Diary of An Expat in Singapore records the tongue-in-cheek journey of an Italian expat living in Singapore. The author Jennifer Gargiulo takes a hilarious look at life in Singapore – packed with funny anecdotes, snapshots and top 10 lists: Signs you are in a Singapore taxi; Stereotypes about Singapore that are actually true; Things first time visitors to Singapore say; Politically-incorrect expat profiling by nationality; and many more.
Diary is based on the author’s popular blog of the same name. It has been in the Kinokuniya bestseller list since it was published.
Uniquely Singapore (Part 1)
1) Swimming in an outdoor pool on Christmas Day Only in Singapore. As I watch my kids frolicking in the water, I make a mental list of all the other things that make Singapore unique and differentiate from Verona, as well as from most other places.
2) Parental guidance No need. Profanity on television is bleeped and there is no nudity. I mean, none. My kids are totally shocked when they watch TV in Italy. And, that’s just the commercials.
3) Capital punishment Once hoping to have a lively debate with my university class, I brought up the issue of capital punishment and asked my students: “Who’s in favour, who’s against?” 100% infavour…no debate. I knew I should have prepared more material.
4) Live-in maids Cheap labour from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar. Here, even the maids have maids. Seriously. The wealthier Singaporean families have more than one maid so it is entirely plausible to hear how maid number one is training maid number two. The ideal scenario in Singapore includes a grandparent who keeps an eye on maid number one while she keeps an eye on maid number two. A viable solution for the dual-working-parent household or merely a way to keep the grandparents busy? Who’s to say?
5) School etiquette Currently, there is a debate as to whether local teachers have the right to cut their students’ hair should the need arise. Yes—if it’s longer than the standard allowed or if the student has already been given prior warning. The mother at the centre of the haircutting media storm was protesting not only because a teacher had taken it upon herself to cut her child’s hair but because that was a $300 hairstyle. Let me repeat that: $300. Understandably, the student didn’t receive much sympathy. All students are expected to wear uniforms, nojewellery, and no make-up. Sneakers must be either all black or all white. The good thing is kids don’t need to worry about being mugged over expensive trainers.
6) Construction work Ubiquitous working sites, trees being cut down, and consequent loud jackhammering…you just don’t hear this in Verona. As my kids see it: “That’s because everything is already done in Italy.” Condos here are knocked down for being too old (as in 20 years, not 200 years old). The concept of old equalling bad is hard to comprehend for a Westerner, especially one from Europe. Sadly, beautiful shophouses and green spaces are being replaced by concrete.
Malls are constantly competing with each other on Orchard Road as truckloads of Bangladeshi workers make their daily commute to work; all the bustle contributes to creating the image of Singapore as a city that never sleeps. And, if you live near a construction site, that’s not just a euphemism.
7) Food courts Fantastic culinary oases, open all day and late into the night, where you can eat all sorts of delicious, inexpensive meals. Indian curries, Korean kimchi, chicken rice… all for $5 (less than a coffee at Starbucks). In some courts, you can use a special debit card that can be topped up at the entrance. Forget BYOB (Bring Your Own Beer), here the only acronym you need to remember is BYON (Bring Your Own Napkin).
8) Tuition… for kindergarteners? Do you remember when you were little and couldn’t wait for school to be over so you could go out and play? At first, I wondered where all the Singaporean kids were and then I was told they have tuition after class. In kindergarten? How far behind are they? This helps explain why the Singaporean school system has such an excellent reputation.
Also, the inordinate amount of time spent cramming for exams (that’s the moms), and the consequent breaking out in hives (again, the moms). However, if I think back to when I was in elementary school, my afternoon activities consisted of reading or playing outside with my friends until my mother called me inside for Dinner. Not math, thank God.
My Singaporean neighbour told me her daughter was the only student in her whole class to not have a math tutor. And that was only because she had left her own job as a real estate agent to become her daughter’s personal tutor. The girl’s education dictated their lifestyle (the mother’s quitting of job, the choice of condo they lived in), there was a lot riding on her test results. Pressure? Just a tad.
9) Cheap taxis Very, very cheap. The price of an espresso at a bar in Italy—albeit one where you pay extra to sit down. True, taxis are cheap, but there are many variables. Peak hours, routes selected and booking fees can easily double one’s final cost. Also, taxi drivers are not too keen on picking up your child from school. Even though the meter is running it’s something they still hate to do. I have had taxis drive away the minute I stepped out to pick up my daughter… and I hadn’t even paid the fare. They just couldn’t bother to wait.
10) Eternal heat This is actually a stereotype. It’s not always very hot and humid. Sometimes, it’s just hot and humid. The Singaporeans have a solution to this. It’s called air con.
A famous Italian writer, Tiziano Terzani, who lived in Singapore during the 1960s, remembered how there used to be no need for air con because there was such a pleasant breeze—thanks to the lush vegetation throughout the island. Unfortunately, the incessant construction work is dramatically decreasing any chance of that now.
When there are no trees, there is no breeze. Hopefully, the urban planners will not allow Singapore to become another asphalt jungle. Did somebody say Hong Kong?
11) Singlish So, is the national language English, Chinese, or Malay? Nobody really knows. The government can’t make up its mind and there are too many dialects to consider. No bother, most Singaporeans speak Singlish.
Not always clear as certain answers sound like questions and vice-versa: “Can I have some coffee?” “Can. Can.” (Is that a yes or an invitation to break into a French dance routine?)
