Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Travel - Singapore (Feb 2011) - Part 2/3


My previous Singapore post I discussed on my justifications behind my humble opinion on hawker centers, their necessity to the city to be exact. For this post, in addition to froyo and more food adventures, my leisure walks over my few days there somehow heightened my sense of ... observations or perhaps released  my urge to express myself via writings on subjects more than just food. It is a refreshing attempt but I quite enjoy this little change.  One of the reasons for my visit to Singapore was to experience the cultures as well as the environment, both living and perhaps working as well. Moving to Singapore to work / live crossed my mind several times (for various reasons) but before doing so I wanted to travel there at least for once or spend more time there. While I weight the option of moving there, I noticed the increasing number of Singaporeans (of all ages, mostly in the mid / late 20s) in Hong Kong, especially in the Central Business District and perhaps all around Hong Kong to be honest. Now here is the million dollar question, why on earth am I planning to move to Singapore while many are making their move to Hong Kong or other major cities around Asia or even the world?


After some research on this issue and based on personal observations, I find the topic to be quite complicated and rather similar to what Hong Kong is experiencing as well. Major factors include the sense of belonging and lack of opportunities for the youths of this generation. A sense of belonging is a rather abstract topic to define or explain because it involves more than just one thing which triggered it. One major element has to be the lack of job opportunities which cascaded to the potential difficulties to maintain a certain living standard that increases rapidly. There are many signals in the past decade that showed how the Singaporean government acknowledged this issue. Singapore is an important international financial hub, major world port and a great tourism destination in the region with strong focus in value added services and manufacturing industries. However, to maintain that status is no easy task. Hong Kong is lucky because of its geographic proximity to China (plus of course its status as part of China) but Singapore does not have that advantage and requires much more efforts. The granting and opening of a casino in Singapore was a huge move in my opinion, a move that took more than the need to do so but rather out of desperation in order to keep the nation status up on the list in all areas. The extra levy required for locals to enter the casino is definitely an important sign / measure on how reluctant the government wanted the casino in the beginning.


If I know how to fight this issue I will not be here typing this blog post.  But I do like to share what I think on this issue. I personally feel lucky for many Singaporeans because of the great foresight of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Republic of Singapore, and his government at that time. Lee's foresight on Singapore and its future back several decades ago was more than just a stroke of luck in my opinion. Think about it, Singapore is the only South East Asian countries that recognizes four official languages: English, Malay, Chinese (Mandarin), and Tamil.  In addition to the official Chinese (Mandarin), Cantonese is a language that can be commonly heard in town. If I may add, the official use of written Chinese before 1969 was Traditional Chinese and between 1969-1976, a unique set of Simplified Chinese was used until 1977 when the nation fully adopted Simplified Chinese of Mainland China as the official set. We are talking about the Cold War period and when China was not really in good terms with the US, but a nation decides to educate its people in English as well as Chinese (Mandarin + written Simplified Chinese).  Many may think of such an idea as outrageous back then, but now, how smart was the idea indeed when many Hong Kong students of past and present are struggling to learn Mandarin in the past 2 decades knowing of the great opportunities up north. (interesting note I heard: The use of Mandarin / Putonghua as the official language of People's Republic of China was a result of voting in 1955(?) with Cantonese as the first runner up, lost by ONE single vote! - Imagine the change if Cantonese was the official language of China. --- yet to verify the accuracy of this interesting note, I heard from multiple sources agreeing on this point but let me find some b&w sources to support it or strike it off as pure rumors.)


Majority of Singaporeans can speak fluent English, some quite good with Mandarin and perhaps a third languages / Asian dialect of some sorts. With such simple set of language skills, they beat many Hong Kong students by several hundred meters in any given race! Yet with such advantages, why are many hoping to leave? Many youths have been well trained by the educational system with relatively greater international exposures compared with others from nearby countries, they are relatively more outgoing and proactive in many areas but all these efforts by the government over the years resulted in talents finding opportunities outside their home country. Quite unfortunate if you ask me.


Whatever the reason for leaving home for other opportunities, there has to be a valid reason behind such big decision. It is quite true that only by doing so can people obtain greater international exposures from different cultures, learn the different approach in management or perhaps problem solving skills. It some cases, even efficiency or productivity can be enhanced from such overseas experiences as well. The concern is whether the decision to work aboard was out of desperation to leave or a process of equipping oneself for future return to home or lost of home / sense of belonging?

