Where is Singapore?

Singapore. China? Japan? Malaysia? Why is your English so good?

Many laughs later, here are a few encounters on how I’ve explained about Singapore while bouncing around the world. If you are Singaporean, I’m sure you have many enchanting stories of your own.


Location: USA
Date: 2006

I was sitting on a bus, on the way to Niagara perhaps.

A friendly elderly lady asked me: Oh, where are you from.

I said: Singapore.

She replied: Oh, I know where that is! It’s in China right?

Her friend said: No, you silly. It’s part of Japan!

I laughed and casually explained that Singapore is a sovereign independent state. We are an island, a city, a state and a country all in one tiny dot.

And they laughed too, heartily.


Location: Ocotal, Nicaragua
Date: 2007

China! China!

I said: No, no. I’m not from China. I’m from Singapore.

They pointed to a local newspaper with a photo of the Japanese politician and said: your family?

I laughed. Maybe that’s how I wish to view the world – literally and honestly.


Location: Quito, Ecuador
Date: 2009

Where are you from?


Oh! Where’s that?

Well, similar to Ecuador, we are situated on the Equator. But we are an island and the highest hill is about 300m. So it’s really hot and humid. If you trace the equator from Ecuador, maybe you would find Singapore about halfway round the world.

Oh! I should get started walking on the equator then.


Location: Sucre, Bolivia
Date: 2010

I was sitting in a cafe watching a screening of Diarios de Motocicleta (Motorcycle Diaries).

A backpacker from Europe (can’t remember where she’s from) sat next to me.

She asked: Where are you from?

I said: Singapore.

She replied: Oh, that’s Malaysia right?

I said: Nah, we are right below Malaysia. Singapore and Malaysia used to be one country, for a brief few years. But then we split up, and Singapore is now an independent state.

The conversation continued on how Singapore was so tiny yet so well-known internationally, how I was surprised at the numerous mentions of my small country as I schooled in the US, and many hotel design textbooks feature hotels from Singapore.


Location: Shanghai, China
Date: 2011

你从哪里来。Where are you from?


哦。我知道新加坡!你们有一部戏,东游记对不对!我好喜欢它的主题曲。Oh! I know Singapore. You have a very famous show – Dong You Ji. I loved the theme song!

What followed was a sing-along session live in a shop that sold Tibetan beads, too many cups of tea, trying some local bread, and three hours later, an invite to a party.

Turns out the Singapore version of Dong You Ji was a collaboration piece with China. I guess, entertainment works do wonders for introducing a country.


Location: Weil am Rhein, Germany
Date: 2013

Where are you from?

I’m from Singapore.

Oh! We have had a couple of architecture students visiting from Singapore. I hear it is a very clean and well-planned city.

Wow, in this town with all of 20 square kilometres, I didn’t need to explain myself.


Location: Chongqing, China
Date: 2017

你从哪里啦。Where are you from?


哦!我知道,新加坡不可以吃口香糖对不对?Oh! Singapore, you cannot eat chewing gum right?

没有啦。不准卖而已。很多新加坡人都有吃过,出国的时候就会买。Nah, selling of gum is not allowed. But many Singaporeans have eaten chewing gum before. We buy it when we are overseas.

(A few hours later)

来,大姐请你吃口香糖。Come! Here’s some chewing gum for you.

我真的有吃过啦。I’ve really eaten chewing gum before!

没有关系啦。吃多一点,回家就不能吃了。It’s okay, eat more. You won’t have a chance when you go home.

It was a night of so much laughter.

Unknowingly, I pack my little island with me wherever I go, in my head and in my heart.

If you like, read more on tree planting, the national day paradethe world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, the durian obsession, an introduction to Singlish and the chewing gum ban.




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