What I found surprising about Singapore

Before moving to a new country people often conduct an extensive research that would answer most of their questions. Would it suit me financially? What is the weather like? What is the work culture like? Are there good schools for my kids? What about the quality of life? Could I afford a car? The list is endless. Before we moved to Singapore, we were familiar with the city from the tourist’s point of view. Looking into the practical side of things as well as the other expats’ experiences gave us what we thought was a little “insight”. However, as other countries, Singapore is full of revelations. Here are some simple things that I learned and found interesting about our new home.

Being an expat, you often find certain things surprising about your host country. Here are some things about Singapore I didn't notice as a tourist.

1. Singapore is very densely populated..

..but it doesn’t always seem that way.

With population of 5,6 million people spread over 719 km2, Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (NOT cities, even though Singapore is also a city..). Yet, it just doesn’t seem so crowded to me. Of course, office hours and hiding from hot and humid weather can explain a lot. Situation changes depending on day of the week, time of the day, area and on whether some shop is giving hello kitty merchandise as a gift with a 2000S$ purchase. But even then it feels like there is much more space than in other big cities with smaller population density. I guess there’s a reason buildings are getting higher and every new shopping center has more and more basements.

2. Talking about buildings:

architecture is a separate huge topic when talking about Singapore – so many styles, so many awards and such a variety!

Being an expat, you often find certain things surprising about your host country. Here are some things about Singapore I didn't notice as a tourist.

Marina Bay Sands is probably one of THE most famous buildings in Singapore, but it’s only one of the many

One of the things I discovered is that many tall buildings have trees or even gardens on their middle levels. My personal favorite example is Park Royal hotel on Pickering (even though it’s not that tall), but there’s so much more! No matter if it’s a condo, business tower, hotel or shopping mall – architects and designers have shown that possibilities of integrating nature and buildings are endless. This definitely plays a significant role in making Singapore a city with such a lush greenery.

3. Everyone knows that..

..Singapore is a great place for shopping.

In fact, besides more than 100 malls there is myriad of small shops in Singapore. I find it very impressive: everywhere you go, you can find small businesses and local shops selling various products; from stickers and pins to washing machine parts and tourist trips. It means that all these small places are able to sell their goods, which is pretty impressive. And still, it’s not the amount of shopping people do that I find remarkable, but the amount of residents being able to sustain their businesses. Especially considering the growing opportunities and conveniences of the online shopping.

4. Another thing Singaporeans love buying is..

..food.

Really, sometimes it seems that food is everywhere. When comparing Singapore to other South-East Asian countries, one might notice that there’s no street food in this small city-state, at least not the way it is present in Thailand or Vietnam. You won’t find an old lady with a cart selling sandwiches (one exception is famous ice cream sandwiches) or an guy flipping pancakes and filling them with banana and nutella on Duxton Hill. Singaporean street food has relocated to hawker centers in order to better regulate the social, economic and health issues connected to the traveling hawkers. Food vendors got an opportunity to legalize their businesses in 1960s; since 1997 all the food stalls are also being given  the hygiene rating. Hawker centers are a big part of Singaporean legacy and uniqueness; some stalls being passed on to the new generations.

But food courts are not the only types of food places you can find in Lion City. According to the SPRING (the agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry), in 2015 there were 7260 F&B establishments in addition to food stalls, and the amount is growing. You can find all types of cuisine – peranakan and nonya cuisine, malay, indian, chinese, japanese, korean, french, greek and more. There is a number of high end restaurants with modern cuisine as well as their less costly competitors. So whether you want to indulge in Michelin-level dishes or you’re good to go with a bite of fast food – it’s all there.

5. There are two sides to every coin..

..and you quickly learn what’s good and what’s not that good about the country you live in.

