Now that I’ve officially resumed my regular Singaporean existence (school, sweating, long MRT rides, more sweating, eating rice and noodles, sweating through my nails), I’ve had a little time to organize my time. And I decided that writing a blog post would be a good use of my time, only because of a recent incident that has stolen all of my attention. I’m supposed to be reading ‘The Paris Lectures’ by Edmund Husserl for my Phenomenology course, but as I am currently unable to suspend any judgment, belief or otherwise, of the following occurrence, doing that reading would be a complete waste of time (and an utter betrayal of Husserl’s philosophy). I’m sorry if that joke was not funny. I wrote that at the insistence of my little friend Floyd:
Anyways. Coming back from a wonderful dinner at my godmother’s place, my mum and I bumped into our neighbour. He is a very friendly man in his early 60s, and he’s one of the residents in our building who actually delights in conversing with his neighbours. Most of the others just turn their heads away or stare desperately into their iPhones as if the meaning of life would appear on the top of the screen at any moment. Anyways, this friendly neighbour and I got talking while waiting for the elevator. It went something like this:
Neighbour: Hey! You’re finally back!
Me, surprised he even remembered I was gone: Yeah! Back for good this time.
Neighbour: Are you going back [to Canada]?
Me: Not for a while, but hopefully in the future. I have to complete my studies here first.
Neighbour: Oh that’s good! How was Canada?
Me: Oh it was AMAZING, I really enjoyed myself. It was much less hot, for one…
Neighbour: Ahh but you’ve only seen the surface, haven’t seen what lies beneath all those wonderful things. Once you see all those things…ahhh then you’ll know, Singapore is much better.
Me: Ehhhh…perhaps not, but I wouldn’t say I’ve ONLY seen the surface. Then again, I can’t say I know Canada too well, having only lived there for about 7 months. That’s too short a…
Neighbour: You probably don’t know it well enough. Is it [the economy/political climate/lifestyle] stable?
Me, slightly annoyed: Yes. It’s pretty stable.
Neighbour: But is it as safe as Singapore?
Me, more than slightly annoyed: Oh yes, in fact, it’s even safer than Singapore!
*Me, to myself: Just don’t say anything about the killer rabbit from Monty Python you saw back in Ottawa…*
At this point we’ve reached our floor and gotten out of the elevator. Walking towards our apartment, I turn around to my mum and say ‘I said that last part on purpose’. I try to be fair and objective as much as possible, I really do, but this time I just could not help it. I was already pretty exhausted that night – being sick and having much of my hair chopped off. Not to mention my incessant longing to return to the country I called home for the last 7 months or so. So I was very surprised that I maintained a fair level of cheeriness when I snapped at my neighbour.
Since I came back I’ve been talking to people and telling them about my time in Canada. On many occasions, the above questions (or similar) find their way into our conversations. ‘Is Canada safe?’ ‘Do they have CPF?’ ‘Welfare state?!!?!?’ ‘Wait till you actually live there, then you’ll see’ Questions trying to seduce me into declaring Singapore the superior country.
Now, this really rubs me the wrong way. Those of you who know me may know that I am not exactly patriotic, and that I was in fact very glad to be leaving Singapore and very unglad to be back. But this does not mean that I hate Singapore or think that it is an awful country. In any case, I shall not attempt to validate my irrational love-hate relationship with this country in this blog post.
But what my neighbour said rubbed me the wrong way, because he didn’t even seem interested in wanting to know about my time in Canada. All he wanted to do, or at least it seemed that way to me, was try to establish Singapore’s dominance. Wow, we’re such a small, young country, and look, in 50 years we’ve come so far. We’re oh so safe, and the government is doing a fantastic job in ensuring that we’ve all got at least an iron rice bowl, one that most of us can actually dream of galvanizing someday. Yes yes, girl, you are so lucky to be born in sunny Singapore, where it may be hot as an oven but still safe from the grubby hands of adolescent males and shroudy politicians. I hope this trip made you realize how lucky you are to be Singaporean. Because, by GOD, Canada just could not POSSIBLY be as stable and safe as wE ArEEEeeE!
Now look, uncle. I will never deny that Singapore is a stable and safe country. And I will also, no matter how unwillingly, admit that I am more than a little bit lucky to have been born here instead of in a country that faces war on a daily basis. Really glad that my (great)grandparents moved here all those years ago.
But what I am more than a little bit annoyed about is that instead of asking me more about Canada (to, you know, maybe learn something about that country?) he tried to compare Canada to Singapore to show how much better off I was here. As if it was a competition between the two countries. And it is exactly in this respect that I think Canada is way better than Singapore.
Now, when I was in Canada, almost everyone I met (Canadian or otherwise) would be interested to hear about Singapore. And almost all of those people asked me about Singapore: where exactly it was located (not China? phew), how big it was, what languages were spoken, if it snowed or not, what kinds of food we ate, what Singaporean literature was like, what people did for fun, who our leaders are, what our political system was like etc. Rarely (if not never) did I have someone ask ‘oh but is it as safe/stable/forward-looking as Canada is?’ or anything milder to that effect. Sure, I was asked about certain policies (we ALL know which gum that is…) and why the death penalty was still a thing, but they asked to comprehend rather than to simply compare and rank. And, at least they were interested in details, not like our friend(s) here.
Now, as I said to my neighbour, I don’t know Canada well enough. That I shall give him. But having lived there for 7 months instead of none, like my neighbour has, I think I know at least a tiny, microscopic bit more about living in Canada than he does. And if he had just asked me about that, instead of trying to toot Singapore’s horn, I would have been able to be a little more fair and objective. If anyone is interested to know, I think Ottawa (I can’t speak for all of Canada because it is HUGE) is extremely safe. I would regularly walk home at around 1am and I’d never experienced anything even remotely threatening. A nice elderly man even waited at a bus stop with me one midnight till my bus came ‘because you can’t trust them teenage boys’, and this was in a residential area. Plus, OC Transpo (the equivalent of SBS Transit) has a policy that allows you to get off the bus at a safe location after 7pm at night, if the bus stops are too far away form your destination. That way, you can literally be dropped off right at your doorstep. Perhaps the most threatening thing that happened was a guy, obviously high on weed, trying to kiss me on Canada Day, but hey, I’ve experienced MUCH worse in Zouk, and I couldn’t even shove the guy away because there was no space. I shoved that stoned kid away, fist to face, and he didn’t bother me again.
But I digress. I was peeved because competition seems to be all that matters to people here. And we must always, of course, being numero uno. Secondly, that friendly uncle invalidated all my Canadian experiences with two questions. I wasn’t the one committing the fallacy, but it hurt me as if I was. And third, I liked this neighbour because I thought he was different (by virtue of him being the kind of person to talk to other people rather than ignore them) and it kind of hurt me to harbour such annoyedness towards him. I’ve gotten over it now, but the thought of it still haunts me.
My fair and objective side is recovering, so I shall say this. No, Canada is not better than Singapore. But neither is Singapore better than Canada. In any case, I think it is a little premature for me to be placing any judgment, having only lived in Canada for 7 months. (Although…OC Transpo, that whole thing where buses cease their service earlier on weekends than on weeknights really baffles me. People like to live it up on the weekends!) Both countries have their merits and flaws, and there are certain attitudes (yes, attitudes) that draw me towards Canada rather than Singapore. A country is more than just its material status; it’s about the people – the mindsets, the behaviours, the attitudes. And I find myself better aligned with the Canadians on that last bit.
And I think 7 months would be somewhat sufficient, if not to discover to intricate workings of their sociopolitical system, to find out what the people are like at least.
P.S This is how their Parliament building looks like: