A letter to TODAY on the column, Roughing it Down Under
Subject: Mr Brown - Relaxing Down Under
Dear Mr Brown,
Yes, PCs are more expensive Down Under. You can get state-of-the-art ones from Sim Lim Square at a fraction of the cost. But what surprises people is that my home computers are newer & faster than the one my husband uses in office & he's in the IT line. Perhaps, if you are prepared to pay more at privately run internet cafes in the city fringe, you could get speedier internet access.
You don't get much Singapore news - mainly Australia, US and sometimes China, Indonesia. Our tiny tropical island occasionally catches Aussie attention only when Singapore leaders made remarks which Australians take offence or when Mr HL Lee took over the premiership. The only means of getting connected with Singapore is via excerpts of news update in asiaone.com or todayonline.com and belated hard copy Straits Times.
Cars are cheap. Even Japanese imports are affordable at about half the price sold in Singapore. Of course, being a pragmatic Singaporean, I chose to buy a Toyota assembled in Melbourne. You get the latest Japanese design & technology at a much lower price.
Nevertheless, driving is not a breeze, made worse by heavy traffic fines.
My strong suspicion shared by many Aussies & Singaporean friends, is that traffic police have this sadistic streak - they go all out to chalk up traffic fines to score points. Some things are universal like raising revenue for the state supposedly to pay the better welfare & public services. The authorities also argue it's a means of deterring "dangerous" drivers who exceed the 60 km/hr limit on major roads by a mere 5 km/hr.
It's a challenge trying to alter your speed from 70 km/hr on an expressway & brake suddenly when entering into a school zone of strictly 40 km/hr during certain times of the day. Yes, look out for speed signs & check your watch while driving to be safe driver!
Singapore fried noodles (bee hoon fried with curry powder!), Hokkien fried rice (rice hor fun style), laksa in thin curry flavoured gravy without polygonum leaves, are all concoctions of Chinese/Asian chefs (not Singaporean I hope) in western countries. Incidentally, my Thai friend who owns a restaurant in Canada offers Singapore fried noodles on the menu too.
The wildly changing weather is a topic of serious discussion or small talk.
We talk about the weather all the time. For every change in season entails changing the wardrobe, linen, garden landscape, electrical appliances, etc. It makes life more interesting.
For most Singaporeans, being close to nature & wildlife may be a nuisance rather than an enjoyment. The chirping & sights of colourful birds, smell of roses and lavendar in your own garden could be marred by the destructive work of cockatoos & possums. We have learnt to live with nature & deal with it in our stride.
Shopping centres don't just cater for the elderly and disabled people. For the able-bodied keen shoppers, there are lots of sofas & benches to rest your feet. Don't expect to see these in Orchard Road or even town centre shopping centres as evey inch of space counts & would be rented out as kiosks to aspiring entrepreneurs.
However, do not despair. There are many things we take for granted in Singapore such as speedy efficiency & convenient public transport that are often a rarity Down Under. Singapore is trying to close some of the gaps by introducing policies conducive for family & a better lifestyle. Hopefully these are sustainable & get better each year. Meanwhile, sit back & relax.