Return to Civilization

Coming to Singapore causes me to realize just how inhospitable China, for all of its improvements and advances, still is. Cars actually stop when the traffic light rurns red, and Singapore drivers don’t pound on the horn every few seconds, almost as if they were presenting their calling card to those around them. The ATMs work and people appear to be enjoying their lives. You can drink the water. The taxis are clean and don’t reek of tobacco. The streets are immaculate. There are things to eat other than hot pots (by far the most popular restaurant fare in Beijing). I can access this blog without going through the inconvenience of a proxy server. There are actually news programs that don’t portray Americans as murderous thugs slaughtering Iraqi children in order to get their hands on the oil.

There is a lot of appeal to Beijing, and I recognize this more and more as the weather improves. Still, there’s no way around the fact that there are irreconcilable differences between Mainland China and me. Sure, it’s always fascinating to be The Odd Man Out, the “laowai” (“gweilo” in HK) that the children watch in curiosity and with a twing of fear, the one who causes everyone in the restaurant to stop talking for a few seconds after he walks in. But China isn’t the only place to be an expat. There are lots of places, like, say, Singapore.

I have about 6 more months to go in Asia, and there is a strong possibility I may make one last move. A Singapore firm is wooing me, and I have to say it is an appealing offer. I have absolutely not made up my mind yet, but I am definitely inclined to say Yes. It would round out my term in Asia with a stint in the South, give me familiarity with one more major market and make my experience here more pan-Asian. And it would keep me from going insane.

Singapore doesn’t have the nightlife or the beauty or the laissez-faire attitude of HK. It’s more conservative, and somehow the word “boring” always seems to come up when I talk to my friends about living there. That said, I would rather be bored in Singapore than totally miserable in Beijing. A decision is imminent. Stay tuned.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

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