Cosmopolitan. That's a word I can definitely use to describe the company I work for now. This is why:
Scene 1. Lunchtime at a foodcourt in a high-rise office building in Singapore. There were 7 people sharing the table with me; all my colleagues, we all work for the same company. There's a big American guy from Connecticut, eating Indonesian mixed rice dishes, merrily telling stories and jokes about French people in his loud voice. In front of him an old French guy eating Hainanese chicken rice smiled at the jokes. Next to the American, a young British guy eating Indian murtabak calmly interjected witty and cynical comments about Americans. Across from the British guy, a young Malaysian Chinese having mie siam - a Malay noodle dish - laughed at the jokes. Next to him a a very tall African-descent Trinidadian told jokes and ate a plate of fried rice. In front of him an Indian-descent, Trinidad-born British listened while adeptly using the chopstick to eat the fishball noodle. Next to him a big old middle aged Australian quietly munched his Chinese mixed rice. And in front of him I, an Indonesian living in Singapore, pondered the cosmopolitan mix curiously.
Scene 2: Lunchtime at a pub in a picturesque English village. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and everyone was eating or drinking and laughing and telling jokes in the garden. Nobody talked about work even though we all worked for the same company. I sat in one table, along with an English guy, an American, a South African, a Russian, a Venezuelan and a Greek. The next table was occupied by a Middle Eastern lady, a Scottish lady, a French guy, an Australian and a Chinese guy.
The next morning I had breakfast with the Russian guy, who's new and didn't know everyone yet. He asked me: "So have you been living here long?"
"No, no, no…. I live in Singapore, I'm only here for a month or so for a project."
"But you know so much about the area."
"Oh that. I lived not far from here a few years ago when I did my masters degree."
"So you're Singaporean?"
"No, no. I'm Indonesian, I only moved to Singapore about a year ago."
"Oh, and William? Is he Singaporean?"
I laughed, "No, William is obviously of Chinese descent but he's second generation Trinidadian, and now an American citizen."
"Oh he's Trinidadian but also American?"
"Yes, and Chinese, of course. And George the Greek guy, he's American. The Indian looking engineer? He's British. The African looking guy? He's French. The Venezuelan kid, he's from Australia."
He was totally confused. But hey, he himself is a Russian living in Dubai.
I absolutely love this mix and cosmopolitan atmosphere. There are so many new things to learn everyday from everyone - geography, culture, languange, food, jokes. So rich and interesting. I'm hoping that as the world become one village many more people will be able to experience this kind of atmosphere. It certainly helps to widen our view and well, hope to stop us from being racist, chauvinist and fundamentalist.
But having a mix population is not without its problem. These days many countries are talking and debating about immigration. Many people in the UK for example are very worried about the flood of Eastern European people looking for work in Britain. The US is certainly having difficulties dealing with illegal immigrants from Mexico. Many of these countries have a lot of problem trying to come to terms with this reality and many fear that the immigrants and the existing ethnic minorities will bring problems, not only from competition with locals on jobs and social benefits, but also in integration with local culture. They are afraid that the new people will not be able to mingle with the locals and their cultures, therefore creating a rift in the society. They think the recent problem of young and radical British Moslems is the result of such a rift.
I know this isn't an easy problem. As an immigrant myself, paid more than locals working with me, I understand the uneasiness for a society to accept foreigners. But I admire the Singaporean government attitude to immigrants. They accepted the fact that immigrants form a large part of their economy and as the birth rate drops, they realise they need fresh bloods to help build their country. The PM recently stated that they open their hands to immigrants, especially of course, the skilled and talented ones, and urged Singaporeans to open their hands to these. A good condition for Singapore I believe. It makes it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Aside from bringing economical wealth, it also brings cultural wealth.
Of course there's always the problem of integration with local cultures etc, and Singapore, which has one of the most open policies toward immigration in the world, must have their own version of the problem as well. But as always, the government has anticipated it – there are lots of campaigns, billboards and posters showing the diversity of faces, skin colour and culture of Singapore - and that it is strength instead of weakness. As I suppose as long as the economy is good and everyone gets their shares of the wealth, there won't be any of the anti foreigner sentiment. In the end, money -as always- is at the root of the problem, I suppose.
Alton, 6 October 2006