Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pride of Place

Singapore’s 49th National Day may have come and gone, but all my friends on Facebook are still a bit misty-eyed about the celebrations. Every other post is a patriotic, chest-thumping, celebratory picture of fireworks, and friends and family members waving dinky little red and white flags.
            “Doesn’t it just make you so proud to be Singaporean?” I remember asking my friend Janet over lunch, the day after the big parade.
            “Not really,” she groused, stabbing her piece of steak with unusual force. “I can’t wait to get out of here!”
            I was astonished. “Really?”
            “You mean you’re not? I can’t stand the crowds. Everything is so expensive. George and I can’t even afford to buy a home of our own. We have no work-balance in our lives!”
            “But where would you go?” I asked, genuinely curious.
            Janet shrugged. “We’re thinking of Australia! Or America!”
            “Amanda just came back from Australia and she said a simple breakfast costs fifty bucks!” I told her. “And you realize that once you get residency in America, you will get taxed on your global income?”
            Janet looked unimpressed by my fiscal wisdom. “Well, at least I’ll have some privacy and not have people telling me what to do or what not to do all the time!” she said.
            “But their healthcare system…”
            “I’m still young and healthy so that’s not an issue right now. We were also thinking of the UK!”
            By this stage, I almost felt as if my eyebrows couldn’t rise any further. “You seriously want to go to a country where the top tax rate of 55% kicks in at £50,000? For all that work, you take home less than $23,000, out of which you have to pay at least £300 a week for a tiny pokey flat with no maid? Which leaves you what?” I asked as my brow furrowed working out the mental maths, “uhm…it leaves you…uhm…£7,400 a year for all your living expenses?”
            Now it was Janet’s turn to frown. “Are you sure you’re doing the maths right?” She pulled out a pen and started scribbling numbers on her napkin. When she finally looked up, I can’t say I wasn’t pleased to see a bit of the “I hate Singapore” spirit seep out of her.
            Later that evening, after I’d recounted the story to the girls, Amanda sniffed. “It’s always the case. Everyone hates Singapore and wants to migrate somewhere else till they sit down and do their budget and realize that it’s all very well living in another country so long as you don’t have to eat or shop!”
            Sharyn was equally blunt. “Yah, boy! The young people so ungrateful deese day. Such a good life here in Singapore, some more want to go and live in UK! Siow, ah! When, hor, I star-dee in London, I was so poor, I every day eat Maggie mee, ah, I tell you! Wah lau, to dis day, I cannot stand Maggie mee! I die of starvation I also won’t eat!”
            Amanda blinked. You could almost see her mentally rewinding the last few seconds of conversation.
            “Wait a minute…you went to school in London?” she asked. If she had any lines on her face, disbelief would have been etched in every one. As it was, her face just kind of reassembled itself into a question mark.
            Abuden?” asked Sharyn, Supreme Auntie Ah Lian.
“Which university?”
            Amanda’s face was a picture of confusion. “You went to the London School of Economics?” she asked.
            “You think what? NUS, is it?”
Amanda turned to Saffy. “Did you know this?”
            Saffy smirked. “She had a scholarship to Harvard, but she rejected it!”
            “Yar, loh,” Sharyn said, nodding. “My time hor, Harvard not very good with its management course. Dat’s why I am so grateful to Singapore. If got no scholarship, where got a kampong girl like me go to London to study, one?”
            Saffy says till the day she dies, she’s never going to forget the look on Amanda’s face when Sharyn said she’d voluntarily given up a scholarship to Harvard. “Really, Amex should have been filming it! It sure makes up for all those times she’s rubbed our noses into her stupid Harvard degree! Totally golden moment!”
            Meanwhile, Sharyn’s been carpet bombing Janet’s Facebook page with discouraging articles about London covering everything from its distinctly lackluster healthcare service to the extraordinarily high taxes and prohibitive cost of housing.
            “Ay,” she added in one post, “London is the most polluted city in Western Europe. And also Oxford Street air quality is worse than Beijing!”
            Janet says she’s never felt so harassed in her life, which, speaking as a Singaporean, she adds, is saying something.

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