By Faith Chanda
Moving to Singapore was my first expat experience. I’ve travelled a lot, but had never lived in another country. To be honest, my husband dragged me here across the globe, kicking and screaming, but now I’m not sure I ever want to leave.
Expat life has stages, like the stages of grief, but opposite. It starts with ‘acceptance’ – accepting the job offer, the challenge, the idea of change. Next comes ‘depression’ – when all of the “this is the last time we’ll [fill in the blank] before we move” sinks in, realizing you won’t be seeing friends and family as often. It can be sad, but soon you move on to the ‘bargaining’ stage – “Ok, fine. I’ll go, but only for two years.” The hardest stage comes after you move and once the honeymoon stage has worn off: ‘Anger’. “Why am I still getting lost in the MRT?”; “Every empty table has tissues chope-ing the spot!”; “No, [friend from home], my life is not like Crazy Rich Asians.” After you’ve really settled in and learned to love all the great things about Singapore and learned to cope with the rest comes ‘denial’. But with a twist. More like, “Who, me? I’m not a ‘real’ expat. I live here now!” And that’s when you start living like a local.
After more than four years, we’ve moved away from the hub of Singapore expat life, Orchard Road. I finally feel like we’re getting a taste of living like locals and I love it! There’s lots of wisdom to glean from Singapore’s rich culture and unique lifestyle.
Eat Cheap: A meal at a hawker center for the whole family can be less expensive than cooking at home! Not only is there a wide variety of choice, you can find some of the best food Singapore has to offer at these humble stands.
Shop Smart: While many a Western expat has bemoaned the lack of the likes of Walmart and Home Depot in Singapore, the truth is you can find much of the same stuff here, just in smaller batches and at even cheaper prices. Since HDBs are meant to be relatively self-contained for residents, you’ll find everything from hardware to head wear and salons to saloons in the shops and businesses on the ground floors.
You’ll find the same with groceries. While Cold Storage and Redmart cater to expat brands and choices, the wet markets are where the fresh proteins and produce are.
Celebrate Diversity: Coming from a small town in America, it took me a while to get used to seeing so many mixed-culture families like ours. I still get a jolt of joy every time I am reminded of all the cultures coexisting peacefully in Singapore. An important factor in Singapore’s successfully blended community is the recognition that it’s okay to celebrate not only what we have in common, but also what makes us different.
Singapore’s public holidays encompass so many different religions; that each holiday is practiced and celebrated publicly to its fullest extent, and everyone is invited to participate.
Travel Efficiently: From the flyer’s bliss that is Changi airport, to the cleanliness of the MRT, to the punctuality of the public bus system, Singaporeans know how to travel, whether it’s to another country or just down the road, to the extent that having a car in Singapore may not even be necessary. Using public transportation is cheaper, better for the environment and employment rates, and it is almost always more efficient to travel by MRT, bus, taxi or ridesharing service, such as Grab or Go-Jek.
Take Advantage of Domestic Help: While it’s a truly foreign concept for much of the expat community, many cultures in Asia and elsewhere understand that domestic help can be a win-win situation. Employers can recapture time they might have spent cooking, cleaning and shopping to be redistributed to time with family, friends and other pass-times. At the same time, the helpers are often able to support their families to an extent that would not be possible otherwise.
Trust Traditional Health Practices: Chinese Traditional Medicine (CTM) has been around for centuries, so have Indian ayurvedic methods and many other health and healing customs. While modern medicine is necessary in certain situations, many traditional practices, such as cupping, acupuncture and homeopathy can have demonstrably positive effects. Research providers before you go, but don’t be afraid to consider rituals borne from the wisdom of the ages just because they’re new to you.
Singapore does so many things right – it’s known around the world for efficiency, cleanliness, greenness, diversity and friendliness. Its citizens walk more, limit sun exposure and eat fewer processed foods. Living like a local in Singapore means appreciating all of these unique advantages as well as integrating into our own lives some of the wisdom Singaporeans have to share.