Yahoo has recently uploaded an article on a 20-year-old Singaporean fleeing to London to escape our stifling environment as I am preparing to leave Sydney for Singapore in about a week’s time – after staying away for almost 70 days.
I usually leave Sydney with a heavy heart as I know that life in Singapore is crampy and people don’t really have time for you.
People are mostly wore out after a hard day at work and they preferred to return to the warmth of their home than spend their time out having a chat with you.
Here in Sydney, I could easily get hold of a friend and meet up within an hour or two for a nice chat over a cuppa.
How living abroad has changed my life
More importantly, I learn alot about giving out unconditionally as the Aussies are very big-heared people who are involved in all kinds of community and charitable work.
Most of the voluntary work I have done in Singapore for the past five years is mainly derived from my experiences while staying in Sydney.
Even the Sydney Marathon, which I will be running this weekend, is dedicated for charity as runners are encouraged to raise funds so that their respective charities will be financially assisted through their marathon running efforts.
Many also dig in deep from their own pockets to carry out community charity works when government funding is lacking.
I doubt that I will be able to do what I have done if not for the eye-opening heart-warming stay in Australia.
If you are totally born and breed in Singapore, you will adopt the mentality that nothing is free in life and you want to be adequately compensated for doing any voluntary work on a full time basis.
I have seen how many social work friends reject alot of worthwhile charity work plan because they could not get any funds from the government bodies – granted that they need the money first in order to survive and also to drive the projects.
My priniciple in doing voluntary work is that if it has fill an important gap within the community, we will do it despite the fact that we don’t have the money initially as I always feel that if you do it well the money will come eventually.
My work with the jobless and divorced communities have touched close to 700 Singaporeans on a face to face basis and we all do it without any substantial funding – its just trying my best to meet an important need in my community and mostly done out of love and care.
We are also probably the only ones that operate support websites for the jobless and divorced communities.
So far, during these five years of full time non-funded charity work, I never have to sleep in the street once or go with an empty stomach.
Of course, I could not live as well as before but there is certainly no lack in basic necessities though they are times that I sweat on my next month’s ability to meet my expenses.
You can say that I have found my life’s mission while living in down under!
More importantly, I hope that my experience has demonstrated to my fellow Singaporeans that there is power in the idea of one person – if we carry out the cause with passion and self less commitment.
T have heard from many Singaporeans that they don’t think they can do much for the country despite what has happened recently.
Hopefully, after seeing what I have done for the past five years, it will help them find the self belief to pursue whatever personal cause they are seeking out for.
Lifestyle differences between Singapore and Sydney
Perhaps, the difference in lifestyle has allows people here to find the time and space for socialising and hobbies.
My family is based here in Sydney and frankly I am thankful for that as it gives me a good solid reason to take off for about 3-4 months in a year.
I have being floating in and out of Sydney for the last five years and when you put in a month or two for some business trip elsewhere, I am probably only around locally for not more than 8 months annually.
I work voluntarily with jobless and divorced Singaporeans back home and find intense meaning from what I do.
I depend on donations and some part time work to survive.
I guess if you could derive meaning from what you do, you will do it happily even though you don’t earn a cent out of it.
Too many Singaporeans are working just because they need the income to pay bills and not really due to passion and doing something that they could find true meaning.
However, despite my meaningful work among Singaporeans, I find it difficult to live in Singapore for too long at a stretch and after six months, I will tell my friends that I need a break from the stifling environment – both figuratively and literally – and will book the next one-way ticket to down under.
The contrast between the two countries is enormous – I cherish the ample space provided by the large continent and the low humidity help me to breathe easily.
Shops close by 6pm mostly and I remembered having to go on an empty stomach when I over slept and forgot to buy dinner at 5.30pm.
There is practically nothing to buy after 6pm here unless you are in the city.
Amazingly, despite closing shop by 6pm, they have managed to survive all this while.
During weekend, there are alot of flea markets at Newtown and Paddington to browse and not to mention the lovely beaches at Manly, Bondi and Cronulla.
However, Sydney is like getting to be another Asian city lately as migrants and students from nearby Asia floods the city.
In fact, towns like Hurstville, Bankstown, Rockdale, Rhodes, Eastwood among others have become Asian enclaves and many Whites have fled to Queensland where the property is cheaper and the weather milder.
Like many cities, Sydney is also not perfect.
There are the infamous traffic jams that plagued many well-populated cities - Sydney has 8 million people – and I saw how some Aussies struggled with their high-interest mortgages.
