30 August 2013

guest post: from singapore to indonesia

hey, it's friday! today, my guest post is courtesy of liana.  i met her several years ago through one of those eating sessions over at nina's house. we've gone out a few times with our small circle of friends, though sadly, not as often as i would have liked. i am impressed by her wit, and the way she speaks and writes. i'm a grammar police on other people, but i find myself second guessing my words when i talk to her. haha. she writes her thoughts so eloquently over on her blog.


let's read about her move to indonesia and what she remembers most about singapore.

Out of Singapore and off to Indonesia

The universe, in a manner of speaking, booted me out of Singapore. On hindsight, it was one of my silently mumbled prayers in my mind that was answered. My world was collapsing – my resignation from my job, the work environment was completely untenable, coincided with the collapse of my relationship. It was one of the hardest moments in my life because I felt completely alone; the people I considered friends were nowhere in sight and the man I was in a relationship with, I learnt, was never suppose to be with me. Professionally, my scruples and work ethics were completely opposed to the company’s. This was in 2009. There really was no reason for me to stay in Singapore, my second home for more than a decade.

The path that opened up to me was a posting in Indonesia, in a school that the school I was affiliated with in Singapore that had a partnership with. I accepted the job and I found myself back in teaching after eight years of hiatus. I remember talking aloud to the universe one day when the pain from the failure of my relationship was asphyxiating. I said out loud that I needed to get away, to leave and pick up the pieces of my life. Life in Bekasi, a city located in West Java that is about 30 minutes (without the popular traffic) from Jakarta, proved to be therapeutic although, admittedly, there was a long period of adjustment in terms of lifestyle, work ethics, culture and language.


I am not, despite, reaching level 4 in university, fluent in Bahasa Indonesia but this was the least of my worries because I was hired to handle the English classes. The pace at work, I discovered, is much slower vis-à-vis Singapore; Indonesians have a more laidback approach to handling problems and issues. They believe in not being agitated, in praying for the solution, and leaving it to tomorrow if today is not possible. They also don’t believe in playing the blaming game, of “saving your arse first”, which was something that I learned and played when I was in Singapore (one of my quondam bosses gave me that tip and encouraged me to apply it constantly in the workplace). Through the months, I realised that part of my adjustment problem was me. I still struggle with the language,but I’m slowly working on being a little fluent with each passing day.

with Shine, a Filipino friend in Indonesia

The similarities of Indonesian culture to Philippine culture are not that vast unlike Singapore culture. The warmth and sense of hospitality are present in my culture and my new boss’ and colleagues’. Interestingly, race differences are not taken against a person but are welcome, but there are moments when it becomes a bone of contention. It is a difference that is celebrated not disparaged.

Memories of Singapore

I still visit Singapore every now and then, relishing every moment as a tourist, but I don’t fly in alone. The fact is I can’t fly in alone.  The very thought paralyses me in my tracks. I am still haunted by the ghosts of my past. Walking around Singapore is easy on the heart and mind when I’m with friends or family. But good memories also sashay in my mind especially those of friends: movie marathons, food tripping, endless conversations and laughter, bowling games, trips to Geylang during Ramadan and Chinatown during Chinese New Year etc.

Someone once said I was very jaded about Singapore. It is a good place to live in but it depends on the time you entered the Garden City. I came at the height of the Flor Contemplacion saga that left a shadow over Filipinos entering the city. It put me on defence mode until I left. Everything about my being was questioned – personality, religion, beliefs, family background etc. But, in a way, this galvanised me and made me stronger as a person, as a Filipino. This is why I won’t forget my residency in Singapore. Painful as my experiences have been, I shed my callowness and, thankfully, didn’t come out bitter. Living away from home isn’t easy. Although Singapore is just a short flight from Manila, the cultural dislocation and homesickness are given variables. It helps if you have true close friends whom you can turn to when the world becomes too much to handle.

with Fistri, one of my friends in Singapore

Speaking in more general terms, Singapore is a good springboard to those who want to travel into Asia given its First World facilities ranging from airport, hotels to restaurants. Language is not a problem either because English is widely spoken. Also, signage and maps are everywhere so you will never get lost in Singapore.  I do miss the supermarkets because they are well-stocked with local and international goods, wet and dry produce. I miss the myriad cuisine choices; Singapore is like San Francisco in a way with the cornucopia of cuisine to enjoy. Dim sum is a top miss-Singapore item for me; Crystal Jade at Holland Village is my favourite place for dim sum lunch and dinner. Singapore is so easy to navigate by taxi, train or bus. Bekasi isn’t. Hampered by language and the long distances, my mobility has been diminished greatly. Trips to Coffeebean or Starbucks, for instance, are no longer commonplace, but a special treat every now and then.

I was asked once if I’d ever return to Singapore. I’ve returned to Singapore as a tourist and will continue to do so. The question now, for me, is if I can fly alone to the city and not feel as if my world is caving in again. Returning as a resident? It’s a very good question.

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