It’s been slightly more than a year since I blogged about why I decided to leave Singapore and I’ve recently been reflecting on this new life in China.
In a nutshell, it’s good. To me, that is. I cannot claim to speak for all the Singaporeans living here in Shanghai because we all have different priorities. But I’m pretty sure most of them feel the same way.
For starters, I may make only a little more than I used to but I actually have a lot more spending power, primarily because your money goes a much longer way here.
I take an Uber to work everyday, not because I’m loaded but because, well, I just like sleeping in. The 20-25 minute ride costs me about 25 RMB (S$5.35). The same ride in Singapore would probably cost me around three times more. In fact, the only time I paid more than S$20 for a ride in Shanghai was when I took an Uber to Pudong International Airport. And that’s a one-hour drive away.
When I head home after work, I usually take the subway (because peak hour jams are crazy) for 6 RMB. It’s not a lot more cheaper than Singapore but it’s surprisingly more efficient. I’ve never seen or heard of a breakdown in Shanghai and at peak hours, the next train promptly arrives within 3 minutes, hardly ever more.
Like most other Singaporeans, we hired an ayi to help with the household chores. Ok fine, she does ALL the household chores. I mean, at 30 RMB per hour, that’s a real steal. I used to pay S$35 PER HOUR for a helper back home.
That particular auntie from Malaysia was awesome (like really, really awesome) but our current ayi from Gansu nevertheless gets the job done. This ayi is also an awesome cook and seems to really care about our well being. She once told us not to eat instant noodles because it’s unhealthy.
She then made 80 dumplings and chucked them into the freezer just in case we felt like having a snack. Talk about being over enthusiastic.
I used to hate cocktails because they were simply not worth the money in Singapore. An average one costs about S$20 in Singapore. A GOOD one costs about S$17 in Shanghai. There’s this place I frequent in Shanghai called Union Trading Company. It’s not the cheapest bar in Shanghai but it’s probably the best. This kickass barrel-aged cocktail called the Dead Man’s Gun costs S$30. It comes in a little bottle that fills about 2.5 glasses. Their other cocktails are pretty rad too, and any discerning drinker will tell you that the tipples here make those in Singapore look rather unrefined.
I love my beers. A large bottle of Tsingtao at the supermarket is S$1. A large can of Asahi from the convenience store is $2. Exotic craft beers at this awesome place called Jackie’s Beer Nest is about S$10 a pint. All without service tax and GST.
Tangible stuff aside, let’s talk about the weather. I get four seasons here in Shanghai. I love autumn. Winter can get really, really cold, but I don’t mind it. We experienced the coldest day in Shanghai in 35 years back in December when temperatures dipped to about -7 degrees. Yeah, I know, -7 doesn’t sound all too cold, but here in Shanghai that translates to about -15 because of the windchill.
There are four seasons in Singapore, too. Hot, pretty hot, very hot and crazy fucking hot. I hate the heat, probably a result of all those days during national service when I was cooped up in an armoured carrier. I cannot stand perspiring the moment I leave the shower. I mean, what’s the point of showering then?
Singapore’s hawker food is phenomenal. It’s good and it’s cheap. There’s nothing here in Shanghai that can beat it. But when you depart from the context of the hawker centre, one quickly begins to realise that everything else, from our cafes to restaurants and fine dining establishments, are simply not worth the money.
You see, you can shell out S$50 for the “best” brunch at a swanky venue near the waterfront in Singapore, but chances are the quality just isn’t as great as a humble cafe here that offers the same fare for just S$18. Most Singaporeans here in Shanghai will tell you that we actually enjoy a more value-for-money culinary experience here.
Of course there’s the whole issue of food safety. Is that egg I’m eating fake? Is that slab of steak I’m eating real? I’ve never eaten fake food. Even if I have, it definitely didn’t taste like it.
My most common response to queries about food safety in China these days is: “Even if it IS fake and hazardous, I’d be dead before I know it.”
And I’m cool with that.
And then there’s the issue of how many Singaporeans think. Or if they even do.
I’m still struggling to understand that “Majulah” concept that went viral recently. While the underlying intentions are commendable, it surely is naive and superficial, to think that going around saying that word to people is going to induce a greater sense of national pride and identity.
Singapore lacks an identity , I agree. I have no answers as to why this is so.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s because we’re simply too caught up with trying to be who we aren’t. I’ve always felt that there is an insidious superficiality to everything in Singapore. It’s as if the country just wants to be No. 1 at everything for the sake of being No. 1; as if Singapore is over-compensating in every department because we’re nothing but a speck on the map.
Of course, Singapore is a financial powerhouse, no question. We rock in making money. We are admired by countries that are hundreds of times larger than us because of this.
And I think we lack soul because we’re all about the money.
The local arts scene has never thrived despite the fact that Singapore likes to position itself as a creative hub in the region. It frequently holds art expos, film festivals and the painfully hipster Laneway every year. It has amazing infrastructure to host such events. Everything looks awesome.
But just on the surface.
And the scene will continue to stagnant in this nascent state thanks to the sort of censorship guidelines we have and the myopic people who champion it.
I cannot believe people are having a discussion about whether to boycott Madonna’s concert. I cannot believe that Eric Khoo’s erotic movie is deemed too erotic.
Can a circle be deemed too round? Some people seem to think so.
People need to be able to think for themselves, as opposed to being told what to think. The former is what being human is all about. The latter should only be reserved for mindless drones.
That’s exactly my beef with Singapore right now. It’s too much of a well-oiled machine. Too many of its people have been conditioned to think what they think and do what they do.
And this is the part where people switch on their flamethrowers and say: “ROFL. Fuck off you twat. You’re in goddamned China. Pot calling the kettle black. Do you even realise what you’re saying?”
Of course I do.
But I’m not saying that life is better here because it has a more creative and liberal environment that enables me to grow and flourish in my craft.
Life is better here primarily because it’s much more affordable. And also because, as uncouth as some of the Mainlanders (to be honest, it’s mostly just those from the villages) are, life is more colourful here. Not in the “Wow there are glitzy luxury malls everywhere!” kind of colourful, but there’s just this inexplicable energy that courses through the city.
I went home to spend the Chinese New Year with my family earlier in February. Just for fun, I tried very hard to view Singapore in the eyes of a foreigner.
Compared to Shanghai, Singapore is very, very, very, very, very clean. So much so that it feels almost like a Photoshopped job.
Actually, it’s so damn clean it feels sanitized.
In comparison, Shanghai looks filthy. But therein lies its beauty – imperfection. It’s as if all the grit, grime and unsavory behaviours you witness on the streets serve to imbue this place with a soul that duly fascinates Singaporeans like me who have spent most their lives living on an impeccably sterile island.
Living in Singapore is like living in a hazmat suit. Sure, it’s a safe place to be in but it’s oppressively hot and your view of the world becomes obscured.
I’ve told many friends that there’s absolutely no reason for me to return to Singapore now. Because apart from the fact that I stand a better chance at getting a more challenging and lucrative job, there’s just nothing else back home for me.
My perfectly manicured homeland is just, ironically, too damn perfect. And too damn expensive.
One of my pals bought a new car recently. It cost him in excess of S$100,000. For a Honda Vezel. One that he could only drive for 10 years.
“Don’t come back to Singapore, dude!” he said.
Well, I’m not. Not yet anyway.