Prescott and I have now been back in the States for nearly three weeks, which has given us ample time to think about and talk through our experiences in Singapore. Most people say that it takes two to three years to get used to living in a new country, so I suppose we’re still in the adjustment phase. But here’s how we’re feeling so far about living in the Little Red Dot.
We are thrilled to be having an adventure. It’s amazing to live somewhere that is both so easily accessible and so totally different. Singapore is famous for being clean, everyone speaks English, and all parts of the infrastructure work well. At first glance, it feels pretty western. But look just below the surface and, from the food at the hawker stalls to the people you see on the bus every day, you are always aware that you are in Asia.
I like being somewhere new. There’s a huge variety of people speaking all sorts of languages (most often Chinese, Malay, and Tamil). It’s great to stumble on temples when I’m out walking and to run into troops of monkeys when I’m in the forest. I like that I feel like I’m constantly learning new things, whether it’s about religion or history or food or flora.
Living in an autocracy is not as bad as I’d feared. You quickly get used to cameras being everywhere, knowing that you might be watched wherever you’re going. Surprisingly, that’s not as creepy as it sounds. I also don’t miss my freedom of speech, mostly because the things that you aren’t allowed to do — criticize the Singapore government; denigrate other races or religions — aren’t things I would want to be using my speech much for anyway.
Indeed, life under a benevolent authoritarian government has a huge upside: we always feel safe. A woman can walk around at 2:00am on her cell phone pretty much anywhere on the island and not feel in danger. Prescott notes that Singapore, an island of 5.5 million people, has an average of 12 homicides a year (and 24 homicide detectives to work on them). And yet you hardly every see policemen or police vehicles — everyone is either plain clothed or watching us from their CCTVs.
The government of Singapore is remarkably forward thinking — they are always planning, looking far in to the future as they plot everything from new subway lines to park systems. Government officials are well paid, so the civil service attracts many of Singapore’s best and brightest. It’s a country that works well. In these political times in the US, that is a huge relief. The only time we absolutely have to face questions about 45 is when cab drivers ask us whether we voted for him.
Are there down sides to living in Singapore? Yes. First of all, it is hot and humid every single day. Secondly, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world — no matter where you put yourself, it’s hard to get out of view of buildings (lots and lots of them). Third, there are civil rights issues: LGBTQ persons have no rights; migrant workers have hard lives; and there is subtle cultural racism going on all the time (the ethnic Chinese are on the top of the Singaporean food chain). Finally, people are not particularly friendly out on the streets; they keep to themselves, and you rarely find anyone smiling at you or saying hello.
So living in Singapore is not perfect. But it’s green, and the food is incredible and varied, and I’m always finding new things to see and do. Singapore has a reputation of being a sterile place; people place a high value on money, food, and shopping, so it’s not a city where most people have taken the time to create art or poetry or music. The good news is that this has been changing recently. Singapore is evolving in interesting ways.
How long will we stay? Lots of people have asked us that, and we’re really not sure. We have mentally committed ourselves to at least two more years. Beyond that, we’re not sure. I suspect we’ll have a much better sense at the end of this year.
I will close by noting that Singapore would benefit by importing a few key items. They really need to expand their use of shave ice/snowballs, which exist all over Baltimore:
Singapore also needs much more soft serve (especially cherry dip cones, which are a great invention).
Here’s Prescott with our nephew Cooper in a giant cone of their own: