Moving from London to Singapore
From London to Singapore, moving to the other side of the world was a scary but ultimately rewarding experience. For example, I've learnt to adapt to Kopi C instead of my usual daily dose of Earl Grey. Sure, it's different, but it'll do. Of course, there have been times where I’ve been homesick, and even had a meltdown when I saw the price of the imported Australian broccoli, but apart from that - it’s all been good.
It’s been one month since I’ve moved to Singapore now: and here’s what I’ve learnt from this small yet refined country.
1. Forget about an actual cup, a plastic bag will do the trick
The first time I saw someone drinking coffee out of a plastic bag, I was mesmerised. Back in the UK, we only have cups, so I was confused how you would begin to drink from a bag. However, the design of the plastic carrier has a little ‘noose’ at the top which allows the bag to be tied up, preventing spillage. So locals would hold the bag by this string, and suck their liquid out of the straw in the middle.
However, it was still pretty weird seeing the hot brown liquid slosh around this transparent container, and I wondered how the bag wasn’t melting from the heat of the coffee. A quick Google told me that sturdier plastics can hold boiling temperatures. Not sure how good it is for your health though.
2. People eat out of plastic and paper too
It’s common for Singaporeans to just eat their food straight from the paper wrapping without putting it on a bowl or plate, to save time and effort. Although we do this in the UK for some foods, such as fish and chips, it’s uncommon for anything else. We’ll usually have Tupperware boxes for most takeaway foods, so it’s weird to see lots of Singapore food wrapped in paper and nestled in plastic bags.
People here don’t even take the food out from the plastic bag to eat! They’ll just simply shift it until there’s an opening, and start eating. I guess it’s more convenient, especially as they tie it up later to throw in the bin, but still it does seem a bit uncomfortable to rustle the plastic bag every time you go in for a bite.
3. Dogs can’t poop when they want to
If I didn’t have a garden growing up, where could I possibly have posed?
I grew up in a two-storeyed house with both a front and a back garden, which was pretty standard for most people. However, the majority of people in Singapore don’t have a garden as they typically live in a flat or apartment. As it’s so tiny here, it makes sense that there isn’t much landed property, but it still blows my mind that most locals didn’t have a garden to run about in as a kid. What happens if the family pet needs to go for a poop? Or if you just fancy just having a nice sit-down in your garden, admiring the work of your green thumb?
From what I’ve learned, locals like keeping a few potted plants on their balcony, but it’s a far cry from the beautiful garden that my mother sculpted when I was a child, boasting rows of pretty bluebells and tulips.
4. Ants and cockroaches are quick to be your friends
When I was visiting my boyfriend’s place, I was feeling a little peckish and had a quick peek in the fridge. Apart from your usual milk, cheese and random assorted vegetables, I also had a shock when I saw shampoo, a bag of rice, and some cosmetics in the fridge. He explained that there are a lot of insects in Singapore, so it became a habit for him and his family to store things in a way where the insects couldn’t reach them. Almost to explain what he meant, I looked over his shoulder and saw a tiny mountain of ants feasting on a spot of chocolate milk that I had spilled in the morning.
Since then, I’ve learnt to be a lot more careful with where and how my products are stored. As Singapore is a tropical climate, that comes along with a lot of things such as ants and cockroaches - so it’s pretty important that you’re clean and tidy so you don’t meet some unwanted friends.
5. The verb ‘can’ is both a question AND an answer
I feel as if anything can be asked or answered with the simple verb ‘can.’ When I hear two Singaporeans discuss what they should have for dinner, I hear can so many times I start picturing a couple of can-can dancers frolicking about. The conversation goes something like this:
‘Eh bro, what to eat ah?’
‘Anything also can, I anything one.’
‘Kopitiam can anot ah?’
It was so strange the first couple of times I heard ‘can’ used in such contexts that I couldn’t decipher what the person was trying to get across. They just kept saying can, and I was like ‘can what? What do you mean? What can you do?” Eventually, I worked out it that it was an ellipted form of ‘can you do that/would you like that?’ or, ‘yes I can do that/yes I’d like that.’
5. She’s not related to you, but she can be your auntie
‘Hi Auntie!! One Char Kway Teow please,’ calls my co-worker to the lady at the hawker stall. I turn around and look at her in surprise, ‘Hey, I didn’t know your auntie owns this place!’ I get laughed at in return.
Turns out, my co-worker isn’t related to that hawker-stall lady. In Singapore, ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ are polite terms of address reserved for older people. I’ve heard locals call various non-related strangers such as taxi drivers, shop assistants and cleaners by these terms. Although calling non-family members ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ is still a strange concept to me, I’m starting to use these terms of address more as you’ll elicit a much more friendly response, and maybe even a smile!
However, some ladies will get pretty offended if you call them auntie, cause they don’t think they’re old enough to be called that. So, I opt for the younger version of ‘jie jie’ which means older sister in Mandarin.
6. Christmas? It’s all about Chinese New Year
It’s nearly Christmas now, and back at home, people are snapchatting about the sub-zero temperatures, their excitement for the Christmas dinner, and arguing about whether brussel sprouts are delicious or just unfit for human consumption. In Singapore though, I haven’t talked to anyone that seemed remotely excited for my beloved festive season. The Christmas tree is up in the office, but there’s hardly any Christmas cheer to go along with it! Apparently, all the excitement is reserved for Chinese New Year.
