A Singaporean’s Admiration for Estonia: Embrace the Pace
Hello! 你好! Salam! வணக்கம்!
That’s hello in four of Singapore’s official languages; English, Mandarin (Chinese), Bahasa Melayu (Malay) and Tamil. “Ehhhh… I didn’t know you are fluent in four languages”, as you might be thinking right now, unfortunately, the awesomeness stopped right after the Tamil word, I am not at all able to communicate in Bahasa Melayu and Tamil, save the hysteria for I’m about to present what I have dearly admire about Estonia: the country’s tranquil pace of life.
*Note: I might risk taking a little flak for what you are about to read, so dear readers, especially Estonians; I seek your greatest understanding to read the following with an open-mind. It may seem to have a number of negativities at the beginning but the best parts are saved for the last. So, please be open till the end.
Hailing from one of the densest countries in the world, with the density rate standing at 7,543 population / km2, it is not an overstatement when one says that Singaporeans live like squeezed sardines forcefully packed in a can. My district alone has 138,500 sardines packed into a 10.55km2 can. Furthermore, the country is reputed to be one of the most developed nations in Asia, if not the world. Needless to say there are a lot of competition where speed is the game-decider; may it be for space, time, money, education, work, transportation and reputation, visualizing all that being bottled-up in a sardine can is a little too much for some to handle.
Ok, that is enough background information for now and I just want my dear readers to get an idea of what I’m going to write from my perspective. Call Estonians emotionless, unexpressive, slow, lead-footed or whatever similar descriptive “compliments”; I, for one, think highly of Estonians’ unperturbed way and pace of life.
Being famously reputed for being slow, I cannot disagree with the notion as I have faced numerous encounters that justified the label. Previously, I did not have an answer when Estonians asked me, “So, what is one of the most shocking cultural shocks you’ve faced?” Now I do: things are going a little too slow for me.
I am not criticizing nor giving bad press to the pace of life here, in fact, after a year living in Tartu, I am slowly coming to terms to embrace the calm and relaxing pace of life. What I am doing here is to give you an idea of how and what I feel about the complete change of pace.
However, I will have to admit that I was very disorientated by how things move in here for the first ten months. Please let me give you a few examples below.
1) A medical appointment: On two occasions, pre-booked appointments started 15 to 20 minutes late and the diagnosis for my coughing problems were sluggish. It took approximately 35 minutes each for both diagnoses. Questions were asked extremely slowly and were repeated (a few questions were repeated thrice), asking and sharing irrelevant information and silent pauses in-between. In total, I spent nearly an hour in one consultation to be diagnosed for a cough whereas in Singapore, it would probably take anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes in private clinics, taking into account that we never pre-booked any appointments with our doctors for trivial cases like coughs and fevers. Yes, both queuing time and diagnosis counted for.
2) Lectures: Most lectures are incredibly slow-paced and I can think of the following reasons why: vowels are stretched to the Milky Way, long awkward pauses and silence in-between and things will be repeated over again slowly but just Para-phrasing it in a long-winded way. When it was requested to go faster, some lecturers will go on super turbo inter-galactic hyperspace mode. They will skip words, phrases and even sentences in their talks that it doesn’t make any sense anymore. Granted, English isn’t their first or second language.
3) Estonian students: Majority of my Estonian university friends return to their hometowns (Tallinn) almost every weekend. Nothing wrong with it but it is certainly mind-boggling for me or any Singaporean when they come to know that these Estonians spend a combined time of about 6 hours and roughly 10 Euros for the to-and-fro bus trips over the weekends. Simply put it, we do not have the luxury of time to travel like that. Singaporean university students would be struggling to stay afloat from the massive load of assignments and studies, and the competition to not be the worst in class. For example, my friend who claimed that he is one of the worst students in his medicine class spends a daily average of 3 to 4 hours at home studying while the better ones study for at least 4 hours on a daily basis. Even my friend who is studying psychology has never-ending assignments and studies. As a result, “time-consuming” travels are too costly for Singaporean students but at a cost, we do not have the time to spend with our families and loved ones.
If you think that I was trying to patronize or condescend Estonians and their pace of life here, then you are completely wrong. The Estonians that I know are quick-witted, perceptive, intelligent, well-read and humorous. I could talk so much about it but maybe next time. Their shyness is just a misrepresentation of who they truly are.
So, do you want to know why Estonians are labeled slow in my perspective? Simple.
Because they can afford to be as they have one of the most priceless and valuable asset: Time.
Many of my compatriots would kill to attain extra time as we have spent it all in competing to not be the worst. To such an extent that most of us no longer have the time, unlike Estonians, for self-development, philosophical reflection, and families and loved ones, and embracing life. We operate like codes in a coding program; it’s either yes or no, or 0 or 1. We value efficiency so much because of the insufficient time in our lives.
Wrapping this up, if you are a reader from Singapore or a similar fast-paced traumatic country and who wants to experience life in a more meaningful and down tempo pace, Estonia is one of the places to explore your desire. I am slowly learning to calm down and to take time to appreciate life, what about you?
Author: Saburi Ken, Singapore, Business Administration