the local tourist (jayemsey x singapore, part II)
Update from Singapore: I am still here and alive, so that's positive. I'm getting better at navigating the cultural idiosyncrasies here (and at using chopsticks), but I'm still very plainly a tourist because of my fascination with everything from the money (it's colorful and has holograms on it) to the local hawker centers (they wrap everything up in plastic bags, even drinks). And also I carry my DSLM everywhere I go, so that may be an indication.
I'm still not used to the local dialect here, which everyone refers to as "Singlish," a mix of Chinese and a bunch of different languages. It's tricky, because everyone has a different accent (due to the mix of nationalities), and speaks English but will occasionally slip in pidgin-English words and it'll take my brain a few seconds to process it. There are a couple of articles, "lah" and "leh" that all Singaporeans use at the ends of sentences, but I've asked people to explain it and no one can tell me what they mean. I think it's just one of those words that's kind of crept into language without really having any meaning, but I'm not sure if there are any English equivalents that we use conversationally. Maybe "um"? I can't really think any others. Also "shiok," which my coworker explained to mean "damn good," but I'm still not 100% sure on its usage.
The people here are super-interesting. Because it's so international, a lot of people here are very, very well traveled. I had the nicest taxi driver the other day. He was so cute and excitable and gave me a bunch of food recommendations. He also spoke four languages and was an important judge for some fishing competition, so he had traveled to Thailand ten times in the past month. I wish I'd gotten his name so I could call him whenever I need a taxi home from work. I was impressed that he had the time to travel, but it's not just him. For a lot of people, Singapore isn't the first place they've lived abroad. Everyone I talk to has been everywhere, and they all tell these incredible stories of so many places. And I think that's partly why the culture here is so rich—it's because the people here are truly citizens of the world.
In other news...I moved (again)! It was actually a very difficult process, and took a bit of house shuffling, but my old landlady was lowkey nuts and highkey high-maintenance, so I had to leave. My bosses and coworkers all got involved to help me, which was very nice, and I got out successfully. My friend Ivan let me stay at his house for a couple of days, and his family is the absolute sweetest (his dad made me tea and toast in the morning). We randomly found out we're both going to be in Taiwan at the same time, him to visit his girlfriend and me to spend Christmas with Conrad's family.
If you follow me on Snapchat, you know I just moved into a beautiful new place. Insanely beautiful, actually (it has white marble floors, so prepare for lots of artsy food pictures in my upcoming blog posts), on the 34th floor of a building right in the middle of the city. It significantly reduces the stress of commute, because I went from traveling an hour and a half every morning to only 30 minutes. And it's in a really nice area, literally right across the street from a FairPrice. I almost never use the refrigerator anymore, and now I shop European-style...if I need something, I'll just stop by after work, instead of stocking up for the week or month. Dave and Kim, my homestay parents, are fellow expats from Missouri but are, like everyone else here, seasoned travelers (Kim was actually born in Thailand). I've only been here for a little while, but I feel like they're my second parents. It's nice to come home and be able to talk to them about my day, and they like Stephen Colbert as much as I do, so we get along well. I met them through a family friend, and they were nice enough to take me in, as their son is studying abroad in another country and they understood the struggle of being a young adult abroad. They've established a routine from living here, which I get to be a part of now, so on Sundays we eat steak and listen to classic rock on the balcony overlooking the city and the bay. It's so nice. And I'm allowed to use the kitchen! I've realized I'm much happier with my life overall when I have the freedom to cook and bake (Exhibit A: the mini churro lava cakes I made a while ago). So I got very, very lucky; I moved from one of the worst homestay experiences to one of the best.
The apartment overlooks the entire city, and sometimes it feels just like being in the heart of Manhattan, so I feel very at home here. But unlike New York, Singapore has a laser show every night, from Marina Bay Sands (we saw something similar in Hong Kong, too). I try to watch it every night. It's actually very mesmerizing, to watch bright green lasers shoot out from the top of a world-class luxury resort, and the whole city lights up with it. I've tried every night to get a good Snapchat of it, but a tiny camera phone doesn't do it justice at all.
