Ascott’s senior marketing executive for Gulf Region, Shanglin Ngeow, shares his experiences of moving from the metropolis of Singapore to the desert landscape of Dubai
Issue: Oct 2012
Speeding across the sand dunes
We yelled ‘more action’ as our driver floored the accelerator and the dirt-covered SUV (sport utility vehicle) raced up the imposing sand dune that loomed over us. Within seconds, the vehicle was balancing precariously on the sand mountain leaving me to peer out at a vertigo-inducing drop. Then, without warning, the earth broke beneath the weight of the vehicle and we were sliding backwards. Tumbling off a steep dune trapped in a 4x4 wasn't how I imagined it would all end. Thankfully, our skillful driver had other plans - he swiftly re-ignited the engine, roaring it back to life and had us sweeping across the vertical face of sand - launching us back into our desert safari experience.
Later, as I stepped out of the vehicle onto the deep orange sand, the landscape that met me was vastly different from the ‘clean and green’ city of Singapore I grew up in. Six months ago, I made the decision to pack my bags and move to Dubai. A transition that seemed initially daunting has proven to be relatively smooth. The similarities shared between the two city-states are plenty: mega malls; shockingly bad service at local telecommunications firms; an extensive variety of shops; crazy and talkative taxi drivers; and endless restaurants to choose from. For a city that is less than half a century old, Dubai's rise and fall has been closely documented and discussed. And rightfully so. The city, through the sheer will of its rulers and fuelled by its bounty of oil, has pole-vaulted itself from a sleepy trading outpost, into a gleaming desert metropolis - placing itself on the shortlist of the world's most iconic cities.
Praying on an abra (water taxi) along the Dubai creek (left) and the city and beach, side by side in Dubai (right)
It would be a mistake to believe that the city has managed to cast off all old inefficiencies in pursuit of its First World vision. The lifeblood of any city - the public transportation network - is not as extensive and sharp as one would like. Air-conditioned bus stops, once widely celebrated, have now fallen into various states of disrepair. You wonder if your email to the supplier will ever reach him when he unsympathetically states over the phone that 'the Internet is very less' and it could take 15 minutes to reach him.
Why then did I decide to depart from the highly organised Singapore Inc, where there seems to be 'more' Internet? The same romantic reasons come to mind; you're only young once, it's an opportunity not to be missed. See the world, carpe diem! so on and so forth..
Me on the shifting sands of Dubai (right) and the many different type of spices one can find in Dubai (left)
A rather clichéd take but it doesn't deviate too far from the truth. An overseas stint is a master class in managing diversity and adversity and a test of how well you would survive in a completely new city. You're exposed to new cultures and different styles of work. Unlike a tough holiday where one needs only to grit their teeth and endure it for a week or two, relocating to a new city means living through whatever obstacles come your way, everyday.In today's global and connected economy, it seems almost a crime and a disservice to yourself to remain content with living in just one country and not exploring the rest of the world.
Dune Buggies racing across the sand
To the young executive considering the move, I would say go for it. The ubiquitous smart phone has made connecting with your friends and family back home an effortless task. Learning how to cook is simply a matter of following a list of instructions and figuring out the washing machine is a much less complicated affair than you imagined it to be. Replicating and re-establishing what you have back home may take some time and effort, but the intention is to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. At the end of day, you'll be better for it.
The question I've not managed to figure out is how long? Some move from one overseas posting to another, on a seemingly endless transit while others decide to move back home after their solo stint.
For now, I'm still enjoying the ride. More action please.
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