That’s right, I said “the Netherlands” and not Holland. Holland only refers to South and North Holland while the Netherlands refers to the entire country. That includes Limburg, 1 of the 12 provinces in the Netherlands, where I lived. (In my opinion, Limberg has a very different culture from the rest of the Netherlands)
I’m beyond thankful to have lived in the Netherlands. From the party culture to the decriminalization of drugs, the open-mindedness to the bicycle enthusiasts, it has been an eye opener. Singapore has a very different culture from the Netherlands. For example:
- Endless street parties like King’s Day in Amsterdam would be tough to organise (and alcohol is so expensive)
- Drugs are criminalized with capital punishment
- Society is still relatively conservative (for example, the nude beaches in Zandvoort would be impossible in Singapore)
- A cyclist was ran over by a truck in Singapore
Culture: Western Europe vs South(east) Asia
The polarized difference in culture allowed me to see beauty in both societies. I especially love how open the culture is in the Netherlands. People are very direct and it makes communication a lot easier. As compared to South Asia, you have to read between the lines, especially when sending a negative message. The hierarchy is also very flat, so you call your boss or professor by their first names. In Asia, we are even taught to nod/bow to our teachers when we see them walking around school. Seniority is also very important, and this is very evident in Taiwan too. I always thought that seniority is a form of respect, but living in the Netherlands has made me wonder about and reconsider the methods of respect.
Redefining A City
Amsterdam is a mix of modern and old buildings. Utrecht has the Dom Tower to paint its skyline. Rotterdam has modern and innovative architecture in its landscape. At the same time, you have Maastricht with her Roman walls, Delft with her canals and cute little buildings, Nijmegen with her old bars and pubs. I began to rethink what I define as a “city”. Having lived in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai (for a while), cities to me meant insane skyscrapers and rooftop bars. Cities also meant people working all the time with minimal work-life balance. Maybe cities need not be like that.
Being back in Singapore now, this city suddenly feels like a fantasy land. Everything is extremely neat and organised, it is beyond fancy and it is impossibly clean. For a moment, I thought I was in a computer-generated game, because it felt unreal. That is Singapore – perfectly engineered to be one of the world’s leading cities. People are always impressed when I say that I am from Singapore; automatically classifying me under the “she’s from a fancy place” category. However, I am not sure if this is the type of city I would like to live in for a long time. It almost feels like Singapore has lost the “human touch” because of its engineered perfection.
Nonetheless, Singapore is always my home. Hong Kong is my second, and Netherlands is my third.
Diversity vs Differences
I once wrote about diversity and differences because I feel that they are not the same. People love to compare the Netherlands with Belgium because they are similar in culture, yet why are there more radical people and terrorists in Belgium, while everyone is a happy cyclist in the Netherlands?
Having travelled to several cities in Belgium and having spoken to the locals, it seems like the country is diverse, but differences are not very accepted. High-paying management jobs are only held by white Belgians. In fact, some companies only employ white Belgians. Schools are also not well-mixed, and you usually study with people of similar skin color.
True Diversity in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, I feel that differences are much better managed. Perhaps it is due to the openness in culture, the fact that the schools are more evenly mixed, or maybe because everyone speaks perfect English that makes communication easier. I found Netherlands to be very international; you see people of all races living in the different cities. People are also friendly to one another, and I seldom hear racist comment or jokes amongst the people. In general, I feel that the Dutch are more open-minded and international. Therefore, differences are more accepted than the illusion of “diversity”.
Different Diversity Approach in Singapore
Back in Singapore, we have a quota for nationalities. That’s because we pride ourselves in being a multiracial and multicultural society. There has to be about 20% of Malays and 20% of Indians in schools, neighbourhoods and food stores. This helps to promote racial harmony from a young age, within education establishments and neighbourhoods. It is also encouraging that the different races hang out together, creating a more harmonious society.
The last issue that I would like to thank the Netherlands on is the issue on drugs. Growing up in Singapore, drugs are highly illegal. You could probably smoke a joint in a food court and no one will know, because they do not know what marijuana smells like. (Of course, this is at the risk of you being hung because we have capital punishment for drug trafficking in Singapore.) Whereas in the Netherlands, I always know I am back home when I smell marijuana in the train stations and on the streets.
I found out that surprisingly, not many Dutch people use marijuana. The people that use it are usually tourists or foreigners like the Germans, French, or English. At the same time, the Dutch are extremely educated when it comes to the usage of drugs. They even have a ministry booth in Amsterdam for you to send any pill in to test for its purity!
Drugs and Singapore
In Singapore, we were taught that drugs cause immense harm to the society. Hence it is criminalized here. But seeing how peaceful and advanced the Netherlands is, I am beginning to re-evaluate my stance on drug use. That being said, 2 words of advice for you all:
- DO NOT even think about using or bringing drugs in/to Singapore
- Singaporeans, do not even think about using drugs when you are abroad, even when it is legal. Because the law in Singapore states that they can still punish you for your usage of drugs abroad.
Singapore is a weird little country because other than drugs, we also do not allow chewing gum. Nonetheless, it is always a place I call home.
Also read about the 13 Weird Laws in Singapore
Thank you, Nederlands
Thank you Netherlands, for the amazing insights, crazy adventures and genuine people. The main difference I felt after leaving the Netherlands is how tall I am! My Dutch roommate is 1.9+m, and he always looked at me and go “why are you so tiny?”. Being back in Asia, I am suddenly one head taller than most people. And now I feel like a Dutch person.
With all my heart, I love you Netherlands. I’ll be back home some day!
Trevellers is my way to change the world. Through my stories, tips and lessons learnt, I truly hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone, see the world and see who you truly are. Travel is more than just taking a selfie. Travel is an adventure, where you can truly become who you are, give you the time to reflect and grow to become the person you’ve always wanted to be.