Singapore’s an interesting place, often understandably misunderstood by the rest of the world. Few things piss off a Singaporean than referring to his home as “that place where you can’t chew gum, right?”. I’ve been asked by multiple people back in Australia how I’m going to survive without learning Chinese – one person even asked me where in China it was. In reality, Singapore is the most westernized city in Asia (closely followed by Hong Kong). There are malls, brand outlets, many, many laws, security cameras, competent police, and a Germanically efficient public transport system. The streets are clean, people speak English, and there’s even Uber here. In fact, if you come here expecting ‘exotic Asia’, you’re probably going to be disappointed. That said, Singapore has a good balance of cleanliness while retaining excellent food and a broad mix of cultures.
Like Malaysia, ‘Singaporeans’ are generally Chinese, Malay, or Indian, except here it’s over 70% Chinese, as opposed to Malaysia’s 30%. Of the 5.5 million inhabitants, only 3 million are citizens or permanent residents – the remainder are a fluctuating number of expats, foreign workers, and tourists. This means that as an outsider it’s incredibly easy to integrate into society. You’ll still find plenty of reassuringly Asian things about this place: hawker centres, Chinese/Indian/Malay celebrations, not understanding any conversations on the train.
Personally, I admit I was slightly disappointed with Singapore when I first got here. The authoritarian government, surveillance everywhere, censored media – even the gardens and walkways felt over-engineered. There are subtle garden beds and fences around roads to make jaywalking next to impossible. After staying here a few weeks, though, I find I’m getting used to life here – in fact, I welcome the order at immigration when coming back from somewhere like Indonesia.
The university is high quality – facilities are advanced and plentiful and the quality of teaching here is excellent. One of my professors walked into the room the other day wearing a “Harvard Adjunct Lecturer” jacket, when he took it off halfway through class there were some chuckles as he was wearing an MIT Sloan MBA shirt underneath. I find that NUS is much more similar to an American style ‘college’ university: it’s a huge campus with its own internal shuttle bus system, and there’s lots of on-campus accommodation. There are also several libraries, a couple of pools, full-size track and field, et cetera. I’m enjoying ‘dorm life’ – I’m staying in a 6 bed ‘apartment’, we share 2 toilets and 2 showers. There’s a good variety of roommates, too: two guys from Hong Kong, one English guy, a Portugese guy, and a Belgian guy.
It’s hard to believe everything is going this fast; already halfway through the first semester. I feel sorry for everyone who’s going home in 2.5 months – and am so glad I chose a full year! It also means I get a full two months between semesters, so I can travel for a good chunk of that and maybe even do an internship. I can’t recommend a full year enough.
Next post will be sooner than one month, promise