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Response to TikTok User @gracietravels

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

As a YouTuber, I am not a stranger to opinions that differ to mine being thrown out into the webisphere. Since creating my own channel - an offshoot to our wonderlust channel, I have discussed more pressing topics such as the sex industry and homelessness in Singapore - both of these have come with some support and some arguments. In fact, before that, when I first started my series "The Local Immigrant" (a video pre-cursor to my book of the same title), I also received some harsh criticism and even personal attack, all of which I have received and digested privately, some of which I responded to humbly. However, for some reason, I felt a little triggered by a post covered by, about a traveller who has been to 33 countries and would not place Singapore in her favourite countries to which to travel.

To clarify, I don't have a problem with Singapore not being in the top list - each to their own, and tastes differ. Every country I have had the privilege of visiting has had its own flavour, its own attraction and its own uniqueness. What I had a problem with is the way @gracietravels pulled Singapore down with ignorant and demeaning comments that are simply wrong. My frustration with this was probably magnified by a recent video by my favourite YouTubers, Kara and Nate, who walked from the North to South of Singapore and missed so much, suggesting the north had nothing to offer - sharing these opinions of our country to their 3.6M subscribers.

Author and BBC travel presenter, Simon Reeve, once said "to know a country, you must meet its people, eat its food and walk its streets" and for a country like Singapore which is so diverse in its people, food and landscape, this takes more attention and time to be able to grasp its depth. Sweeping statements from TikTok user, @gracietravels such as "there is just no natural substance to the country" is simply not true. Meeting one taxi driver who didn't smile is no way to decide that a whole nation is rude. She says, "locals are pretty rude". Where I am from, judging a whole population on one interaction is considered rude.

I have met the warmest, most kind and genuine people in Singapore. Does this make Singapore the warmest, most kind and genuine country in the world? No. I'm not here to make sweeping statements to prove sweeping statements wrong. But I am saying there is a lot of depth and substance in our people. To local Singaporeans (or residents) who are reading this - you've met them too: the security guard at the MRT or at your office who always says hello to you, or greets the kids who walk past with a smile and a wave; the aunty at the hawker centre who remembers your kopi order and has it ready for you every morning; the taxi drivers who go out of their way to serve you. There are plenty of other examples too. What about the people who move up in the hawker centres to make space at the same table as them, or the dog walkers who wish you a good morning? This is not an exhaustive list and I would encourage you to take a moment to pause and consider all of the kind people you meet every day.

"It doesn't feel like Asia", she says, mentioning the expats she encountered in the area in which she stayed (Marina Bay). I would ask her to take a walk around our Heartlands areas and spend time with people. To be honest, I'm not sure what she's looking for that she wants to describe as Asian.

Having chosen to pay for and stay at Marina Bay Sands, she complains that it cost her a "fortune", also complaining about the price of restaurants and having to turn to hawker centres for her meals - as if the food at hawker centres are not good enough for her. I would ask her to take some time to try some of our trademark dishes, to talk to a hawker vendor and ask them about their dish. She would find passion, love and kindness. My wife and I have many times stopped to ask about the food being cooked and have ended up having wonderful conversations, making a human connection with hawkers. Just today I had a $3.80 Bak Chor Mee at the Hawker Centre near my Grandma's place in Punggol, where the 2nd generation vendor smiled and served me cheerfully, while two gentlemen stood up and moved to a different table in order to accommodate my 93 year old Grandma's wheelchair.

Gracie asks "What do you actually do in Singapore besides eat and shop?" to which I would humbly ask her to check out our YouTube Channel, where my family and I have found something new to do and enjoy nearly every week for the past three years in this beautiful country. There she will see a little of what locals are like and what our country has to offer.

Staying in the man-made hotel, on the man-made land of Marina Bay, her focus was on how "everything is so artificial". In these areas, perhaps she should have been finding wonder and enjoyment in the fact that once upon a time the land upon which she stayed didn't even exist. Perhaps she needed to realise the outstanding innovation, thought and design that went into placing the world's longest infinity pool 58 storeys into the sky on land that used to be the sea. If she was looking for natural substance, what about checking out one of our rainforest parks - taking a walk through the Clementi jungles, or experiencing the Kranji countryside. Perhaps she could wander around Thomson Nature Park and see how nature has taken over a former kampong.

Gracie, as someone who has travelled to 33 countries, I would humbly ask you to research more about Singapore the next time you come. Maybe try taking the MRT to Punggol, walk through the mall (yes, we have a lot of them and enjoy them) and walk along the waterway. Pass the playgrounds that have been beautifully designed to allow children of all ages to play. Walk towards PunggolONE - a new community hub where you will find an amazing library that is attractive to children, you'll find free activities to spark children's minds. You'll find a hawker centre with delicious and well-priced foods. You'll even see a giant screen where they put on movies for free so families can enjoy.

I'd encourage you to spend a morning in Canberra, to walk through the HDB apartments and see all the spaces that have been created so people can have a sense of community. See the free water-play area on the roof of a mall so that kids can cool off and parents don't have to pay exorbitant fees for kids to have fun. Check out the neighbourhood playgrounds where kids of all races (mostly Asian, you may be surprised to hear) can play together and learn to embrace each other's differences and cultures. Find out where you can experience a Pasar Malam - the food and the hustle and bustle of people spending time with each other. Spend a morning picking up groceries at Tekka Market. Talk a walk through Katong and see the beautiful shop houses, or go and explore Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve where you might come face to face with a wild king cobra or a salt-water crocodile. Take a bike ride along our Park Connector Network and explore a new neighbourhood. Check out our many heritage trails across the country - they're free and you'll learn a lot about us. Explore a museum like The Former Ford Factory, or Fort Siloso or The Battlebox, where you can learn about what people like my Grandfather lived through - the brutalities of ethnic cleansing and war. I'd say come to our country on August 9th, where you will see our nation stand proud, celebrating each other on our National Day.

If you do these things you will find people who have the warmest hearts. You'll find homes with open doors. You'll find the heartiest meals. You'll see our nature. You'll understand our history. You will realise that this is not an overrated country, but in fact, an underrated one. You will find Singapore. While you're at it, learn a bit about what that area at Marina Bay used to be like. You may not put Singapore into your top 5 or even your top 20, but you will appreciate where you stayed, what you experienced and all the 99% that you missed.

If your little TikTok video and your invitation for feedback was genuine, come back. Come back and experience Singapore - the real Singapore. I would argue you have only been to 32 countries as you haven't really experienced this one. My family and I would even host you in our home - I mean it. We'll show you around and introduce you to people. Come and see my Singapore. You won't regret it.

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