Yes, I am, indeed, an Englishman in Singapore. This is not to be confused with Sting’s (aka Gordon Sumner’s) song, “An Englishman in New York, although sometimes, I feel somewhat as misplaced. Allow me to start at the beginning. When I walked into Global Lingo’s London office for the first time in early January of this year, I had little inkling that, exactly eight months later to the day, I would be opening the door to my very own apartment in Singapore.
Having accepted the offer of an opportunity to be seconded to Singapore as a Corporate Writer for Global Lingo working on transcription and minute taking projects, the weeks prior to my departure on the 2nd of September passed in a sort of haze. The reality of what I had agreed to never quite seemed to sink in right away. However, that reality finally did hit me in the form of a blast of warm, humid air, as I walked out of Changi International Airport and into a taxi waiting to spirit me off to my new life.
After having spent just under three weeks here now, my first impressions of Singapore are of a vibrant, multicultural city-state, full of life and contradictions at every turn. Just look at Singapore’s relationship with the durian, for example. It is at once revered as the ‘King of Fruits’ but is also banned from public transport and hotels due to its distinctive overpowering odour.
So much of life here is refreshingly different compared to life in London, as you might expect. However, it is often mingled with a sense of the eerily familiar: Singaporean commuters are serviced by a Mass Rapid Transit system (MRT), for example, which is the equivalent to the London Underground. Nonetheless, it took me a number of days to get used to the fact that you stand to the left on escalators as opposed to the right. Similarly, the Singaporean equivalent of the Oyster card requires you to touch both in and out on buses, as fares are distance-based. I have been quite good about remembering this so far, but it is only a matter of time…
Singapore has four official languages
This vibrant and contradictory nature is exemplified in Singapore’s relationship with language. Singapore has no less than four official languages: Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil. Though English is the national language — as well as the language of business, government, and schooling — it is surprisingly not spoken by the majority of residents here. English — or rather, the ‘language of power’ as a Singapore national and friend of mine puts it — is actually the native tongue of only one-third of Singaporeans. In fact, only 20% of the population is unable to read or write in English at all. There is also the infamous ‘Singlish’ to contend with, a pidgin language of English and various aspects of the many other languages spoken throughout the city-state. These languages, however, are discouraged by the government and probably deserving of a blog post all of their own.
In such a diverse society — and with the obvious linguistic challenges that such a society can present — the importance of individuals and organisations making themselves clearly understood to one another cannot be overstated. In expanding the English Writing division to incorporate a writer and editor on the ground in Singapore, Global Lingo has opened up a great many doors. For one, we now offer a greater range of transcription and minute-taking services to new and existing clients in the city-state. It is also important to note that we are now able to provide greater coverage and availability to our English customer base from an Asia-Pacific time zone.
As this Englishman in Singapore reflects on my new adventures to date, highlights of my journey centre around food, drink, and socialising (naturally!). When it comes to food, I have certainly enjoyed sampling the many local delicacies of Singapore. Some that come to mind include oyster omelettes, the renowned chili crab, my first taste of frog, and an encounter with the aforementioned durian (through smell alone, though I knew exactly what it was from the descriptions I had read). And when it comes to drink and socialising, I have certainly enjoyed partying with locals and ex-pats on Sentosa Island, Singapore’s own all-purpose island beach resort.
Watch this space for further updates from an Englishman in Singapore!