Monday, January 25, 2016

Life as an Ex-Pat Wanna-be

I’ve dreamed about living somewhere else from the time I was a young child. I got a chance to see all parts of the country when growing up because of my family's yearly two week vacations. Missouri's  central location, made it easy for the family to head off in a different direction each year. Remembering these precious two weeks during the summer helped me get through the rest of the year, when I was stuck in school. I could recall the deserts of the Southwest, the California beaches, the Rocky Mountains, the Eastern Seaboard, or the Gulf Coast. 

As I got older, I read about ex-pats, those individuals who lived abroad. I admired writers and artists like Hemingway in Paris and Gaugin in Tahiti. The only time I’ve actually lived out of the country was my year in Vietnam. Imagining myself being there without the war was something that helped me get through it.

Katie and I now have a chance to experience a slice of ex-pat life here in Singapore. As a Caucasian, I am definitely in the minority. I see other westerners around and expect them to acknowledge me, like we’re in some sort of a club, sharing a common experience. “Isn’t it great to be living here in this exotic place?” But so far none of them have acknowledged me. In fact they seem to be the most unfriendly group here. Maybe there isn’t a club after all.

Being in Singapore is not quite like being in other Southeast Asian countries. My step son Peter refers to it as "Southeast Asia for Beginners". The city is clean and orderly and just about everyone speaks English. The majority of the population is Chinese, but there are Indians, Malays, Indonesians, Filipinos, Pakistanis and more. Mandarin and English are the two national languages, so it has allowed me an opportunity to learn and practice my Chinese. So far everyone has been kind and helpful as I attempt to communicate. All except one man that is, who ran a food stall at one of the hawker centers. I asked him for some hot sauce for my noodle soup in what I thought was adequate Mandarin, but he looked at me as if I were speaking Martian and called for his wife. It was obvious that he didn’t want to deal with me.  His wife came out from the back and seemed happy that I was attempting to learn the language and gave me some hot sauce.   

Motor scooter parking in Johor Bahru Malaysia
To understand why Peter refers to Singapore as being for beginners, one only has to go across the bridge into Malaysia, which we did a few days ago. The smells, the cars and traffic, the poverty next to affluence all screamed “third world country”.

Hindu temple in Malaysia

Fruit and vegetable stand in Johor Bahru

Ancient Chinese temple

Inside the Chinese temple

Many things in Singapore are cheap. At the hawker food centers, which are everywhere, you can get a delicious meal of rice or noodles, meat and vegetables for from $2.00-3.50 Sings. One Sing is about $.70 US currency. It’s cheaper to eat out than to prepare meals at home.
Ninety plus percent of the people here live in government housing. The island is filled with high rise apartment buildings. Like a rat in a maze,  I’m constantly getting turned around and lost because there are no horizon reference points. But the mass transit system is great. The MRT(subway/rail system) runs the width and length of the island. It is cheap to ride and extremely clean and orderly. Katie and I have ventured out in all directions. We’re determined to see and experience as much of this island/country as possible.
Little India in Singapore
Statue of Ganesh at a fruit stand
Restaurant patio in Holland Village

Drying laundry in government housing
Katie and I ducked under a restaurant porch during a torrential downpour
The MRT underground rail system
View from our bedroom window at Peter and Nani's home


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Michael. Interesting, indeed, and the photos add to story. Enjoy. Enjoy.