Most banks charged at least 7% interest for their mortgage loans and the Aussies spent at least 40% of their disposable income paying mortgage loans.
There is also an article written in their national papers recently that Aussies now could either only afford to get a home or have children – you can’t do both as it will be too costly.
In Singapore, our banks do not charge beyond 3% interest for our mortgage loans and our young couples could afford to have kids as well if they want to.
I have also always appreciate Singapore for the cheap easily-available yummy food dishes out by our foreign workers – something which I miss out alot when I am abroad.
I tend to lose some weight here as I don’t eat as much when I am in Singapore – of course its also far more expensive to eat out here than back home and most Aussies tend to cook in for most of their meals.
I have also finished weathering a harsh winter here and the lovely spring is just out.
This year’s winter has been rather cold and I heard that the previous summer hardly had a day that shot above 30 deg C – something that happpend only once for the past 50 years.
I have always enjoyed the winter here as it is a far cry from our daily hot oven feeling back home.
Amazingly, just after a week of spring, grass sprout out from everywhere as the land is bathed in the warm welcoming sunshine.
I can jog anytime of the day due to the wonderful weather and truly I felt recharged whenever I am here.
I don’t feel as suffocated as back home and people also don’t really care if you are rich or not.
More importantly, despite cries of racism here, people are generally friendly and you get a good genuine smile when you purchase something from the shops compared to the silent non-facial treatment of our foreign sales assistants back home.
Sometimes, I wondered if people know that I exist or not back home…
Monotonous materialistic lifestyle in Singapore
There is the daily monotonous grind and the maddening crowd adds on to the frustration especially if you want a break from people.
One tends to get this feeling that even in a large crowd you get lonely as I find that most Singaporeans don’t really have many friends around them.
You are merely existing and not living and those who really live are probably well off and could afford a lifestyle that gives them a life…
Don’t take me wrong – I love my country – in fact I am willing to die for Singapore if there is a chance.
However, like the 20-year-old, the feeling that we are merely existing and not living and that we are so square that people like us who prefer a more care-free lifestyle just don’t fel belonged – even though Singapore is our country.
There is always this group of people who will prefer a more balanced lifestyle but this preference seems elusive as people are conditioned to be materialistic by the environment and they can sacrifice alot to achieve that dream car or high-end condo.
You also felt left out if you pursue a more relaxed lifestyle compared to the typical Singaporeans and that probably explains why this group will always want to leave for another city as they don’t feel belonged nor appreciated by their peers.
Different aspiration of Generation Y
Our Generation X population may have totally different aspirations from those belonging to the Generation Yor babyboomers as perhaps they already have everything by their side once they are born and their pursuits are thus somewhat different from us and totally non-materialistic.
I must add that the chronic work culture in our country needs to be improved first before people can even talk about having a proper work place balance system.
If you are being treated like a machine at work and the bosses can squeeze you dry for the meagre wages they pay you then something is very wrong with our first world system.
In fact, sometimes looking at the happy contented faces of some foreign migrants living in our country, I feel more like a outsider compared to them!
During this trip, a friend also tagged along midway and stayed for two weeks with me.
He is also around my age and looking for a place to relax for at least a month or two abroad - far away from the maddening pace back home.
Besides working very hard almost on a daily basis, the bachelor practically has nothing much to look forward to in life.
“I want to slow down my lifestyle abit and maybe learn to smell the roses for a few weeks uninterrupted,” he confided in me.
Many friends have admired my care-free lifestyle for the past few years and I told them that it came at a price.
I have literally lost my family living my life this way and there is no steady income.
I guess sometimes in life you can’t have everything your way.
There is also no perfect country and you have to find your own place where you can function at your best.
As for me, I am glad that my circumstances allow me to live abroad for long period during these past few years.
It has also allowed me to view things in perspective and not feel caged-in like most Singaporeans do.
You are also more open to alternative ideas and not live like a frog cooked in a slow heating oven – oblivious to what is happening around you.
I will be here till 19 Sep and if any Singaporean is in Sydney, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can buy you a nice steak in Chinatown.
Nothing beats speaking Singlish with another fellow Singaporean!
Scoot now flies to Sydney on a daily basis and a return ticket costs less than $400.
And yes, I still love Singapore – despite its’ shortcomings and inconveniences as this is my country and where I can feel most at home.
Written by: Gilbert Goh
Editor’s Note: I will also be running in the Sydney’s half marathon on 16 Sep (Sun) and dedicating this 21-km journey to my jobless and divorced Singaporean friends back home. Don’t give up the fight as I am here with you…