I came to Singapore with many of my classmates ten years ago to attend university here. The past ten years has been a major part of my growing up as a teenager. I have acquired some very important life skills like using a washing machine, getting used to public transport and be able to survive the costly lifestyles. I know where to go for yummy but cheap food, there are secret spots that I hung out at regularly, and I made great friends here whom I know I can always reach out to for no matter what.
Ten years has passed. I love many things about the country: The safety, the efficiency, the openness, the convenience and the international exposures. Many of my friends who came to Singapore with me have already, if not starting to build permanent bases in the city after a few years; which is a natural decision to make given its location proximity to home and better living conditions the country has to offer.
Singapore is a great country; my feeling has been a mix about it.
Walking down the financial district always explodes my mind. Construction sites are seen every two blocks away, new malls pop up almost every two days. The city changes every time after I am out of town for a few weeks. Few months ago, a friend called for a meet up at the “Stadium station” and I didn’t even know that such a station existed. I literally had to refer to the subway station map like a tourist to figure out the route. – This feels like you are dating a girlfriend who goes on plastic surgery so much and look like a doll (which is great) but not the girl that you dated before. Upgrades are good; it just lacks the sense of belonging and the feeling like you were part of the past. You feel home at the places where you know where the secret corners are and the naughty history behind it. Before I could create any naughty history here, the corner has been demolished and rebuilt based on latest contemporary architecture designs. My university campus where I spent most of my time at during my first couple years in Singapore now look like a NASA space station than a place that I remember having fun at in the green open field.
Tremendous progress that the country has made in its development has also effected in shaping some uniquely local characteristics of its people. The “kiasu (afraid to lose)” and “kiasee(afraid to die)” spirits are typical results of this fierce competition that its people are facing be it at work or at school. The primary school syllabus is so hard that it almost makes me feel like a 7-year-old kid is preparing himself to be a college professor. This is so because academic results determines what job you are going to get and how much you will earn - Singapore is unfortunately an expensive and competitive country to survive in given its greatness. Locals compete not only against their own people, but also with top performing foreigners who are everywhere in the country - almost 20% of its population is not from Singapore. This is a lot of pressure.
The strong desire to be wealthy and “considered” successful has unfortunately forced its people adhere to strict routine and standard “procedure driven” lifestyles. The belief that if they have done all it requires in this “routine”, success is guaranteed without a question – almost like a religion, a national belief. Many have followed a set time frame that governs all aspects of life: when to graduate from university, applying for a job months before graduating, get a promotion, get a significant other, get married, have kids, when to have kids (May or December?), which school to choose from, where to live (based on the location proximity to the best school to stand better chance to get selected), when to retire, how much to save (there are calculators online everywhere to determine that).. etc. Strict conformity to this schedule has been the life goal for many, some unknowingly.
Among the many other reasons I do not feel “belong”’ here– I do feel blessed for all the convenience and benefits even as a foreigner working here. I have been offered even more than what I would have been offered than in my home country. The government realized the importance of foreign talents and globalization way before many other governments do, which is one of the reasons why this country has transformed so quickly in such a short period of time compared to other countries with similar limitation and problems. The openness I experienced in this country is an experience that is uniquely to Singapore – no other countries despite its claim has made me feel more welcomed and respected as a foreigner. Only, Singapore. I enjoyed Singapore for the fact that I am allowed to speak my mind and be who I am. I might not be accepted according to the societal norm, but I am always free to explore my own fantasy if I were to pursue. I do love Singapore for that.
Long story short, it’s been good ten years with you, Singapore. Thank you!