Wayne Thong, Imke van Heerden
| Local is ‘‘shiok’’: Wayne Thong on Sydney and Singapore
Wayne, tell us a bit about you.
Hello! (Or should I say, “G’day mate”?) I’m Wayne, 24 years of age. At present I’m in Singapore taking a sabbatical before my accounting job that starts next year. It’s a tough job and I’m tired of it already. At the moment, I’m helping out with things at my church, hanging out with friends and family, and playing as much non-competitive Ultimate Frisbee as I can (which isn’t much).
I’ve lived the first half of my life in Melbourne, the second half in Singapore and the last fifth in Sydney. That doesn’t exactly add up properly. But don’t worry, I’m an accountant. We can definitely work things out. My parents are from Singapore. But they met and married in Australia. I have good friends in both Singapore and Sydney. However, my whole extended family is in Asia.
Did you find it difficult to adapt to life in Australia? How pronounced are the cultural differences?
Moving from one culture to another is always going to be difficult. When I first moved to Singapore, I was actually very excited and embraced living in a new country. Of course, I was only nine years old and that made it much easier for me to adapt. Having lived in Australia, the cultural differences weren’t much of a surprise when I moved back. It was only after being back in Australia for a few years that I began to realise what some of the subtle differences were. If anything, I’ve come to realise that I’d spent my years in Singapore with more of an Australian outlook than a Singaporean one. Culturally, Singapore tends to make less sense to me than Australia.
You’re in an ideal position to compare both cities with others in the world. What makes each one special? What are the primary differences between them?
What makes Singapore special? Singapore is a tiny island city in the middle of South East Asia and yet it stands out from the other cities in the region. One would think that, with close to five million people jammed onto an island no longer than 42km and no wider than 23km, Singapore would be a nightmare to live in. And yet it is probably the cleanest and most well-run city you could ever visit. It stands in stark contrast to the chaos of other Asian cities like Bangkok, Jakarta and Manilla.
What makes Sydney special? First of all, it has one of the best climates in the world. For most of the year you can get by with a T-shirt and shorts. Winters are mild; winter weather in Sydney could possibly be your best weather in London. I confess that the summer heat can get a bit scorching, especially when there are wildfires. Situated along the coast, there are plenty of world-class beaches. There also are many coastal walks, nature parks and harbour trails to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Looking at pictures and videos from half a century ago, it’s amazing to see how far Singapore has come since its independence in 1965. Back then, many people still lived in makeshift housing, there were insufficient jobs and a large percentage of the population had never received any education. Today, Singaporeans are the fifth wealthiest people in the world! The country has gone from Third World to First World in fifty years. Personally, I have a very deep admiration and respect for that which Singapore has achieved in such a short period.
What food and drink do tourists have to sample in these cities? Are there specific museums, events, (music) concerts, etc that should not be missed?
Food in Singapore is a must! Singaporean cuisine is representative of its three main ethnicities: Chinese, Malay and Indian. With such diversity it is impossible to list all the dishes Singapore has to offer. My all-time favourite: roti prata! The closest way to describe this would be to say it’s a Malay/Indian interpretation of pancakes. But that hardly does justice to the wonder that is roti prata.
Where should tourists go if they want to experience a typically Singaporean night out and a typically Australian night out?
A typical Singaporean night out: a meal at a local hawker centre followed by shopping in the consumers paradise, Orchard Road, followed by supper with more local food!
A typical Australian night out: hit the pubs to watch football and drink, or maybe befriend some locals and try convincing them to have a barbeque in your honour?
Which tourist sites in Sydney and Singapore are worth seeing and which should be avoided?
Having travelled across South East Asia and in Europe, I’m a firm believer that cities are not places to visit but to live in. To truly experience Sydney and Singapore, you have to go there, live and experience them for yourself. As both are English-speaking cities, it makes it very easy for newcomers to settle in.
I reckon one of the best things to do in Singapore, is to go to an authentic local neighbourhood (like Toa Payoh or Bedok) and to just do what the locals do: eat yummy Singaporean food and browse the shops. Perhaps visiting a local wet or dry market would also be a good experience.
In Sydney, the 7km Bondi to Coogee beach coastal walk is a must. It has amazing views of the coast and you’ll also get to walk past some of the most expensive real estate in Sydney! Also in the Eastern Suburbs are Vaucluse House and the surrounding nature park. From there, you’ll get some stunning views of Sydney Harbour. It’s probably best visited close to sunset.
Picture source: http://www.infohostels.com/
Where do you feel most at home and why? Where would you choose to live one day and why? Do you feel somewhat split between the two countries?
That’s a tough question. Home is where the people you care about are and I have good friends in both cities. In terms of culture, and what each city offers, I would have to say Sydney. It has awesome beaches and nature parks, and Sydney harbour is stunning. Contrary to what people think, Sydney-siders don’t all surf, ride kangaroos and have ‘barbies’ (what you might call a braai) all day. Sydney is not as fast and busy as Singapore but definitely not as laid back as I’d like it to be either!
Are there many Singaporeans/Asians living in Sydney/Australia? If so, why? What are the common misconceptions about these cities?
Here’s another misconception about Sydney and Australia: that there are only white Australians around! A large percentage of Sydney-siders is of immigrant descent. This includes many people from countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Britain. It also includes a multitude of other ethnicities like the Chinese (they’re everywhere), Italians, Vietnamese and Lebanese. Since WWII, the government pursued a policy of actively promoting Australia as the “Promised Land“ in some of these countries. Even today, the government is still actively promoting emigration to Australia.
A great misconception about Singapore, or perhaps an ambiguity, regards the language. What do they speak in Singapore anyways? Chinese? English? Singaporese? Believe it or not, the language spoken in schools, workplaces and government is English, albeit with a distinct twang and lingo, and mixed with Malay, Chinese and Tamil words. Locals refer to this as Singlish.
What are the Singlish and the Australian words for the Afrikaans word, “lekker”?
In Singlish, it’s “shiok!” And to sound even more local: “Shiok man!”
In Australian, it’s “awesome”, “massive” or “epic”.
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