Categories: OPINION
6 months ago | Updated 6 months ago

Confessions Of A Born & Bred Singaporean: Why I Chose To Leave My Country

By Kai Teo

The Disclaimer

The reason why I chose to have a disclaimer in this article is because many people would quickly see this as an attack on their personal way of life and an assault to their patriotism. Look, there’s nothing wrong with the way Singaporeans are living and you don’t have to panic. What I’m about to share is why I feel that the Singaporean way of life is not suitable for me. It’s me, not you.

I also understand that I’ve been in an extremely privileged position and luck has been on my side. I recognise that many of us can’t simply “pack our bags and leave” due to visa restrictions or family commitments. And these are very real considerations that are stopping many Singaporeans when it comes to actually being able to move to another country.

I hope you’ll read on with an open mind, and an open heart.

The Lifestyle

The path to happiness in Singapore is a simple, well-trodden one. Do well in PSLE, go to a good secondary school, go to a good junior college, get a university degree, get a job that pays you pretty well, get a partner, get married, make babies, don’t do anything illegal, and maybe get a car.

Everyone’s kinda subscribing to this formula, plus or minus a few things. But I’ve read Buzzfeed articles about writers living happily in small forest huts, hippies living communally in a polyamorous household, as well as normal folks exploring their consciousness through the use of psychoactive substances that are highly illegal in Singapore.

And I’ve always dreamt of either living in a camper van, a tree house, or a boat house before I turn 35.

Denise Lim from SMU is one of the success stories that have inspired many Singaporeans.

We’ve all seen those Channel NewsAsia documentaries about Singaporeans who moved overseas to explore their passions, how fulfilling their lives became, and how moving was the best thing that they’ve ever done for themselves.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people. I mean, I didn’t feel the need to become some successful business owner or something, I just wanted a chance to live overseas after being in Singapore for 25 years.

The Work

When I threw myself headfirst into the advertising industry after graduation, I was intent on becoming one of the best copywriters in the country. So 12-hour workdays buried amidst mood boards and tons of headlines were frequent. I was young, ambitious, and ready to make my mark.

It felt good for a while. I was almost sure that within a few years, I would even be able to afford my own Mini Cooper and drive to work in style like a successful young creative.

And maybe one day, I might be able to afford my own gondola.

It didn’t feel like working this much was an anomaly – because everyone around me was doing it. My friends in banking knocked off at about the same time as I did. My other friends in advertising didn’t even get to go home.

I took our long hours as a sign of our importance to the workplace; our promise of a bright, financially-loaded future. The friends that got to go home at 5pm? Well, that’s because they were rookies and didn’t get to stay for the important work the seniors got up to once it got dark.

Seeing the ads I created placed on an expressway billboard, or a full page on The Straits Times, was pure joy. Or was it?

The Non-Work

Life outside work was simple. It was either drinks at Boat Quay, karaoke, catching a movie, eating at a famous hawker stall, or shopping at one of our 8,000 malls. Maybe Bali, JB, KL, or if there’s a public holiday, I would combine it with my annual leave and do a Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Bangkok trip. Or I would just stay home and Netflix.

I knew that other people did sports and stuff that involved sweating. But I wasn’t too keen on making that a part of my life. So that was it. I had no time, nor energy, to pick up any hobbies. All the entertainment in my life could be summed up in three sentences. What does yours look like?

So that was it? Was that gonna be how the rest of my life looked like until I broke the monotony with a screaming baby in my arms?

The Me

I didn’t know who I was when I was living in Singapore. I wore what seemed to be in fashion, listened to what Zouk played, watched what was approved by the MDA, ate what food bloggers told me was tasty, smelled like whatever the new men’s sexy fragrance the bus stop ad was promoting, and stared at art that was classified by the National Arts Council as art.

I was choosing between being a rockstar and a Hokkien pop singer.

I felt like I had no identity of my own. What I considered to be myself was a clinical grade, one-size-fits-all goo that was fed to my soul through a tube from my iPhone. As cliché as it sounded, I had to find myself, and so I went to India.

It took me months of observing white backpackers and learning their ways of self definition and identification. Then I slowly began to emulate their expressions, appearances, tastes, and even fashion. Needless to say, that was pretty pathetic.

The next drastic step I took then was to move. To get as far away from Singapore as possible, in my case Sweden, start a new life, and explore who I really was. I was fortunate enough to have fallen in love with a Swedish woman while I was travelling, and I knew right away that she was my green card. Of course, she knew it too, but hey, the love was real.

Only leaving could bring out all my colours.

I left everything behind. Everything that the Singaporean society had handed to me as a SID (Self Identity Package) was thrown at the departure gates of Changi Airport’s Terminal 2. I was a clean slate. I was a nobody. I was free.

The Greener Grass On The Other Side

It’s interesting what happens when you can be whoever you want to be. I chose to be the best version of myself – a life built upon the pillars of peace, love, unity, respect, and freedom.

And it was only in Sweden where I felt I could fully explore a life like that. It’s my fifth winter in this cold and dark country, but the freedom of living without any shackles is what keeps the fire in me blazing bright; my passion for life.

So if you ever find yourself being granted the chance to live elsewhere, try it. Everyone deserves to be happy.

Kai Teo

Self-proclaimed hippie punk living in Sweden, Kai believes that only if he could explain the different colours to a blind person can he reach writer's nirvana. He also writes for Buddha Mag, The Ozorian Prophet and Vice.