Top 8 Truths About Moving to Singapore

By: Kimono Karen

Like our previous moves, the decision to pack up and head to Singapore was half ours and half the whims of my husband’s job. It works like this: a list comes out with available positions, we chose which ones we are interested in and rank them, and lastly the agency picks out our new home. Did I know much about Singapore when we put it on the list? A little. Did I believe we would be selected for the Singapore spot? Not at all. Did I learn much more about my new home before I moved? Not as much as I intended to. But isn’t it much more fun to throw yourself in, shock your system a bit and figure it out on your own? Definitely. This is the overview of what I have learned in my short four and a half months here.

1) It’s hot. This almost should be considered an obvious fact when you consider the country’s placement one degree off the Equator, but it’s more than what I expected of the hot. It’s wet, humid, sticky hot. Like I stuffed my head into the dryer at the end of a cycle, and this was after I took a good hard jog down the street in the midday sun. And the clamminess just never leaves you. Not in the middle of the night. Not in the rainy season. Not even when you are sitting with your feet in the pool. My lip sweats. I didn’t even know there were sweat glands on my lip and yet now I find myself mopping my lips up. God forbid I try to put on some lipstick. I would end up with streaks of red dripping down my neck and into my cleavage if I even bother to try. I mean it. It’s hot.

2) It’s expensive. Well, okay, Captain Obvious. Considering I have moved to what is often referred to as a shopping capitol of the world, I still hadn’t adequately prepared myself for the sticker shock. Thinking about buying a simple Honda that costs $20K in the states? How about forking over more like $100K here! And that’s not including the permits you buy to drive that rival the sticker price of the car. Now, I am not hanging out on Orchard Road and loading my plethora of closets with Chanel clothes, Prada bags and Tiffany diamonds. I’m just trying to pay for a few hours of air con in a 4,000+ square foot home and maybe taking my kiddos for a dinner treat occasionally. Sorry, kids. People may gasp at the size of our house when they walk in, but dinner tonight is at the local hawker stalls down the street. $4 Sing for chicken rice… yes, please! You can even have seconds.

3) Just because everyone speaks English, does not mean you will understand them and they certainly won’t understand you! That’s because they speak Singlish, not English. Essentially, the rules of grammar rarely apply. I have begun to try my hand at Singlish and throw an awful lot of the fan favorite word “lah” around. From what I understand of the word lah, it can mean a lot of things, but it is mostly for emphasis. As in, “isn’t your kid the cutest thing ever?”; “why, yes lah, he is lah!” Even with my excellent grasp of this fun, little pneumatic, you can probably guess… most people still have no idea what I am talking about… lah.

4) The food is not exactly as good as I was told. Now please don’t pummel me with nasty, rotten smelling durian fruits because I said this, but I’m just…ummm…not a fan. People rave about the food here. I know. And there is certainly plenty to choose from. Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Thai… but it’s almost as if the blending of all those cultures confused the food a bit, in my little humble opinion. I like spice. I like a lot of the flavors. I even like a few dishes on their own (laksa… yes, please!) But there is just something about it that doesn’t appeal to my own palate. Like I said, I like spice, which means I love me a good chili pepper. What I don’t care for is when it seems like that poor pepper was cooked until it was dead. I’d rather something taste fresh and have the flavors of a dish jump out at me than be cooked so long they all seem muddled together.

5) It isn’t a strict as I thought here. While caning is still an acceptable punishment here in Singapore, I was pleasantly surprised not to see a SWAT team of every corner waiting to take down the unawares gum-chewer. Speaking of gum, you can’t buy it here, but it isn’t illegal to chew it as I had believed before arriving here. Not that I am personally going to test this law, but it’s just nice to keep in my reference pile. One thing I do avoid for sure however is being naked in my own home here in Singapore. Pornography is illegal here and obviously nudity has a big role in pornography, so I just keep my clothes on. All the time. I even shower dressed so a neighbor won’t accidentally see me and call the caning people! Yes, officer-of-the-law sir, a real rule follower here lah!

