In 2013, I moved from my garden city home of Singapore to the bustling suburbs of Orange County, California. Although I have been hit by several bouts of homesickness, I have adapted to the different way of life here.
Here are a few things I noticed about the USA, and what being a Singaporean in the USA is like:
1. Cars won’t bankrupt you.
Yes, Vin Diesel, the moral of the story is do not buy cars in Singapore.
I got my first car here for 2700USD. It was my sister-in-law’s old car, and it was 10 years old, but it still drove, and the seats were comfy. I liked the way it felt, so I bought it.
It served me faithfully for 1-2 years before the engine went caput, and I spent 2600USD on a new one. Mainly because I couldn’t afford car payments, but also because Ruby had a place in my heart. Yeah, I named my car Ruby.
The point of the story is, cars are dirt cheap here. You can get a decent used car for 10,000USD, and a new car for 20,000-30,000USD. Peanuts compared to Singapore, where a standard car costs well over 70,000USD (so even more converted into SGD!).
So although I miss Singapore, I do enjoy driving. It gives you freedom, and since parking is mostly free in Orange County, I don’t have to worry about paying parking fees! (It’s a different story in the metropolitan cities. L.A. is notorious for bad parking.)
2. You’ll miss Asian food. A LOT.
I am constantly scouring Yelp for Asian supermarkets, restaurants and shops. I am fortunate to live 20 minutes away from Irvine, which is an amazing predominantly-Asian suburb.
There I can find 99 Ranch Market, Mitsuwa Marketplace, Hot Pot/Shabu Shabu, Korean BBQ… you name it, they’ve got it. And then there’s Mitsuwa in Costa Mesa, which hosts Kinokuniya Bookstores, the best Japanese bookstore ever.
If you live in a major city, even better – there’s bound to be Asian stores near you. I know Los Angeles is chock-full of Asian businesses.
Posts about these businesses will be up soon!
3. ESPECIALLY Southeast Asian food.
There’s no shortage of Asian food here. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian… you name it, you got it. But Southeast Asian? Meh…not really. There are several businesses in L.A., but not many in Orange County.
So I was overjoyed to meet a fellow Singaporean at work. She introduced me to Belacan Grill, a southeast Asian food restaurant. Even though the prices are astounding (12 for a plate of Hainanese chicken rice that would’ve been 2.50 in Singapore), they are wonderful for homesick Southeast Asians.
I was also ecstatic to learn about Kaya Street Kitchen, which is somewhat like a Southeast Asian Chipotle. They moved into my neighborhood for a bit and I devoured as much coconut rice and satay chicken as I could before they moved away and focused their efforts on their L.A. branch. I was very sad to see them go.
Southeast Asian food is out there if you care enough to search for it. If you live in a metropolitan city, you’re in luck. Chances are there are several SEA offerings available. If you live in the suburbs, or the country, it’s time to put on an apron and get cookin’!
If all else fails, you can always fly home and cart sauces/pre-mixes home, or have a family member ship it to you. I joke about having my mom freeze Pastamania’s creamy chicken pasta and send it to me via overnight post. Actually I’m half-joking. Sometimes I really do feel like spending $20 on shipping pasta over.
4. Believe it or not, you’ll miss public transport.
It’s nice not having to drive from time to time. I like getting from point A to point B without having to worry about road safety, watching out for reckless drivers, or thinking about how that large truck next to me could crush my tiny Kia Rio.
When I first moved here and couldn’t drive yet, I missed public transport dearly. Especially since Singapore has an amazingly efficient public transportation system and I was raised on a steady diet of trains and buses.
When my sister and I were in Europe, we enjoyed hopping on and off the Metro without worrying about driving on the other side of the road.
Get a car ASAP to prevent going stir-crazy from not being able to go anywhere.
5. You’ll go crazy adopting pets.
Singapore has strict pet rules, including an outdated rule that states no cats are allowed in HDB flats, so once I got here I went crazy and adopted 3 rescue cats over a span of 2 years. Now I’m waiting to buy a house so I can get a dog, too.
6. Hardly anyone knows what or where Singapore is.
I’ve started saying, “It’s like an Asian London.” Which is totally true.
People active in the business world will likely know what/where Singapore is, but that is rare, and you’ll find yourself having to explain that yes, English is our first language, and yes, I did learn English growing up. (No, I did not marry for a green card. I know you’re thinking it! I know you are!) Yes, I would move back if my husband (and cats) would follow.
7. You will become a flight guru.
When tickets usually go for 1500-2000USD a piece, you’ll become a flight guru and be on the lookout for crazy-good deals. Google Flights informed me of SIA tickets going for 670USD. Yaaaas!
8. Say Hello to Amazon Prime
For a (completely reasonable) annual fee, you get free 2-day shipping for virtually any product you could think of on Amazon. Most of my shopping is done online on Amazon. Prices can be 50-70% off retail and they have a generous return policy.
In fact, most shops here have amazing return policies. I’ve heard of well-worn shoes, tents, and sleeping bags being accepted for full refunds. Considering Singapore return policies usually are “14-day return, store credit only”, or none at all, I was appalled by how generous shops here were.
9. You will miss fellow Singaporeans.
Singaporean blood flows in your veins, and you’ll miss the jokes, camaraderie, and shared love of food. I joined an FB group for Singaporeans in the USA and could not be happier that I can talk to fellow Singaporeans again. They are a very active group and share Singaporean recipes and other tips on the group. Someone posted a recipe for black carrot cake the other day! *Salivates* Search facebook for Singaporean groups in your area – there is likely one if you live in a populated area.
If you’re a Singaporean living in the USA, hit me up! Would love to chat with a fellow Singaporean.
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Many thanks to David Russo for the gorgeous photo.
Do you have other tips for Singaporeans in the USA? Comment below! 🙂