Singapore – Jack Alexander Thomson

After arriving in tropical Singapore, which is not part of China as nearly everyone I met seemed to believe, I began to suspect perhaps I would have actually been more prepared to move to China. The airport was fast, efficient and clean. The taxi picked up my Singaporean friend and I. He kept calling the taxi driver uncle – I was confused. Are they related? Apparently not. And like that so my year in Singapore began.

I have still not gotten used to calling elderly people uncle and auntie, every time I worry at causing offence like the uncles on the train who get in a fluster when someone dares to offer them a seat. When I arrived at my university accommodation and was checking in, I asked a question about orientation events. “That’s not my department.”. Was she talking to me? I could not believe it, I was still in shock as I walked up to my room and told myself not to take it personally – I had prepared myself for the culture shock after all.

After consulting google maps, I took a short and sweaty walk to the food court for some coffee. I had taken Intro Chinese at my university, and I could order some coffee, to the aunties delight. Coffee was not kāfēi as I expected, it was Kopi. This was when I learned that the vernacular here was an amalgamation of Malay, English, Tamil, Mandarin and Hokkien.

The food in Singapore is beyond comparison. I ate three hot meals a day, all authentic, healthy and tasty. The thought of paying more than triple the cost for lunch for a lukewarm panini breaks my heart. Food is best prepared by people with a passion for the food they’re making, not a stressed university student like myself.

Within a week of arriving my weak British stomach (and some cold chicken rice) had gotten the best of me. I began to feel cold and shake, while my temperature skyrocketed. As a millennial with a duty not to waste a medical professional’s time, I took an Uber to the hospital and assured the driver I was not going to die in his car.

I weakly walked into the hospital and was fantasising about the wheelchair I was about to be offered. Instead, I was asked for my credit card. It wasn’t actually, and I was well taken care of. My mum was only informed about the hospital trip after I was released of course. Luckily The University of Edinburgh’s insurance for students abroad on exchange covered everything for me.

Soon the academics began, and the poolside sunbathing of the exchange students were occasionally interrupted by fifty minutes of class. The grading is on a, and so you had to be top of the course to receive a good grade. The competition in class was a lot more intense than I had thought, according to my Singaporean friends. Come exam time I knew people who would stay awake for 48 hours straight to finish assignments or to study.

Singapore is known for being one of the easiest places to do business in the world. Back in Edinburgh I rarely overhear talk of startups or innovative ideas. Amongst my Singaporean friends, I would often hear connections being made, ideas being discussed: cryptocurrency, blockchain, investments. Salaries are shared openly, and without much envy from others, there’s a real sense of aspiration. No one needs to leave their home to achieve great success, nothing is more than an hour away by train. If someone invites you to Google or HSBC, you could be there within half an hour.

There’s a real sense of unity in Singapore amongst the citizens. Every August Singapore celebrates its national day. This is the only time of year you’re legally permitted to fly any flags and only the Singaporean one. It’s everywhere, there are banners, shop deals and even songs about life in Singapore. At first, I was shocked by this display of patriotism given the extremely negative connotations across the globe. Then I realised that their nationalism comes free of any past atrocities committed in its name.

Singaporean’s have accomplished so much in the last 53 years. I am grateful to have been given a chance to experience such a forward-facing rapidly evolving society both socially and economically.