6) It is indeed a small island. You can pretty much drive from the top to the bottom of the island in about a half hour. For an east to west trip, maybe add fifteen, but that’s only because you have to circle around the middle of the island that is still pretty much the jungle it was before the country was the financial and shipping gateway hub it is today. While I certainly haven’t run out of things to do here, I am starting to understand why so many people are always hopping off to some amazing destination every month. It doesn’t cost that much and there just are so many wonderful places to go nearby! We’ve been settled into our home for three months and already made it to Indonesia. If we stick with the travel plan of others, that means we are due for another trip… next month? Yes. We are indeed already booked.

7) It’s much greener here than I suspected here. I heard Singapore was pretty much all shopping malls and skyscrapers. While it certainly has its share of those things, a previous prime minister had amazing foresight when he planned the “greening of Singapore.” My favorite happens to be the giant, umbrella-shaped rain trees that line the streets and then, making them even more lush and amazing looking, more tropical plants were planted in their center creating this controlled tropical jungle look. All this planned biodiversity just goes to prove that this country is indeed the City in a Garden it claims to be.

8) And the most surprising truth I have learned about Singapore is this… the people here are not happy… and I just don’t entirely get it. Sure. I’m new and I have a lot to learn still, but I just don’t understand the simmering unhappiness in everyone and with everything. My family went to the movies once and there was a commercial at the beginning of the movie about how everyone in Singapore was so happy. Do you know what the commercial was actually trying to do? Convince the Singaporeans that they are indeed happy. Why they aren’t? I don’t know. If you do, feel free to share. All I know is this… I’m happy here and Kimono Hubby and Kimono Kids are too. And that’s all that matters to me.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingKimono Karen is an American expat living in Singapore. Blog description: This is a blog about my move and every day life in Singapore. I talk about every thing I see and do and eat and experience. It's meant to be fun and educational.
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Contest Comments » There are 34 comments

Michelle Guttman wrote 3 years ago:

I love the way Kimono Karen describes the everyday fun that is to be had with her Hubby & 2 kiddos in a foreign country! It cracks me up& inspires me each time I read it! Keep up the writing & fun times in Singapore!

Becky wrote 3 years ago:

I enjoyed reading Kimono Karen's Blog. Interesting facts about Singapore that I did not know .

JoLynn K. wrote 3 years ago:

I love the rich description of the culture and the country! Your keen observations are enjoyable and informative. Thanks for this list!

Bridget wrote 3 years ago:

Love your description about you lips sweating - I couldn't agree more!!! You don't get used to the heat instead you just get used to the sweating

Amy wrote 3 years ago:

Although I only lived in Singapore for 6 months, I think this blog is pretty spot on! :)

Cheryl Gochenauer wrote 3 years ago:

Very insightful blog about a country that most of us know very little about! It's awesome to hear that a country that small is leading edge in being green. And I love the humor you bring to the blog...makes the blog relatable.

Melissa wrote 3 years ago:

I LOVE to keep up with Kimona Karen's Blog to read about all of her family's adventures and experiences across the globe.

Annie Babineau wrote 3 years ago:

Love reading about your family's new adventures in Singapore, Karen! You have such a positive attitude and wonderful outlook, I am certain you will influence everyone around you!

Jennifer S wrote 3 years ago:

I have known Karen for a very long time and her adventurous spirit is mesmerizing for those that don't know her she truly is exactly as she sounds in her blog. Read her words and you know her, but more than that you can trust that she always paints a truthful picture. Everyone should travel the world through Karen's eyes it is a truly remarkable journey with the worlds greatest tour guide.

Janet wrote 3 years ago:

Enjoy following the events that you and the family are living daily. Keep posting so that we can all learn more about your new home.

Kristen wrote 3 years ago:

Karen is always very informative and entertaining! I have learned a lot about countries that I will probably never get to visit.

Ann wrote 3 years ago:

All true - but I couldn't disagree more about the food - where have you been eating?!

Judy Sterner wrote 3 years ago:

Karen's blogs are the greatest. When you are reading them you feel like you are right there with her, even though she is thousands of miles away.

Kelly wrote 3 years ago:

I really think #8 was the most eye opening for me. I was really shocked by this one. I also didnt realize (or never thought about) how small it is. Thanks for opening my eyes!

