The Social Side of Singapore

Deciding to leave a job is a big decision in anyone’s life, but deciding to leave an international posting often doesn’t just mean leaving a workplace -  it means leaving a country, a social network and a way of life behind.

 

In this post, I consider factors outside of my professional life that have supported my decision to leave Singapore. If you don't have time to read the whole post, I have highlighted three key takeaways below.

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The thoughts in this post are not aimed at any particular individual or group of people. I’m grateful that the level of self and social awareness amongst my connections in Singapore, has given me the confidence to speak freely on the topic of belonging. I type safe in the knowledge that the people I have met over the last four years will welcome my honest dialogue and will be able to appreciate the positive intent that underpins the following thoughts.

 

If you haven’t seen HUMAN - the movie, I thoroughly recommend you give it a watch (it’s available as multiple videos on youtube). Through touching monologues delivered directly to camera, the film explores what it means to be human. If you are not moved to a point of introspection by the intimate interviews with people from all walks of life, I would question your own humanity.

 

One particular sentiment that spoke to me was this,  “When you buy something, you’re not paying for it with money. You’re paying with the time from your life you had to spend earning the money.”  Looking at this in terms of spending is one thing: “Was that can of coke worth the time it took to earn the money to buy it?” But I think there’s a bigger piece here about how we choose to invest the only currency we truly have - time.

As a twenty-something in Singapore with no commitments, time to invest in, well literally anything of my choosing is another privilege I acknowledge that I have. Why do people invest money? Because they want a good return for themselves - to be better off than when they first started.  The same is true for time. I want to invest in activities and people that further me as an individual, that help me grow to be a better version of myself. In a willingness to practise moving through this world with transparency and authenticity, I think it’s important to highlight that, at times, I have found this difficult in Singapore.

 

 "Are we hanging out with each other due to the presence of a deep connection between us, or due to the absence of a deep connection with anybody else?"

As an ex-patriot, the modus operandi is often to spend time with people primarily because you’ve been placed in the same context as each other. If we were to think critically about these friendships, we might be challenged to consider if ‘we are hanging out with each other due to the presence of a deep connection between us, or due to the absence of a deep connection with anybody else?’ If the second part of the statement rings true, which for me, it sometimes has, with a high level of self-awareness we have to come back to the idea of time.

There’s a difference between spending and investing. I don’t want to spend my time. Spending suggests an outgoing that offers no return. Investing suggests you get something back from what you put in. My time here has definitely raised my level of consciousness  around how I’m investing my time and in whom I’m investing it.  Maybe it’s the transient nature of the society, maybe it’s the phase of life I’m in relative to those around me, maybe its people's motivations for being here or maybe it’s simply because I haven’t tried hard enough, but for one reason or another, I’ve sometimes found it hard to find people with whom I resonate here.

 

This isn’t entirely a bad thing. Raising my level of consciousness around how I spend my time has led me to realise that the best person to invest time in is yourself. When you choose to move around the world on your own, spending some time alone is an inevitable part of that journey. Ultimately, I think this is a good thing - I have definitely come to a deeper understanding of myself, my core values and what I want out of life. I think my conviction to quit work and start this project alone is a testament to that and I’m glad to have learned these things fairly early in life. 

"You really start to value the depth of your connections as opposed to the breadth of your contacts."

Being far away from ‘home’ and your core friendships, you really start to value the depth of your connections as opposed to the breadth of your contacts. Living abroad is a great filter for true friendships and I’m so grateful for the those in the UK that have remained ‘close’ despite the four years of geographical distance between us. I hope the same will be true for the strong connections I have made here moving forward. 

But it’s not just friendships in Singapore that have caused me to feel a sense of disconnect.  In particular, I think the lack of a culture I connect to and identify with, has made it harder for me to feel at home. My experiences echo the sentiments of the saying, ’You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.’ I never realized how important live music, song, and dance were to me until I felt its absence from my life. That’s not to say Singapore doesn’t have a live music and dance scene. It does. But the scene here is very small, the genres represented are limited, the same handful of bands play on the circuit every weekend and after four years, this can get a little repetitive. This absence has been amplified by my travels to other parts of the world where the culture has deeply resonated with me and has made me feel alive in a way that I just don’t in Singapore.  I have had the privilege of experiencing the way in which the spirit of salsa moves in the people of Cuba, and the way in which the people of Zimbabwe are able to utilise music to build community and foster happiness despite hardship. Both of these experiences have set a hunger in me that Singapore has not fulfilled. My leaving Singapore is, in part a result of me realising what makes me happier and choosing to locate myself in a context where I can pursue that further.

 

On the subject on travel, one of my intentions when moving here was to invest time in visiting far-flung corners of the world - having visited fifteen countries in the past four years, I’m pleased to say that that goal has been well and truly met. As always with every completed task, comes the chance to reflect on the learning that took place through that process and how it may influence our decisions in the future. Maybe it’s a case of you always wanting what you haven’t got, but when I was in the UK I wanted to get out and see the world; to break from predictable routines and to travel solo. Now I’ve done that, I crave quite the opposite.  I miss connections to both people and place. I want to feel rooted in the place I’m in and to feel more meaningful connections with the people around me. The saying, “it’s not about where you go, it’s about who you’re with” has never resonated so deeply with me as it does now.

 

The grass is always greener, look back differently on my time in Singapore, and that's OK,

valued connections have made with some people 

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