The article below has been contributed by Xin Hui.
If “the world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page”, I’m now waist-deep in Chapter ‘WEDDINGS’ – (read: other people’s destination weddings). Oh yes, wedding visits have taken me from Singapore to Bangkok, Bali, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, Sydney, New York, Chicago, Mauritius, Cape Town, London, Athens, Paris, Rome, Barcelona… (believe me, I have ridiculous friends) and hopefully, the list goes on.
From immigration officer, to taxi driver, to old lady on the plane, to random guy at the bar, I’ve engaged in countless cross-cultural interactions where, like speed-dating, both sides have the length of an elevator ride to exchange “where-do-you-come-from” facts and opinions.
And in talking about Singapore, here’s what I have come to realise about Singapore:
1. We are not the only country obsessed with success
In Singapore I get asked, “Do you drive?”, “How much is your rent?”, and even the rudely direct “How much are you paid?”. In other countries, I get “what do you do?” “where have you travelled?”, and “do you live with your parents?”.
I used to be embarrassed, thinking Singaporeans only talk money, and I used to get offended, thinking all these kaypoh people just wanna pigeon-hole me. But now I see it as a fellow social being’s friendly way of evaluating my level of happiness. After all, in life so far, money is still an indication of success and success a benchmark of happiness.
2. Most people dislike their governments
In France it’s cos of the taxes, in Italy it’s the economy, in Thailand, it’s the traffic, in Hong Kong it’s the pollution… Disdain for the government seems like the mainstream hobby, like we are all staff members of a company, standing around the water-cooler, complaining about the board of directors – It’s how we bond!
So, if I may say something to Singapore’s leaders, I say, forget about being likeable – It’s just not part of a government’s job. You are like the loud-mouthed uncle we love and respect but don’t like; the uncle who pinches our cheeks, laughs loudly, tells us how to live our life, points out our Dad’s poor taste in fashion, has a better job, drives a better car, comes over for dinner often and eats for free. Do we hug him? No. Do we want to be his Facebook friend? No. But do we want this uncle dead and outta our lives? Also No! Especially since he brings gifts and gives the biggest red packet at CNY.
3. Singapore, we’re very interesting
I like to tell people I meet that in Singapore:
It’s summer all-year-round
You really can eat off the streets, it’s that clean, although,
You can have a full meal for under $5 and
I never need an umbrella for my place to the train station to my office is totally sheltered.
Then, I give them a verbal roundhouse kick and say but…
Cars start at $50,000
Chewing gum is illegal
Drugs are a no-no-no-no-no and
Just for getting caught littering you are shamed and have to sweep the streets
And all this is delivered fluently in English and peppered with Mandarin – my mother tongue – to which I explain, yes, English is our first language and most of us speak 2 languages fluently.
And, as a positive confirmation of this interest, I have had a total of 7 friends from foreign countries ask me for job openings in Singapore.
4. Our economy rocks
Cost of living is getting world class, yes. But hey, admit it, our currency keeps getting stronger too. This is also why we have been known to insensitively exclaim “OMG! Things here are sooooo cheap compared to Singapore!!!” – staff members of factory outlets in America and the vendors of Thailand can attest to that.
Therefore, I do believe our pay packets are actually getting higher. How else do you explain the coffeeshop to Starbucks paradigm shift that I have observed? And look, we have the luxury of time and money to queue for Hello Kitties at MacDonald’s?!?! That speaks volumes of our bullish economy (albeit bullshit taste in toys).
5. Our taxi drivers got soul
I once paid SGD190 for a single taxi ride in a city that begins with L and rhymes with ondon – and I had to endure the incredibly racist driver and his all-negative views about his country and people for 45 minutes. Then another time, I took a taxi in Thailand and the driver told us all about his dying family and ridiculous bills and debt. I am sure it’s luck of the draw but when I think about it, most of our taxi drivers are relatively happy people. They speak candidly about themselves and their country; some are haters and some are lovers, but generally, they get paid decently, have a good family, good work-life balance.
6. We may not be millionaires, but we have the lifestyle of one
And isn’t that the point?! That, by the way, is also the creative direction I have adopted for my Facebook posts. And my other mantra: “Collect experiences, not possessions.” – which has made me immensely richer as a person. Material must-haves aside, the truth is we are well-educated, well-travelled, well-nourished, and, based on my Facebook observations, well-liked – quite possibly the same qualities a millionaire asks for in life.
7. There’s a lot to show!
These days, when people visit Singapore, I especially like to take them to some new architectural achievement like the Marina Bay Sands sky bar, because they will tell me how spectacular the view is and what a beautiful city I have and congratulate me on the progress of Singapore, and I can just beam with pride and nod gravely and say a graceful thank you as if I had everything to do with it.
Most of us are and will likely become home-owners, taxes are actually affordable, taxi-rides are adorable, jobs are available, the authorities are approachable, facebook is connectable, the landscape is unbeatable, the respect for each other is admirable, the transport network is commendable, the world is accessible, and the economy is better than stable. (although I must say, the weather is becoming unpredictable.)
We have become, and hopefully continue to be, a great place to be educated, to work, to fall in love, to get married, to raise children, to travel from, to come home to, and to retire in… and I am proud of that.