Aimee wrote 3 years ago:

I always love reading Karen's blog posts. Not only is she extremely descriptive, but also humorous. Wonderful way to explain to others such great experiences.

Kim wrote 3 years ago:

I always enjoy reading Karen's blog. I find her perspective and writing style to be very entertaining. What an adventure!

Mirabelle wrote 3 years ago:

Very insightful especially after recently moving to Singapore! You're so correct on many points here.

Greg wrote 3 years ago:

Karen's blogs are always whitty and really tell the story of what it is really like to live in a particular location. She described Singapore perfectly, although I think the food is really good. I do agree that the good food to me is Indian, Thai, and Japanese not any of the Singaporean dishes.

Mike wrote 3 years ago:

Karen, You are really not selling the place if you want folks to come visit. I'm not going to show this to Denise. I'm sure the food won't bother me, I eat anything and everything.

Karen wrote 3 years ago:

Ann - I eat anywhere and everywhere... the fancy and the hawker stalls! But if you have suggestions, do share! We love input on this. :) I knew some people would disagree with me on that point. I know how highly this country speaks of their food! Mike - It is an absolute wonderful place, despite the heat and prices! And if you have a great tour guide, we can keep the cost down, although we can't do much about the heat but to hand you a portable fan. We really can't wait for you to visit! Everyone - thank you for the truly kind words! Brings me to tears! XO

Gini Dilley wrote 3 years ago:

Very interesting! Excellent information and good stuff to know! Kimono Karen is the bom dot com!! :)

Liz wrote 3 years ago:

Karen, your post are fun to read (funny too) and make me want to go try some of these places out, keep writing!! You could keep going and write for a travel magazine.

Nancy H. wrote 3 years ago:

Always love reading about your take on every day life. I enjoy your descriptions and analogies and you always seem to encounter dilemmas that you turn into humorous life adventures. Keep it up Karen!

Jodi wrote 3 years ago:

Go Karen~ You are one cool chick! :) Glad to be sharing this small green Singaporean adventure island with YOU lah!

Rose wrote 3 years ago:

I love Karens Blog. It made me laugh out loud. Having moved to Singapore 2 years ago I can relate to everything she wrote.

Kaho wrote 3 years ago:

I enjoyed reading your perspective on Singapore. I lived in Singapore with my family when I was in high school many years ago. Then when I lived in Jakarta with my husband and kids, I med-evaced to give birth in Singapore and I lived there for 2 months. I was surprised how expensive it has gotten! I must say Singapore is hotter than Mumbai, India.

Joy wrote 3 years ago:

Karen you have a way with words! I think our move to Singapore must be a similar timeline as yours -- you highlight some of the exact things I would call my own "truths." Keep writing!

Louise wrote 3 years ago:

I agree with everything you have said, couldn't have written it better myself. The sweaty lip, the expensive clothes and food, the Singlish, the dining experiences ... It's all true.

Bidisha wrote 3 years ago:

Ha ha! Totally relate to your post! The sticker shock, even after a year of moving from US,hasn't left me ;-)

Erin Apollo wrote 3 years ago:

Her blogs always make you feel like you are right there with her. She is descriptive and funny. Her pictures that go along with her blogs are bright and bring you closer to the "action". Kimono Karen is always a good read!

Lynny wrote 3 years ago:

What a great post, love your incite and the humor with which you shared it. Great!

Beth wrote 3 years ago:

Hmmm, guess Singapore is not too big a stretch after being in Rhode Island where you can drive across the state in 20 minutes. Interesting to know. Also, interesting cultural observation about unhappiness, it would be interesting to know why. Maybe they don't like the food either!

Robyn BB wrote 3 years ago:

LOVE LOVE LOVE following Kimino Karen's blog. I've been following it since she first made her move to Japan. I look forward to her posts. They are so funny and the best part she gives her readers a look at what it's like to live in a foreign country. I always look forward to a new entry!!

Melanie wrote 3 years ago:

Karen - I always enjoy reading about your adventures and marvel at how well you adapt to new situations and keep a sense of humor!

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