I had a tryst with Singapore recently on a 5 day visit. Having worked for different MNCs and traveled many parts of the world, travel was never new to me, but it was new this time. Yes, I was traveling for my startup. So one could guess what could be the difference, yes of course “Frugality”! 🙂
Changi Airport!!! Nothing fancy about it in comparison to the country. But the moment I step in the Forex store, I get in a minute a SIM card with 100 GB (it is true!!!) limit for 5 days for just 15S$ activated. With the world very well connected in Whatsapp, I was feeling all at home.
I was going to Singapore for the 2nd time and it excited me the same way as the first time. As a person who believes in self discipline and rule abiding, I just love Singapore. As a Tamilian too, it brought a sense of pride seeing Tamil written all over in metros, airports, public places. When I heard an announcement in metro train in Tamil I felt home far from home.
I stayed with a great friend of mine who was staying with his family. He was kind enough to accommodate me for the entire stay. One of the main issues being a vegetarian outside India has always been food. He took care of that part pretty nicely and I never felt staying in someone’s house. Such was the hospitality and openness which you could only see from a fellow Indian 🙂 My greatest thanks to the family for treating me like a family member!!! Home away from home again!
1st day I went to meet an acquaintance, who runs a restaurant in Singapore. I went to meet him at Little India in front of a temple called “Kaliamma”. Except for the cleanliness, the whole place really looked quite Indian 🙂 The public transportation mixed with affordable taxis was so great there that you don’t sweat (except for the weather) to move around. If you go to Singapore the first thing you should get is a bus/metro card and you get 100 wings to fly! You sweat a lot as the weather can be pretty sultry. Home again for a chennai guy.
2 days I had to go to the iconic Marina Bay Sands (I never stopped gazing at the building…) and the expo building was like a Bond Movie effect! Glittering chandeliers all over; you should just go there once and get lost in its grandeur. I will skip the events on the day as it would be more on the business side and wont interest much. I took a taxi back home and struck a casual conversation as I do here in India. It was a Chinese origin Singaporean guy who was very kind and well mannered. As always I brought the topic of welcoming to India. He told me that he had heard India is very dirty and lot of rapes and robberies happen there. My heart sunk though what he told me was very true. I kinda told him its only the way media hypes it but there are lot of good things and good people in India to see. He wasn’t very convinced 🙁
3rd and 4th day was the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (marking the return of Gandhi to India from South Africa) celebrated every year and this time in Singapore. I had a perfect opportunity which I didn’t plan to meet a lot of Indians at one place. Lovely sight of Indian origin women clad in beautiful sarees and most of them were dazzling indeed. I had to talk to some of them as a survey on sarees and indian culture which is related to my business. It was strange that I was chasing to talk to women clad in saree and generally who were alone (didn’t want to barge into a meeting or talk). I spoke to a few ladies who looked quite Indian origin, but when I asked them where they were from “Singapore” was the curt answer; then I asked whats their origin “Singapore” little assertive answer. Its a mixed feeling that they wanted to cut off any links to India from their roots!!! [Maybe I lack some knowledge here!]
Similar taxi episode recurred! This time a Singaporean lady, who was little curt on her assessment about India. “Whom to blame???!”, I asked myself. The question that another taxi driver asked about rape made me really sad. He asked why people kill after rape? I didn’t have an answer. One of the occasions I felt ashamed of my country and countrymen! He also told he didn’t want to tour a place where he would be always worried about his safety. Travel is for refreshing and not worrying. He had his point and I felt it was very valid. I tried my best to put the good sides of India, but I know I had lost the game before I played!
On the 5th day, I was waiting in little India bus stand and an old Chinese origin Singaporean came towards me and actually giving me a cold stare (dont know why!! 😉 ); I evaded his eyes. Another mid-50s frail Chinese origin Singaporean came to me and said something in a different language. I just told him that i didn’t understand. He showed in gesture about eating and I could understand he was asking me money; he then quickly switched to very good english and asked for 2 dollars. I immediately took a 2$ and gave him, more of a habit from India. Then I was worried if I did anything wrong by doing that. The other old guy was continuing to give me a stare. My fear increased! However when my bus came and when I tried to get in, this staring guy looked at me and gave me a thumbs up and a smile. He just signaled which I could gather a sense of helplessness and gratitude. Mixed feeling really. In a country of such magnificent growth and abundance of money, the way old people selling small things for a living; frail people drive taxis gives you a different perspective. Social security and post retirement benefits are not great I heard. One of my friends who lives there put it very curtly that “Singapore is like a huge corporate where money just accumulates and stays. No one takes it away and a place well designed to churn money”. He also told me that Singapore is very very tough for poor people and such people do exist! I saw in front of my eyes and I tried to check with my friend’s wife and she recalled similar incidents for her! Strange!!!
In a way India I felt is better there where the family system takes care of people when they become old (sic). Social security is not so great but fine to survive. But i think we all should learn from West, where an uncle after retirement takes his cool fashioned moped with his wife/girlfriend and rides around Las Vegas! 🙂 Their other important phase of life starts after retirement.
If you look at it holistically, every country has its goodness and badness and I think Singapore is loaded with the former heavily!
As usual even till the last date of my trip, I was trying to meet as many people as I could and rushing for the airport. My friends call it “Ravishankar Style!” of entering to an airport/station/exam at the nth moment!!! 🙂
Bye Bye Singapore!