I’ve been in Singapore for almost a week, and on the whole I’m having a wonderful time here. While a country is a country is a country, however, I must admit that I still experienced a fair bit of culture shock when I arrived. As one may expect, Singapore and England (Leeds specifically, where I spent my last three years) are two very different stories. They may speak a common language, but they are nonetheless still worlds apart. Here are some differences – and one big similarity – that I’ve noticed so far…
1. The Weather
The joke is that Leeds, being in the north of England, practically never experiences summer. (That is not strictly true. They do have summer. It just rarely lasts for more than a week each year.) In Singapore, however, there are only ever two seasons: it’s either hot-and-sunny, or hot-and-rainy. I have never particularly liked the cold, but I do think that I’ll end up missing the feel of wooly jumpers and the sight of snow in a few years’ time.
While on that note, people here don’t talk about the weather either, probably because there’s never very much to talk about. I tried commenting about the rain to a cabbie the other day, and he gave me a blank stare in the rearview mirror and mumbled a very vague ‘huh?’
I guess I won’t be going there again…
2. Rent Prices
This is a much more serious problem. People complain that rents are ridiculous in London, but as it turns out it’s actually worse here. According to ECA International, Singapore is the third most expensive city to rent property in Asia (and ninth in the world). As I’ve mentioned in my recent post on the nightmare of flat-hunting, we very quickly realised that we would not be able to afford even a one-bedroom apartment here. The result is that we are now looking to rent a room. Back to university living we go then, it seems.
3. Food Prices
On the other hand, delicious cheap food is very readily available here. Hawker centres – i.e. local food courts – are popular places to eat. For the equivalent of £2.50 I can easily get myself a plate of chicken rice with a dish of vegetables and a bowl of soup on the side. Which is, even with student discount, unheard of in the UK. I’m also spoilt for choice in terms of options, for they do everything from dumplings to katsu rice to wonton noodles. The only problem is that my perspective of how much food should cost has now been completely skewed, and I will never be able to eat anywhere else in the world without crying ever again.
4. Beverage Choice
Ever since arriving in Singapore, I have been missing the wonderful sensation of holding a nice hot mug of tea in my hands. I miss my morning cuppa, my afternoon cuppa, and my evening cuppa. The weather here does not permit hot drinks, and I have adopted the habit of drinking various fruit juices instead. While they taste great and my mother is very proud of me for the increased intake of vitamins, juices simply don’t live up to the joys of PG Tips.
I did, however, buy about 200 teabags from Sainsbury’s before I left England just for emergencies. I anticipate that after an especially horrible day (or when I miss the UK too much), I shall crank up the air con, get under the blankets, brew some tea and pretend that it’s snowing outside just to escape it all. A little make-believe never hurts anyone.
A trek back home from Leeds city centre for me used to be a 30-minute uphill journey. Pennington Street – one of the steepest roads I have ever had the displeasure to walk up – still haunts my dreams sometimes. It also did not help that I lived in the attic, which means a further few flights of stairs even after I’ve reached the house. Singapore, on the contrary, is as flat as an ironed out surfboard. Apartments here are also blessed with the wonderful technology known as lifts, which are much appreciated by my lazy legs.
On the topic of transport technology, here’s something that I’m still trying to get used to. Unlike most other cities I’ve been in around the world, Singaporeans stand on the left and walk on the right on escalators. It’s a very minor point, but one worth taking notice of – especially during rush hour – as locals really don’t like it when people get it wrong.
7. Nightlife/Crime Rate
This one is a bit of a give and take. While Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world (compared with Leeds, which has one of the highest crime rates in England outside London), its nightlife scene has to be compromised. The two main party areas here are Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, but both of these places are very expensive, very crowded, and not particularly impressive. The only big club that I’ve heard anyone mention so far is Zouk, but even that is supposed to be more of a teenagers’ hotspot than anything else. That said, there are a decent number of bars dotted around Singapore, and at least I don’t ever have to get woken up by the sound of people smashing up bottles outside my place at 3am anymore.
One of Singapore’s nicknames is Fine City. Yes it’s a very pretty place, but mostly because littering here will cost first-time offenders S$300 (£150). Second-time offenders, or first-time offenders who drop anything bigger than a Coke can, will be fined S$500 (£250) and could face a court sentence of Corrective Work Order (CWO). This means that the person in question would have to clean up public areas whilst donning a fluorescent jacket with the words ‘Corrective Work Order’ printed on it. There have even been occasions where photos of their faces graced the front page of The Straits Times. Talk about public humiliation.