Many call such scenario as brain drain, I call it diminishing sense of belonging or whatever you want to call it to be honest. If Singapore is an educational state merely welcoming students around the world to further their education then that's fine, but it has its own economy, its international financial center to sustain and to further develop. Its future success must be driven forward from within with a delicate balance with outside / foreign expertise. However, the continuous reliance on expats is not a sustainable approach in my opinion. Many youths are feeling the pressure entering the working world with rapidly increasing standard of living yet diminishing opportunities in many industries. Either there are fewer jobs out there or simply lack of choices in term of industries / fields. With fierce competition not only from within, many are struggling to maintain or even sustain their standard of living. Although the state has an advance public housing system for all residents, the cost of living outpaces that of nominal inflation by a great amount over the past decade or so. One social issue leads to another and sooner or later, the chain reaction will be cascaded to a point of no return.


The situation is very similar to that experiencing by Hong Kong but the Singaporean government actually understands (at least in my opinion) the issues and the side effects of over-concentrating on one single industry (ie: finance?). Its attempts to support the creative industry is a start to retain the different talents or perhaps attract new blood into the country. Instead of focusing on expats injections into the work force, the government encourages people of various backgrounds to come to Singapore to work, hoping some may decide on calling SG home one day. Do I have a solution? I am not so sure but what concerns me the most is how the situation in SG is so similar to that of Hong Kong but only differ in degree of seriousness to the latter. I will leave the HK issues on another day when the context is more relevant and since it may occupy over 2,000 words on that topic, I better make it a dedicated post in the near future. 


By just walking around town, I sensed more than just the above-mentioned but a strong cultural ... vibe as well. Old buildings are everything but they are well-maintained or even well renovated with stunning designs. I think it is a joint effort from the government in retaining them as part of the development and how residents treasure these priceless architectural structures of great historical values.


There is a certain charm to all these buildings in the Chinatown area ...


... and they all tell a different story.


The use of different colors, different architectural designs give each building a character of its own.


While on the topic of architectural designs, there are quite a few museums in the middle of the downtown area which are worth visiting. The SAM (Singapore Art Museum) is one while SAM at Q8 is another one.


Walking to me is extreme workout and all these walking made me hungry. After our Kaya toast break, I made a detour to give Swee Kee (Ka-Soh) Fish Head Noodles a try.


Famed for their fish heads as well as their fish soup, I ordered the sliced fish noodles in soup. To be honest, my undivided attention was on the creamy, rich, deep fish soup and sort of ignored about the noodles and/or the sliced fish. The intensity of the soup beat any I had tried before thus far and it was quite addictive! Two thumbs up!


The deep fried fish head version was equally enjoyable especially the fish soup. I just can't get over the great soup seriously!


After my afternoon tea part-2, more walking was conducted before a short break at the nearby cafe called Shots in Ann Siang Hill.


The interior looked promising ... so we assumed. Perhaps I ordered the wrong item but my Tiramisu Espresso Shot (SGD 5.5) was not the quote what I expected.


Not only was I required to drink the whole shot in one go, it was sweetness overdose! The sweetness was overpowering the coffee flavor which alone would be quite alright in my opinion.


For dinner we headed back to the East Coast Seafood Center  for some White Pepper Crab at No Signboard Seafood. Alright, I am sure many would say that it is definitely not the best place to have it but being a tourist, it made sense to at least give it a try right??? 


Let's be frank about it, I had no expectation coming here so I was easily pleased to say the least. 


Most dishes we ordered were ordinary to say the least, nothing exciting or stimulating to our taste buds. 


The saving grace in RELATIVE terms got to be the beer and of course the white pepper crab.


The ginger onion version lacked much flavors when compared with the white pepper crab.


Was it worth making the trip all the way to the East Coast Seafood Center for the white pepper crab at No Signboard? I don't think so unless you want to enjoy your food overlooking the sea then sure why not.


It wasn't a satisfying dinner. We were all very full but unsatisfied. I talked about froyo at the end of my last post and it was after this unsatisfying meal which I had the froyo at Yoguru at the Tangs Orchard. I went back almost everyday for the next 3 days not only because of the froyo I constant crave for, but the lovely smile from the lady behind the counter as well. (I think I got extra mango on my last day!!!)


