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Featured Article: My
(Arrival and first impressions of Singapore!)
For as long as I can remember, I have always been one to swim
against the tide. While in school, I eschewed physical education
and stuck around in the library while all my friends enjoyed
themselves on the playgrounds. In college, when most of my
peers picked Engineering or Medicine as their course of study,
I opted for the more off-beat English Literature. And finally,
when ‘Westward Ho!’ was the clarion call that motivated Indians
with professional degrees to move to the US of A or even the
UK, I headed east – to sunny Singapore!
with a cause?’ Not really. I must admit that I too contemplated
taking the Masters route to a green card through an education
in a US university. But funding for liberal arts degrees are
non-existent at best. And self-funding wasn’t a realistic
option. I had no aspirations of taking on a huge student loan,
especially when my future as a well-paid, professional writer
was sketchy at best! So I bided my time, chalked-up experience
in various media fields and when the first opportunity to
move abroad presented itself, grabbed it with both hands and
refused to let go.
It was under these circumstances that I first set foot in
Singapore. Singapore – the very name brings to mind images
of a prosperous British Colony, of plantation workers and
side-burned burra sahibs set against the backdrop of
Victorian mansions, sipping their tall, iced glasses of the
famed Singapore Sling! The remarkable island nation that rose
from its position as a third world plantation to become an
economic and trading hub of South Asia!
At first glance, Singapore was everything that I had heard
it would be. Smooth, efficient and hyper clean. There wasn’t
a stray bit of dirt or litter anywhere. In fact, the very
first few minutes at Changi Airport brought me fact to face
with Singaporean efficiency. The passengers were checked out
of the plane courteously, guided to the immigration counter,
checked in quickly and brought to the baggage carousel just
as the luggage began flowing out. No waiting. No tension.
No chances of lost luggage. Even the recruitment officer from
my organization was standing where she promised she would
We took a long and comfortable taxi ride through Singapore.
All along the way, I kept peppering her with questions like
an excited schoolboy. How big was Singapore? What was the
capital city? What was the population? What percentage was
of Indian origin? Did the organization have a number of Indians?
How did she personally find working with Indians? And so on.
In my excitement, I never realized that I had spent the best
part of the previous month researching just these questions
on Google and allied sites like the ‘Contact Singapore’
website. But as polite conversation went, it made the half-hour
trip from Changi Airport appear brief indeed.
As the Mercedes taxi (no less!) drove along well laid-out,
clean roads, I tried to take in the strange names of the roads,
the orderly appearance of everything and the sights and sounds
of Singapore. To anyone from a foreign culture, new lands
inevitably appear dark and mysterious. There are innumerable
questions about the people there, the possibility if fitting-in,
the prospects of living, learning and loving the ‘adopted’
land; all appear daunting at first. Even as I glanced over
the street name like ‘Bukit Batok’, ‘Simei’, ‘Molumein’,
‘Whampoa’ and ‘Balestier’, I had the feeling that although
they appeared exotic and different at first, I would soon
be able to relate to and identify with them in the days and
years to come.
wasn’t too much of a foreign land in any case. Maybe it was
because I was of Tamil origin and the Tamils have a shared
history spanning nearly 200 years with Singapore, it felt
closer to home than Hyderabad ever did. For one thing, in
addition to being written in English, Chinese and Malay, the
street signs and public messages everywhere were also written
in Tamil. Second, right from the airport, nearly every Indian
I encountered, whether at the immigration counter, the airport
maintenance staff or even the taxi driver of our cab, had
a Tamil name. The experiences over the next few days did more
to cement that connection.
Since I had landed in Singapore on a Friday, I was given the
weekend off to familiarize myself with the place. I was put
up in a comfortable apartment on Balestier Road, fitted with
all modern amenities and given elaborate instructions on how
and where I was to present myself on the coming Monday. Till
then however, I was free to explore the country. And being
naturally curious, I grabbed the opportunity. The first thing
I did however was to call home and tell my family that I had
arrived safely. The next thing was to grab the map of Singapore
that I (this was made possible thanks to the goodie bag supplied
by the recruitment officer which contained, among other things,
a international calling card, packets of noodles, several
packets of assorted biscuits, a map of Singapore and a little
employee handbook with all necessary contact and communication
details) had been provided with and to figure out where to
Little India on Serangoon road seemed the natural choice.
It was reputed to be the hub of Singaporean Indians and other
allied groups like Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and the like.
In fact, the map I had touted it as one of the un-missable
tourist attractions of Singapore. So I asked around till I
found a cabbie who would take me to Serangoon Road (it wasn’t
all that difficult. It seems, most Indians who arrive in Singapore,
are keen to immediately make their way to Little India!) and
set off on a journey of (self?) discovery.
And self discovery it was in the truest sense of the term.
As I walked down the colorful avenues of shop flats, I realized
for the first time that the Indian identity is unique, colorful
and vibrant. There were shops selling Indian spices, saris,
clothes, flowers, puja implements, cassettes, jewelry, magazines,
trinkets and odds and ends. There was the noise and buzz that
you would associate with a market place in India, people clamoring
to sell their wares and vendors with loud speakers peddling
their fare, roadside eateries and Indian restaurants (there
was even one memorable Indo-Pakistani restaurant; so much
for traditional rivalry!) there were Indian temples, mosques
and a little distance away, even a Gurudwara! Little India
in Singapore was just like a crowded Mambalam street in downtown
Chennai or the shopping centre Koti in Hyderabad. I felt totally
at home, and if truth be told, a little disappointed that
a street in a foreign country could look so much like home.
Nevertheless, I made myself to a South Indian restaurant on
Veerasamy lane and, in a fit of nostalgia, consumed two delicate
and perfect idlis with tasty sambar (Note: I usually abhor
idlis and kick up a fuss whenever they are served at the dining
table back home!). But seated amidst the hustle d bustle
of busy Serangoon Road, they tasted like the most heavenly
food I could ever hope to have.
My first night in Singapore was therefore my most memorable.
Soon I would have to face traditional forces at work, life
and living. But those are the topic of another story altogether…
Prashanth Kumar is a professional marketing copywriter from
Hyderabad, India who currently lives and works in Sunny Singapore.
When he is not busy trying to make a living from his writing,
he tries (all too seriously!) to tickle the funny bone of
Indians worldwide. More details about him and his work can
be accessed at www.dial-a-writer.com You can send the author your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org