Everyone knows someone who went to Melbourne for university. And everyone knows how much that someone enjoyed their time there—because they never fail to remind us.
“Life there is so relaxed!” they’d gush without invitation. Even upon graduation and returning to Singapore for good, it doesn’t stop. At every opportunity, they wax lyrical about how much they long to return to Melbourne’s loving embrace, where time slows to a crawl and all their problems somehow seem so far away.
Zack, a close friend, was my ‘someone’. Almost a decade ago, over suppers of curry-soaked prata and bak chor mee, he began regaling me with tales from down under. At the time, I was damn-near dying in school with no sleep or social life (sometimes both), so upon hearing how “easy and chill” his life had become, I couldn’t help my envy.
His constant worshipping of Melbourne soon got on my nerves.
“Go back la!” I even shouted one day. But as he patiently explained the allure of the city, I finally understood why he had fallen in love with it.
This is what Zack told me many moons ago, and 20-year-old Ashmitha Nair, a current undergraduate in Monash University, agrees. So far, her 2 years in Melbourne has shown her that life moves a lot slower compared to Singapore.
Australians, on the whole, are more “laid-back” and generally aren’t obsessed with grades, thanks to a more forgiving and less stressful education system.
“They’re pretty casual when they say they’re not doing well in a unit and it’s not that big of a deal to them should they have to re-take an exam,” she tells me. Most of them work part-time at supermarkets like Kmart or Coles, and enjoy activities such as going to the beach, shopping in the city, or eating out with friends.
All of this sounds similar to what Singaporeans students do as well, with one key difference:
While most of us engage in such activities whenever we can, Melburnians deliberately (and actively) make time for them. This means that instead of constantly obsessing over perfection—which might eat into rest time—Melburnians know when to take a step back, therefore making the most out of their time in school or at the workplace.
Proper time management and the effortless ability to prioritise, it appears, is something deeply ingrained in Melburnian culture.
And with all that the city has to offer, it’s not at all difficult to see why free-time is crucial to helping city-dwellers maintain their sanity. With Melbourne being known as Australia’s culture capital (home to some of the best galleries and exhibitions in the country), there’s always something to see or do to indulge one’s creative side.
Cycling along Melbourne’s maze of laneways—each possessing its own kind of rustic charm—for instance, is a perfect way of working the mind and body at the same time. There’s no need to even plan which streets to check out. Even getting lost in the maze of alleys is part of the fun.
Or one could visit the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Museum, or the Royal Exhibition Building, (officially listed as a world heritage site) for a lesson on Melbourne’s natural environment, history, and culture, told through different perspectives.
If you fancy catching a musical, concert or recital, then look no further than Arts Centre Melbourne, its facade unmissable thanks to the iconic spire that stands out from the city’s skyline. Open daily, the arts centre plays host to a diverse range of quality local and international performances which rival Broadway’s best.
Additionally, Zack adds that the city’s busking culture is exceptional, with plenty of talented musicians/performers out on the street at most places in the city.
Another reason for Melburnians’ trademark chill-ness is how accepting they are of different people and other ways of life.
In a 2016 population census, it was found that 56% of those who call Melbourne home were born overseas with over 300 different ancestries and more than 100 religious faiths represented. Add to this a general Australian friendliness and you have a place where everyone is both understood and accepted. Everyone is equally “mate”-worthy.
“Even on my first trip there, Melbourne just kinda felt like home you know? It’s a melting pot of culture but if you’re ever homesick, there’ll always be something or someone that looks familiar. I mean, there was this dish called Gyu Tan Don (Ox tongue don) which was extremely famous amongst all students there and it was pretty amazing seeing an Asian dish so popular in Melbourne,” Zack tells me.
In fact, world-renowned chef, Heston Blumenthal, also praised Melbourne’s “fantastic diversity of restaurants”, waxing lyrical about Melburnians’ ‘anything-goes’ food philosophy, the quality of fresh produce and the booming wine industry in Yarra Valley and Port Phillip estate in Mornington Peninsula.
Melbourne is a foodie’s paradise, and there are many food tours which take visitors around the suburbs to sample different cuisines from all around the world.
