Editorial: Let’s all be ‘us’February 15, 2015
Some people might see foreigners and expats in Singapore as “them”, that they are alien, a host of people that invaded our country and are fundamentally different from how local Singaporeans think and behave. I could see how that might seem so – some expats and foreigners in Singapore do have a certain ‘expat’ lifestyle and social circle that excludes locals. I am writing about this because I saw this really upbeat video that shows all the little things we do conscious or unconsciously to the people around us, no matter where they are from, and it struck a chord with me:
But actually I have never thought of foreigners and expats that way. I remember how when I was growing up, we had rented out rooms in our house to a couple of PRCs who are working in Singapore (we were doing the airbnb thing way before it got cool). In the end they turned out to be the elder brothers and sisters we never had. They would help us with our schoolwork, teach us Chinese chess, and even go to the park with us during the weekends. Since my dad came from China when he was young, he would also be chatting and bonding with them during their free time. We never did have the mentality that we are of different groups so we should not interact. In fact, I remember how my mum offered our Chinese tenant a seed of durian for him to try. He took it back to his room, and emerged a while later, with all the flesh scraped onto a plate. "Where’s the seed?", we asked. Turns out he thought THAT was the thing you’re supposed to eat, and he ate it up! Haha. Even said it was quite nice too.
So there’s that. I’ve only truly started interacting with more expats and foreigners when I started working after graduation. I had the good fortune in my first job to be working with a very talented creative director and PR/events director both from the UK. I didn’t notice the colour of their skin – I only saw their talent and work ethic. We became friends easily - we hung out and had beers from time to time after work to chat about what’s happening in Singapore and the oddities sometimes. In fact, the PR director went on to marry a local Singaporean guy after a few years!
In my second job that’s where I truly experienced the international/multi-cultural aspect of being in a company that started in France, and expanded to Singapore for an APAC headquarters. I truly enjoyed my time there with my colleagues from all over the world. Again, there was no such thing as ‘them’ vs ‘us’. We celebrated our differences and marveled at them, but we were the same in how we think and we had fun together.
In this photo we had a community manager from China, one from Indonesia, two Frenchmen, an Eastern European lady and an American. 7 out of 12 were not locals! I could not have had a better group of people to work together even so. The best part was learning that while both Singaporeans and expats/colleagues from overseas both have very good work ethic, they have a stronger sense of work-life balance. You come in, do your work, finish it effectively, wrap up, and go home or out. This cultural mindset was something I had appreciated and tried adopting as well. Meanwhile, our colleagues would also join us for lunch time hawker food adventures and even karaoke after work!
Another funny story was how we had a couple of French colleagues visit the Singapore office, and we ended up being fast friends, to the extent where when I went over to Paris, they brought us around too! Eventually they came to Singapore to work, and we hung out even more then.
One of the colleagues from my previous company was from the Philippines, and we’ve since become good friends till now. He’d lived in Singapore for quite a large number of years here and has no problems integrating with us, though sometimes he still gets quite puzzled by certain Singaporean traits like being ‘kiasu’. This was a recent photo when we caught up after he came back to Singapore to visit, now that he is working overseas in Amsterdam.
Finally, in my current workplace I also interact and work on a daily basis with expat colleagues. In fact, my boss is half Thai and half Peruvian, but had studied in the UK! Another colleague is Singaporean Indian, but had spent majority of his adult life in Australia, but is now back here. I find it very refreshing to work with a mix of locals and non-locals because wider perspectives and ways of thinking can be had.
I don’t think it’s possible to live in Singapore and be closed off to interaction with expats or foreigners. We are after all an immigrant society and country and we’re all in it together to make it better. I had so much fun looking through all these photos and remembering the good times and good people that had been in my life – there’s no “them”, only “us”. I hope anyone reading this will also feel the same, and encourage others who might be apprehensive or negative about other people who is not local to become more open and friendly!