‘I don't want to be anywhere else’

DUBAI — The first trip to a new place is never easy. Settling down in a new place is even more difficult. More so if there are language and culture barriers to overcome.

By Reshmi Nair

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Published: Sat 17 Feb 2007, 8:49 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:33 AM

When Singapore national Martha Wong arrived in Abu Dhabi with her husband some 22 years ago, she was haunted, precisely, by such doubts. Her husband had moved to the UAE to join an attractive job in the shipping industry.

“I am in a completely foreign land where they speak a language so different. The culture too is completely alien to me. How long will I be able to carry on like this...?"

Twenty-two years later, Martha has no such doubts. If anything, she has grown just too fond of the country. She now lives in Dubai, and speaks fondly of the land she now considers home.

“Both my children were born and brought up here in the UAE. Even though we travel to Singapore at least once every year, my children have stronger ties with the UAE. This is their home. My husband also feels the same. So do I. We want to continue living here as long as we can,” she makes it clear.

Back then, when she first arrived, Abu Dhabi was very different compared to what it is today. “None of the taxi drivers spoke English and they didn’t even have meters. Negotiating for a taxi fare meant using hand gestures,” she remembers.

Activities in the emirate were limited too, as Martha found out. It was more or less limited to exclusive clubs and hotels, with expensive membership fees. She claims the club fees in Abu Dhabi could have rivalled some of Dubai’s current offerings. For, Abu Dhabi had the highest cost of living in the UAE then.

Martha fondly remembers the family fun activities when her children were younger — how they used to frequent Wonderland at Al Garhoud and Dream Land Aqua Park at Ajman.

They would also make weekly trips to Dubai's Al Ghurair City, the first shopping mall in the Middle East.

“There was just one road linking Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and it was so bumpy, we might as well have been driving over camels,” she recollects, and expresses amazement at how the roads have metamorphosed into one of the best in the world.

“I can't believe how much Dubai and Abu Dhabi have changed over the years! The huge variety of shopping malls, hotels and even the skiing complex never fail to amaze me. I am proud to have seen this place grow. To tell you the truth, I don't think I'd want to be anywhere else,” she reveals.

Currently, Martha works as the Secretary of the Singapore Community Club (SCC) in the UAE. Despite the formal title, her job is simple: she acts as a liaison for newcomers interested in meeting other Singaporeans.

The SCC also organises events throughout the year such as golf tournaments, bowling events, family days and the upcoming Singapore Bazaar.

“When I first came, the Singaporean community was virtually non-existent. Most of my friends were actually Malaysians. Over the years, though, I have definitely noticed a sharp increase in the number of Singaporeans.”

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