From Vietnamese food in Richmond and Footscray courtesy of the huge immigrant population in the area, to the homely Italian cafés of Lygon Street in Carlton (otherwise known as “Little Italy”), and even Greek restaurants in the city’s Greek precinct (in and around Lonsdale street), there will always be a flavour for everybody—whether to remind you of home or as an introduction to lands anew.
So yes, it turns out that you can (literally) have your cake and eat it too.
Even then, Melbourne remains unique in its own way.
For instance, it’s customary to thank bus drivers as you alight. In turn, customer service everywhere is exceptional. Even if something isn’t part of company policy, Melburnians are always willing to go the extra mile to help.
As Ashmitha shares, “I love how friendly the people here are. Crossing guards remember me and ask me how I am, how school is … Strangers smile at me on the street and sometimes even strike a conversation up with me on the bus or in the grocery store. This happens fairly often so I look forward to that every time I go out.”
Yet for better or for worse, both Zack and Ashmitha agree that the Melburnian way of life will never be replicated on our shores.
Fresh out of school, Linda accepted a full-time job with American multinational consumer goods corporation, Procter & Gamble—with whom she had interned when in school—which required her to move to Singapore.
Today, she’s the co-founder of and an instructor at WeBarre, a wildly-successful chain of Singaporean barre studios with outlets in Hong Kong as well.
Interestingly, Linda credits her success to her time spent in Singapore instead of the “super chill and laid-back” life back home.
“I’ve been here for exactly 10 years now and at this point in my career and life, I love the way of life here in Singapore. I feel that it drives me and both fuels and unleashes my ambition. If I were in Melbourne, maybe my priorities would’ve shifted from really pushing my career to living a stable and balanced life that I’d still enjoy.”
But while the Singaporean drive for success and work ethos might be great for personal achievement, there is more to life than just work.
Linda tells me that at the end of the day, she would ultimately like to return to Australia to start a family and retire. She loves that kids can play outside, and that unlike students in the cut-throat Singaporean system, they won’t be as stressed.
In Melbourne, strangers are not potential rivals. Instead, they’re potential friends.
Going on to share what else she loves about the city her heart always considers home, she enthuses about the road trips she would take around the state. Within a 1, 2, or 3 hour drive from Melbourne, Linda was able to see the varying landscapes of Melbourne such as the Grampians, the Great Ocean Road, Mornington Peninsula, not forgetting the beautiful beaches, wineries, and distilleries along the way.
Unlike the maze of streets and canals in Italy, or the downright chaos of Bangkok’s traffic, Melbourne is easy to navigate. Well-planned highways and clear signages make traversing the city and all its wonders a breeze.
As Linda points out, all you really need is a sense of adventure to enjoy all the city has to offer. Melbourne’s temperate climate means that there’s plenty of sunshine and humidity is kept at bay. This, coupled with the many leisure walking trails are perfect for journeys of self-discovery, far removed from the bustle of city life.
Go road-tripping and pitch a tent between rest stops; or, take a long winding stroll amidst the rock faces and sleep under the stars; the choice is yours.
“There’s just so much to explore; so much of life to appreciate and I guess that when you’re living in Singapore, it’s a little harder to do that,” she says.
In Singapore’s case, hard work and determination have become top priorities ever since our break up with Malaysia. We couldn’t afford to be laid-back or “chill” if we wanted to turn then-Singapore into the powerhouse it is today. Accordingly, those values have become so deeply ingrained in what it means to be Singaporean.
But does this mean all hope is lost for Singaporeans who just want a slice of the chill life?
Of course not. After all, there is no right or wrong way to live.
Singaporeans love Melbourne because it’s a place where they can go to shake off the shackles of fast-paced Singaporean life, to escape the grind just for a little while. The city reminds us that we shouldn’t feel guilty for stopping to smell the roses.
For us Singaporeans, Melbourne is best enjoyed as a break away from our Singaporean lifestyles. As much as we envy Australians for being chill, the question of why we can’t be as chill is misguided.
We do not need to be more chill; we’re fine just the way we are. But if ever we feel the need to breathe a little to regain some perspective, it’s worth remembering that Scoot offers year-round flights to the unleave-able land of chill.
Melbourne—no matter how long you stay for—will always be a place where respite can be found.
In the words of every Aussie, “She’ll be right, mate.”