When I mention that I lived in Singapore, most people would say “Oh, like Singapore noodles” or “Is that in China?” or “I had to stop there on the way to Australia”.
Although being seen as part of China would be irritating to most Singaporeans, I find the latter the most irksome. I love Singapore. The little country with such rich culture and diversity is so much more than a pit stop en route to Australia.
Before moving to Singapore, I read every travel guide and watched every YouTube video on Singaporean lifestyle and culture. I really scraped the bottom of the virtual barrel of knowledge about Singapore since I was moving more than 11,000km to live here for almost a year! So, here’s what I learned about the mysterious Singaporeans after a year of living, breathing, and eating Singapore.
Singaporeans are polite and obedient
I spent almost a year as an Ang Moh in Singapore. Yes, that’s what I’ll call myself, although most Singaporeans are far too polite to directly refer to me as an Ang Moh, even while they don’t like to admit that the term has any negative connotations. I find this delightfully refreshing after being to China where the locals repeatedly yell “Laowai” at any white person they happen across.
Singaporeans are obedient citizens, unparalleled to anywhere in the world (except maybe North Korea, but best not to get into that), although the medieval corporal and capital punishments may have to answer for this level of nationwide good behaviour.
You have never seen such orderly queueing as at an MRT station at rush hour. It’s an OCD heaven. Yes, it may be a bit whiffy inside the cramped train but it is heart-warming to know that every aunty can kick an able-bodied young man out of his seat or face the wrath of disapproving glances from other train users.
I couldn’t actually believe that youngsters made news and were branded as troublemakers for nothing more than running alongside the train and getting back on before the doors closed. It’s a far cry from a school shooting! Order and rules are respected above all else here in Singapore. I am yet to meet a Singaporean who would even think about disregarding a packet of tissues at an otherwise empty table.
Singaporeans are competitive
Singapore has a reputation of being super smart. Yes, it’s true, all the stats say so, but a driving force behind this nation of high achievers is competition. Singaporeans are competitive and big fans of heated discussions… You’re having an argument, just admit it.
I would challenge you to find a more competitive nation but I won’t, because that might also cause a “heated discussion”. It is easy to blame the pushy parents on this one – we’ve all seen the Asian father meme.
For real though, someone needs to tell your parents that not everybody wants to be a doctor. The main culprit of this competitive culture is the education system. I spent 1 year in that battlefield that is Singaporean 3rd level education, and before you get all argumentative, no, I didn’t just have to get a pass like most exchangers; I actually had to compete with you guys for good grades against the odds of the dreaded “bell-shaped curve”. So, trust me when I say you guys need to chill out.
Yes, education is important and you need to work hard if you want good grades, but there is more to life. I unapologetically state that there are things in life which are much more important than good grades. I would quite frankly like to throw De Moivre, Gauss and any other contributor of the bell-shaped curve down a garbage chute of the tallest HDB building (just kidding, I’m a life science graduate, I need that shit).
Singaporeans are patriotic, and also not
I had the good fortune of being in Singapore during the 50th anniversary celebrations and I was astonished by the air of national pride Singaporeans have for their country. Singaporeans are fiercely proud of being just that, and how far the country has come since independence.
I was also living in Singapore during the death of Lee Kuan Yew, which was oddly terrifying. The passion with which Singaporeans grieved was shocking for us Ang Mohs who hadn’t even heard of him before. However, the underlying resentment of the country’s strict policies is apparent especially in the younger generations. Young adults who feel stifled and restricted in Singapore dream of one thing – leaving Singapore.
I had fallen in love with this country. I tried to extend my student visa so that I could stay in this beautiful city a little longer, to the dismay of many. I even made a return visit just last summer. I was devastated to hear that most, if not all, of my friends and classmates want to leave Singapore and to set up new lives in Australia or America.
Sure, I can see why “the land of the free” might be enticing to young Singaporeans, but Singapore is an amazing place to live, with its stable economy, high employment rates, awesome food, and being arguably the safest place on Earth.
So, Singaporeans, don’t you all abandon ship just yet.