Thursday, May 29, 2014

Life Overseas: UK VS SG

I was just about to draft this post when I very aptly came across this post on my Facebook newsfeed, titled: "Why I'll never return to Singapore"
As a foreigner, it's no surprise that the author doesn't see Singapore as his home (though I felt that the title seemed a bit harsh – never return). He comes from an entirely different culture, and didn't grow up in Singapore, so naturally, there is no affinity. The comments section was an eye-opener – there were varying opinions from Singaporeans and foreigners alike, on why they felt that Singapore is/is not the best place to live in. I respect these opinions because I believe that Singapore is not for everyone. It is easy for an individual to pick out the aspects of a country that he is displeased with, but it is impossible for a government to tailor every aspect to fit everyone's idea of "perfection".

Having lived in the UK for only about half a year, I'm in no position to pass a clear judgement on whether UK or Singapore is more liveable. However, over the past 6 months, the observations I've made while going about my day-to-day activities have made me so very appreciative of my home country. It's true what they say: you never know what you've got till it's gone. I don't think I'll ever be able to live in the UK permanently, but it'll definitely be one of my favourite holiday destinations (sorry England, America is still my #1).

Of course, the price of food varies depending on which part of the UK you are in. London is obviously one of the most, if not, the most expensive places in the UK. Eating out in the UK will cost you at least £3 (S$6.30) for a sandwich at a "fastfood" restaurant. Hot food tend to cost a little more – £4 (S$8.40) and up. And this is at a fastfood restaurant with a grab-and-go concept, where food is prepared and displayed on shelves.

Oddly enough, it costs more to eat-in than to take-out, even though it's still left in the same disposable packaging either way. The extra charge may be the service charge – but what service though? Diners serve themselves, seat themselves and clear their own trays.
In Singapore, it usually costs more to take-out (in food courts and hawker centres) because stallholders charge you for the plastic containers, which makes sense. But that's okay, because your bowl of noodles only cost S$4 plus an extra 20cents to take away.
In restaurants, expect to pay at least £7.50 (S$15.70) for the most basic plate of pasta. Some cities like Glasgow offer lunch deals where you can get a main dish for £5.50 (S$11.53).

(London) Bone Daddies' Ramen in Pork Bone Broth: £11 (S$23)

(Singapore) Ippudo's Ramen in Pork Bone Broth: S$15

And I complain about the rising costs of food in Singapore, and having to pay a "crazy" S$6 for a bowl of noodles at Food Republic, or S$20 for a good meal at my favourite Italian restaurant.

I have learnt to be grateful for hawker centres and food courts, where S$4 can get me a plate of chicken rice AND a drink; and restaurants, where I can get my favourite bowl of noodles at Crystal Jade for only S$9, GST included.

Shopping is only relatively cheaper than Singapore due to the exchange rate from GBP to SGD (sucks to have to x2 when I'm shopping). Clothes at high street brands like Topshop and Zara are S$5 to S$10 cheaper than Singapore for regular priced items (they are still cheaper in Europe). I hardly ever buy regular priced items – I'm all for sales. If you're lucky, you'll be able to snag some pretty good bargains during the sale period. The sales in the UK are definitely much better than Singapore's. I love Primark! The quality can be pretty bad sometimes, but you I cannot complain for the price I'm paying. Here's a fraction of my Primark haul from my first month in London:

Leather paneled crop: £2 (S$4.20)

Midi dress (superb thick lycra-like quality): £5 (S$10.50)

Satin rose printed dress: £3 (S$6.30)

Luxe keyhole playsuit (Fully lined too! Probably one of my best buys): £5 (S$10.50)

Leather sleeved baseball jacket (another one of my best buys, kept me so warm): £3 (S$6.30)

These were all sale items. I have to say that I'm a really, really good bargain hunter. A very aunty trait which I'm proud of ^^

