stockholm.

After spending a year there, it was pretty clear that startups fail, a lot. If Min’an and I want to make something decent, we should dedicate a larger part of our lives to the business. Except that we couldn’t possibly do it in Sweden, because our visa was tied to corporate employment, and it would’ve taken four more years, on top of the six we already had to get a residency permit where we don’t have to work for other people to stay in the country.

Knowing that this was the path we might take, we did an experiment by working in Budapest for several weeks. In the beginning, it was really awkward for us to work together full-time while also having breakfast, lunch, dinner and going to baths to relax in the evenings (that’s what you do in Budapest!). Sometimes, the togetherness felt too much. We also had a few arguments while developing features; we were a lot less patient with each other. It took some adjustment to shape a good professional relationship where colleagues can gently explain things to each other without the baggage of intimate relationship that marriage brings.

We didn’t end up in divorce after two weeks, so we thought it was a success.

We live to eat, not vice versa

Do you eat to live or do you live to eat? For us, the answer is pretty clear. Every time we go overseas, we look for good food, especially South East Asian food. It’s typically spicy and wonderfully delicious. Not that we don’t enjoy a good steak, but nothing can beat the hot warm glow you feel on both cheeks when you eat good chillies.

Singapore, the place we now live in, is a food mecca. Also, Singaporeans worship food like no other. Queueing behind 10 people is normal, and they would rather get stuck in a long queue than eat horrible food. I’ve never lived here and Min’an hasn’t either for 15 years. Once we accepted how oversized the role of food was in our lives, it was an easy decision to make to move to this country.

One of the best things to eat

Summer is coming

We’ve survived six winters in Sweden with temperature as low as -20 degrees. It’s arctic enough for now. We’d like a change of weather. At the end of our stay in Sweden, I became fixated on little things that annoy me. Like how you have to put on a large heavy jacket just to throw rubbish outside the building, or how cautious you have to be when walking on the roads because the ice made them terribly slippery.

It’s time for a change. Singapore is consistently 33 degrees, it’s damn hot. It’s the eternal summer.

Let’s catch-up, Skype works well you know

We don’t want to lose what Sweden has given us. It has changed us forever, and it has changed us for good. I have no doubt that it will continue to shape the rest of our lives. I’ve already missed the fresh air, and I’m desperately wishing I can jump on a plane and see everybody again.

So thanks for reading until this point. Despite 24 hours flight between Stockholm and Singapore, I’m convinced that the globe has become smaller and smaller. Let’s do a video skype call if you have some time.

Notes

Thanks to Sathishkumar Jagadeesan for reading earlier drafts of this.

It’s Her 71st Birthday

So my mother looked at a one-week-old me, then decided to take me as one of hers. I might have smiled at her or so I’d like to think, but most probably I would’ve been crying restlessly. Just like any newborns would within the first few days of their lives.

That was a while ago, and I spent the next 17 years under her wing, with 15 of those years sleeping in the same bed as her (It was just a single mattress, but I was even smaller than now, so it was a snuggly fit). We were tight, figuratively and literally. My education was her number one priority so she would take me to every single after-school class she could find including the piano lessons (My hands owe most of their dexterity from her). She sewed uncountable pieces of my clothing, especially pants. They were all too long for my rather short … hmm cute legs, shall we say? She was methodical in all of the things she did, almost rigid even. I can still picture how she would peel a mango from the beginning until the end, when she would chew on the seed, making sure nothing was wasted.

Today is her 71st birthday. Rather than celebrating it with a party though, my brothers and sisters visited her ashes instead. And where am I now? I’m in another country, as always. I was in another country when she passed last year, just 3 months after her 70th. It was a sudden, brutal heart attack. I’ve been in another country since I was 17. I’ve been away for a while, and so we grew apart real fast. I blamed my angry teenage-self for that, or my youthful ignorance for not knowing what it took to maintain a relationship — what a shame.

I’ve always known that I was adopted. I grew up thinking that when it’s my time to have a kid, I’d have no problem adopting, exactly *because* I was adopted.

The time to have a kid has come, and yet I can’t see myself adopting one. My left brain can come up with 100 reasons why I should be comfortable with adoption. Your mileage may vary, but I’m just telling you what I’m feeling now. Every day I am more and more grateful that my mother chose to raise me under the same roof as her other children. When my biological mother died, no one else took me, and I can’t imagine how I would’ve turned out if she had not.

I used to be jealous of people who can remember their childhood. Then I went to therapy, and now I can pick up on things I do daily that I can attribute to my mother’s influence. Because of her, I leave my plates super clean after I eat. Because of her, I know how to be independent (she was a single mother who raised 3 kids). Because of her, I never hesitate to buy books (she said books belong to a different budget than other items you shop). I am who I am because of her.

Happy birthday mum, we miss you.

3 Cs A Day Keep The Doctor Away

Most days I struggle. This year is the first year I’ve started working from home and the result has been harsh on my sanity. I experience mood swings sometimes just from a good call with a new customer or not being able to sit in front of the computer for the entire morning. Sometimes a string of bad days turns into a week, fortunately not more than that.

Procrastination is my biggest enemy. And I get exhausted on days where I have to fight so hard just to get out of bed. As a startup CEO, the kind of work that needs to be done is so different day-to-day that procrastination arises because the switching cost is so high. If on Monday I need to do some video editing, and on Tuesday I need to write some requirements, typically I will spend Tuesday morning procrastinating just to get into the right mindset.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

After a while though, I’ve found a little keystone habit that I can rely on. I will still procrastinate, but somehow I have more willpower the next day to delay less and to sleep better at night.

It’s my 3 “C”s: Create, Contact and Clean. I should create something, a post, a speech, a video, anything, no matter how small. Then I need to contact someone, preferably someone new or I’ve hardly spoken to. (I have my mum as a backup.) And to prepare for tomorrow, I should clean. Cleaning and organising things, be it IRL or digitally keeps me sane.

This post is a “Create” for today. I’ve contacted 4 new people and I’ve cleaned the shit out of my desk.

What has kept you sane?