I recently had a conversation with a good friend back in Singapore, and like many others, she asked: “So how? Don’t want to come home already ah?”
I told her that I eventually would, but that now’s not the time – I just haven’t gotten enough out of this experience yet.
“I can’t believe it. You’ve really become an ah tiong already,” she replied.
I would’ve been offended if that statement came from someone I barely knew, because in a Singaporean context, the term ah tiong equates to “uncouth scum from Mainland China” (that’s what I interpret of it anyway). Ask any Singaporean Chinese living here in China and they’ll probably reprimand you for calling them as such.
You see, we Singaporeans take pride in not being faux pas here in China. I’d like to think that we do not rush into lifts even before the people inside can exit, or bulldoze our way into an already packed subway train during rush hour. Then again, it’s pretty subjective.
Cos’ doing so isn’t actually considered faux pas here.
That being said, I feel like I need to address the misconception that all mainland Chinese people depict this sort of behaviour. Sure, you will most definitely come across people like that in China, and perhaps rather frequently. After all, there are 1.4 billion people here so the probability is obviously higher.
You don’t need a PhD in mathematics in order to understand this.
Besides, I swear I see more people here in Shanghai giving up their seats on the train for the elderly than back home in Singapore. Is this an accurate depiction of society? I don’t know.
Like I said, it could just be a matter of probability.
It is naive to think that all Chinese people are dishonest scum who have no idea of social etiquette and who like to open emergency doors on planes and shit on the aisles while the air stewardess serves you Tsingtao beer. Sure, we do read about a lot of such stuff on the Internet, but you do know that the media favours such negative news over the good right?
Why else do you think Singapore media is going loco over something as disgustingly trivial as Rui En and her “Do you know who I am?” episode?
Ah nia, I really don’t give a hoot about whether you stay in the block nearby or whether you were drunk or whether you think you’re cut out for the acting business or whether you managed to experience bowel movement this morning. Seriously.
The recent conversation with my friend also revealed a few other frequently talked-about perceptions that aren’t necessarily true. For easy reading, I’m using the listicle format.
Everyone loves listicles, yes?
Myth No.1: Shanghai is not perpetually covered in smog
Sure, air quality isn’t great here and it can get ridiculously smoggy during winter, but pollution isn’t something you get every single day. I’m currently writing this blog while looking out the window at a gorgeous clear sky. It’s a lovely 20 degrees Celsius now and it’s a fantastic time to be out in the open. But I guess if you’re one of those who are super kiasee (afraid to die) and need your air to be clean 75 percent of the time (I’m factoring in the annual haze period), then just stay in Singapore. Or go live in an operating theatre.
Tip for those moving to Shanghai: Get a good air purifier. Many Singaporeans swear by the Xiaomi one. Wear a mask if you need to. Don’t go out jogging on smoggy days. Duh.
Myth No.2: Internet here sucks because of the Great Firewall
You’d probably be surprised, but the Internet here is generally very fast and you can get free WiFi at many cafes and restaurants, unlike in Singapore (Wireless@SG is an utter joke). Many people say the Internet sucks because they can’t get on sites such as Google and Facebook, but seriously, The Great Firewall can be defeated with a good VPN.
Tip for those moving to Shanghai: Get a paid VPN account (the free ones aren’t as reliable) and install it BEFORE you enter China. It’s hard to install a VPN here because, well, you need a VPN to access VPN sites. If you’re super kiasu, get two VPN accounts so that when the government does its random clampdowns, chances are you’ll still have one that’s functional.
Myth No.3: EVERYTHING is very inefficient and inconvenient in China
Yes, it can take up to 20 minutes for a waiter to bring you a bowl of white rice at a restaurant (happens all the freaking time) and your colleagues might operate on a different wavelength from you, but I’d hardly consider that to be indicative of the overall efficiency levels in China. If you’re a lazy bum who would love to have everything delivered to your doorstep, China’s the place. Seriously, EVERYTHING can be delivered to your doorstep. A fellow Singaporean had his freaking exotic turtle delivered to his home before too. Female friends have had manicures, pedicures and massages done in the comfort of their homes.
Tip for those moving to Shanghai: The locals go a bit loco with the packaging here in China, so ordering stuff online isn’t the most environmentally friendly way to go about getting your necessities. I once had a small plate and two pairs of chopsticks come wrapped in 2 metres of bubble wrap.
Myth No.4: All the good restaurants and bars are at the Bund
Let’s put it this way, most Singaporeans I know here HATE going to the Bund – it’s always crowded and it’s pretty frustrating when it comes to getting a cab there during peak hours. The only reason we ever go there is because a friend from home is in town and he wants to stroll along the Bund. Yes, there are great restaurants in that area but truth be told, there are even more all around the city. The restaurant and cafe scene in Shanghai is fantastic. You get a lot more bang for your buck than in Singapore. Please, don’t even try to argue with me on this.
Tip for those moving to Shanghai: Erm, watch your waistline?
