Singapore’s YouTubers Poke Fun at Locals and Expats

Published on June 30, 2016 in The Wall Street Journal: Expat:

WSJ ExpatThe Wall Street Journal‘s hub for expatriates and global nomads, recently published my piece on how small talk varies around the world. Here’s a snippet:

As many expats and students of foreign languages can tell you, humor is often the final frontier in cross-cultural communication. Jokes risk falling flat, are a nightmare to translate and have the potential to offend. But they can also be a way for expats to understand the cultural norms of their new home.

Local movies and television shows can help, but the grassroots nature of YouTube videos can be even better. On YouTube, the comedy is rougher, the jokes are more of the moment, and the creators are more accessible, often responding to viewers’ questions in the comments sections. And you don’t have to suffer through being the only person not laughing in a comedy club.

Despite Singapore’s reputation as a place that limits free speech, several homegrown YouTube channels offering self-parodying commentary on local topics have sprung up in the past few years. Among the first were Wah!Banana and Night Owl Cinematics (Ryan Sylvia), which were both launched in the second half of 2012, and currently rank as the second and third most-subscribed-to channels in Singapore. The original cast of Wah!Banana has since left to form TreePotatoes, which is now number five. With topics like What Foreigners Think of Singapore and 11 Types of Singaporean Colleagues, these YouTubers have created a space where both Singaporeans and expats can chuckle about Singapore’s unique, sometimes absurd, quirks.

Read the rest HERE!

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In This Part of the World We Call This Small Talk

Published on March 22, 2016 in The Wall Street Journal: Expat:

WSJ ExpatThe Wall Street Journal‘s hub for expatriates and global nomads, recently published my piece on how small talk varies around the world. Here’s a snippet:

When living abroad, your ability at small talk needs to be rebuilt from scratch, along with your knowledge of which topics and comments qualify as casual or intimate. It’s not called an art for nothing.

For instance, in the U.S., directly asking a new acquaintance how much they paid for something is akin to a needle scratch (unless you preface the statement with an apology and the excuse that you’re shopping around for the same item). In the Republic of Ireland, the U.K. and Japan, it’s doubtful that even that qualifier would be enough to stymie the awkwardness. But in China, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries with large Chinese descendant populations, money isn’t tinged with the same shyness. A casual conversation on which neighborhood you live in can readily lead to the question of how much rent you pay. It’s a question I still stumble to answer graciously.

Read the rest HERE!

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An Expat’s Easy Return to Singapore: It’s a Tale of Two Cities

Published on January 13, 2016 in The Wall Street Journal: Expat:

WSJ ExpatThe Wall Street Journal‘s hub for expatriates and global nomads, recently published my piece on the comparing my parents’ experience as expats in Singapore in the 1990s with my experience today. Here’s a snippet:

Even without Singapore’s explosive growth, technology such as Skype and WhatsApp has transformed the previous alienation of expat life into a far more connected existence. My parents made the costly phone call home once a week at most; I can see my family’s faces and hear their voices for hours every day if I choose. Mom mailed photos of us to my grandmother; I’m friends with most of my family on Facebook. With the exception of a handful of guidebooks, my parents arrived in Japan completely blind; I had the luxury of turning to Google to explore life in Singapore before I stepped on a plane.

But the more things change, the more things stay the same. Life in Singapore was as easy for expats then as it is now, particularly when contrasted to the self-contained and still somewhat xenophobic Japan of the 1990s. Singapore was a smaller, less congested city than Tokyo and presented a wider range of Western food. They spoke English. Mom formed easy, close friendships with the other expat mothers in the condo, while we children played in the pool. That condominium surprisingly still stands. When my dad visited in 2012, he noted that although Singapore’s outer shell had changed, the people fundamentally had the same attitude and disposition. Mom commented that Singapore’s rigidly regulated multiculturalism, where everyone celebrated everything, had created a diluted culture 20 years ago and that today the city feels even more sanitized; in many ways, Singapore no longer feels like an Asian city.

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Expat Health and Beauty Woes: Goodbye Home, Hello Frizz

Published on April 23, 2015 in The Wall Street Journal: Expat:

WSJ ExpatThe Wall Street Journal‘s hub for expatriates and global nomads, recently published my piece on the physical challenges of living in Singapore as a non-native. Here’s a snippet:

This means that tried-and-true styles from other climates simply might not work in Southeast Asia. (Layers? Forget it.) A friend from Chicago declares that Singapore taught her to finally embrace her curls.

Color is another challenge, especially if you’re a bottle blonde like me. Asians obviously aren’t concerned with a blonde dye job appearing natural, so most stylists in Singapore seldom combine highlights and lowlights.

Read the rest HERE!

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So You Thought You Could Drive in… Singapore?

Published on March 12, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal: Expat:

WSJ ExpatThe Wall Street Journal‘s hub for expatriates and global nomads, recently published my piece on the appalling costs of owning a car in Singapore. Here’s a snippet:

It’s no secret that Singapore loves cars. The Formula One Grand Prix is a huge annual event drawing hundreds of thousands, and sleek sports cars often can be seen zinging down the city’s clean streets. But for a culture that celebrates cars, it’s shockingly expensive to own one here–both for locals and expats. For example, the price tag on a Kia Optima? About $147,000 Singapore dollars (or about US$107,700).

Read the rest HERE!

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Listen Carefully to MOM

Published on February 5, 2015 in The Wall Street Journal: Expat:

The Wall Street Journal recently launched WSJ Expat, their hub for expatriates and global nomads, and recently published my piece on obtaining work passes as a foreigner in Singapore. Here’s a snippet:

If you don’t have the luxury of being a dependent, the easiest way to gain permission to work here is, unsurprisingly, to apply for jobs with firms willing and able to obtain a pass for you. Since a company’s quota for foreign workers depends on the nature of its industry, the overall size of its workforce, and the ratio of foreign to local hires, even if you manage to ace all of your interviews, you may still find yourself unable to actually get to work.

Read the rest HERE!

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Singapore: ‘An Expat Life Starter-Kit, Tiny and Neatly Contained’

Published on February 4, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal: Expat:

Capitol Building

The Wall Street Journal recently launched WSJ Expat, their hub for expatriates and global nomads, and recently published my piece on expat culture in Singapore. Here’s a snippet:

Even lifelong expats like me don’t consider Singapore to be our final stop, partly because Singapore itself is still figuring out what type of country it wants to be. It’s hard to plant roots in a city you might not recognize by the end of a two-year contract. Construction projects are ubiquitous; familiar streets completely transform in mere weeks. Even the iconic Merlion statue (referred to as the “personification of Singapore”) was relocated in 2002 and renovated in 2012.

Read the rest HERE!

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On Finicky Expats in Singapore, and their Double Standards

Published on December 3, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal: Expat:

So — a little excited — The Wall Street Journal recently launched WSJ Expat, their hub for expatriates and global nomads, and has featured my piece! Here’s a snippet:

Rather than accept these aspects of Singapore’s restaurant culture as simply foreign, we tend to throw up our hands and declare that Singapore isn’t nearly as modern as advertised, forgetting that this glitzy city was a tropical backwater not even 50 years ago. Sure, every last dim sum hole-in-the-wall has passed the city-state’s rigorous health inspections and food poisoning is rare. But the appetizers arrived after the main course! The bathroom has squat toilets! They’re charging us for napkins!

Read the rest HERE!

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