Friday, 15 January 2010

Singapore life where got fun? Bonne Anniversaire Singapur

After one year on this tiny isle, has Sin City surpassed expectations or has it just been one big Singa-bore?


Gastronomic wonderland - When they are not eating, they are talking (or, at the very least, thinking) about food. It is little wonder. Singapore has it all - from the tasty $2 noodle stall to the ultra fine dining experience. It has yet to become a Michelin star state, but with the arrival this year of Joel Robuchon, that is likely to change. With as many concentrations of nationalities as there are matching food outlets, there exists a spectacular melting pot of gastronomic delights. Chefs beware, though, NTUC Fairprice should only be your first port of call if you're whipping up some local cuisine. If you're cooking anything vaguely Western, head to Cold Storage or Carrefour instead.

Roaming South East Asia - Uniquely positioned on the globe, Singapore has long benefited from it's location as a gateway to South East Asia. With the advent of the low cost carrier industry, residents and visitors can now take advantage of cheap and regular travel to neighbouring countries: Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and The Philippines are all on the doorstep along with countries growing as tourist destinations such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and China. In the space of just one year, we have enjoyed no less than thirteen Asian Adventures, a "personal best" in terms of foreign travel, which would be impossible in the UK for those without over-sized wallets. The opportunity to explore this region with its myriad of different cultures and experiences has been nothing short of amazing. Apparently, the novelty of saying, "I spent last weekend in Jakarta, next is in Krabi, after that, it's Siem Reap and then after that, I might stay in Singapore or I might pop to Rawa" wears off after a while. Not yet, is all I can say.

People galore - It's not the place, it's the people. Wherever you are in the world, the people around you are what make your experience truly unique. We have been unbelievably lucky to have met the people we now call our friends. Of course, as expats, we have naturally gravitated to others in a similar position, so our circle is still predominantly foreign rather than local. In London, we would hang out in our 'clique' semi-cautious of "new people" (not out of fear, more out of a lack of time or energy to devote to the cementing of new friendships). Our first year here has been like being back at university - tons of new places to explore and a whole bunch of similarly-aged people to hang out with. The difference is that it is the rule rather than the exception that they are from other parts of the globe. Dinner parties are cosmopolitan experiences where you can share and learn about life from a different corner of the world. Added to that, I have never met such a great concentration of mixed race people - those that can understand my childhood identity woes and together feel smug about how 'globally trendy' it has made us. The only drawback is that Singapore is a fairly transient place. Many stay just two years and if you make it past four, it's likely you will be here for another four. Nevertheless, the excellent times you spend together, however short, ensure that you will always hold your Sin City chums in special regard. I have never been blissing out in Rawa, clubbing in Jakarta or diving in Ko Lanta with any of my friends 'back home'. But then again, you could say we are 'missing out' on good times in London. Right now, the party is East side. Period.

Extraordinary pursuits - From condominium crashing to jungle trekking; from diving the deep blue sea to learning Singlish, from partying on yachts and helipads, we have done a lot of things this year that we would never have done living in the UK. The constant climate means that so much more of our lives is spent outdoors and plans for picnics and BBQs are not weather dependent. Sure, some residents miss the seasons, which help to mark the passing of time, but personally, I would trade seasons any day over the long, grey, cold, wet and windy winters of the isle of Great Britain.


Kiasu - This pervades every facet of Singaporean life. Here, the attitude is not 'work hard, play hard', it's 'work hard, get ahead, work harder'. Singaporeans shuffle to the front of a busy train approaching a station using the catchphrase "eskew" in fear of not getting off. More than a handful of times have I had to inform the space intruder that I am also alighting. They join queues for free newspapers for fear of not getting one. They chope seats for fear of not finding one. These types of behaviour could be forgiven if the risk of losing out was real. Although Singapore is the world's second most populated country (after Monaco), the worry associated with there 'not being enough to go round' is ill-founded. Singaporeans appear to forget that they live in a highly developed society where trains don't just pull out with passengers hanging on (as in India), where free newspapers don't run out (as in London) and where there are enough seats for everyone.

Edge - The lack of it. "Low crime doesn't mean no crime" is the line imprinted on the minds of locals amongst whom fear-mongering is rife. Sadly, because many Singaporeans are afraid to leave the shores of this tiny island (even Malaysia is "dangerous"), they will never really know just how lucky they are. Of course, literally, "it's a jungle out there" but to concentrate so much on the idiomatic meaning is surely idiotic. From an outsider's point of view, life is so accessible, effortless, smooth, straightforward, uncomplicated (how many other words can I find in my thesaurus for "easy"?) here, that it's almost as if everyone has an imaginary shroud of cotton wool wrapped around them (standard government issue, of course). As one local famously stated: "Singapore is like a warm bath. You sink in, slit your wrists, your lifeblood floats away, but hey, it's warm." Having said that, things are changing: the proliferation of independent art galleries and bookshops, the growing relaxation of censorship at the cinema and the greater interest in independent fashion and design labels signify a small step towards a culture of "cool". It may yet be a little red dot in the distance, but it's there and only time will make it bigger.

Questions that remain as yet unanswered:

- Why are there so many French people in Singapore? We currently have more French friends and there are more French expat bloggers in Singapore than any other nationality.
- Why do some Singaporeans believe that changing the spelling of their name will be 'auspicious'? (Notable examples: Audrey - Alldri; Serene - Surryn)
- Why do so many Singaporean women wearing high heels walk as if they just got off a horse on a long ride into town?
- Why are flip flops called 'slippers'?

To celebrate our one year anniversary (and the large number of French friends that we had made), we journeyed out to Les Bouchons for a slap up meal of enormous steaks and unlimited fries washed down with a bottle of Bourgogne Rouge. Recommended.

In summary, it's been a blast. A whirlwind of a year, complete with awesome people, amazing experiences and a whole lot of fun, smiles and laughter. We were searching for 'a life less ordinary' when we left the shores of Great Britain. We found it and then some. Thank you, Sin City and all your cotton wool wrapped people. For now, we will continue to enjoy your warmth.

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