Friday, December 18, 2009

The Joys and Sorrow of Going Ex-Patria

It's the slow season now and not much new business is coming my way, so I thought, what the heck - might as well spend a bit of time trying to rant a bit. I get the feeling that I need to rant more because, well after I've gone the way of the dinosaur, my rantings may be the only left of me and the thoughts that I leave may be the only thing left to irritate people for generations to come.

Anyway, I noticed an article in the papers on how Singapore continues to be a favoured destination for the Expatriate community and I have to say my initial reaction was - Well, why shouldn't it be? If you're a Caucasian, Singapore is a tropical heaven where you get your colonial fetishes indulged by well educated people as opposed to menial workers in other colonies. For the Indian and other Asian professional, Singapore is a bastion of stability and peace - neatness and order when compared to home. Speaking as a Singaporean, there seems to be an official policy to make the place so good for the expat worker that sometimes one wonders why the citizen bothers being a citizen at all.

It's easy to be a rather pissed-off Singaporean when it comes to the topic of expats living here. First the gripe was about the White Man - "Bastards come here and think they can lord it over us...." and now similar gripes are being heard about the new expats from other parts of Asia - "What the F***, these guys are pricing us out of the market..." The expats will always be better paid and live in swankier accommodation. The only thing that we, the locals don't envy them for is when they pick up local women - I remember a Malay friend of mine saying, "I'm happy for the girls who meet Ang Moh guys....they are from POOR families."

But let's leave aside the government's policy on "foreign talent" and the swank lifestyle offered to expats and try and see if we can understand things from the expats point of view. Is expat lifestyle everything that it's cracked up to be. And although my blog may give the impression dislike expats, the truth is I don't dislike anyone in particular. I'm merely unusual in the sense that I don't find expats (Particularly the Caucasian variety) particularly interesting or stimulating for being expats and I'm not afraid to make my views public. Some of my favourite drinking buddies are Caucasian and my favourite business associates are more often than not Indian Nationals or Arabs.

Further more, my mother will remind me that I was once an expat kid. My stepfather, Lee, a high ranking creative director of what was then called Lintas but is now Lowe, had the type of job that moved the family around every two years. It was thanks to him that I ended up living in Spain and then Germany and then the UK. Thanks to his job moving him all over the place, I got to spend time in Milan and Dubai.

My childhood was an exceedingly comfortable one and I hung out with kids who were from equally comfortable backgrounds (I only started becoming a street prostitute once I left the nest so to speak). International schools were fun and the houses we lived in were exceedingly cozy.

But let's look beyond the material benefits of being an expat. Life as an expat can be lonely. It's not for everyone - you somehow have to get used to the idea that you need to move around every so often. Unfortunately, expat contracts are always designed to move you around just when you've settled in (2-5 years). Just when you think you have settled down into the community .....oooppps, it's time to get going.

For some adults, this is necessary. My stepfather was one of them. The man could not settle down and for him the constant moving helped keep his mind much so that he was a 60-year old that was more productive than many 20 year-olds in his department. But some people cannot take the uncertainty of never knowing when you get home. Moving around is fun when you are young but once you settle it becomes tougher. Kids need to be moved and the wife who may have sacrificed a career for you needs to be pacified. I've known top-level bankers in Singapore who were from Citigroup who moved to the local banks (though in higher positions) because the upward ladder meant going international at Citi.

For kids, this lifestyle can be particularly tough. You settle into a school and then you leave and you need to make a new set of friends. You tell yourself you'll keep in touch with old ones but in the pre-Facebook era, somehow things fade away. The moving was fun and it always made me a talking point at school because I was one of these weired people from elsewhere who had a life outside Hampshire. But on the flip side, I'm probably the only one who has never had a life before Public School. If you look through my Facebook profile, my earliest friends come from Public School era (11+) for the simple fact that I actually stayed at Public School beyond more than 2-years. By contrast, life at International Schools was all about moving every so often and losing touch with your friends.

Furthermore, you also change systems. When the family was in Spain, I was a British Prep-School. In Hamburg, I was at the International School (which had some of the best chicks) which was supposed to be a mixture of the Anglo-American system (Brit American not South African ;) It's not just the social life that gets screwed but you have to adapt to a different culture. After Public School, my next cultural adjustment was the army but I was over 18 by then and that's a different story from doing it at 10.

The there's the fact that the locals will never really like you. It's not just in Asia where they look at you as an outsider but even in Western Europe. It's easier in Europe in the sense that for the most part people are usually not at that much of an economic disadvantage but you still feel it. So, guess what, you got to work harder to make friends amongst the locals.

So there you have it. Life as an expat is not always what it's cracked up to be.

1 comment:

Rockyy said...

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