Living in Singapore, encounters with wildlife are a dime a dozen. There are snakes, monkeys, insects, and lizards – LOTS of lizards – ranging in size from paperclip-sized to healthy-toddler-sized. But still, every once in a while, an encounter can take an unsuspecting expat by surprise.
One of the great gifts of expat life is travelling around this fascinating, beautiful part of the world. And a big fluffy bow on that gift can be travelling with friends. Planning your adventures together, sharing the sights and sounds, kids bonding, parents drinking, sunburns and tuk tuks and street food – you might as well put the whole thing in slo-mo and set it to ukulele music. That’s how great it is. But every once in a while, even the best of friends are not on the same page about everything. Like when, in one notable case, ferry tickets were bought, and one expat opted for Emerald Class (because that sounds amazing, right?) and one opted out…
It’s January! Which means a whole new batch of newbie expats has just arrived in Singapore. So we say WELCOME, and we’re glad you found us, and we look forward to laughing and fumbling along with you, through the next “two-to-three” years (that’s what everyone says. Then they stay for ten). If you’re new to Singapore, some of these might actually be helpful. And if you’re a grizzled old vet like us, then you might just be reminded of what it was like, all those years ago.
Top 10 Tips for Newbie Expats in Singapore
- If you have a car, take pictures of where you’ve parked in carparks. Because you’ve got too much in your brain to remember you parked in A7 or B2 or whatever. And if you think you’ll pull the old wander-through-the-parking-lot-clicking-your-remote trick in the Vivo parking lot, don’t. You’ll die there, on level B34, which is basically the core of the earth. (If you don’t have a car, then you don’t have to worry about this (though you do have to be ready for a lot of soft 80s rock. Taxi Uncles love them some Richard Marx.)
- Hang where the expats hang. We know – you want to Get Local. There’s time for that. But just while you’re still trying to get your feet under you, put down the kopi and have a latte at Cluny Court, and look for your Yoda (see 10).
- Hydrate like your life depends on it (because it kind of does). Invest in a good water bottle that keeps your water cold and doesn’t sweat all over the place, because drinking out of people’s yard hoses is frowned upon, and tipping water out of your handbag three times a day is a total ballache.
- Be Thick Skinned. You’re going to be insulted several times a day by people who think they’re doing you a favor by pointing out how big your feet are or how frizzy your hair is. You’ll seek reprieve online, where if you say the wrong thing on an expat wives forum you will be attacked like Hodor when the White Walkers finally got him. You’ll seek out the comfort of a chat with your husband to find he’s on a work trip 7 time zones away. So yeah- thick skin needed. (Also GIN.)
- Find a Local Friend. This is hard, but really try. Because you didn’t move to Singapore to hang out with a bunch of other expats all the time, did you? Also, locals know the answers to everything – Where’s the best nasi lemak? What do I wear to a funeral? How do I get rid of the cockroaches in my car? Locals know.
- Put your boxes of cereal and pasta in the freezer when you bring them home from the market. Because gross little Weevils live in the packaging, and they’ll come to life and set up home in your cupboards if you let them. Stick them in the freezer, freeze them to death, then put the boxes away. And try not to think about their crunchy little exoskeletons while you’re enjoying your breakfast.
- Another car tip: Keep an extra cash card with $20 on it in your glove compartment. Because no one wants to be the jackass pulled up against the gantry with $0 left on their card and a train of angry drivers lined up behind her. (But if you are – keep pressing that Help button and wailing “I’m new here!” in your most pitiful voice. 9 times out of 10, the gantry will magically open, and you’ll have made a security guard’s day by reinforcing the dumb-expat stereotype.)
- Don’t exercise outdoors after 10:00 am. Ever. Due to you’ll die of heat stroke.
- Just buy the damn organic milk / French cheese / Californian wine. Stop comparing it to the cost Back Home. If that’s your benchmark, then you’re going to have to get yourself used to the notion of only eating Maggi Noodles and drinking tap water.
- Find Your Yoda. She doesn’t have to be green, and she doesn’t have to say all her sentences backwards, but you need a wise seasoned expat friend who is willing to drop some knowledge on you when you need it. And remember to Pay it Back. Someday you will be the seasoned expat – oh yes you will, even if you can’t possibly imagine it now – and some poor clueless newbie is going to need you. So don’t ever forget how hard it was, and be generous with your time and advice.
Reach out and tag someone who has just arrived; because they’re now sitting in their serviced apartment wondering (a) How on earth am I EVER going to make any friends, (b) Can’t I just buy some regular MILK FFS? and (c) Seriously, WHAT IS WITH THIS RAIN??