Back in Singapore, I would always complain about groceries being too expensive (I usually spend S$40 at the supermarket back home on vegetables, chicken breast, pasta, bread, spreads...). In the UK, I spend £30 (S$63) to £40 (S$84) each time. And it's not even because I only shop at the Jasons' or Marketplace of UK, aka Marks & Spencer's and Waitrose (I almost never shop there). I'm so aunty I actually surveyed all the supermarkets along the street to see where I could get the best bargains. It helps that supermarkets here display unit pricings in fine print so it makes it easier for me to compare ;) The only things cheap in the UK supermarkets are: house brand tomato puree and canned tomatoes (essentials because I'm always cooking pasta), kale (£1 as compared to S$5 in Fairprice), cheese, ice-cream (though not as cheap as the US), oatmeal, milk, minced beef, broccoli (49p, current deal at Tesco!). Just to name a few...
Poultry is exceptionally costly. The British love their chicken breasts but Singaporeans hate them. This could be why chicken breast is so much more expensive here as compared to back home. It costs £11 (S$23) for a pack of 7 chicken breasts (about 1kg in total), which I buy every week in London and Glasgow because it's the only meat I ever eat (I don't like eating meat, thick slabs of beef, which I cannot afford to eat everyday obviously). Sure, there are markets in the UK where groceries may be slightly cheaper (usually not the case because market food are all organic and shiz), but nothing beats the wet markets in Singapore.

In Singapore it costs about S$1.60 to take a bus (and I already complain when I have to pay cash because my Ez-link card is low). In Glasgow, it costs £1.20 (S$2.50) for a 20min bus ride or £1.90 (S$4) for a train ride to town (still pretty reasonable). In London, it costs £2.20 (S$4.60) by Oyster card (aka UK's version of an Ez-link) or £4.70 (S$9.85) by cash to take the tube within Zone 1 (Central), and about £2.40 (S$5) (cash) for a bus ride. Don't even get me started on taxi fares although again, oddly enough, calling a cab is cheaper than flagging for one.

In Singapore, mailing a dress would cost me $1 to $1.50, and mailing a small parcel to the UK would only cost me $15 (2kg would never work out to be S$120).  Dragging the US in again just for comparison purposes – I paid US$47 for express delivery incl. insurance to mail an iPad back to Singapore. In the UK, mailing a dress to back to Jack Wills through normal domestic mail cost me £3 (S$6.30). Mailing 2kg worth of stuff back to Singapore cost me (or rather, Rou Jin, because they're her stuff) £60 (S$125.80). U MADDD?!?!

During my time in the UK, I had the pleasure of talking to strangers (completely normal in Western cultures) who initiated conversations. This is what I love most about Western cultures – that they are such open and approachable people. Apart from the woman seated next to me on the bus, who kept staring at me before asking about my day time and night time facial regimes because "I have very nice skin" (I really didn't. It was late and my cheeks were flushed from post-work drinks), I enjoyed every conversation. An American mathematician who moved to Bristol for work decided that it was a good idea to ask an Asian (me) for directions within Glasgow (surprisingly I was able to help him). We then had a conversation about the workplace differences between our home countries and the UK. He also said that I spoke very well for a Singaporean. I get this a lot in the UK, I think Westerners think that Mandarin is our first language -_- A Glaswegian Hongkonger on the mat next to me at yoga said that he loved how modern and clean Singapore is. We came to the topic of standards of living, and I said that some things in Singapore are more expensive, like beer and other alcohols. He mentioned that he went to Clarke Quay on a weekday and it was completely dead because everyone was at home preparing for work the next day (Singaporeans are such workaholics). He said that it was good, because you won't see drunk people on the streets causing a din on weekdays and even in the afternoon. I couldn't help but to feel a sense of pride for my country:)
I can only wish that Singaporeans would be more affable and open-minded. I'm sure we will get there eventually as we become increasingly exposed to Western cultures through travelling, studying and working overseas.

Overall, living in the UK has made me appreciate and love my country. It may be small and it may be boring, but it's home. It's where my friends and family are, it's the place I'm most familiar with. Since I'm on the topic, here are pictures from SG Day in London, which I thoroughly enjoyed because 1) LOCAL FOOODDD 2) STC reunion in London (KC was obviously Mr Popular that day, friends at EVERY corner) <3

Crazy queue to enter

So glad that the Americans had fun eating and singing along to patriotic National Day songs.

And more queueing (hi Sarah). Btw don't you think the goody bag looks like a bag of curry...

Chye tow kuay fix

Disclaimer: This post is purely based on my opinion. I'm not expecting everyone who has lived overseas to share the same opinion as myself, neither am I trying to say that Singapore is better than the UK. I'm writing this in a Singaporean's POV, so if you're not Singaporean, chances are, you might have a different experience. Ok PIZZZ OUT ^^v

1 comment:

  1. Yes you are extremely right. "Singapore is not for everyone". It is for NEW CITIZENS and foreigners who are CONTENTED with what we have here, compared to their home country. I would consider a native singaporean being someone who is born here and whose parents are also born here. They are able to differentiate Singapore now from the Japanese time.