An American Perspective
Where do you come from? Your English slang is pretty unique. Oh Singapore. I heard that Singapore is a very clean and beautiful. It is somewhere near Malaysia/China/Indonesia but I do not know exactly where it is. No chewing gum? (laughs) How do you survive without gum? Summer all year round at 80-90 degrees (Fahrenheit)? Are you sure? That’s bloody hot. It is very humid also right. So you do not get to experience snow. It must be very fun for you to see snow for the first time. What language do Singaporeans speak? English? Wow that’s really amazing. Don’t you guys have a language of your own? Oh, you speak English and Mandarin. Wow, I’m a Chinese (American) and I can’t even speak much Mandarin. So you mean I can navigate in Singapore easily with all the signs in English, that’s really wonderful. One day I should come to Singapore. You can buy great food at only 2 bucks? That’s sweet. Singapore is so small that you can travel around in an hour? You can’t be kidding! Do Singaporeans listen to music? What kind? Oh, so you guys like Lady Gaga and watch Lost too. That’s great.
A Singaporean Perspective
America, a land of freedom, where freedom of speech and expression is cherished and celebrated. California, the West Coast state with two great cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where Hollywood and Silicon Valley are, where the great entertainment and technology industries thrive. A place where many different cultures meet – much like Singapore – with a large populations of Caucasians, Mexicans/Hispanic/Latino, Koreans, Chinese, Indians and others, intermixing the main languages of English and Spanish into roads and landmarks, just like how Malay names are common in Singaporean Landmarks. There are many towns and cities with the titles “San” or “Santa”, which is Spanish for “Saint”, as many of the places were founded by Spanish Missionaries.
Santa Cruz, translated as Saint of the Holy Cross, is an interesting little town off the Pacific Coast. Most of the town amenities exist for the sake of the university – UCSC – although there are also many people living in this ‘rural’ area. It was refreshing to live in a place in the middle of a redwood forest, and also encountering many wild animals, such as deers, banana slugs and raccoons, on a daily basis. There is free aircon everyday, all the buses do not need aircon. Indoors, there are heaters instead of aircon. My dorm room has a heater to bring the temperature up to a comfortable 24-26 deg C for sleeping, while my room in my flat in Singapore has an aircon to bring the temperature down to the same temperature. NUS students wear jackets inside LTs as if it is winter, and wear flip flops especially when it pours; UCSC students wear jackets outdoors because it is winter, and wear rain boots when it drizzles. Singaporeans hate the Sun, Californians love the sunshine. Who doesn’t, especially when the sun shines at you at 20 deg C with low humidity and does not cause you to perspire? Most UCSC students love to drink, party and have fun. Some Singaporean students party, while others prefer watching movies, playing pool, board games, LAN, CS, DOTA…
Asking for a glass of wa-ter will leave the waiter puzzled, the correct pronunciation is wo-rer. Busing the table at the fast food joint is a normal ethic, while clearing the table in Singapore means you are putting the cleaning aunty/uncle out of job. (And only Singaporeans chope seats at food courts, not that there are that many food courts in USA anyway.) Americans greet one another with how’s it going (and you wonder what’s the it) and a big hug, Singaporeans greet one another with have you eaten, and a slight nod or wave (although often the latter). Although the phrase “how are you” can be overly abused to such an extent that it becomes a casual reply of “good” or “awesome”, while a long rant of how your day was would properly make other person think you are weird. However, I think Singaporeans certainly need more of the affectionate hug, as physical expressions of love are often lacking in Asian families.
California is a car country, endless miles of roads for one to drive, as long as you do not get stuck on 101 in the Bay area or on i5 in LA. 65 miles/hour is the norm on most freeways, and that is about 110 km/h, which is 20 km/h above Singapore’s speed limit on expressways. Snow gives bad condition for driving, as chains are an irritating chore, although it is quite surreal to drive through snow. It is also very surreal to drive through a road through mountains, valleys, farmlands, lakes, cliffs and sea. There is free parking at most places, every restaurant or Safeway or Walmart has a huge parking lot that spans acres of land. Only in crowded city areas where kerbside parking is metered. In contrast, we have ERP-ed car parks almost everywhere and free parking is scarce except on Sundays.
The cheapest food is fast food, in which you can get a burrito from Taco Bell or cheeseburger from McDonalds/BK for US$1. The average food price is US$8 and above, which is also the minimum wage in the USA. In contrast, the cheapest food in Singapore is hawker food, and the average food price is S$3 = US$2.14. The most favourite fast food in Singapore is undeniably McDonalds (although personally I prefer Carl’s Jr), while Californians prefer their one and only In-n-Out burgers with animal fries! Good chinese food is available readily in the more cosmopolitan cities, otherwise one should be happy with Panda Express with their (in?)famous (sweet) beef broccoli and mandarin chicken. Speaking about Panda Express, 2 entrees (like the earlier mentioned) and 1 side dish (rice or noodles) costs about US$8. A similar combination at an economic rice aka chap chai stall (rice + 2 side dishes) probably cost you less than S$2.50. Mexican burritos and wraps are some of their favorite quick-bites, while Malay/Indian curry puffs and roti pratas are our equivalent.
Homeless people and hippies lining up the streets are a common sight in Santa Cruz and San Francisco, with many asking for spare change at traffic junctions, and/or busking (you don’t need a permit to busk) with their creative musical instruments such as pails, pans, guitars, accordions and ukuleles. And then there are the hippies with long hair gathering at some corners. Sometimes, it is quite a sad sight to see the homeless sleeping on the streets in their giant blankets at 10 deg C, often making you wondering what you can do to change the world.
Post Exchange Syndrome
During the last 2 months adapting back to the Singapore lifestyle, everything I do or attend, comparisons will arise in my head. The surreal feeling is fading away sadly, and back to the reality of the hustle and competition of the NUS life. Everything that happened seemed like a dream. Singapore has changed quite a bit in the last 6 months, with new landmarks such as Marina Bay Sands and the circle line. Being overseas for a while also makes one appreciate how good Singapore is, such as the clean MRT trains, the efficient and elegant Changi Airport, the convenience of centralised sub-urban shopping malls and the convenience of most amenities within walking distance of your home or school. However, it also makes one realise how Singapore can improve in other areas, such as road and pedestrian courtesy, service standards, amongst other things. And then, one realises how boring NUS is: the un-inspiring architecture, the lack of good lecturers (not all professors are good teachers, and not all good teachers are professors), and the ever-encompassing competition with other students and over-emphasis on examination results. No such thing as 24-hour library in the USA – they have to protest for it. And McDonald’s 24-hour drive-thru in the USA does not serve walk-in customers for security reasons – you have to hail a cab and drive through it. Yes, I’m not kidding.
The 6 months away was certainly eye-opening and allowed me to see the other side of the world, where the grass is certainly greener both literally and figuratively. The grass may be forever greener, but we must learn how to be contented with what we have currently.
(P.S. I was reading some random person’s blog about post-exchange and I realise that I agree with most of what the person feels)