I forget where I found it, but I saw advertised on a blog something called I EAT DESIGN by Naiise, this design store that sells everything from postcards to armchairs. It's like a very artsy/hipster IKEA, founded to give local Singaporean artists passionate about good design a space to sell their creations (I think there are more stores worldwide now).
I EAT DESIGN was their inaugural mini food festival, held in-store. It was basically a bunch of fancy food vendors inside the store, with workshops like "Watercolors on Fondant" and things like that.
Because it's a design store, all of the food was so pretty and cute and artfully composed. Chopped contestants could learn a thing or two from the presentation. I took my friend Coco, and we pretty much ate our way through the entire store. I like to think I appreciate good design and good food, so this was a really cool thing for me.
I also met up with a friend of a friend, Will, and he took me around Holland Village and Buona Vista. We got food (I had these amazing parmesan truffle fries holy, but more on this later) and walked around, and ended up at this really beautiful and futuristic-looking research complex called Fusionopolis, which apparently was designed by a famous architect. And you can see why, because it's absolutely breathtaking, all curved glass and metal framework. I never get tired of Singaporean architecture, ever.
And speaking of Singaporean architecture, I think I found my new favorite spot! The Library@Orchard is this adorable and unexpectedly striking space tucked away on the third floor of a shopping mall right across the street from my homestay. It looks more like a art museum than a library, with a clean-cut, modern design and a minimalist color palette.
I actually found it through a blog that referred to it as "one of the most Instagrammable places in Singapore," and I got really excited because I love bookstores, libraries, etc. Quiet little aesthetically-pleasing spaces with lots of little reading nooks are my jam. Give me a nicely-designed space and a stack of books and I'll be happy forever. So sometimes after I leave the POSSIBLE office, I'll take my laptop or my Kindle, get a cup of tea, and do some work in the library before walking home. It's nice. It reminds me of last summer in New York when I used to retreat to Barnes & Noble after work to escape the heat and catch up on reading.
The Library@Orchard is just one of Singapore's hidden gems. They're everywhere, if you take the time to look. There aren't that many important cultural landmarks, like the Great Wall of China or the Statue of Liberty, because the country is so new. Instead, it's a collection of all of the best and most beautiful parts of all of the different cultures that inhabit it. I was walking to meet my friends for lunch, and I stumbled upon a couple of temples.
I went inside the first one (I don't know the name) to observe for a little bit: the lighting of the incense, the praying at the altar. It was a very quiet affair on a Sunday afternoon, in these breathtakingly ornate temples hidden by skyscrapers. These are the things I love discovering when I'm just walking around cities.
The second temple was Thian Hock Keng, the oldest and most prominent Hokkien temple in Singapore. It was frequented by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century paying tribute to Mazu, Goddess of the Sea in Taoist/Buddhist tradition, for their safe voyage.
What I loved about this one is its delicateness. A lot of Asian temples are not shy about the use of gold to show reverence or wealth, but this one was a little bit more subtle, with gold decoration inlaid into the ceiling support beams and intricate stonework. Of course, it included lots of color, from the paneled rooftops to the tiled floors to the paintings of emperors that adorned its doors. I've always loved the details in Asian architecture, and they're particularly remarkable in temple work. I think this was one of the prettiest temples I've ever seen, even out of all of the ones I've gone to in China or Thailand. I can't quite articulate my appreciation for them, even though I visit them in every country. I just love them because they always feel like they're filled with this air of shared history and culture; I like just standing inside them and soaking it all in.
Another thing I love about Singapore is how safe it is. I was talking to a girl in the office who moved here from New York, and we agreed that one of the best parts of living here is being a girl and having the freedom to walk alone at night and still be okay. You don't have to continuously look over your shoulder or worry about people catcalling you or following you home; you can wear headphones or a ponytail and not have to worry about someone taking you by surprise. It's a nice difference from the States. My boss likes to refer to Singapore as "a large-scale social experiment that went terribly right," and I've noticed this manifested in everything from social behavior to social governance. Everything has kind of a utopian feel to it. I once read an article about Singapore that called it "Disneyland with the death penalty."
