Diversity Has A Name, Singapore: An Expat’s First Impressions

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What’s Singapore like to the first-time visitor? If there was one word I could use to describe the experience: I’d say ‘diverse’. Having relocated countries twice in my life, first to Kuala Lumpur with my husband from Sweden for a good span of 10 years, and then to Singapore—I had the opportunity to do a recce of the area before we made the relocation. Here are some of my early impressions.
Disclaimer: The comparisons made in this article cover some odd disparities and observations between Malaysia and Singapore and isn’t intended to disparage any country—but hopefully, to squash generalizations that we tend to make about a place before setting foot there. Safe to say, never judge a country by the titters you hear around you, look deeper…

Pet-friendly city of Singapore

I’ve been to San Francisco once, where on almost every street corner, you’d bump into a dog walking its owner (yes, it certainly looks that way to me!), panting happily and grinning eye to eye. You could tell, there were lots of happy dogs and healthy owners there. Every ecstatic dog I had encountered became the nexus of attention with almost supernatural abilities to turn strangers into instant pals, and stiff muscled men into mush. It was indeed a pleasant sight. Almost as if, animals started conversations first, and initiated unspoken hellos, not humans.
In Kuala Lumpur, the opposite was true. While there were parks that catered to dog walking and running (in gated communities), most public parks ruled out rendezvous with our favourite four legged friends. Walking dogs in public, though not explicitly banned, could be frowned upon as the Malays in the Muslim-race majority country weren’t allowed to touch dogs (by Malaysian Sharia law), so one had to be careful about bringing dogs out in public areas—the sight just wasn’t common.
Where canines are concerned, Singapore could be described as the early-stage Silicon Valley of Asia, a way more hotter and humid version, albeit—which explained why most owners tend to run with their pets in the morning or late evening.
If you’re an expat planning to bring a pet over, you needn’t worry if your pet can adapt. Aside from the scorching weather, the people and most places are dog friendly. Just do remember to check out if the restaurant or café you’re intending to visit allows pets in the premises. Due to hygiene and keep-the-peace reasons, certain restaurants won’t allow your furry pals in with you, even if they sit primp and proper in your Christian Louboutin bag like a fluffy stuffed doll!

Diversity breeds openness

As our stay in Singapore was only for recce-ing purposes, we lodged in a comfortable Airbnb space for four days, enough time for us to complete all our necessary errands and find out first-hand how the logistics worked. On the first day itself, I met five completely different individuals under one roof (it was a huge bungalow house, by the way, accommodating close to 8 rooms!).
I’d pause here to urge expats to experience the Airbnb culture during their travels—rather than stay holed up in hotels. I met five different individuals with different skill sets and rich talents, all of which were incredibly open and helpful with offering us first-hand advice and seasoned tips on how to get around. The Indian house manager and cleaner had just completed a Certificate of Cloud Computing Success Factors, another Australian entrepreneur owned a mobile app company in Singapore, two students were on scholarship (architecture and film), while another chap worked in Infosys.
Back in Malaysia, I’ve heard titters among some Malaysians that Singaporeans could be snooty, rigid, “kiasu” (competitive) and materialistic. Now it goes both ways, to be fair. While the Prime Minister of Singapore had transparently made an open invitation to brainy Malaysian talents to pack their bags and relocate to Singapore, some of the locals in Singapore label their next-door neighbours as haphazard, rebellious and lackadaisical. Perhaps there’s a little underground tension between the two neighbors over the time Singapore refused to join Malaysia to form a country…
Don’t let your perceptions be hardwired by stereotypes however. Singapore is a friendly, welcoming place that no doubt attracts and retains the best brains in the world due to its efficient government, strong education system, and safe, clean and vibrant environment.
While Malaysia encompasses a beautiful and multi-cultural microcosm of Asia (heard of the famous travel slogan that goes: Malaysia Truly Asia?), Singapore is the microcosm of the world—with a burgeoning population of expats and talents from diverse backgrounds and nationalities. I saw huge smatterings of Westerners, Indians, Filipinos, Indonesians, Europeans, Americans, Australians and Malaysians, to name a few, everywhere I went.

Transportation tips for expats in Singapore

My taxi ride from the airport to my place of stay in near Holland Village (about 30 minutes drive) cost me $35 dollars. In Singapore, almost all locals, expats included, move around by public transport. Buses are aplenty, and there are numerous stops nearby. The MRT lines web the entire country, connecting you to wherever you wish to go with almost clockwork efficiency!
My only transport pet peeves? Why don’t most taxi drivers in Singapore have online access? I didn’t get my SIM card immediately upon arrival and my faulty phone battery died upon arrival. We were rounding my place of destination and I asked if he had Google Maps, and he didn’t have Internet access. Two days later, I met another taxi driver like that. They’d rather ask you, “How-ah!? How to go?” then simply launch Waze or Google Maps on their phones!
My advice to new expats? Make sure you have Internet access and your phone chargers with you at all times. Also, don’t expect bus drivers to cater to your blur questions. They’re worried about getting to the next stop in time—as far as I know. If you’re budget conscious and would love to save, join the masses and exercise your calves by walking and taking public transport (just have your oil blotters ever ready, girls!).
Must-have mobile apps: Download Gothere.sg for directions on the go and MyTransport.sg for information on all modes of public transport in Singapore. Seriously handy when you have real time information about when the busses are about to arrive, and which you should get on. One Singaporean told me: “You can’t get lost in Singapore.” How true; it’s nicknamed ‘tiny red dot’ after all. Ask and you’ll find a friendly face at every turn. What was life like before Google Maps? Navigationally challenged BW (Before Waze), I shudder to think of it!

You don’t have to lock your doors at night

That’s what the Airbnb house manager told me one night. “What?!” I exclaimed. Back in Malaysia, ladies have to remain cautious if their handbags are facing the bustling side of traffic (due to snatch theft incidences), and a great deal of houses, condominiums and apartments come signed, sealed and GRILLED like maximum security prisons to prevent break-ins. Forgive my exaggeration, I’m a writer! After speaking with most of the residents here in Singapore, I was shocked and happy to find out that they don’t even lock their doors. The crime rate here is almost negligible.
I left Singapore desiring to come back. Yes, it’s packed with people, human traffic everywhere and in your face, clogging the arteries of MRTs heavily during peak hours. Yes, it’s HDB (Housing and Development Board) high-rise utopia, as the tiny island can’t grow sideways anymore, so it has to grow vertically to accommodate its burgeoning populace. But all in all, I am warmed by its diversity and open arms policy to the world. I am awed by its government’s hard work and commitment to keeping the island city clean, green, efficient, and peaceful—these are qualities I don’t take for granted. Most of all, I am glad I will be coming back!
What were your first impressions of Singapore and were they mostly positive or vice versa? Share it with our expat readers!
Cover image by www.uwcsea.edu.sg

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