To take things one step further, street art is also illegal here as it is considered a form of vandalism. The crime is punishable by spanking – or caning, as it is officially known here – and so as a result this city boasts some of the shiniest streets and walls in the world. Having been used to walls sprayed over with swear words in various fonts and penises of various shapes, I find Singapore’s cleanliness refreshing – but also very disarming.
9. Museums Entry Fee
I only truly came to appreciate England’s ‘no museum entrance fee’ policy when I left the country. I suppose I took it for granted that art and culture should be free and accessible to all, but alas, it is not the case here in Singapore (or most other places around the world for that matter). Of course we should still fight against the UK government’s outrageous arts cuts, but at least it hasn’t forced national establishments to start charging (yet). There are many galleries and museums I am hoping to visit here, but I always end up walking away because of the entry fee – especially now that I can no longer enjoy concession rates and am yet to receive my first paycheck.
I’m aware that the Singapore government has been trying to endorse and even subsidise the local arts scene, however, so here’s to the hopes that one day they will make their galleries and museum free for all to go in and admire, too.
…and 1 similarity: Language
The biggest thing that Singapore and England have in common is their language: I find the Yorkie/Scouse/Mancunian/Brummie/Geordie accents as difficult to understand as ‘Singlish’ (Singaporean English). Both countries have integrated a lot of local slang into the language, and have subsequently made it practically impossible for outsiders to understand.
Many people think that Singlish means simply adding ‘la’ to the end of every sentence. In reality, that is only a very small part of it, for it is actually a complex combination of Malay, Tamil, Cantonese, Hokkien, as well as various other Asian and European dialects.
It took me nearly three years to make any headway with the Yorkshire accent – the bet is now open as to how long it will take me to become remotely well-versed in Singlish (if I ever will)!
As many of you may have read in my recent guest post summing up the past three years I’ve spent in Leeds on the Made in Leeds TV blog, my time with the city has finally come to an end. As today is a Friday, I’ve decided to do an extended #FF (#FollowFriday) on here as a shout out to some of my favourite Leeds tweeters. Please do let me know if I’ve left out anyone!
For CULTURAL HAPPENINGS/LISTINGS, follow…
@LoveLeedsMore: Leeds’s official tourism board, which shares all the happenings that are about to hit town.
@LeedsInspired: The coolest upcoming events in Leeds grouped together neatly in a search-friendly site.
@leedsonline: A fantastic team of people who try to cover the views and news of Leeds city life.
@MadeInYorksTV: Made in Yorkshire encourages everyone to send in links to build a platform for all things Yorkshire.
@theleedschannel: Keep your eyes peeled on these guys. They’re a new local TV channel that is currently getting ready to take Leeds by storm.
For AWESOME BLOGGERS, follow…
@culturevultures: As one of the biggest cultural blogs in the UK, Culture Vultures covers everything from reviews to topical issues. Tweets by Emma.
@mylifeinleeds: A series of mini guides on the best spots to check out in and around Leeds by locals in the know. Tweets by Darren.
@margotbarbara: Inspired by the two lead female characters in her favourite 70s sitcom ‘The Good Life,’ Liz’s blog features articles on topics as diverse as gardening and LV handbags.
@CultureLEEDS: CultureLEEDS is a blog that follows Isobel on all the awesome arts and cultural events she attends.
@georgiahalston: Georgia is a self-professed ‘aspiring creative’ who is interested in all things artsy and digital.
@SarahGrant_: Sarah is a fantastic theatre reviewer who writes beautifully and with a sharp eye on all the shows she sees.
@LianneMarieB: Lianne comes up with some of the most delicious-looking recipes on the web, as she takes a more unusual spin on everyday dishes.
For OTHER BRILLIANT PEOPLE, follow…
@PeopleofLeeds: A rota system that allows a different Leeds person to take over the account each week to show the world their very own slice of the city.
@MarkOBrien01: Sometimes cynical, sometimes ‘raw’, but always entertaining.
@Wandapops: Tweets by Wendy, who is always a ray of sunshine no matter the weather.
@GeorgianaFleur: Georgiana is a bit of a rebel, a bit of a crafts lover, a bit of a romantic, and a bit of a nerd, but mostly just a fun and lovely lady.
@philkirby: General musings of a great wandering mind.
WHAT: Art exhibition
WHERE: Leeds Gallery (map)
WHEN: 21st Apr, 12
Take a look at the rest of my photos from the exhibition HERE.
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Northern Arts Uncovered is one of the newest additions to Leeds’s independent art scene. It was founded by Helen Brady and Victoria Rosso, and aims to support up and coming local artists.
