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Inventing the Perfect Country

sunny cal

People always ask me: “You’ve lived everywhere! Where’s your favourite place to live?”

Being a Third Culture Kid, you probably feel the same predicament I do in trying to find a suitable answer to this question. It is absolutely impossible. There are far too many people and places that you love, and too many memories that flood your brain the moment the question is posed, to be able to pick just one.

If anything, I have been wonderfully spoiled by all the places I have lived. There are little facets in each of the different countries that I wholly adore, and I always wonder if I can find a single place in the world that has all of these benefits. Might I finally be able to settle down somewhere, for once? It’s doubtful that such a place exists, but if it did, it would look a little something like a place with:

1. The architecture and culture of London

Let’s face it, who doesn’t enjoy living in a world that makes you feel like Harry Potter? Strolling by the Thames, visiting the Queen’s Summer Palace, heading to the Globe Theatre, having tea in the Caramel Room… engaging in these London activities helps you feel cultured, educated, and finessed. Doing these things elsewhere generally makes you feel like an affected and pretentious idiot.

There’s something beautiful about the quaint, Old World style that epitomizes London. Perhaps it’s the time-worn street names – Guilford Street, or Elgin Avenue – or the fact that the architects are designing their new buildings to look like old buildings. My only complaint? Those large old stone walls make it awfully difficult to get a wireless signal most of the time. First world problems, eh?

Photograph by Melissa Boey

2. The weather and beaches of California

As we speak, the sun is shining outside, and it shines for folks in California 350 days a year. Perpetually summer, but with a cool evening breeze, California weather gives you absolutely nothing to complain about. It is nothing like Singapore’s dire, sweaty heat or London’s “Why-isn’t-summer-here-yet?” chill. It’s one-jacket weather, and the coolness of the evening helps you fall to sleep beautifully without the need for air conditioning or a heater.

The soft, sandy beaches and the beautiful sights (palm trees, waves or surfers), is a glimpse of natural magic that is only a short drive away from the hustle and bustle of the city. As one of the few places you can think, read, and play all at the same time, it hosts the best show on Earth – the endlessly beautiful sunsets – completely free. Perfect for photography, family picnics, dating; what more could you ask for?

Photograph by Melissa Boey

3. The shopping of the United States

Have you seen America? It is the quintessential consumer society, and they have everything. I have seen Rubik’s Cube salt and pepper shakers. I have seen bagel slicers – a small contraption just to slice your bagels! At this rate, they probably have automatic fruit peelers and self-arranging billiard tables that I do not know about… (though China does have self-shuffling mah-jong tables, I must admit.)

You don’t even need to leave your chair to reach the New World of shopping. One word: Amazon. You can order everything from cereal to sunscreen from Amazon, and have it delivered right to your doorstep. No crowds, no one to rush you, and there is no need to go to multiple hardware stores just to find the right kind of epoxy – the only limit exists on your bank account. Ah, capitalism.

4. The low prices of China

An hour-long taxi ride in Shanghai, the economic capital of China, only costs around 50 RMB, the equivalent of around 8 dollars or 5 pounds. The same holds true for food, goods, services, and much more. I miss the 2 RMB noodles and being able to pay for everything in coins. The largest coin denomination in England (2 pounds) would probably be enough to pay for a filling breakfast, lunch, and dinner in China, but barely enough for a coffee in England. Expatriates who end up there are inevitably spoiled, being able to afford every luxury they have ever dreamed of.

I always have a hard time explaining to people why my “driver” comes to pick me up at the airport. I’m certainly not wealthy enough to afford a chauffeur in most countries in the world, but foreigners in China find it awfully hard to obtain favour with the authorities in regards to licenses and particularly in regards to accident liability. As a result, most foreigners find themselves with pleasant drivers to take them around everywhere if public transportation is not too accessible. Yet this has caused me to be license-less at age 21 in the United States (a shameful experience, considering most of my peers have been driving for 5 years now), and I have never even learned how to fill up a petrol tank…

5. The safety and cleanliness of Singapore

Cleanliness is something that Singapore has managed to perfect. Tourists arrive and are in awe of the brilliantly green, manicured grass and the perfectly painted public housing – filled with bright blues, yellows, and plenty of pinks. The streets are constantly swept, the trees planted along the highway are equally spaced apart (down to the last inch!) and I believe the cleaner in my law firm comes (not once, not twice, but) three times a day to empty each individual rubbish bin. If you’re an obsessive-compulsive like me, move to Singapore.

Singapore is also probably also the only country where the government has propaganda posters that say “Low crime doesn’t mean no crime! Watch your bags at the train station!” Singapore is probably one of the few countries in the world where it is just as safe at 3 a.m. in the morning as compared to 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Parents can let their kids loose and can worry a lot less, and not have to constantly fear the possibility of their belongings being stolen in the crowded shopping malls. The Singapore Police Force, with their motto “Be Extraordinary,” will surely be there to help you out.

6. The efficiency of Asia (with the customer service of the United States)

Americans are just so friendly. You know what I’m talking about. They’ll talk to you when you’re in the elevator, they’ll ask you how your day was at the supermarket. Coming from Britain, this certainly was something that needed something to get used to. I looked suspiciously at the man from UPS who actually commented on my clothing in an elevator one day, and the old lady who began talking to me at the bus stop about the weather – were they crazy? Did they have some sort of hidden agenda? Should I hold my purse closer so they could not steal my cell phone? Little did I know that the barista at the coffee shop was merely being friendly.

Asian customer service, however, will ask you what is wrong with your computer, not caring the least bit about why you spilled coffee on it. Both of you will stay there, in almost complete silence, as he fixes your laptop and you watch him fix your laptop. There isn’t even time to pull out your smartphone and browse to make the silence a little less awkward. The job will be done, and then it’s on to the next customer!

So, if you ever find a place with all of these qualities, email me immediately, please.

(Additionally, it would not hurt if the place had access to those amazing mincemeat noodles by my house, waffles from the bakery I went to growing up, rich and creamy European pastries, excellent British roast, warm Cantonese soups, and American burgers…).

What characteristics would make up your “Perfect Country?” Let Melissa know in the comments.

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