Recently, an American lady who was a regular visitor to Singapore wrote a tribute to the country in the Straits Times. It was entitled “How do I love Singapore? Let me count the ways”. I was tempted to risk my husband’s amusement and write in an enthusiastic affirmation.
For me, Singapore’s charms go beyond the obvious cleanliness, greenery, prettiness and efficiency. Shortly after moving here, I started experiencing a curious sense of freedom – freedom from constantly expecting things to go wrong, freedom from having to fear excessively for the safety of my children, freedom from encountering apathy and disinterest when I needed to get something done – freedom that I’ve grown to cherish. I have a sense that I am living in a country with its heart in the right place, free of corruption, environmentally responsible – first world not just in appearance, but in thinking.
I’ve tried to outline in brief why I, and other Indian expatriates like me, have reason to be delighted with this beautiful, energetic little island.
1、Education: Singapore gives parents with young children several good options for quality education. Local schools offer excellent education at a very low cost, and the opportunity to assimilate with the Singaporeans. Indian schools offer students returning to India continuity as they follow the CBSE or ICSE curriculum. Some of these schools assure admission at their branches in India on the student’s return. International schools are relatively expensive, but offer a fun, nurturing environment which fosters understanding and acceptance of, and respect for cultural differences. Parents are encouraged to be actively involved, and to volunteer their time if they can.
2、Quality of life: What makes a city truly liveable? Monocle magazine rates the world’s most liveable cities using criteria like culture, tolerance, state education, medical care, public transport, air connectivity, responsibility to the environment, crime, green space and access to nature, to name a few. Singapore rates very highly in all of the above, and deservedly ranks among the highest in Asia, surpassed only by the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Fukuoka and Kyoto. Not inconsequential is that intangible satisfaction derived from living in a world class city, and having access to all the advantage it offers.
3、Culture: I’ve lived in a constant state of guilt this last year, from the feeling that I’m not making the most of the numerous opportunities to attend world class musicals, concerts, and other events that Singapore is constantly buzzing with. The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay (popularly nicknamed “The Durian”) is a spectacular performing arts venue overlooking the Marina Bay. One of the most surreal, breathtaking experiences I’ve had there was watching a performance of Kootiyatam, an ancient classical dramatic art form from Kerala, with the shimmering bay and sparkling city skyline as the backdrop. Every now and then, a Chinese bumboat with red lanterns would glide placidly on the bay behind the performers. There is some irony in the fact that in the twenty five odd years of my life that were lived in India, I had neither the inclination, nor the opportunity to watch a recital of this intense art form, which actually pre-dates Kathakali.
4、Professionalism of Government Agencies: They actually take your calls, call you back, and respond to emails the same day. Yes, it’s true. The Government runs like a professional corporate entity. Processes are simple, and most transactions happen smoothly over the Internet, so there is no need for middlemen. In the rare instance that you are required to personally visit a government department, chances are your problem will be sorted out in a matter of minutes.
5、And Last but not the Least…: This Indian was taken out of India a few years ago, but the India inside me has stayed put. And to pander to that, what better than the amazing Mustafa Centre? When I came to Singapore earlier on holiday, I firmly refused to set foot inside there – I never could understand what made Indians scamper with such enthusiasm to a place heaving with Indians, and full of Indian things. Not anymore. I am so converted now that I think of it as nothing less than a wonder. After all, what would you call a place that gives you all things Indian and otherwise that you crave for, under one roof? There is a saying in Malayalam that I’m beginning to believe was inspired by Mustafa centre in the first place – “You can get anything there except a mother and father”. Come to think of it, when the parents are in town, chances are that’s where you’ll find them most of the time too! It’s almost a pity, but I have absolutely no need now to beg travelers from home to ferry in precious rations of papadams and pav bhaji masala. In fact, I could take back some excellent Pakistani biryani masala for the folks back home.
Eventually, the day will come when it’s time to leave, and when it does, I know I’ll leave a little part of me behind. I can see myself overcome with nostalgia when I speak, many years later, of our stunning picture window and the time we lived by the sea.