Asia for Dummies: 5 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Singapore

by Maria June 02, 2017

At Jobbatical, we’re always busy tracking down the coolest companies in the world’s most inviting cities. Today, the spotlight is on Singapore — arguably Asia’s most accessible destination — as experienced by our friends at honestbee.

Estonians are raised to memorise this Ernest Hemingway quote: “In every port in the world, at least two Estonians can be found.” Armed with this nugget of wisdom, we’re never supposed to be surprised when we bump into other Estonians in unlikely places. Still, when I was introduced via email to Dianne Hummal, Talent Acquisition Manager at honestbee in Singapore, I was taken aback when her reply was written in my native language. I immediately set up a call with this surprise Estonian to talk about what she’s up to on the other side of the planet and why she’s not planning to leave any time soon.

When Dianne’s previous employer presented her with the opportunity to relocate to Asia, she seized it with both hands. Singapore was love at first sight. “The moment I got off the airplane and was driving towards the city, I just knew I wanted to live here,” she says.

Now working at honestbee, a rapidly growing online marketplace for services and one of Asia’s hottest startups tackling the riddles of the e-commerce and logistics space, Dianne finds herself in the middle of a buzzing hive of activity in a city that takes your breath away — sometimes literally. “When you walk out of Changi Airport, it’s like you get slapped in the face with humidity,” she says. “It just hits you like a ton of bricks.” Aside from this and other more obvious points such as the city’s incredible food culture (“Singaporeans talk about food every day”), here are five things Dianne taught me about her new home.

Singapore’s iconic skyline. Image via Shutterstock

1. Singapore is your gateway to Asia

“It’s been quite an easy transition and a fascinating adventure,” Dianne describes her own experience adjusting to life in Singapore. “They call it the window to Asia, and one of my local friends calls it ‘Asia for dummies’. Your one foot is always in the European way and one foot is in the Asian way, and English is the common language. It’s an easy place to live. I think the locals would say it’s really busy in the city, but having lived in London, I don’t even think it’s that busy here. Everyone does work very hard, though, and long hours are common.”

Singapore’s reputation as a gateway to Asia is fully deserved, given the easy access it provides to some of the most incredible destinations on the planet. “Within half an hour from the CBD (Central Business District) you’re in the airport,” says Dianne. “Within another 20 minutes you’re in passport control and within 10 more you’re on the plane. And if you’re driving and there’s no traffic, you can be on the border of Malaysia within 40 minutes.”

2. The rules are there for a reason

“There are a lot of laws here, but it’s for the benefit of the whole society,” says Dianne of Singapore’s fabled strictness. Chewing gum is only available from the pharmacy but you have to present an ID (bringing it into the country is not allowed), and steep fines await anyone who litters. This abundance of rules brings with it an unprecedented sense of safety and keeps the city looking and feeling its best. “You walk around and it’s just clean,” says Dianne. “And there’s always some greenery around you. They call it the garden of Asia and they want to keep it that way.”

Dianne blending in. Photo courtesy of Dianne Hummal

3. The diversity is staggering

“It’s always fascinating to me how 5.5 million people fit on an island smaller than Estonia,” Dianne says. “It’s such a melting pot. They have four official languages here — Malay, English, Mandarin, and Tamil.” Shaped by the diverse cultures and languages of the people that speak it, Singapore’s version of English has a mind of its own. “One of my friends just said I sound really Singaporean now,” Dianne says. “I go into a very Singaporean sort of accent. It’s what they call Singlish.”

To make the most of the city’s diversity, housing in Singapore has a quota system designed to avoid physical racial segregation. “The same goes for religious institutions,” Dianne explains. “In my neighbourhood, there’s a mosque, then there’s a church around the corner from me, and a temple just down the road as well.” Even the team at honestbee is a microcosm of Singapore’s diversity. “We’ve got a very interesting mix and we really do have people from around the world,” Dianne says.

More like from all around the Galaxy! honestbee delivering those droids you were looking for. Photo courtesy of Fraser Tiong

4. The startup scene is thriving

Now weighing in at almost 400 people, honestbee has come a long way since kickoff in July 2015. With operations set up in Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong, the company is a prime example of the big ideas cropping up all over Southeast Asia’s tech scene and Singapore in particular. They’re in good company — giants like Grab and Lazada are making waves all over the region, not to mention the myriad disruptive startups shaping the e-commerce and FinTech sectors.

The rapid pace at which things move here means massive growth opportunities, and nowhere is that more evident than at honestbee. “People who join us have to be comfortable with knowing that what happens here within 3 months is what sometimes happens over a course of a year at more established companies,” Dianne describes the atmosphere at the company. “Six months ago, we were not what we are today. We were a grocery delivery service. From the moment I interviewed to the moment I joined, a lot of things had shifted and a lot of new services had opened up and we continue to take risks and expand into new areas.”

The answer is definitely “bee”. Always bee! Photo courtesy of Dianne Hummal

It’s an inspiring environment for any company, and the race to innovate is keeping honestbee on its toes. “There are a few new services that we’ll be launching in a couple of months, so watch this space,” Dianne tells me but unfortunately doesn’t elaborate on the nature of this very secret project (“cannot lah,” she says in Singlish).

5. There’s an unparalleled sense of community

Even with the increasing westernisation of local culture, Singaporeans value family and community highly. “We’ve got an element of community — it’s like a family here,” Dianne describes how honestbee’s internal values reflect the culture of Singapore at large. “It’s our hive. A lot of studies have been done about how bees work, and how that benefits the ecosystem. That’s the sort of mission we are on. We don’t take anybody’s business away — we’re here to enable, just like the bees. We’ve got very family-focused people. You can hear the pride in people’s voices when they talk about their husbands and wives and kids.”

And their bears. Photo courtesy of honestbee employee

Giving back to the community is a big part of what drives honestbee. “With our platform, you have more time to do what you love and care about,” Dianne sums up the most important effect their concierge and delivery service has on its customers.

“Time is such an invaluable thing. I like to think we create time for others, and additional income for the communities.”

Thus, honestbee’s e-commerce and logistics side is complemented by an element of social impact. “That impact is what the community expects of us as a business,” Dianne says. “And everyone here is dedicated to building a platform that awes our customers.”

Want to move to Singapore? Read our guide to finding your dream tech job in Asia’s hottest hub.

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