SINGAPORE - Having been separated from her family here for almost a year, the reunion dinner on Thursday (Feb 11) was extra special for housewife Cynthia Tan Kloth, who has been living in Germany with her husband and two children.
After months of uncertainty over travel curbs and lockdowns, the 39-year-old Singaporean flew here on Dec 31 with her sons - Friedrich, six, and Maximilian, one.
She had booked a direct Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore from Frankfurt, a three-hour drive from their residence in Lenzkirch, Germany.
The trio spent New Year's Eve in quarantine in Regent Singapore hotel near Orchard Road.
Mrs Kloth's husband, chief digital officer Eckhard Kloth, usually travels with them to Singapore once a year but had to remain in Germany due to work commitments.
The couple met while he was working here in 2013, and they relocated to Germany in 2015.
She said: "Over the five years I lived away from Singapore, I had always returned for Chinese New Year. It is the most important season of the year for us, a time when we get to meet our relatives.
"I did not want to miss it this year as well."
Mrs Kloth finally returned to her parents' flat in Punggol on Jan 14. She will be spending the next few days catching up with her two siblings and their families.
Her father, Mr Richard Tan, 69, said they had stayed in touch over the year through daily video calls.
"During the circuit breaker, we could not mingle, meet our friends or eat out here in Singapore. We were most worried about our grandchildren contracting the (coronavirus).
"We are a very close-knit family, so not being able to meet our children regularly was very unusual for us," said the retired fire safety consultant, who has three other grandchildren.
Mrs Kloth's last trip to Singapore was in December 2019 when she celebrated Chinese New Year and stayed on till March last year.
While here, she saw the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on daily life, with people rushing to stock up on household items including food.
She called her husband ahead of her trip back to Germany to stock up on essentials.
A few weeks after they returned, a lockdown began on March 22 in Germany. Though restrictions were relaxed, more lockdowns ensued as infection numbers climbed.
A shutdown in November was extended and toughened before Christmas, and has since been extended to March.
Mrs Kloth and her family found ways to go outdoors while keeping safe, including taking walks in the Black Forest by themselves.
Her husband, who works from home, also bought games to keep their elder son engaged.
She started making plans to return to Singapore at the end of last year, when it appeared the Covid-19 situation had improved in Singapore.
"Even as I was holding back from booking the flights, at the back of mind I knew I really wanted to come back," she said.
She added: "I felt very secure coming home because of the sense of familiarity. The hotel stay was an opportunity for us to overcome our jet lag and adjust to the time zone.
"The two weeks at the hotel was all worth it when we got to see our family at the end. This is also a chance for my elder son to meet and play with his cousins, something he had been looking forward to."
She may leave for Germany next month, but is monitoring the situation.
Over the next few days, she will be celebrating the Chinese New Year with her extended family.
Abalone with mushroom and spinach and steamed garlic prawns were some of the traditional dishes on the menu for the reunion dinner.
For Mr Tan and his homemaker wife Karen Lai, 67, the highlight was the emotional reunion with Friedrich and Maximilian.
Mr Tan said: "When I met my grandchildren after their quarantine, I couldn't believe it was real. Over the past year, we saw them over video call, but it's never the same as giving them a hug and kiss in real life and hearing their voice.
"It was truly a very special reunion for us."