For now, I’ll live through my ang moh friends excitement on Facebook and admire their ugly Christmas jumpers on Instagram.
7. You can travel from the tropics to the Antarctic in less than a second
My boyfriend likes to raise his eyebrows in pictures so his eyes appear larger
Singapore is a country where you have to put on a jacket when you go indoors. In the UK it’s permanently freezing, so it makes no sense for us to have air con as well. In fact, we have heating indoors, which seems to be a concept utterly alien to Singaporeans.
Sometimes, Singaporeans go so insane with the aircon that I have to leave the premise just to get a bit of warmth from the outdoors. However, because Singapore is so humid, 24 degrees celsius in the UK is completely different to a 24 degrees in Singapore. At night, even I have to turn up the air-con so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night with a headache and drenched in my own sweat. Still, certain malls in Orchard could really tame that air-con down...
8. Singaporeans are mad passionate about their local cuisine
When I first arrived at the TSL Office and people were heading out for lunch, I decided to go along with them. ‘You must try char kway teow, and nasi ambeng, and ohhh- the curry rice here is good too!’ said the excited Singaporean girl. A few others joined in, urging me to try their cuisine. And they were right, it was really good.
I really adore how proud locals are of their cuisine - and rightly so! Because of the multicultural environment, Singapore has a great variety of food, and they’re all very tasty too. It definitely beats my standard sandwich back in the UK.
9. Living with a stranger is completely accepted here
The idea of having a maid seems impossibly fancy to me, but a lot of Singaporeans have one. Some even have a maid that lives with them!
The first time I visited my friend’s house with her live-in maid, it was impossibly awkward. Every time she did something for me, I’d thank her profusely, or insist I do it myself. I felt like a toddler with her doing everything for me, including fetching a napkin for my Milo-stained lips. Not only that, but she also slept in a tiny little cupboard room on a thin mattress. There was barely any room for her possessions. I felt a bit sorry for her, it was like she was Harry Potter living in the broom cupboard under the stairs. However, my friend told me that maids were used to living like that so it was okay, plus, she was treated like a member of the family. But still it seemed very strange to me.
10. There’s no Archbishop of Banterbury here
What I really miss about the UK is our banter. The kind of “Cheeky Nandos explanations” banter that circulated and took the internet by storm last year. Making fun of each other and calling each other nasty names is our way of being nice to each other, which is what makes our conversation so Britishly unique. It’s impolite politeness and I love it.
Here though, being actually nice to each other is the way to be polite. When a local compliments me on my new hair-do or what I’ve done with my makeup, I do a double-take because I’m so not used to it. If one of my friends wanted to comment on my new hair, it’d probably go like this: ‘New hair, you prick? Looks shit.’ and we’d laugh it off.
I’m still not used to how Singaporeans are so nice to each other, but I will admit it is a nice ego-boost.
11. Best icebreaker: JC or Poly?
When a Singaporean meets somebody new, one of the first few questions they ask them is: “Did you go to JC, or Poly?” Is this the best way to break the ice, or are Singaporeans just really interested in what kind of school people went to? Personally, I never met anybody in the UK who asked about what school you went to - it just didn’t seem relevant. However, when I asked a local Singaporean why people do it, he said that going to a certain school reveals a lot about a person. Apparently, going to junior college shows that you’re more book-smart, and going to Polytechnic shows that you’re more street-smart.
12. Meals here are typically beige or brown
There’s always a distinct lack of greens when it comes to Singaporean food at hawker stalls. Back at home, we usually have a little mixed salad thrown in there somewhere. In my lunch from the hawker stall however, there’ll be an abundance of carbohydrates usually in the form of noodles or rice and some meat, but there’s always a lack of veg unless I go for mixed rice. This leaves my lunch looking very brown, beige, and boring.
To make up for it, I usually buy some Chinese greens at the supermarket and cook a whole bunch for dinner, but I’d really love to see some greens incorporated at the hawker stalls! Please Auntie/Uncle, I’d love some veggie sides.
13. “So hot can die one leh” = I hate the sun
I've been convered too - I need shade
When walking to a certain destination, locals will almost always try and use the route that provides the most shade and protection from the sun. It’s the complete opposite in the UK: we barely get any sun, so whenever it comes out everybody literally runs into the sun to bask in it. We know we’re not gonna get the sun for the rest of the 363 days of the year, so we gotta make the most out of it - even if it's only a chilly 13 degrees.
However, because it’s basically sunny and humid everyday here, locals just hate being in the sun for too long. It makes you sweat, gives you a headache, and just makes you irritated. I used to choose the route where I could enjoy the sun to its full capacity, but now I sigh in relief when I find shade, or step into a nice air-conditioned room.
There’s a lot more that I have to learn!
Despite the lack of British banter in Singapore, I could easily get used to the pure niceness of locals, even with their plastic-bag drinking ways. Just being here for one month has already converted me to being a shade-loving vampire, which makes me wonder what else I’ll manage to pick up in the upcoming months.
As weird and quirky this list is to foreigners, I believe it’s the little things that make Singapore so uniquely Singaporean, and I’m growing to love it more and more.