Vladimir de la Singapore
Trip Start Sep 08, 2007
22Trip End Dec 30, 2008
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Family status: Single
Job: Commercial Development & Market Analysis, ConocoPhilips
Okay, I'm cheating a little bit here. I've known Vladimir for a few years. Yet, I think it is okay to cheat this way, since Vlad, as friends call him, is a typical representative of a very large group of people that live in Singapore - the expats. Born in the Philippines, raised and educated in Oklahoma, USA, Vlad worked in Houston and New York before moving to Singapore. He is a poster child for a growing number of people that span the Globe in search of the next challenge
For the 3 days I spent in Singapore, I managed to shake hands with 18 expats from Canada, US, France, Germany, Australia, and even Indonesia. Some of them are in Singapore on a 2-year contract, some of them have been living in Asia for 7 years, some of them were here for 3 months only. All are working for the Singapore office of multinational companies ranging from Disney to Conoco Philips. Many of them are making long term plans with Singapore in mind.
Singapore's expat life looks sweet - luxury condos with every amenity possible - swimming pools, gyms, open air barbeque spaces, flat screen TV's, designer type interiors. There's lots of money to go around in Singapore. Every luxury brand has a store on the high street. Sweet as it may look, luxury life doesn't come for free. Being away from your family, dealing with the humid climate and toiling away long hours in the office is the price to be paid for living the high life. Yet, most expats I talked to, were quite happy with their arrangements and did enjoy the lavish life with zeal. My friend Vlad is thrilled with the opportunity to work in Asia. His initial plan to stay for a year or two could be extended to 3-4 years.
Singapore is a small country - about 4 million residents, but with large ambitions. The population of Singapore is expected to rise to 6 million by year 2010, and the government is getting ready for it by investing in a large scale infrastructure projects. The country itself is a flagship example of efficiency, order, and cleanliness. Everything is strikingly new. On Saturday morning Vlad took me on a speed walk along the Singapore River, which crosses town east to west and winds along sky towers and ritzy riverside restaurants. He pointed to a two story building and said: My friends laugh at me when I say this, but look - this building is at least 20 years old. Now the old house was being converted into a luxury lobby for a brand new 20 story condominium that was being built right behind it. Everything in Singapore is so new and orderly, it feels almost fake, especially when you are arriving from the dusty streets of India.
Walking down Orchard street, the main shopping drag, it seems like the national sport is shopping. The economy, mainly ports and electronics, has done so well, that the economic benefits have rippled down to the rank and file people. There was a tax return of SGD 3,000 ($2,000) last year to every household.
A common comment I've heard from the westerners, was that there are too many rules and regulations in Singapore. There is a rule and a fine for everything you can imagine - they said with a slightly irritated tone - and for the things you can not imagine as well. They reckoned the recent surge in personal wealth made the local population complacent and unconcerned for being ruled with an iron fist. Everything is being regulated by draconian fines. For example, the fine for importing knock-off DVDs into Singapore is SGD 10,000 ($6,000). The penalty for drug trafficking is death - it says it with a bold red font on the customs entry form. Caning is still applied as punishment for a whole array of offenses. It is no surprise that in 2007 overall crime rates in Singapore were the third lowest in the past ten years. Local people seem to obey without discussions, even when the rules are a bit odd - chewing gum is banned in Singapore.
When I entered the metro station eating an ice-cream sandwich (a local street treat), a metro official approached me and politely, but with a noticeable urgency in his voice, invited me to finish my ice-cream outside. I was running late for meeting with Farid, a friend of a friend, who kindly offered to show me around town. I asked the metro guy where the rubbish bin is so I can dispose of the ice cream. He looked at me in disbelief - there are no rubbish bins in the station, all are outside. Having the fine warnings in mind, I quickly stuffed the whole sandwich in my mouth, not being able to say even hello to Farid, who showed up just in time to witness the grand finale of the ice-cream drama.
On one hand, I did find the rubbish bin rule a little too much. On the other hand, the floor in the metro station looked 10x cleaner than the floor in 3-ta Gradska Hospital in Sofia. This begs the question - if you have a big silver spoon in your mouth, should you risk taking it out so your voice can be heard? And can we judge people for being "fat and happy"?
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Hugs & Kisses, Vik