- I loved the huge range of media on display, which includes everything from oils to photography.
- The works of emerging artists and students were deliberately juxtaposed – but they were all of very high quality anyway.
- My favourite pieces were Pippa Dyrlaga’s dizzying paper cuttings and Nicole Viner’s quirky ‘Mad Giraffe.’
MY FULL STORY: The independent art scene in Leeds is spreading like wildfire. It seems like there’s no stopping it, despite the wind and rain trying to do their worst. Sorry Nature, but Art wins.
After hosting exhibitions such as the first ever Leeds Print Festival and ‘Access All Areas: 20 Years of Back to Basics,’ Leeds Gallery recently paused its current show, ‘Leeds Through a Lens,’ to make way for a one day event dedicated purely to emerging talents.
Northern Arts Uncovered is a brand new project founded by Leeds University graduate Helen Brady and producer/designer Victoria Rosso, who studied at Leeds College of Art. Its aim is to provide up and coming local artists with a platform to showcase their works in public. All profits made from the event went to Art Fund, a charity supporting the art industry in the country. Although neither Helen nor Victoria have ever curated an art exhibition before, the show was a huge success.
The thing I loved most about it was the variety of media on display. There were oil paintings, photography, book illustrations, textiles, prints, ink drawings, paper cuttings and more. It was a jungle bursting with a combination of colour, imagination, and talent that you rarely get in such mixed styles outside large galleries. There was no strict theme – just a bunch of great works beautifully juxtaposed against each other.
‘We deliberately mixed the works of emerging artists and students,’ Victoria explains, saying that they did not want or see the need to make a clear distinction between the two.
Helen and Victoria received an overwhelming number of entries from artists all over England after they opened up the submission area on their website. After an arduous decision process, they eventually whittled it down to the 24 artists whose works were displayed on the day.
Many of the artists were present at some point during the exhibition, and I had the honour of meeting Omnipresent Art – aka Okey Ebizie. His works are interesting in that they differ so much from one another. While his prints are mostly inspired by hip hop, his textile works are more preoccupied with simple pattern and bright colours.
It’s hard to choose a favourite in such a varied exhibition, but Pippa Dyrlaga’s paper cutting piece is probably the one I found most intriguing. Beautiful, dizzying and creepy in equal measures, the work clearly reflects the amount of time and patience the artist must have spent on it.
Another piece I liked is ‘Mad Giraffe’ by Nicole Viner, a 21-year-old Design student at Leeds Met. There is a sense of lightheartedness about it that almost borders on the absurd – but it makes you smile nonetheless.
Overall I really enjoyed the exhibition. It was definitely worth the trek down. Not only were the works on display thought-provoking and well executed, I also like that Northern Arts Uncovered helps to debunk the notion of “high art” by supporting these young artists and making their works accessible to all. Great stuff.
WHAT: Play (Comedy)
WHERE: Stage@Leeds (map)
WHEN: 27th Feb, 12
WHO: The Paper Birds
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Thirsty is Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh’s attempt to decipher our nation’s love for booze. They had originally wanted to tell the other, less clichéd stories, but in the end they gave in and told the one that kept coming up: the one about 18-year-old girls who had just started university and were desperate to fit in.
- The way the girls built the show was very research-heavy. They set up a drunken hotline, blog, and questionnaire one year ago and waited for the stories to come in.
- There isn’t much of a structure to the play, but it is funny and raises some serious questions regardless – do we only find it funny because we’ve all been there?
- Overall it still makes for a good, sober night out. Catch them at the Leeds Carriageworks on 20th and 21st March!
MY FULL STORY [edited version first published on digyorkshire.com on 2nd March, 12]: After spending most of their research and development trying to focus on the less clichéd stories of alcohol – like how a mother of two would reward herself with a gin and tonic after the kids go to bed – Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh eventually gave up and gave in.
Henry James had insisted that ‘the story won’t tell.’ Thirsty, however, ended up telling the story that they really didn’t want to tell, but the one that they couldn’t get away from because it kept coming up again and again: ‘She’s 18. She has just started university…’
I’m not sure if I liked the way the play is physically structured – there wasn’t really much of a structure or even a plot to speak of, as it was more of an exploration of alcohol in general. But as someone who has gone through all the drink-fuelled freshers parties just a couple years ago, I could nonetheless relate to what they were saying quite personally.
‘She has just left home for the first time. She feels free. She’s having a good time. She wants to make friends.’ Besides, if she doesn’t drink, then she’ll be the odd one out.