Norman ah Liang said...

FYI, the story of Cantonese lost by one single vote is not true. People made it up and it doesn't make sense at all, as you know a lot of Cantonese words can't be written.

Jason said...

@Norman: Thanks for the note. I have asked quite a number of people on this matter and it seems the answers were the same. I tried to do a more diligent research (still in process) so I took the assumption on my simple survey that it has to be quite accurate. I will do more research to either support or turn over my assumption. That being said, for discussion sake, even though many Chinese words cannot be written, it should be stop it from qualifying as the official language when it comes to spoken language right?

Anonymous said...

I have lived in both countries, SG has a huge mix of cultures and as a person who grew up in SG, we have always been encouraged to spread our wings and boarden our horizons when we're young but our sense of belonging of where home is will always be SG. Not only for the food, but because of the mix of cultures, expeience, friendliness and environment. HK whilst is a more vibrant city in comparison and always strives to be the best, I feel it lacks heart. In the constant drive to Urbanize and grow, people seem to have left out the 'human' element of things and are less inclusive to outsiders. People also appear to be less happy in HK. I have lived and worked in several countries some that I do find better than SG in many aspects but ultimately the sense of belonging to where home is lies ultimately with SG. - this is my humble opinion

Jason said...

@Anonymous: Thanks for the comment and thanks for dropping by the blog. Singapore was and still is one of the key destinations for me because of the richer cultures and environment which I personally prefer. I do agree that Singaporeans are encouraged to spread their wings and boarden the horizons for self enrichment.

I should have stated more clearly what I meant for the sense of belonging because the definition can certainly be different from person to person. I strongly feel that people in Hong Kong, most of them treat Hong Kong as a temp location where they are here to work and soon will leave to retire somewhere else if they have the options. Even for those who decided to stay or settle in, many are constantly comparing with other countries / cities in a very competitive way. If it is home, it should be viewed as a place full of positive feedback in my opinion.

SG is not as serious when compared with HK in my opinion but due to the increasing living standard, I do feel that many youths in SG nowadays are struggling in relatively terms to youths of a decade ago. This is the case for HK in my opinion and the negative attitudes fills the air which in long run is not a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Singaporean who has been living and working here in HK for the past 5+ years. The one thing I didn't quite expect, when I was moved here, was how I became quite patriotic towards SG (compared to if I were to have lived there all this time). The one thing I miss most about SG is definitely the food (and the more affordable prices)!

Jason said...

@Anonymous: I do feel that not just Singaporean but many would have a growing sense of patriotism or pride towards home country after a few years away from home. What's sad in my opinion is how HK is often the place which causes such growing pride of home.

SG to me has always been a nation which its citizens have a strong sense of pride in comparison with many countries I have been to. Hong Kong is a very extreme case of course in my opinion for the above reasons. While I still believe in the strong sense of belonging for many SG, I am simply implying that such sense is diminishing over these few years for whatever reasons. It can be the increasing living cost or lack of job opps within. I think there can be quite many reasons.

you mentioned a very serious issue with HK indeed. Many I know find this land to be a stop-over and not a place for long term home. Many people and talents come here just for the job and plan to leave once they had enough. Is this a good thing for HK? perhaps not. Another problem is how companies keep importing talents from outside (similar situation in SG I presume) instead of developing within. Fair enough that because they are commercial entities, they need to find the best fit for their businesses but it is a concern in the long run in my opinion.

I have to say it is a serious issue many of us are ignoring. SG and its government is more alert to changes compared with HK so the problem and concerns are not as serious. HK and its gov (and the population) must be more aware of this issue

Norman ah Liang said...

Hi Jason,
Cantonese lost by ONE single vote was not the true and the following web sites have all the evidents, (can't you read Chinese?)

The reason why I'm so concern about this because I have been fool for long time (20 years) and I just found out the true recently.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,
I am facing the same problem as you do. I am in my 20s, typical hkers. However, I am seriously considering moving to singapore due to the culture and potential. Yes, HK is a great place; however, i lost my sense of belongings long ago and strengthen after seeing how irrational the citizens are. I will see how things going on... Thanks very much for sharing your thought which actually inspires me with new ideas.
Iris L.

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