We’ve been living in Singapore for nearly a month – 28 days to be exact – and 28 days later it feels like I survived a sort of apocalypse. The world as I know is gone and I am sorting out the new rules, people and places.
DISCLAIMER: While I don’t mean to complain, I am. Please skip this post if you were looking for positive vibes.
Right now, I feel more American than ever, but it’s funny that in the U.S. I put the identifier of Asian before American. I chose to live in Singapore as an experiment to explore identity, race and culture. To be honest, I’m uncomfortable being away from everything that I know to be a normal. It’d be disingenuous to say I am skipping on rainbows.
Moving Out & Moving In
While I’m grateful we had corporate housing, I’m also grateful we moved out two weeks ago. Lanson House was central with convenient buses, malls nearby and housekeeping, but it smelled like mildew. The apartment’s windows were sealed shut and we didn’t get much natural sunlight. It felt like a place in between places.
We moved out on September 4 during a sticky, humid downpour. I sat in the overly air conditioned cab as we left River Valley, the neighborhood of choice for many expats. We drove away from Central Singapore to the suburb of Geylang, which when you Google “Geylang Singapore” it’s all references to the red light district. While that is in the hood, I promise we don’t live near a brothel. It’s a big district. I swear.
We live across the street from what is said to be the best hawker center in Singapore the Old Airport Road Food Center. There’s also a local wet market, a MRT subway and a 24-hour Fair Price grocery store all within walking distance. We chose to live in a neighborhood that felt more authentically Singaporean outside of the expat community.
Eric and I shopped at the wet market and I’m so happy he was there. Most of the stall owners only spoke Mandarin, which Eric can speak conversationally, and the produce is Eastern vegetables that I don’t recognize. We managed to buy some fruits and vegetables but when shopping on my own, I’ll probably go to Fair Price.
Singapore prides itself on high standards for cleanliness, but when I saw the meat and fish on ice in the open-air stalls with flies and pigeons about, I just couldn’t. It doesn’t seem the most sanitary. I’m sure it’s fresh but I find safeness in the plastic wrapped meat from the grocery store.
The Food I Miss
I have another confession. I am SICK of eating Chinese food. I can’t taste another bite right now. The gravy and heavy sauces currently turn my stomach and I yearn for clean, fresh food from the Whole Foods salad bar. Who knew the day would come when I’d crave quinoa and kale salad?
I miss good Mexican food & guacamole, falafel wraps, hummus and grilled vegetables. Eric and I ate Asian food ALL the TIME in New York so I thought no problem moving to Asia but it’s all heavier, greasier and more flavorful in Singapore. In general, I don’t like eating salad but now I actually miss salad. Me miss salad!
I read that to be Singaporean is to be a foodie. I believed the hype about its amazing food scene, which is definitely cheap and readily available, but I’m at a point where it all tastes like “too much.” I have no choice but to learn how to cook Asian food if I am going to survive because Western groceries cost major money. A pint of Häagen daz ice cream is $25 SD ($19.83 USD) and six organic eggs cost $8 SD ($6.34 USD). Like I said, too much.
This is Not America
I don’t mean to go down the rabbit hole of “this is not America” but that’s where I’m at right now. It’s 28 days later and it’s sinking in that I do not live in America. I live in Singapore where my stomach needs to adjust and I don’t get the mannerisms.
I miss hearing “hello” from a cashier or friendly wait staff that seems like they actually want you in their restaurant. So far I went on two “friend dates” with two different Singaporean women who offered many tips about living here but both seemed aloof. I interpreted that they didn’t want to get to know me further, which could be my own insecurity, but I’m not imagining the cultural disconnect.
I grew up in the Midwest where people are polite, friendly and hospitable. In my limited experience, I’ve found some Singaporeans to be either cold or abrupt & pushy. At the wet market, two separate stall owners asked us how much we pay for rent and wouldn’t drop it when we didn’t want to share that information. I found it rude but Eric reminded me that we are the guests and this is the new normal.
Comfort in the Familiar
I suppose I’m learning why many expats are friends with other expats. Eric’s friend Rachel, who is a former New Yorker living in Shanghai, came to visit. She wanted to eat at the Little India hawker center and afterward we went to the department store Mustafa. We randomly found an entire section of American candy: Twix, Snickers, Milky Way, Kit Kat, Andes Mint Chocolates, M&Ms and Reese Pieces. Our shared excitement over seeing brands we both recognized made me feel less ridiculous. I didn’t felt judged and she was so easy to talk to and be around.
I don’t want to act like an ugly American in a foreign country, but I do find myself gravitating toward familiar scents, foods and people. We recently got fiber optic Internet and basic cable TV installed (hallelujah!) and as I flipped through the channels, I found Comedy Central Asia. I caught the beginning of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the episode where Stewart returns from hiatus. For thirty minutes I laughed and felt like I was at home.
I miss you New York. God bless the U.S.A.