A Home Away from Home
By Candice Chan

Gladys Ng Pak Yu

Singapore is really small. In fact, we've been referred to as a little red dot before. But that hasn't stopped global talents from coming here to pursue their dreams. Here are three people who now call Singapore home.

In good company
Gladys Ng Pak Yu, 16, came to Singapore from Hong Kong with her parents as a 4-year-old. "My parents chose Singapore because it has a safe and stable society with a good education system," explained the bubbly graduate of Swiss Cottage Secondary School.

Having grown up here, Gladys admits to feeling more like a Singaporean than a Hongkonger. While studying here, Gladys has had the opportunity to learn about and experience how people of diverse cultural backgrounds can co-exist in harmony. She said, "We get to mix with friends of different races and religions in school. For example, schools celebrate Racial Harmony Day (a public holiday here) by encouraging students to wear traditional costumes of a culture different from their own."

When Gladys is not studying (which she cheekily pointed out as being most of the time), she gets up to "lots of other things." Apart from reading, swimming, watching TV and going online, she hangs out with friends at malls, sports venues and in church, where she sings in the choir.

Living in Singapore for a long time has led to Gladys being able to point out the unique quirks of the country's citizens. "If I were abroad, I think one thing that would help me distinguish who is a Singaporean is when he starts speaking in a Singlish accent, with the ‘lahs' and ‘lors' and ‘mehs'. Oh, and I realise that Singaporeans are most likely to feel uncomfortable when stripping naked for hot springs!" observed Gladys.

On a more serious note, she thinks that Singaporeans are competitive, while the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) is a strong political party. But at the end of the day, Gladys particularly appreciates the unique mix of cultures here, like how one can get "Indian, Korean, Malay, Chinese, Japanese and western food all in one food centre."

The aspiring lawyer is also generous when comparing Singapore to Hong Kong. "Hong Kong may have better food and shopping, but Singapore definitely has safer streets and better air. And all my friends are here, while my relatives are in Hong Kong, so it's a good balance."

The promise of a better life
Bertrand Lee Chai Pin may be Chinese, but he was actually born in Mauritius, an island nation off the coast of Africa. The 27-year-old teacher at West Spring Secondary School came to Singapore almost eight years ago for his university studies, and stayed on to work here. "Singapore generally welcomes foreigners, as many are bonded to work here after their tertiary studies if they take up tuition grants," said Bertrand.

He says that tuition grants makes university studies here much cheaper, and is a major reason why a lot of foreigners study here rather than in other countries. "Singapore universities do a lot of marketing in the top secondary schools in Mauritius, so there is good awareness there about studying in Singapore," added Bertrand.

While Bertrand thinks that working in Singapore can be stressful and very challenging, he feels that it "forces you to become organised." In fact, Bertrand considers Singapore as one of the most business-friendly countries in the world, but feels that the working culture here could be tweaked to accommodate more family time.

To ensure that work does not become the "be-all and end-all" of his life, Bertrand takes courses to improve himself. He also tries to meets up with friends occasionally, although most of the foreigners whom he knows here tend to be busy with work, even on weekends. Nevertheless, he is thankful for the good friends he has here, who once threw a surprise birthday party for him when he was in university.

According to Bertrand, Singapore is "always trying to move forward". However, he thinks that it would be even better if Singaporeans learnt how to appreciate what they have before thinking of how to improve things. Despite the fast pace of life that he has reservations about, Bertrand reveals that he is likely to stay here for good.

One reason is that Bertrand can no longer relate so well to the people in his native country. "They have changed, and I have changed. When we meet up, we're often just talking about things we did 10 years ago," lamented Bertrand. On a brighter note, Bertrand earns a better salary here, which can help him to financially support his parents and siblings. Last but not least, he also appreciates the good security here, which he regards as "an important consideration if you want to settle somewhere to have a family."

Fabianus Mulawadi

A learning experience
Fabianus Mulawadi came to Singapore in November 2000, on a scholarship to study at the National University of Singapore. The 25-year-old native of Palembang, Indonesia, decided to pursue his interests in software design and engineering by studying Computer Science, and is now a software engineer with Hewlett-Packard.

Recalling his first six months in Singapore, Fabianus said, "I stayed in Eton House (an international school here) with 16 other students to learn English. It was a lot of fun. We studied from 9am to 4pm, Mondays to Fridays and had the rest of the time to ourselves."

Fabianus, better known to his friends as Fabi, is now picking up French, taking every opportunity to practice speaking to his friends in the language. In fact, he sprinkles his answers for this interview with French phrases, upon realizing that this writer also learnt the language. Unsurprisingly, Fabi likes Singapore for being a melting pot of cultures. "I get to meet a lot of people from many different countries at work. I learn to appreciate different cultures, thinking methods and working styles."

Besides learning French, Fabi likes to read novels or comic books before he goes to bed on weekdays. "On weekends, that's when I indulge in my hobbies, like learning French or doing geeky stuff - like software programming or English grammar," said Fabi.

Having been here for eight years, Fabi thinks that Singaporeans are a diligent lot who "never stop working to improve their lives." Judging from Fabi's enthusiasm to learn new languages, diligence is clearly a trait that he has in common with native Singaporeans. He also shares another similarity with the average Singaporean: a love for chicken rice (a popular dish here), which he always looks forward to eating.

Clearly enjoying his time here, Fabi has this to say to others who are considering a move to Singapore like he did back then, "Singapore is one of the few English-speaking Asian countries. It's definitely a good place to get started and gain experience."