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Featured Article: My Singapore Story >> Features Archieve >> This Article

Featured Article: My Singapore Story
(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!

‘Rebel 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 be.

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.

Singapore 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 go.

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 

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  You can send the author your feedback at





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