From Singapore to Sweden – Why I'm choosing to stay in Scandinavia
By Kai Teo
Just yesterday, a youtube video made by Stefan, a Swedish citizen who’s moved to Singapore for two years, has become somewhat viral in the Singapore social media. Going by “Angmolia”, Stefan’s video pointed out the stark differences between life in Sweden and Singapore, and concluded by saying that life in Singapore is better.
Well, I’ve done quite the opposite. Born and bred in Singapore, I went to OCS, graduated from SMU, worked in the CBD, and complained about the ERP. But five years ago, I moved to Sweden. More specifically, the most “dangerous” city in the country, Malmö. So a few of my friends and some of our readers have sent me these videos and asked for my opinion.
The reason why I’m writing this is not to say whether Stefan is right or wrong, because he’s definitely got his valid points, nor is it to argue whether Singapore or Sweden is a better place to live in. I just hope that I can paint a picture of the differences I’ve seen, through the perspective of a Singaporean, so you can make your own conclusions.
Where we choose to live, work, or even start a family depends on what we want out of our own lives, and whether the city that we’ve chosen is able to provide the freedom for us to live the way we want to. So what’s “better” for me might be a shithole for you, and what you deem as heaven might be my hopeless pit of damnation. It’s all relative, isn’t it? I mean, after all, “you think I thought who confirm”, right?
Sweden has always been hailed by the global media as a humanitarian Utopia, and Singapore, the Southeast Asian economic superpower. When I first moved here to be together with my ex-girlfriend, whom I met in India, making the transition from the hustle and bustle of 6 million inhabitants, tall glass buildings, and giant malls, to the Scandinavian calm of 300,000 inhabitants, 3 scrapers that hardly scraped the sky, and traffic in the opposite direction, wasn’t easy.
But we all adapt. And I quickly started to figure out why I prefer living in Sweden than Singapore, simply because the way of life here fits in more with my personal values.
Prices VS Wages
An entry level job for a university graduate in a marketing firm would let you take home about 3500 SGD after a 30% tax. A cleaner in the same office brings home about 2500 SGD after taxes. A 5 kg bag of rice costs 16 SGD (not like many of you reading this actually buy rice for yourselves, but yea). The average monthly rent in Malmö for a 3-room apartment is about 1500–2000 SGD, and of course, you would usually share the rent with your partner or housemates. I lived alone in a studio apartment for about 800 SGD a month, which includes lightning fast internet and all utilities. To buy a 3-room apartment (since most Singaporeans are looking into the 99-year HDB lease anyway), would cost at least 300,000 SGD. When it comes to eating out, a McDonald’s meal costs about 15 SGD, but a falafel roll (like a very big popiah with loads of stuff inside) sets you back about 4 SGD.
So what’s really going on in the most “dangerous” city in Sweden? We do see reports of gang shootings, the occasional targeted grenade blast in the media. But personally, five years here and I’ve never experienced any violence myself. It really comes down to what kind of people you choose to hang out with, how you behave as a human being, and whether you know how to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
You see two groups of young men screaming at and threatening one another, you don’t approach them and ask if there’s anything you can help with, right? No, but if we’re just doing regular stuff, we don’t live in fear. Of course, in Singapore, we wouldn’t even need to think about having to avoid certain areas, but you still wouldn’t go to MacRitchie at 3 am right? “Pulau Ubin got tiger also, better not go.”
If higher taxes means that my children, and the future generations of both rich and poor, can go to university for free, and healthcare is free for everyone, I would gladly pay my taxes. The system is structured in a way that everyone shares the costs of taking care of the society. The rich get taxed more, and the not so rich, less. It’s just more, humane to me. After all, since we’re all living together as human beings, aren’t we supposed to take care of one another? There will always be people trying to leach the system, but I believe that it’s really just a tiny percentage of inhabitants that truly refuse to work and chose to live by a bare minimum every month.
There is no CPF here. Your monthly pension is accumulated as you work and pay taxes over the year. I have quit my job since last June because I felt that it didn’t suit my values, and have decided to concentrate on writing my book and building up my freelance portfolio. And throughout this time, I’ve been receiving 80% of my previous monthly salary as unemployment insurance (I paid for this monthly when I was employed), and if I still have difficulty getting a stable income, I’m able to receive these benefits up to a year. So yes, we do have higher possibilities of choosing a job or a career that is actually in line with our hopes and dreams, instead of working just to make ends meet.
Openness and Equality
Same-gender marriage is treated here as any other marriage. Gender equality here is one of the best in the world. Transgenders are treated as humans and are definitely more accepted here as a colleague than I would see in Singapore. Even though there’s still a long way to go for all of us to finally accept every human being as different, but equal, I’ve definitely learnt a lot more about equality since I’ve moved here. I’ve learnt not to call my homosexual friend my “gay friend”, and instead look past his sexual orientation and just call him “a friend”.
For the first time in my life, I’ve been able to walk amongst thousands on the streets in a demonstration against a neo-nazi political party. Even though the situation didn’t change, it was important to know that I could stand up against something, and be able to see my peers march beside me in solidarity. It let me know that there are many like me who refuse t bow to any form of discrimination or racism.
For the first time in my life, I’m able to wear nail polish if I think it’s pretty. I can put on lipstick if I like it. I can even wear a dress out if I feel like it. And instead of being stared at, pointed at, or “Stomped”, my freedom of choice is being celebrated. My difference is seen as a uniqueness, not a disease. And to be able to truly do what I want, without hurting another human being intentionally, without being judged, is immensely beautiful.
In every home, trash is sorted out into different materials for recycling. Every aluminium can returned to a recycling machine gives you 20 cents back. Old clothes are usually given away to a charity shop. There’s always an organic section, or options, in every supermarket.
To live in a environment where I know that my neighbours care about the planet is empowering. We can share all the Facebook videos about protecting the Earth, but it’s really our daily actions that really make a difference. And here, I know that we’re all making a real difference. And it’s beautiful.
Our streets are definitely not as clean as those in Singapore. That’s because there isn’t a threat of a hefty fine or Corrective Work Order. Cigarette butts are littered here and there, just as much as what you’d see on Circular Road, Boat Quay on a regular Saturday evening. It’s not like there are piles of trash everywhere, and well, it’s hardly even noticed. Does the lack of punishment encourage us to litter? Nope. Considerate people who care about their living spaces wouldn’t do it anyway. And for those who would, no fine would deter them from throwing their plastic bags on a quiet back lane when no one’s watching.
And don’t you wish we could eat on buses and trains? Like just have a sandwich on your way to work, or have a thermos of coffee on the MRT. And trust that people are nice, and smart enough, not to bring out a big bowl of Penang Laksa on the train, nor throw their leftovers on the floor. And yes, there would always be the occasional food wrapper on the ground, but does that make my life miserable? Hardly.
What I’ve pointed out above are the issues that I value in my personal life, and what I would like in the society that I live in. Malmö’s model, mentality, and way of life is more in line with my personal beliefs. And I prefer living here. Before you decide on whether it’s actually better or not, try living at least a year in another country if you can, and then you can make a fair comparison. And for those who haven’t had the opportunity to doing so, what’s good or bad, is after all, a mere perception. Wherever we are, as long as we count our blessings, love one another, and make the best out of it, it’ll be the best kind of life that we know.
If you’d like to understand how life is like in Malmö from my perspective, do read “Dear World, Welcome to My Malmö”.
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