Working overseas


It's hard to believe I know, but the UK is not the be all and end all of creativity. If you're up for trying pastures new there are a few places worth heading for. Sure there's Australia, the US, New Zealand and Canada but frankly everyone goes there. There's the Middle East, but as we know, that can get tricky. So here's a suggestion. A few years back I dusted down the passport and headed for a small island in the Pacific Rim. It's a place totally free of street crime. It has the one of the best subway networks in the world. It's clean and green and has an impressive reputation for producing award-winning work. Yes Singapore has some real plus points but what's it like working there? Well lah, let me explain.

The first thing to remember is we are on the equator. Actually, it's not hard to forget. This part of the world is so hot it's steaming. The moment you put a toe outside your air-conned apartment little patches of dampness start to appear on your clothes and by the time you arrive at work you'll look like you've been pulled out of the sea.

Now if you're working at a trendy agency the chances are you'll be based in Chinatown. This is creative central. It's where you can still see parts of the old Singapore, where chickens roam the streets and where toothless vagabonds, wearing nothing but a sarong, will make their bed in your agency doorway. Note: they wear the sarong in traditional fashion and it's often the case that the tackle is fully exposed. So for this reason client presentations are rarely held at agency offices.

Thankfully, once you enter the reception normality resumes. Look around you could easily be standing in an agency in Soho. Well, actually that's not quite true, you wouldn't find armor-plated flying cockroaches dive-bombing you in Soho. Paddington yes, but not Soho.

There are a few other little challenges to overcome during the day. If your morning cuppa tastes slightly greasy and bitter it's because it's made with Carnation Milk. Oh, and watch out for footprints on the toilet seats. This precarious balancing act is something the locals partake in and there is little you can do, bar camping out in the cubicle, to rectify it.

Now obvious as this may sound, Singapore is not like the west. Things are done differently and you have to have an open mind. Don't arrive thinking your going to get your creative ego massaged. You won't. Singapore has more than it's fair share of UK creatives and like it or not, they'll look at you as just another shitty, useless, junkass. Or to use the local parlance ˜Gwilo'.

So don't be surprised if the Singaporean advertising community are not there to greet you, open armed, at Changi Airport. The fact is many will totally blank you; particularly the creative directors who will give you the kind of look that suggests you've just picked their pockets.

Clients on the other hand will see you more favourably. You'll be a fresh new meal ticket and within weeks your expense account will be bruised, battered and pleading for submission. Soon you'll be attending late night karaoke evenings where you'll be expected to entertain the entire marketing department with your rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water while at the same time consuming the entire contents of a bottle of VSOP brandy.

OK. I might have been a tad harsh here. No doubt Singapore has changed a lot since my time. But I've got a sneaking feeling it won't have. Anyway, don't take my word for it - why don't you give it a go?

John Fountain is senior writer at Avvio


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