Myth No.5: Shanghai is very unsafe
I guess this misconception stems from the fact that there have been freak accidents in China in the past, like how some mad man impaled a woman with a sword at Sanlitun in Beijing. Come on lah, such things can happen everywhere. Don’t talk as if Singapore is a zero-crime city. Shanghai is also pretty darn safe.
Tip for those moving to Shanghai: Exercise common sense, lah.
Now, I’d like to address some of the comments made in a previous blog post about healthcare and the standard of living.
Look, if you’re going to be earning like a local – the average person in Shanghai makes around 7,000 RMB (SGD$1,466) – you’re definitely not going to be able to check out cocktail bars and eat at nice restaurants all the time.
I reckon most of the Singaporeans here earn a wage that is pegged to Singapore standards, and I’m no different. I don’t understand why people would even say things like, “Try making the local wages and living there. Then this ‘better value’ does not apply anymore.”
Hello, le siao boh? Why would I do such a thing? Look, I’m in my mid-30s and I have no intention of taking a massive pay cut and compromising on my desired standard of living. That is MY prerogative.
If I’m not getting paid what I’m getting now, I’ll move along and find another job. If I can’t get a job here that pays me what I want, I’ll move back to another country or back to Singapore.
As the common saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side (yes, even after you have gone over to the other side). So how? Just keeping jumping over the fence to the other side, machiam playing zero point.
It’s pragmatism. It’s our survival instinct. It’s human nature. We will always strive for a better life.
And this is the point where people start going: “Please, people like you should just stay in China and never come back to Singapore.”
Hang on, the ah beng in me wants to say something.
“Kanina lah, Singapore is your lao peh’s country meh?”
And this is the point where people go: “You ingrate. You bit the hand that fed you.”
If you feel that you’re forever indebted to the country of your birth simply because you were born there, well, good for you. Allegiance is a complex thing to talk about, so I’ll leave it for another blog post.
Anyway, yes, I earn considerably more than the local average here in Shanghai, but roughly the same as what I got in Singapore. Yes, you can earn a lot more here in Shanghai, depending on your industry. Not mine.
However, it’s also increasingly harder to get an “expat package” in the traditional sense of the term (one that includes housing, medical, car, childcare, plane ticket home every year) though if you’re in the science and tech sectors, Shanghai’s currently on the lookout for top talents right now.
Next, healthcare is indeed a problem. If you’re working with an MNC here in Shanghai, chances are you will be adequately covered. If you’re not, things get a little tricky.
Going to the doctor here in Shanghai is, by Singaporean standards, a joke.
The locals go to hospitals in the morning to queue for a ticket number before returning later in the day to see the doc. No, you can’t just waltz into a government hospital and demand to see the doc. The only places you can do so are the expat wings of hospitals or expensive clinics like Parkway and Raffles.
What do I mean by expensive? Expect to pay at least SGD$180 for consultation and meds.
I don’t have awesome medical coverage. I can’t visit an expat clinic whenever I’m sick. I always self-medicate. I always stock up on meds when I leave Shanghai because the pharmacies here don’t sell the usual Panadol or Zyrtec or whatever you see in Guardian stores back in Singapore.
But hey, more incentive to stay fit and healthy right?
For those of you who are contemplating leaving Singapore, do it. I’m not saying you should become a “quitter” and never return to your homeland. I’m not advocating that you leave Singapore and come work in Shanghai.
You can go to Timbuktu for all I care. Or Jussloyykialloptynn for that matter. Just get out and experience a new culture if you can.
And please hor, just because you went on holiday in a foreign country doesn’t mean you have experienced the local culture. Not accurately, anyway. You see, the mechanics of a holiday just doesn’t compare to living and working in a new environment. Speaking as if you thoroughly know a city just because you went backpacking there is like someone who has only ever written fluffy blog posts calling himself a journalist.
If you’re currently jaded about being a Singaporean, you’d be amazed at how being in a foreign country can amplify your sense of identity.
Ah, identity, it’s an utterly intriguing topic, but one that I’ll leave for another time.
To be honest, I said the very same thing (wah, you become ah tiong already ah?) to another friend who had moved to Shanghai a few years before me. I could not fathom what was it about China that enthralled her. To me, China was just a filthy place filled with uncultured people.
Because I didn’t know any better. Because I was stuck in a trench, desperate to avoid the bullets flying overhead when there were no bullets to even begin with.
For fellow Singaporeans who have just started working here and are currently hating everything about the city, I urge you to give yourself at least 12 months to get adjusted to the environment. It’s really not bad at all when you get the hang of things.
In the meantime, can everyone please stop perpetuating the stereotype that all mainland Chinese are undesirable characters. Doing so turns you into that very person you’re lambasting (hello irony!).
I mean, would you like it if foreigners said that all Singaporeans are petty, myopic people because they can’t take a little bit of criticism?
We are, ultimately, all humans. We are born flawed. Our personalities and deficiencies are a result of the societal forces we are exposed to. Some Chinese people may be uncouth, but so are a number of Singaporeans.
It’s all part of the human condition.