Right off the bat, I want to say, this post is not a slight against Singaporeans or the country of Singapore. During my short stint there, I met some really cool people, some really friendly and helpful Singaporeans; it helped dispel the general myths and stereotypes that are out there. I also do intend to go back to visit sometime in the future, and so would like to maintain a good rapport and keep a clean chit with the people of that tiny island nation. What I write below is based purely on my experience and time in Singapore and what I thought was funny at the time. It made me realize that stereotypes do exist for a reason, be it good or bad.
My earliest memories of Singapore date back to the early '90s when I took my first trip there with my parents. I still have the (scary) memory of the cab driver warning us about littering or jaywalking; "punishments are severe, and could be as much as $500 or a night in jail," he warned. Of course, what stood out most in the mind was the penalty imposed for chewing gum in that country! Needless to say, when I landed at Changi airport in June 2012, these memories came rushing back. I must behave; I must obey all the laws is what came to mind right away. Yet, I did have enough of bravado to carry a packet of gum in my bag when I landed... guilty!
I guess it is the fear of law and the direction of their leaders that has made Singapore one of the most disciplined and most organized countries in the world. The level of efficiency and ease with which things are done here is absolutely incredible. Coming from India, or even the U.K. for that matter, it was like a miracle, like Alice had just stepped into wonderland, like a kid in a candy store! However, it is the same fear that has made Singaporeans cautious, uncertain and unable to think out of the box (or rule book in this case). I had a couple of instances during my early days that surprised me... given Singapore's status as a "developed" country!
This caution manifested itself more prominently in my previous employer than anywhere else. The fear with which business was done at this institution made me wonder whether I was working for a profit-making enterprise or one that was in the business of providing social welfare. Loads of paperwork, tons of signatures and silly questions about simple processes and made what would seem like a bread and butter business, a rather complex, hard-to-understand SIV or derivative transaction. (Which it wasn't!)
There are several experiences I had in Singapore that made me wonder how the country had reached the stage it had. It made me marvel at the ability of the State to sustain its economy, its people and build a truly remarkable country. In one such instance, I had sent across scanned copies of my university transcripts to the HR department as a pre-requisite for being hired. I took the (what I thought was) sensible step of omitting the blank pages and only sending across the "relevant" pages or pages with the grades.
On arrival, I submitted the hard copies of my original... Her first comment to me was "these documents are wrong!" Now I wouldn't have been surprised had she said the documents don't match or they are missing pages; she said they were wrong! I wasn't sure if she was kidding or if this was a Singaporean way of kidding that I had yet to get used to. I eventually learned it was neither. She was dead serious, and the fact that the originals had four pages versus the scanned copies which had two meant that the scanned ones were wrong. She went through the process of re-scanning the four pages to ensure that she had the right versions.
As I said, this does not typify the Singaporeans I met. They were truly nice, intelligent and hard-working people who had a sense for what is right and what is wrong, and the best way to do things. And I just don't say this from the fear of being barred from the country; I say it so that I can once again partake in their delightful cuisine... Mmmmm... More of that chilli crab, please! (Only kidding.)
Stay tuned for more from the Singapore Diaries!