It was quite a strange experience – watching the play was like watching a dramatised version of what I used to do back then. Although that said, I must admit I was never hardcore enough to literally drench myself in spirits, and never ended my nights out with my head in the toilet. Think of me as being more of a tipsy hugger.
The show was filled with laugh-out-loud parts, and the girls looked like they were enjoying themselves onstage as they downed glass after glass (‘I feel… I feel like YES!’), but it also raised questions. Was it only funny because they were (pretending to be) intoxicated? Were we laughing only because we’ve all been there? Do we all have a problem and are we all going to hell?
The way Paper Birds created the play was interestingly research heavy, as they revealed. A year ago, they set up a blog, a questionnaire and a drunken hotline, and waited for stories to come in. They asked participants and callers to share their alcohol-related stories, as well as give their opinions on various topics.
One gentleman whose message was played out amongst many others, for example, declared that ‘drunken women are scary.’ But most of the people who called were first year girls who confessed every dirty detail of the last parties they went to. And so Jemma and Kylie decided to base their work on those.
Consciously trying to avoid sounding like moralisers, the girls made it very clear in the post-show talk that they ‘don’t want people to watch the show and think that they should give up drinking – we still drink loads. We just wanted to debate if there’s anything wrong with our nation’s love for booze.’
Although I suppose Thirsty’s inconclusiveness was rather liberating, I couldn’t help feeling a bit frustrated by it at the same time. What was the point they were trying to make? But then again do we always need to get answers? There are times when we want to go to the theatre just for a laugh. And besides, there’s no doubt that it still made for a great, sober alternative to a popped-up night out in town.
Catch Thirsty at Leeds Carriageworks on 20th and 21st March!
WHAT: Comedy (Mime)
WHERE: Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre (map)
WHEN: 9th March, 12
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Katie Mulgrew was a brilliant support act as she’s cute, bubbly, and potty-mouthed. She also didn’t dwell on the fact that she’s a female comedian, which made me like her even more.
- The Boy – i.e. Sam Wills – came onstage gagged, and started the show by pulling tricks out of his shoulder bag to get the laughs going. He then swooped down on his audience to pick his victims/volunteers.
- Everyone who got onstage were really good sports, which made it a fantastic evening.
- The Boy will be touring the world but is returning to Leeds on Saturday 17th to grace The Wet Spot cabaret night at The Wardrobe – don’t miss it!
- My interview with the Boy will be coming soon – so check back if you want to hear him speak!
MY FULL STORY [edited version first published on digyorkshire.com on 12th Mar, 12]: With the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre filled to the brim as we awaited The Boy With Tape On His Face, a girl with no tape on her face strode onstage. Surely there’s a mistake?
But Katie Mulgrew was a brilliant support act to open the evening with. She is a cute, bubbly girl with a bit of a potty mouth – and who doesn’t love that? Her lighthearted jokes interjected with plenty of ‘Aw smashin’! That’s lovely!’ went down well with the crowd.
I also very much appreciated the fact that she did not make a big deal out of being a girl. Female comedians need to stop feeling like they need to reassert that. We know that you’re a woman, stop treating us like we’re blind and get over it. Anyway, Katie didn’t do that, which made me like her even more.
After an interval the lights dimmed again, and a voice warned us that this show involves a lot of audience participation. ‘If you get picked to go onstage, do play along’ she said. ‘Or you’ll look like a cock.’
When The Boy – i.e. Sam Wills – came on gagged by a black piece of duct tape, the first thing he did was to rummage through his shoulder bag of magic, donned a teacup hat, and did a few tricks to get the laughs going. He didn’t need to try very hard – we were already sold.
But then he started to make his way into the audience. You can tell that everyone immediately adopted the same stance: stare straight ahead, don’t breathe, pretend that you’re part of the chair and pray to every deity going that he won’t see you.
He singled out his victims and we cheered them on wildly, accompanied by apparent sighs of relief. What brave souls they are! Bravo!
The best part, though, is that all of the volunteers were really good sports, and did get genuinely involved. I could type out a list of all the hilarious things he made them do without having to say a word, but that would ruin things.
All I’ll tell you, then, is that he made very creative use of his props, music, and audience. Hardhats, bubble machines, pelvic thrusts, snow globes and a musical bin were all involved.
This is a show that you absolutely do not want to miss. I have not been to anything that made me laugh so hard in a very long time. Who says that stand ups need great punch lines? The Boy has just proved that action really does speak louder than words.
The Boy With Tape On His Face will be returning to Leeds to perform at The Wardrobe’s cabaret night The Wet Spot for one night on Saturday 17th March.
Want to find out more and hear the Boy open his mouth? Keep an eye out for my upcoming interview with him!