One of the downsides of Singapore for me is the amount of plastic bags and the lack of recycling in the country. Now, this is not a completely neglected problem, and a lot of work is being put into improving it. But taking into consideration how advanced the country is in some other fields, this is quite surprising. Only 20% of household waste in Singapore is recycled (for comparison, this number is 40-50% in Taiwan and South Korea). The government and environmental groups are creating more and more possibilities, but it seems like big part of population has no interest in it. Lack of awareness can play an important role in every society, and working on this might be a first step to creating more sustainable Singapore.

6. Due to the variety of ethnic groups in Singapore..

..there’s quite a few holidays, but not all households celebrate Christmas, however..

..from the beginning of November all the way till the preparations for Chinese New Year, you can find yourself in total Christmas craziness on the streets and in the shopping malls. Christmas decorations, Christmas music, Christmas markets; you can even find events with fake snow and order yourself a real Christmas tree (and no, it won’t be a palm tree!). For a person who is used to having cold winters, it’s hard to get into Christmas mood while there’s 30 degrees on the street. But if you put on your long pants and go to the very well air-conditioned mall on Orchard Road, you’ve got a chance!

Being an expat, you often find certain things surprising about your host country. Here are some things about Singapore I didn't notice as a tourist.

Tangs decorated for Christmas

7. Another surprising thing for me..

..as a person who never lived so close to equator, is the insane levels of lightning and thunder.

In Estonia we’re very well acquainted with the rain, thunder and lightning; what amazes me in Singapore is not the frequency, but the power of it. Singapore has one of the highest levels of lightning activities in the world, partially due to its proximity to equator and tropical conditions. There are times when lightning outside is so bright and frequent that I feel like I have left the blinking lights on. On one occasion the lightning hit just in front of me – I still remember the burning smell when I passed by. Similar situation is with thunder – I have never heard it as loud anywhere else as it is in Singapore. This all makes me feel like I’m a part of a movie with special effects (or a part of an Armageddon), and I absolutely love it!

8. One of the partially controversial topics in Singapore is..

..the subject of Foreign Domestic Workers (FDW).

This is a common practice in Singapore, but I never realized how many families actually hire domestic helpers. According to the Ministry of Manpower, in June 2017 the number of workers on FDW work permit was 243 000. This suggests that every fifth household has a domestic helper. Often it makes economic/financial sense for the families, but occasionally it’s a luxury rather than necessity.

9. Being a multicultural society..

..Singapore harbors many traditions, languages, religions and races.

With its history of colonization, occupation and long road to independence, country seems to be ethnically and otherwise diverse and yet united. As Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong said: “Our aim is integration, not assimilation”. And that’s what truly fascinates me: all these cultures are being able to peacefully coexist, without having to bend or change, creating a symbiotic mix. Some western traditions have also been adopted, mostly thanks to colonization period and abundance of expats. Nevertheless, the Little Red Dot stays unique in its diversity.

Being an expat, you often find certain things surprising about your host country. Here are some things about Singapore I didn't notice as a tourist.

Masjid Sultan is located in the Arab Quarters and is considered to be one of the most important mosques in Singapore (visually it reminds me of Sultan’s Palace from Aladdin)

10. Queuing..

..is a science and an obligatory activity in Singapore.

I’m not even sure people always know what they are queuing for (joke). But often they know exactly what they want and stand in line for the best stuff. People say that in hawker places you should join the longest line. Sometimes you would see 3 chicken rice stalls next to each other, one having 20 customers and another completely empty. So queues really can show quality.

I find that living in Singapore over a long period of time have shown it to me from a completely different side. I do, however, look forward to learning more in future!

Looking for more articles about Asia? Check out these:

Things To Do in Singapore After Sunset

The Rooftops of Hoi An

5 Types of People Who Should Visit Japan

Being an expat, you often find certain things surprising about your host country. Here are some things about Singapore I didn't notice as a tourist.

Being an expat, you often find certain things surprising about your host country. Here are some things about Singapore I didn't notice as a tourist.

Being an expat, you often find certain things surprising about your host country. Here are some things about Singapore I didn't notice as a tourist.

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