Tuning in from Bangkok

SINGAPORE - She kept her family updated about the haze in Singapore when the Pollutant Standards Index hit a record high of 401 in June.

When there are good deals in local restaurants, she would tell her friends.

Nothing new in that, except that Ms Joyce Ong, 31, does all this while living in Bangkok, where she has been based for eight years now.

She said: "I stay tuned to what's happening in Singapore every day. I never fail to read AsiaOne and listen to Class 95FM throughout the day. Sometimes I would let my friends know about the restaurant offers available in Singapore."

She started working in Bangkok as a teacher with the Singapore International School of Bangkok (SISB) and later joined Banyan Tree Resorts & Spas (Thailand).

Ms Ong, who returns to SISB as a marketing and business development director in September, said it was her passion for foreign affairs that first led her abroad.

She said: "My dream was and is to be a foreign diplomat. After graduating from university, I applied to the Singapore Tourism Board and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But during the job interviews, their comments were about preferring candidates with overseas experience."

She said she enjoyed her time as a university exchange student in Sydney, and jumped at the opportunity to join SISB as the school's first Singaporean teacher.

Ms Ong said it took her "one year of hardship" to adapt as she didn't know how to speak Thai.

So she sat in when students had their Thai classes.

She said: "I think the best way to learn languages is the way children learn it."

She added that she tried to detach herself from Singaporeans and mingled with the locals in Bangkok, which helped her achieve her fluency in Thai today.

She said: "One thing I've appreciated more about Singapore is how systematic it is. When we buy tickets for the museum in Thailand for example, the stated cost in Thai is S$1. But if you cannot read Thai, the price in English could be S$40."

She said: "I always try to promote Singapore to my friends (in Thailand). They call me 'the ambassador' when they see me coming. Once they challenged me to try Som Tum Poo, a salad with raw white crab in it. They were surprised that I ate it willingly."

Eating at Bedok

Singapore food is what she misses the most. Each time she returns, she heads for 85 Fengshan Food Centre in Bedok.

She said: "I always go to the market with my family. I must have my favourite bak chor mee pok. I will also go to the Tampines Round Market for hokkien mee."

Married to a Thai who grew up here, Ms Ong's family is one of many tongues. She said: "My family is unique as my mother speaks Mandarin to us while my father uses English because of their education. They also speak in Hokkien with each other.

"My mum speaks Teochew to my grandmother. So when we have dinner together, I can count four languages at the table."

Like most years, Miss Ong will be back for National Day this year.

She said: "My family is quite big so we can never get tickets for the parade. But we usually make it a point to watch it on TV at home."

What qualities do you have that make you Singaporean?

I am kiasu as I am competitive and very kiasi even when I am not affected. When the haze index was high, I bought face masks in Bangkok and got someone to take them back for my family.

How would you describe Singapore to a stranger?

It is Asia and the West mixed in one country.

What are the little quirks you see in Singapore every day?

People queue up all the time, even without knowing what they are queueing up for. My friends overseas are baffled especially by how Singaporeans queue up to buy lottery tickets.

What food do you miss when you're overseas?

I will have to say hokkien mee and bak chor mee pok.

What are your favourite Singlish phrases or words?

Bo jio, sian ji pua and jialat

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