Excuse Me, Are You Local?
Have you ever thought that someone is Singaporean and then realized that they’re actually not?
I have and these days, it is beginning to surprise me less.
Singapore is famed for its unique blend of cultures and recently, our melting pot seemed to have gotten bigger. As of last year, our population is made up of 70% local residents and 30% foreigners.
Haha! If you’re wondering why I’m diverting from my usual beauty posts, it’s because I’ve just caught the “Together, we can make it better” clip on TV and the feature actually made me realised that our close-knit multi-cultural community is our little island’s most valuable resource.
How many countries actually have that?
Unfamiliarity does not scare us at all. In fact, I’ve foreign friends who can speak perfect Singlish and even my granny has recently picked up English and Bahasa Indonesian from our helper.
Amazing isn’t it?
To be honest, the TVC also stirred up my emotions and here’s why…
First, please say hello to Yani!
And we go way back! Haha! 3.5 years to be exact. 🙂
On paper, she’s our domestic helper from Indonesia but in our hearts, she’s our friend, sister and family.
Yani moved to Singapore all the way from a small kampong in Lumpung Indonesia when she was 22 – an age where most girls have probably just finished university and enjoying the peak of their youth.
Yet, this (brave) young woman had to leave her loved ones and seek work in an unfamiliar land in order to support her family of four.
I remember when she arrived, she was shy and couldn’t speak a word of English. Nonetheless, she always made sure granny was well taken care of, the house was spick-and-span and our tummies were never hungry. Haha!
Unfortunately, due to language barriers, we could never communicate more than just a smile or a few barely understandable body gestures.
Then Yani started keeping a notebook with her and constantly taking down notes all the time. I was wondering what she was keeping track of until I saw her little book of Han Yu Pin Yin (a system of romanized spelling for the Chinese language) scribbles one day. She was trying to pick up our language!
She would stay up late every night to revise her notes but still made sure she woke up early in time to accompany Granny on her daily walks.
It wasn’t an easy journey but impressively, she mastered the language and could understand and speak Chinese and Hokkien well in one year. Amazing eh?
Suddenly, we could understand all her thoughts as well as her reason for learning the language. She said she felt very much at home and wanted to joke and laugh with us during dinners just like any of us. She also wanted to make sure she could understand Granny better so she can respond to her needs more quickly.
However, her time is Singapore has not always been a bed of roses. One time, during one of her regular checkups, she was diagnosed with a rather life-threatening illness. Her contract was almost up then and I remember the agency which introduced us kept insisting that we should send her back to Indonesia ‘to avoid any losses’.
We knew that replacing her would be more ‘convenient for everyone’ but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. We were worried that the treatments in her village may not be adequate and she may even lose her life if she goes back.
So my family made the most “financially unsound” decision (according to the agency and people around us) by extending her contract and taking care of her hospital bills for the next few months. And guess what? She eventually recovered. Woo hoo!
This incident also brought us closer.
These days, we’re even talking about visiting her hometown, starting a business together and even helping her prepare her future wedding.
Sometimes we even forget that she is from a different country and culture. Yani feels just like family.
Typing this made me miss her cold tofu salad and corn soup already. Haha!
Who ever said that nationality, cultural, linguistic differences can hinder a friendship?
Well, if you’ve been following my wedding posts, you would have noticed that my husband is also not local. He’s from the UK and he too has his own account of how cultural nuances have not impacted his friendship with fellow Singaporeans.
And here’s his story,
“It felt like it was just yesterday that I started medical school in London, but in fact it was 17 years ago. It was the first time I had the opportunity to mingle with an international crowd. I remember a rather enthusiastic bunch of people in my first year, with a strong work hard and play hard ethic, the only people who would run out at the first sight of snow while the rest of us would look on from the warmth of the fireplace, they were the Singaporean students. I became good friends with quite a few Singaporeans and we stayed in touch even after graduation, especially as I started to travel the globe and expand my horizons. In 2010 I reached a turning point. Having completed my specialist training in General Practice, I could have stayed in the same place, in the same job and town for the rest of my life. But I knew that wasn’t for me, there was too much to see and do around the world. As I cast my sights overseas, Singapore once again came to mind. A friendly, sunny, English speaking country where I could continue to care for people while also enjoying the best of east meets west. All it took was a few phone calls and informal chats with the right people and before I knew it, I was in Singapore.
I was welcomed by my old friends who went out of their way to show me the best of the local sights, sounds and tastes. In addition to my friends, my new colleagues also gave me a very warm welcome. Working in a polyclinic, I was fortunate to see the true diversity of Singaporean culture and society. Understandably there were language barriers and even cultural barriers at times, but the kind nature of people here ensured that I never felt like an outcast. Soon I started to pick up local slang, Singlish and even some phrases from different dialects. With an amazing team who have embraced me and my ideas, I have been able to implement various measures to improve patient care in the polyclinic. I was humbled the moment my personal achievements were acknowledged and I was awarded the Excellence in Action Award last year.
In a way, I had never experienced so much attention before both at work and at play. Every weekend I had new friends wanting to meet up and through them I made even more friends. My social life had never been so busy. It really made me feel special, and with time these new friends have become great friends. Friends who have helped me move home and find my current one, friends who have gone out of their way to help receive all the things I shipped from the UK as I was unable to leave work, friends who helped me open my bank account here, set up my cable TV and mobile phone, set up my electricity and water supply, you name it, they helped me with it!
On Saturday 29th October 2011, I met someone who would change the course of my life forever. I was at a friend’s Halloween party and spotted what appeared to be the Statue of Liberty. An amazing woman, intelligent and extremely witty, we clicked as if we had always been best friends. Her name was Juliana Chong.
In 2013, with the help of my Singaporean friends, this amazing woman became my fiancée. My friends were now no longer just friends, they were my brothers! They were there as I got engaged, they were there to endure the torment of the gatecrash and they were there the moment I became a happily married man in November last year.
Married to the most amazing wife, surrounded by the best friends, life has never been so good. There is a saying where I come from, home is where the heart is and my heart is now firmly in Singapore.” – Bobby
Aww… That is extremely sweet of you, B. 🙂
Well guys, as you can see, a friendship can be forged under any kind of circumstance, regardless of nationality, language or culture. All it takes is the first step! 😀
Together, we can make it better!
Have you broken boundaries and formed lasting friendships too? Let me know by commenting below!
Your friend, Juliana