Saturday, 9 February 2008

Singaporeans in Istanbul

I spent nearly a month in Istanbul and is now going to write on my experience as a Singaporean roaming around in Istanbul. Yes, I'm back :) I'm curious, just how much do people know about us.

Wherever I went, I was often ask...from Japan, Korea? Or sometimes even China or Malaysia? But never Singapore. I don't think I look like a Chinese from China, Korean or even a Japanese. Well, hmm... maybe a bit of Malaysian because we are so near to each other.

My first instinct was there must be Korean and Japanese tourists flocking to Istanbul every year hence triggering the locals to ask qusetions as such.

Of course, I will deny all and said that I am from Singapore.

And this is when you know just how world-class our government think we are. Locals who knew Singapore, replied politely and some quite curtly.

"Oh, the very fine city, strict government..."

"No, chewing gum right?"

"Very small?"


"No outdoor smoking..."

"So where is your hometown in Singapore?".... ermm.. Singapore is a country, State and my hometown is Singapore.

Some will give you puzzling stares, I guess that indicates they have no idea what or where is Singapore. However, there were also some that try to look like they know but I kind of sense that they don't. Of course there were some who genuinely knew where Singapore is.

I will never forget this reply... "Oh Singapore, a small country trying to be big but has everything."

There were some positive replies too.... very clean country, very obedient people, shopping paradise...

I was wondering how come the answers were not such as...the one with the busiest port, good governance, great financial centre, etc...Nope, none of these... not what our government had painted or wanted Singapore to be to other countries.

Well, maybe Turkey is too far? But I understand that the Singapore government had got some projects with the local government there. Such as acting as a Consultant to the yet-to-built underground metro that will link the west side of Istanbul to the east.

I also met 2 Singaporeans who were working in Turkey. They were sub-cons of LTA and had been working there for the past 8 months with no idea when their job is going to finish.

Guess what? A group of Singaporeans and that includes me, went 'go karting' in Istanbul and just at the entrance of the karting centre were flags of various countries mounted on the gate. A Singaporean lady, aged 60, had been in Istanbul for the past 17 years, pointed out to us in amazement that there is no Singapore flag.

This is not a surprise if we cannot see other Asian flags too. However, we saw with our eyes very clearly that there were Japan, Korea, Indonesia and even Malaysia flags and no, no Singapore flag. I scanned through the area with my eyes once again when we leave the centre and true enough no Singapore flag. To be frank, I was slightly disappointed.

As I mentioned, Turkey could be too far for them to know or understand us... how about Indonesia then?

I got to know an Indonesian guy who had worked there for 8 months too. We were at the topic of Suharto's death and then of course that brought us into politics. He was aware of who Lee Kuan Yew is, the man who was PM for too long which was very exceptional. His next question was, who is our current PM?...Lee Hsien Loong, LKY's son, I replied.

He was stunned...LKY's son? Oh, ermmmm... can it be done like that?

Oh by the way, his response towards Suharto's death was...yes he has done good for the country but he should be penalised as well for this wrong-doings. It would be good to declare him bankrupt or at least repay the money which he had laundered, its only fair.

And back to the group of Singaporeans whom I had went go karting with. Most of them were ladies who got married to Turkish guys and hence is now staying in Turkey. We talked about Singapore; how early the kids got to wake up to go to school and how late they end their day, before coming to Turkey they had never voted before, missing Singapore food, the stop at 2-child policy was something that everyone cannot forget, and of course who else but LKY :)

During the last week of my visit, we were treated to a fine Turkish restaurant for dinner. The restaurant Manager then asked where we were from and he attempted to find our flag among the numerous flags that they have collected.

Alas! After some time, he brought us the Singapore flag :) Our host then looked at it with interest and started pointing out the similarities that it has with the Turkey flag.

Lastly, I noticed that the job opportunities in Istanbul is wide-spread. There were at least 5 types of public transport available. Small bus, cabs, dolmus, metro, ferry, city bus, etc. In Singapore, only the high-end retail boutiques then one will find a security guard. Right here, most retail outlets have one and that includes all fast-food restaurants.

Well, of course they need to have more job opportunities given the large population it has.

Nevertheless, it was good experience and it made me realised once again that we still have a long way to go.

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