Welcome to the Red Dot -A melting pot of cultures, a lush green garden city, a blend of old-world charm of shop houses, Kampongs and new architecture, where east meets west.I was quick to learn this about Singapore when I first landed here on a warm December of 2010. I had landed at one of the best and the most efficient airports of the world. Originally from Mumbai, I had lived in Australia for a couple of years before moving to Singapore. And the feeling on moving? Mixed! It was kind of like moving from a fairyland to mainland.
What I was going to miss was the relaxed lifestyle, the vast spaces, beautiful beaches and the ample and diverse natural beauty. Don’t get me wrong! Singapore is very beautiful. And quite consciously so. It has well manicured parks, beautiful, clean (but I wouldn’t say pristine) beaches, well preserved nature trails and reserves, and lush tropical greenery wherever you look. What really impresses me about this city is how – consciously – it maintains green pockets in the city despite the size. Not to mention the beautiful skyline.
It was finally good to see human inhabitation after all!! lol! What I missed in Down Under was the interaction with people and here there is loads of it! A LOT! This city has a dominant Indian, Chinese and Malay population, nonetheless there is substantial English and South-east asian mix as well. And the people are more than welcoming! I’ve always felt ‘at home’ here.
This also means that we get to celebrate a wide range of festivals, cultural events and enjoy authentic cuisines. It is a great joy to explore little pockets of Singapore brimming with distinct indigenous flavours – at Little India, Chinatown, Arab Street, Kampong Glam (Malay village). I love the heritage buildings, eating, shopping, visiting the beautiful temples, traditional schools,enjoying traditional massages, cultural events and activities. We can witness some awesome street decorations in the festive seasons.
Almost a quarter of the population here is expats from around the world. And since it is a very dependent economy, traveling for work is quite common. Most of us are always on the go! Well– good and bad! And if we’re not traveling, work life balance is like any other Asian country – to say the least – not that good… As a newbie expat, I used to find this place to be quite expensive! And I still do, compared to not just Asian countries, but even compared to the US or Australia. The bills are for sure something to watch out for! Singapore tops the list on one of the most expensive countries or should I say cities in the world!
I soon realised that this city-state had a distinct trait of a dual or a parallel lifestyle! I could go completely ‘Local’ in my day to day living like eating at the Kopitiam (local name for food court), shopping at the local stores, going to local schools and living in government houses or live an expensive expat life – fine dining, buying branded goods, international schools and living in the condos! A common factor to both the lifestyles is the house help (yes ‘The Bai’ phew!) that is abundant here as is also the spicy maid gossip! The best way, I say is – Just Mix and Match to suit yourself. 🙂
There’s one more common factor – Shopping. Shopping is by far the National obsession! There are tens of malls standing in a row with the same brands in almost every other mall, and, of course, willing shoppers queuing up! Louis Vuitton, Prada, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo are common household names and it is not uncommon for someone to hold 3-4 gadgets in the hand/pocket at any given point of time!
When it comes to Singapore, it helps to speak a little bit of Singlish – Singaporean English! Yes. It’s quite typical, and can help you to assimilate yourself. You don’t use a full sentence if you can communicate using just one word like ‘can’ or ‘cannot’. The top favourite is the word ‘Lah!’ used casually in almost every sentence like, ‘ok, lah’. Almost every sentence ends with ‘already’ which is strategically placed at the end of the sentence rather than before the verb. Hmm quite interesting!
I quickly figured out public transport was quite easy to use and well connected. And thankfully so, since buying a car here can dig a big big hole in the pocket. It’s a small place and there are multiple ways of going from point A to point B. It’s kinda fun to explore the quickest option (spare google maps – who knows it might turn out to be walking or biking! ;). There are lots of park connectors which connect most areas of the city.
The infrastructure here is amazingly strong. There are systems in place and systems that work most efficiently. Beginning immigration at the airport to the government offices, transport, water treatment, green parks and green malls/buildings, nicely maintained roads and well-connected highways. Basically it is a technologically advanced and futuristic country. But along with it comes the rules and regulations. The country has its own set of rules and regulations – be it fines for littering or jaywalking, to capital punishment and caning for graver offences, to compulsory National Service for the young boys. However I don’t think an average law abiding resident/visitor would find this place as restrictive as the long list shows it to be.
The good thing about living here is that it is only a few hours flight back home :). And that also means I have quite a few visitors on vacation or just passing through. So I don’t feel too homesick. And the cherry on top? Most grandparents get to visit or live here without too much of a visa hassle. My kids get to live with grandparents. There are households with three generations living together and this is not just the Indian households, but most other Asian cultures share similar value systems. My kids get to learn Indian languages in their schools. I would say it’s a great place to bring up kids – one which has best of both the worlds :).
One thing that I personally miss here is the long drives! The drive ends in about forty minutes where the country comes to an end ‘already’! lol! And my 6yo daughter complains about her Asia map puzzle which won’t have a separate piece for Singapore, and wonders why she always has to depict Singapore with a little ‘red dot’ on the map! 🙂