Part of understanding ourselves, as Singaporeans, is to understand how others — tourists or expats — view us.
I enjoyed this book written by Maida Pineda (themaidastouch.blogspot.com), a Filipino food writer who decided to live in Singapore to experience new perspectives.
There’s a certain pride in reading about the plus side of Singapore. It’s a reminder to readers like me, who have lived here all our lives, of what we may take for granted sometimes: the efficiency, that “things just work”.
On that same footing, it’s also a reminder of the ungracious side of Singaporeans. P51.
And also what we may be missing out. Like the perception (perhaps true to large extent) that we don’t smile. I find it hard to smile to total strangers in random situations. It’s a city dweller’s defensive posture, I feel.
But there’s the part about how Singaporeans live hard life, from the author’s perspective:
P39. “In the past, I wondered why Singaporeans riding the MRT didn’t smile a lot. Then, as I was going through this period in my life, I realized how tough life was for them. There was no life outside of work. I barely saw the sun or anything beautiful. I spent most of my waking hours in front of the computer, and I was not making meaningful relationships… … I became so immersed in the Singaporeans lifestyle. My life became routine…”
Though, the context of what Maida was describing (about her work) seemed to me like she was overworked and underpaid, in a company that valued output and profits more than human resource development. Which I guess, the “Singaporean Life”, that is routine and mundane and which sucks up one’s waking and sleeping hours, is then true.
Some observations seemed uncommon to me, but which Maida says is a frequent occurrence to her:
P49. Not uncommon to see mothers fight with the kids to play handheld games, on the MRT.
P56. an encounter with a group of retirees, who engaged in conversation with her after she initiated the move to talk. I think Singaporeans are like that. If we find that you are a guest in our country, we tend to be more accommodating. But being accommodating to fellow Singaporeans would require more warm-up contact time, and also the setting. Trying to engage in conversation with a total stranger somehow brings to mind if the other person is up to no good.
The book comes in two parts. First is her direct experiences and observations of living in Singapore. The second are stories from other expats in Singapore.
P93. Perspective from an American expat: “You need to find a niche to make friends, you need to find your hook, be it golf, flower-arranging etc. You need to find whatever it takes.”
Some accounts of the expat’s lives and actions puzzle me. For instance, one professed to have a need to watch her expenses by taking public transport. But at the same time, the expat admitted getting a dishwasher (she lives alone) was an indulgence for her reluctance to wash dishes.
In the Epilogue, she relates how a working trip to Denver made her realise the extent she has assimilated the (in her view) the Singaporean lifestyle. That while there are things which may seem like negative (e.g. We don’t smile readily) there are other aspects that make up for it (food, cultural diversity, safety).
“It is in leaving and taking frequent trips overseas that one appreciates Singapore more”.
I totally, totally agree with that.