All our South East Asia travel blogs (July 2009- Oct 2010), pictures, and videos are on travel-pod.com. Click here. Below is an entry from our last post.
After an amazing 15 months living as an expat in Singapore I wanted to share some of the things I learned about this place and give my impressions. Rushing out to Singapore with a few weeks notice, I ashamedly knew nothing of Singapore other than it was in South East Asia somewhere. Yup, that was about it. I had no idea what language they spoke, how modern, safe, or what was the major religion. To be honest, I really didn’t care. It was a perfect opportunity for adventure. Given the chance to live and work in SE Asia and explore this new land from the inside was a dream for my wife and I.
Having recently lived as an expat in Japan for 3 years, where I didn’t speak the language, couldn’t read the signs, and with a culture sooo foreign to me, I figured whatever Singapore turned out to be we’d adapt to just fine. For those that love to travel, like my wife and I, the absolutely best way to see and experience a new place is to live there for an extended amount of time.
We feel its the best way to really understand the culture, see all the sights (not just the touristy places), taste ALL the food, feel the changes in weather, and be apart of their holidays and events. For us, there is a feeling of excitement with each day just living our “normal everyday” lives because we’d often bump into something unique or learn about something we never knew before.
As I’ve been fortunate to live as a foreigner or “expat” in 4 countries (Australia, Ireland, Japan, and Singapore), I’ve found there is another exciting subculture to living abroad that I enjoy, the expat culture. From Wikipedia..
An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin term expatri?tus from ex (“out of”) and patri? the ablative case of patria (“country, fatherland”).
Being an expat has nothing to do with a lack of patriotism for our own country but simply being a foreigner living in a foreign land. Although we’re all foreigners, there’s a common bond and like mindedness among expats.
So with just enough time for a trip to the doctors to inoculate us with shots for SE Asia and whatever illnesses it may hold, we headed off our small island in the Pacific Ocean bound for the unknown of Singapore.
So at the end of my 15 months of living here, what are my impressions of Singapore?
I can’t say enough good things about Singapore. Maybe it was the energy of city life that was new and exciting to us, or the constant stream of events that kept us busy all year. We ate them up.
First was stumbling upon the night festival (July 09) around the corner from our first apartment near city hall.
A free weekend of outdoor music, dance, lights, pyrotechnics, and kooky circus like performances around the local museums. The museums were all opened up at night and there were free workshops for photography and other arts, as well as local arts and crafts for sale. Very cool start.
Then on the first weekend in Aug we happened to be strolling around Marina Bay and saw a floating stadium full of people cheering and dancing, then helicopters flew over very low, then fireworks. We asked someone what was going on and they said it was a rehearsal for next weeks National Day Parade (Aug 9th). Its like their independence day with a big parade and show. We figured all the tickets were probably already sold out but I asked my wife to look into it anyways. Sure enough, the night before the event we found tickets. We dressed in patriotic red like everyone else, put Singapore flag temporary tattoos all over our face and body, waved the Singapore flags and other goodies we were given, saw the prime minister and president at the event, was interviewed by some reporters (a friend at work said they saw us on TV!), and basically had one hell of a time.
Next was the Singapore holiday of Hari Raya Puasa (Sept). It celebrates the end of the fasting month of Ramadan for Islamic people. Its the biggest holiday in Indonesia and a very important one for Muslims all over. Decorations were all over town to celebrate. Around the same time the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival (aka Mooncake or Lantern Festival) was in full swing with Chinatown and other Chinese areas all decorated and lit up at night for the month long event. The celebration included giant lantern processions, Chinese theater, and lots of moon cakes.
We couldn’t miss the month long Hungry Ghost Festival around this same time as large bins of fire are burnt all around town and especially in front of houses/ apartments/ hotels. We learned that Taoist Chinese believe that during this month, the “gates of hell” are opened and the souls of the dead are freed and allowed to roam the earth. People leave offerings of food, drinks, and other things out in the streets for their ancestors as well as to gain favor from potential evil spirits who might do them harm. I remember walking outside our apartment to find huge bins ablaze all up and down the street. We were a little unsettled until we saw paper offerings of fake iPhones, golf clubs, “hell” money, paper cars with drivers and the like all being burnt so that the deceased could use them in “hell”. Around town and at temples Chinese put on shows for the dead.
Before we had a moment to breath the streets were buzzing with F1 festivities (end of Sept). The city put on a week of events including concerts and other races. Not wanting to spend the $ on a ticket and knowing the area of fort canning pretty well, we dropped in next door one evening and caught No Doubt and a bunch of other big bands playing at the festival for free. The weekend of the race we could hear the insanely loud cars from our apartment, probably a mile away from the course. Wendy found us a great deal on walking tickets the day before the finals and we spent it wandering the track with our earplugs watching these F1 cars race by.
At this point we’ve been living in Singapore barely 3 months and you can see all the events that kept us busy. I could go on like this for all the other fun events we took in that year like Deepavali (Hindu), Christmas, New Years, Chinese New Years, Chingay Parade, the month long Art festival, the Air Show, the Youth Olympic Games, and a whole slew of other events. It was nuts. We were very impressed by Singapore and its calendar of events let alone all the other things Singapore has to offer!
I found Singaporeans to be a welcoming bunch of good spirits. They are rightfully proud of how far they have come in such a short time as a nation (45 years) and despite having a diverse mix of cultures, everyone seems to live in harmony and they celebrate their diversity as a strength. Originally developed by the British for its strategic trading location, there is a definite western influence not just in the language and culture, but also way of thinking.
Yet being in Asia and with its high percentage of Chinese there is a definite Eastern and mass utilitarian like social influence.
. The idea that the good is whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people is reflected in what many westerners would consider very strict laws. While a few people may be put to death for trying to smuggling drugs into the country under strict laws, a much larger general population is spared from its negative influence. The government uses strict laws for seemingly small infractions such as littering, selling gum, or failure to flush the toilet as a way of discouraged the undesirable or harmful. It’s working! No trash, low crime, and best of all no surprises when you enter public restroom stalls. Good for them.
However, an unfortunate side effect of keeping a strong government and applying pressure to conform the masses seems to be limiting certain individual freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other civil rights. I read about journalists being jailed or political opponents and critics being sued by the government for “defamation”. There are no juries in Singapore, judges will decide. Because of the governments ability to restrict or limit certain civil rights when it chooses, there was a feeling of general self censorship where the general population learned not to question their leaders. I’m sure its no coincidence that the Peoples Action Party (PAP) has been in power since the country gained autonomy from the UK in 1959, holds 82 of 84 elected parliamentary seats and all ministerial positions. But regardless of how this country decides to run itself, it appears to be doing a great job, really cares about its people, and is advancing rapidly.