From Köfte to Kopi

Murat Salman shares his induction into Singapore’s lifestyle, with lingo to match.

Amidst the bustle of the Starbucks at Change Alley, Mr. Salman chuckles as he recollects his first days here in Singapore. “Now going about 7, 8 years back, now I can smile – those moments.”

Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, Mr. Salman was a business analyst with Sony when they pitched the idea of relocating him to Singapore to head a project. A similar project in Europe had taken off really well, and the company wanted to explore the possibility of implementing it in Southeast Asia.

“We (Sony) wanted to exchange some practises, and I came here to train some people and set up a team here,” the 30-year-old recounts. “I’m young, I never lived overseas before, so why not?” He moved to Singapore for a three-month stint, and was welcomed to the country with an unforgettable greeting.

“My first impression about the country was very good. We were driving at ECP, and we exited the airport, and – there are big trees, overhead bridges with lots of flowers. I was shocked. I can’t forget that moment. This country is so green and beautiful,” he enthuses.

“Even in Europe I’ve never seen [greenery] to that extent where [even along] the paved highway… you see trees everywhere, and flowers.”

But as much as the welcome was a visually arresting one, the reality of being apart from his family and familiar lifestyle got to him. He recalls, “I was homesick, food wasn’t something I was used to. I think that was quite important. Food was very different, climate, the weather is very different. I’m used to four seasons… here every day is summer.”

And because the project was a short one, Mr. Salman didn’t think about firming up any relationships here. On his social behaviour, he shares, “When you have an assignment overseas for a couple of months, you don’t really connect with the people either. You know that you’re there only for a temporary period of time. So you do your work, you meet your colleagues. But you don’t really go out, meet new friends.”

He continues, “All my network was in Turkey, I was already very comfortable, so why don’t you put more effort there right? That was my thinking back then.”

But three months became eight years, and now Mr. Salman is working with General Motors as a digital marketing support manager, observing and developing digital advertising spaces, digital content and mobile applications. So what changed?

“Indeed I wasn’t very positive about living here, when I was here during the 3 months. But my perception changed,” he reflects. “A stranger from thousands of kilometres away, come to this country, you should be the one making an effort to get to know people, to initiate conversation, to try to create some commonalities,” he shares.

He adds,” It’s not about Singapore. Wherever you move to, these are things you have to learn.”

And it seems things did improve dramatically after that attitude sunk in, allowing Mr. Salman to integrate quickly into the Singaporean workforce. “I like the work ethic and culture here. People are focused on work,” he said.

And it seems that his country was well-regarded too by Singaporeans. “The general reaction is always positive. They always say very beautiful things about my country. Singaporeans are very well-traveled overall. Usually their first reaction is, oh that’s the country with hot air balloons!”

When asked what was one of the biggest surprise difficulties here, Mr. Salman laughed out loudly as he said, “I think the language was a bit of an issue for me.”

Always a hot topic, Singapore’s quirky colloquial tongue had him stumbling initially. “I think in the past eight years I have mastered Singlish. But when I first moved here, I really didn’t understand what people were saying,” he chuckles.

“Like [when] ordering food at a coffee shop, going to a hawker centre. You know those are the realities of Singapore right? So you can’t really get away from it. You want to be part of it, so you want to be exposed to all of it. Then I realised if I pick up a couple of words, things get much easier,” as he laughs.

Enthusing about the local lingo, he adds, “For instance [when I’m] ordering my coffee or tea .. I can use order my teh-peng (iced milk tea) or kopi-o (black coffee). And you know where to say “la”, “lor”, “leh”. You put everything into context; they actually mean different things. It’s not just putting it at the end of a sentence. It’s beyond that.”

It’s too bad we couldn’t get him to demonstrate his finesse at Starbucks, but we did ask him about how he managed to quell his cravings for Turkish food. He recommended East Coast Road and Arab Street for a taste of his home. He even jokes, “You can come to my house I can cook some Turkish food!” It would seem that you can take the Turkish out their country but you can’t take the hospitality out of the Turkish.

First published: Epoch Times, Singapore print edition (July 2016)
Featured photo: Anders Lee

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