Had I not moved to Singapore, I might never have known that the word off can be used as a verb: “Would you like me to off the air con?”
A new Bidadari housing estate will be built to retain its rich history
Did you know Bidadari is a Malay word meaning “fairy”, “angel” or “nymph”?
Bidadari used to be a cemetery site for the Christian, Muslim and Hindu communities. It operated from 1908 to 1973, and was one of largest and oldest cemeteries in Singapore.
The 147,000 graves in Bidadari were exhumed from 2001 to 2006, making way for the North-East Line MRT stations of Woodleigh and Potong Pasir.
Recently, the Housing Development Board (HDB) and the National Heritage Board (NHB) announced the development of a Bidadari housing estate that will boast 11,000 new homes on this former cemetery site.
Bidadari’s rich history will be preserved in the new estate. A 500m-long Heritage Walk showcasing storyboards of photographs and information about Bidadari’s key heritage landmarks will be built.
A new man-made lake inspired by the former Alkaff Gardens in the area will also be incorporated in the proposed Bidadari housing estate.
This is the first housing estate that is designed to preserve the area’s heritage.
The Epoch Times captured some images of this historical site before it makes way for the new Bidadari housing estate.
In 1903, the Municipal Commissioners developed 26 hectares of land at Upper Serangoon Road into a cemetery for Protestant Christians and Roman Catholics. The Bidadari Christian cemetery was opened in 1908. Two years later, Dato Mentri of Johore bought another plot of land nearby to establish an adjoining cemetery for the Muslims. In 1925, the Bidadari cemetery built a burial area for the Hindu community.
The cemetery accepted its last burial in 1973.
Listen to Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra with Tony & Mia
Singapore is the 30th happiest country in the world, according to the 2013 World Happiness Report, making it the only Asian country in the top 30. Released by Columbia University’s Earth Institute on September 9, the report ranked Denmark the happiest country in the world, with Finland and Norway coming in 2nd and 3rd. West African Togo brought up the rear at 156th place.
Sponsored by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the global survey ranks countries based on six key factors that contribute to well-being. These include a country’s real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity.
According to another survey, the Asia Happiness Index 2013 conducted by the Eden Strategy Institute (ESI), Singapore netizens are among Asia’s happiest people, ranking first among five Asian countries.
The survey covered 200 million social media accounts, and the ranking is based on their emotional expressiveness in social media.
ESI said, “Despite recent complaints, the majority of Singaporeans continue to build on the Singaporean dream of self-actualisation, meritocracy, safety, and efficiency in society. [Singaporean youths are] particularly vocal during festive periods and special occasions, [expressing] their encouragement [and sharing] pictures as a means of connecting with each other.”
Eden Strategy Institute (ESI) positions itself as Asia’s leader in social innovation.
Ironically, Gallup had conducted another survey where Singapore was ranked the most emotionless country in the world. Singapore also ranked 1st in experiencing the lowest positive emotions worldwide.
Gallup measured the emotions of people in over 150 countries. Only 36% of Singaporeans reported positive and negative feelings on a daily basis, compared to 60% of Filipinos. The Philippines is the most emotional country, according to the survey.
These were the questions Gallup asked in their survey: • “Did you smile laugh a lot yesterday?” • “Were you treated with respect yesterday?” • “Did you feel well-rested?” • “Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?” • “Did you experience feelings like enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress, anger on a daily basis?”
Singapore has the lowest unemployment rates, as well as one of the highest rates of GDP per capita, in the world. But money does not necessarily buy happiness.
Joe Clifton from Gallup commented, “Higher income does not necessarily mean higher well-being.”
Clifton advised, “Leaders who are looking for ways to further improve the human condition in their countries – especially those societies such as Singapore that are doing well on traditional economic indicators, but not necessarily behavioural metrics – need to do more to incorporate well-being into their leadership strategies.”
Singapore is a safe place with excellent infrastructure, facilities and transport systems, and Singaporeans are grateful about that. However, the rising cost of living, work-life stress, competition and the influx of foreigners are hard for Singaporeans to bear.
Q & A
Ms Nang Hla Thidar, 34, Administrative Assistant (Singapore PR from Burma)
In my country, neighbours are helpful. In Singapore, neighbours are just like strangers. I find it weird that people need to apply for a licence to sing in the underground pathways. Here, the elderly still need to work. So pitiful!
Mr Lee Choe Kum, 60s, Storekeeper (Singaporean)
No, I am dealing with stresses of work and all these high cost of living, such as housing loan, food, transportation, health/medical and daily needs, are straining me.
Ms Angela Teo, 25, Accounts Executive (Singaporean)
Yes, in a way, I am happy. Though the cost of living is getting higher in Singapore, but compared to other countries, we have no natural disasters like earthquake. And Singapore is a safe country, so I will not complain.
Mr Tang C K, 38, Sales Executive (Singaporean)
I’m not very happy because life is not up to my expectation. I am single, and I cannot afford to [own] any property due to rocketing prices. I am not happy with the high influx of foreigners, and the traffic congestion.
Ms Shirley Ong, 40s, Administration (Singaporean)
Singapore’s job market is getting competitive. It is hard getting a good job. We have to compete against the foreigners. Companies are cutting cost; I did not even receive my bonus and pay increment last year.
Ms Lisa Ng, 40s, Accounts Manager (Singaporean)
I feel that we have more work and life pressure in Singapore now. Everything is so expensive, especially the housing and petrol. ———————————————————-
Symphony Orchestra Shen Yun (Music of Yi ethnic group)