8 responses you get when you're a Singaporean overseas

PHOTO: The Straits Times

We've all been there. One minute, we're just strolling along the beaches of Boracay, or standing in line to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe even just trying to get something to drink at a coffeeshop in Hong Kong, and just casually engaging in idle chit chat with some of our fellow tourists.

Then come the obligatory "Where are you from?" questions, and before you've even had the chance to say anything more than "Singapore", you'll likely be confronted with a combination of the following responses.

And it doesn't even matter which country the other person comes from, whether they're American, or Korean, or Italian, or Cuban - they'll all still have a pretty similar reaction.

1) Where is Singapore?

Shockingly enough, while many people have heard of and/or read about Singapore, and seem to know quite a staggering amount about us, very few people actually know where we are. The most common assumptions seem to be that we are somewhere in China, or Malaysia. And who can blame them? You can barely see Singapore on the world map.

2. You speak very good English!

This is especially true of Westerners, who always seem surprised that we can string more than three English words together at a time. It's kind of what happens when the main language spoken, and taught, in your country is English. You kind of don't really have a choice but to pick it up.

Read also: I am a Singaporean and I can speak good English

3. What's NS like?

Photo: The Straits Times

This question usually only comes from people who don't have compulsory military service in their own countries and is typically only asked of guys. If we look confused, it's probably because we're a tiny bit stumped as to how to go about answering this question. That, or we're fighting back oppressed memories of our platoon sergeant screaming at us to touch the tree/fence/tonner/wall, etc.

4. What's the capital of Singapore?

6 best 24-hour eateries in Singapore for your different cravings

  • If there is ever a poll to nominate our national supper dish, roti prata should get our unanimous vote. There is something about tearing up a flaky, golden pancake and dunking it in rich, hearty curry that unites all night owls. Mr Prata along Evans Road serves as a go-to pit stop for prata lovers.
  • Its relative inaccessibility is no obstacle, with its premises flocked with diners from morning till the wee hours of the night. Besides the usual favourite prata flavours, those with a more adventurous palate can give their French Ice Cream Prata and Pineapple Prata a shot.
  • How often do we find ourselves longing for that piping-hot bowl of tom yum soup as we toss and turn in bed or hunch over our desks? Diandin Leluk Thai Restaurant should be first on your list should the hunger pang strike. Tucked away in Golden Mile Complex, the authentic Thai restaurant started out in the early 80s peddling Thai lunch boxes to Thai construction workers.
  • Fast forward to today and it is an award-winning joint serving up signature classic dishes like catfish salad, pineapple fried rice, and of course, that tom yum soup you've been craving for.
  • The versatility of dim sum as both a wholesome buffet and delightful little pre-dinner snack makes it ideal for any time of the day. The good folks at popular dim sum joint Swee Choon know this and are serving their wide variety of authentic Shanghai and Hong Kong-style dim sum throughout the day to meet our insatiable dim sum needs.
  • Don't miss their signature Swee Choon onion pancake and salted egg yolk custard buns.
  • Craving for halal food at the wee hours of the morning? Fret not, for Al-Azhar has your back. A late-night shining beacon for the sleepless and supper-goers in the West, this eating house has been a common and trusty supper joint for the initiated, buzzing with activity from morning to night.
  • Don some casual wear, call up some night-crawling friends, and order any of their delicious Indian cuisines, from freshly made roti prata to one of the best mutton nasi briyani around. Wash these sinfully irresistible dishes down with a hot teh tarik to complete your nocturnal escapade.
  • The bingsu craze here has yet to die down (will it ever?), and with so many different stores to choose from, many are shaving it close to become the cream of the crop. With six outlets around the island, the Korean dessert house is known for its cosy Korean cafe setting, sticky rice cakes, and of course its tantalising heaped bowls of bingsu.
  • We find that there is always room for a bowl of these handmade sweeties, and with their 24-hour branches at Bukit Timah and Bugis, they've got your dessert fix covered.
  • Fans of everybody's favourite mouth-less cat will rejoice at the prospect of dining in the midst of Hello Kitty's company any time of the day. Located at the arrival hall of Changi Airport's Terminal 3, the Hello Kitty Orchid Garden Cafe has a well-curated menu serving all-day breakfast to afternoon tea sets-all with a touch of Hello Kitty charm.
  • Their 24-hour operating time suits the cravings of hungry passengers in transit, or the adoring palates of Hello Kitty fanatics looking to make their pilgrimage here. Try the Cowbunga Wagyu, which is the cafe's take on our local beef rendang.

This is understandably confusing for some, as there are only a handful of city-states left in the world. But yes, we're so small that we don't technically have a separate capital, since our entire country is pretty much the size of the capital of most other countries.

5. Everything is so clean and green there!

With sprawling gardens littered all over the island, and trees lining almost every road in Singapore, Singapore's reputation as a modern garden-city is well-earned, with rows of colourful flora providing a welcome contrast to our towering office buildings and HDBs. But keeping it clean is always a challenge, which brings me to my next point.

6. Is it true you can't chew gum in Singapore?

Non-Singaporeans are often split into two camps about this. On the one hand are people who are appalled and offended that the government would seek to ban something as simple and universal as chewing gum. On the other end of the spectrum, though, are those who find it refreshing to walk in public and not worry about accidentally touching, or stepping on discarded gum. Love it or hate it though, you're unlikely to find it in Singapore.

7. Are you very good at Math?

Thanks to Hollywood, there's a widespread misconception that just because we're Asian, it must mean that we're all really good at Math, are lethal martial artists, and have really small eyes (unfortunately, only one of those three stereotypes is true, and it definitely ain't either of the first two). Contrary to popular belief, though, plenty of us suck as Math, too. Just ask our Math teachers.

Read also: Singapore students top global achievement test in mathematics and science

8. Do you guys really cane people for vandalism?

While caning is, and has always been, considered a routine punishment in Singapore, the practice became the subject of international attention back in 1994, when American teenager Michael Fay became the first American citizen in Singapore to be caned for vandalism. Despite the fact that it has been over 20 years since the caning, many Americans have come to associate Singapore with caning (although, to be fair, we do issue the punishment for a fair number of offences).

Whatever your thoughts are on the individual issues mentioned above, though, most Singaporeans and foreigners alike can still easily find something to love about the island-state, which is the surest indication that Singapore has succeeded as a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. So the next time you're overseas and someone asks you where you're from, say it loud and say it proud,

I'm Singaporean.

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