Being foreign

Before I moved to Singapore, my longest period abroad was autumn 1997, when I spent 10 weeks in Senegal. Now I have lived in Singapore 20 months, and at the moment we don’t have any intentions to return back homeland, to Finland. Of course staying here is not only our will, Singaporean government has a lot of to say of the issue. But at least we try to stay here (legally).

Our life is now here, our home is here, my spouse has permanent job, we are more or less adapted the way of life, how it is in Singapore. There are of course differences between Finland and Singapore, but quite a lot of similarities as well. Human being is human being everywhere.

I have always moved a lot, so I have no childhood or teen home like most of the people I know have. In Finland I lived in 30+ locations including 8 towns, several different types of housing. So moving was not the issue for me, when we decided to leave Finland and start a new era of our lives abroad. Of course there were several issues to consider, for instance what I shall do, can I ever get a job, what kind of job etc. Work has been very important to me, also it has defined me, perhaps too much. ( I blogged of this before, my writing On leisure).

My main subject in the university was cultural anthropology and I have always been interested in different cultures. But probably had never dreams of living in another culture than Finnish one. Moving here has been super! Totally incredible, I have no regrets (even though getting a job has been more difficult I assumed). But being foreign is something I am struggling a bit, still. I managed, but there are so many cultural nuances that I am not deeply aware of. Especially in Singapore there are loads of Hokkien or other Chinese manners, habits, but also Malay and Indian etc. And me being Caucasian it is always the subject, where ever I go.

My most common discussion with locals begins always “Where are you from?” And it continues with a series of questions and comments, most usual are “It is too hot and expensive here, isn’t it”, “Why you are here?”, “Do you like Singaporean food?”, “Oh, you live here, for how long, when you go back?”, “What is your rent?”, “Do you have children?”, “Why you want stay here, wow?”. After living here for a while I have gotten used to these questions. In Finland we do not speak to strangers, sometimes not even with our beloved. And surely we compare Singapore to Finland. In Finland the most common discussion is to talk about weather. Of course weather is important issue here as well, but due to not have four totally varying seasons, so talking about Singaporean weather is just forecasting rain or thundering – a bit of exaggeration, but more or less.

I feel home here in Singapore. I speak both Finnish and English every day. I don’t remember being different from locals, when walking in the streets and buying food from hawker centers or grocery shops. What frustrates me is that when speaking English I cannot properly, deeply express myself as I could in my native language. New challenge has also been to start to study new language with foreign language, meaning we started to study Mandarin, but not the help of Finnish, but in English. My notes are both in Finnish and English, it has been interesting to browse them. Sometimes it is easier to write Mandarin (pinyin) translation down in Finnish, sometimes it is easier in English. Quite often I think in Finnish when trying to learn new phrase in Mandarin – our teacher translates or explains it in English and I try to understand it in Finnish. I haven’t ever been good to learn foreign languages, so learning Mandarin is not exactly simple. When I started to write the blog, I wrote it at first in Finnish, but even though I cannot write English especially well, I chose English, because it is my daily language and writing of Singapore in Finnish doesn’t exactly suit so well.

My status in Singapore is foreigner. I belong to minority, under 4% of population (Singaporean or PR) are Caucasian. At the moment I qualify only traveler, tourist, temporary resident before we get our PR. I myself consider already being more or less permanent resident, our permanent home is here and we travel to Finland, it is vacation, not going back home or returning home. We return home, when we come back to Singapore. Whenever you live abroad as non-local you need to consider living in the country the way the country itself exists. That’s why I have been amused to read one blog article, which has been shared several times in social media. Especially comments have been hilarious. But I am not to comment the article. Just like to remind myself, perhaps others at the same time, that living in peace and seeing others through tolerant lenses leads to more content life.

My recommendations of the week:

FOOD: buckwheat noodles

BOOK: JP. Koskinen: Kuinka sydän pysäytetään (only in Finnish so far)

PLACE: Pulau Ubin (it is so great that I will probably again and again recommend)

SOMETHING ELSE: Tolerance

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