One of the reasons for this is that the government in Singapore is extensive and very involved in its citizens' daily life. It has ministries for everything from the Ministry of Manpower (which I almost emailed accidentally because the abbreviation is "MOM") to the Ministry of Communication and Information. Everything is well-regulated and extremely efficient. Lots of government housing is subsidized, (called "HDB flats"), and there are certain race quotas that have to be fulfilled on each floor of buildings in order to maintain diversity. Working for the government is a very high-paying and high-prestige job; only the highest-achieving students are eligible.
Also because of this, the country has things like this (my coworker sent it to me and it's possibly the best thing I've ever watched; the best part is that these people are actual members of the senior management team of the Media Development Authority) and a even a courtesy lion, the mascot for Singapore's National Courtesy Campaign.
I also met some really rad people! Coco invited me to a housewarming party, which was a bunch of expats from all over—the Philippines, Thailand, Honduras, Israel, France—and then me. Some of the girls, Raashi, Claudia, Diana and I, went to a happy hour at this bar called The Exchange, where they serve free martinis and margaritas to girls from 6 pm to 10 pm.
It was a lot of fun, having a girl's night out. And besides having so many men in business-casual, The Exchange could have been mistaken for a nightclub, with loud EDM and the bartenders standing on the bar and feeding girls shots of vodka. Great way to spend a Wednesday night. We're trying to make it a weekly thing. Free alcohol is a very good motivator to go out in the middle of the week, especially in Singapore where the tax is so high that the drink prices are astronomical.
Work is picking up, too. I'm learning a lot. But now we're focusing less on initial research and more on what my boss calls a "deep-dive," where you closely examine one subject or one facet of the industry. It's hard, but I feel like I'm making progress. I'm doing some work for a government agency here, which, of course, is interesting in itself in a Singaporean context. But it's also interesting to see how Singaporean culture differs from Western culture from a consumer perspective.
One of the reasons I wanted to work for an agency in Singapore was that I thought it would be beneficial to observe the contrast between markets. Here, we're competing in entirely different spaces. Consumers want different things, they have different attitudes. I often have to take a step out of my own mindset, because it's just not as relevant here (I guess what they say is true...Americans really do think they're the center of the world). I've had to learn a completely new framework for thinking, which is difficult when you've been taught a certain method all your life.
There are also some small cultural nuances, very indicative of the Asian roots in the working culture here. In Singapore, everyone carries business cards. In a meeting, you are expected to present your business card upon introduction, name facing toward the person, with both hands. When you receive it, you are supposed to take a moment to appreciate it out of respect, and to keep the card in sight for the duration of the meeting. None of which I did in my first meeting. Oops. But it is interesting...my superior said it's an indication of a large power gap that's heavily present in Asia, especially in countries like Japan and Korea. He noted that, having worked in both Eastern and Western countries, in countries with large power gaps, the most powerful person enters first and the others follow in order of importance.
In addition, there are a lot of measures to prioritize Singaporeans or permanent residents (PRs). This makes it very difficult to find jobs here, as they only take a certain percentage of foreigners in proportion to Singaporeans/PRs. Apparently, my paperwork was hell, which means I'm known around the office as "the girl who it was very difficult to get on board." No pressure.
Our office is getting remodeled! Apparently this space hasn't been touched for at least a decade, so I'm lucky enough to be here at a time when they're finally making upgrades. We've had to shuffle all the desks around, which is amusing because it's so disorganized (the HR people are currently working in the lobby, the account managers in the conference space). All month long, we've had people wandering around our office: the construction guys, the designers, the feng shui guy (yeah, we've got a feng shui guy). Our Chief Creative Officer introduced the plans for the redesign and it's amazing. I am immeasurably excited. It's got this whole airy modern zen garden thing going on (I don't even know if I'm describing that correctly). But it's definitely a creative space. I'll post an update when it's finished, probably in December or so.
That's it for now, but there are some exciting things coming up, so stay tuned! You can subscribe in the box below :).