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Singapore and Canberra are not all that far apart

By Kim Huynh - 21 September 2016 16

Singapore Airlines

As Canberrans depart for Singapore on the first direct flights out today, Sumithri Venketasubramanian tells us what it’s like to go in the other direction.

OMG where am I?!

I know now that it’s common for people who arrive at Canberra Airport for the first time to react like I did: Where am I? Has the flight been diverted to a remote town in the middle of the continent? Have I been tricked? Perhaps I’m dreaming? Nope, my ears have popped and the flight attendant definitely said “Canberra”. This must be it.

I cringed at having to pay for a trolley at the airport (they’re free at Changi and I didn’t have any change). And I was surprised to see that there was no train into the city. Then I found out that there was no rail system at all. This added to my impression that as a capital city, Canberra is somehow incomplete.

So I resigned myself to jumping into a cab and cringed again as I watched the dollars on the meter rack up. Like many established residents, I was already griping about public transport and the price of living.

At first I missed Singaporean food: always available, inexpensive, anything you could want and lots more that you wouldn’t. And of course I missed my family and friends.

I even thought of the less desirable aspects of Singaporean life, like the exorbitant fines on everything from littering ($1000) to bringing durians onto the train ($500). There’s a tourist t-shirt that says, ‘Singapore is a fine city’. I’ve sometimes wondered if you could get fined for wearing it.

Hitting the ground running

So this was going to be home, at least for the next four years. And thankfully it wasn’t long before I warmed to Canberra.

It’s clean and highly organised just like Singapore. There’s lots of trees and greenery. The air is so very clean. I’ve come to treasure the wide open spaces that evoked such anxiety in me on the plane. The sky is big and the mountains are impressive without being imposing.

And I’ve found Canberrans to be, by and large, lovely and generous.

It helps to exercise. Indeed, I’ve come to realise that Canberrans are the fittest and most culturally active people in the country.

Not long after arriving I went for a run to get to know the city better. As I crossed Commonwealth Avenue and entered the parliamentary triangle I was I struck by the most wonderful vista and knew I could get used to this place. Lake Burley Griffin got me good.

Race matters

Many Asians coming to Australia are worried about confronting racism (the re-emergence of Pauline Hanson and her party hasn’t helped). I had read lots of accounts of racist encounters in online forums from students and new arrivals. Thankfully, I’ve never personally experienced it, but people close to me have, regularly so.

It’s also valuable in this regard to compare and contrast Canberra with home. Growing up Indian in Chinese-dominated Singapore, I’m only just beginning to understand and unlearn the insecurities and inferiority complex that comes with being me.

It’s there on my national ID card: ‘Sumithri Venketasubramanian – Indian’. I used to think it was just a label. But it’s more than that and labels themselves can be a big deal, especially for racial and ethnic minorities.

Back home, talking about race is a no-no. Keeping the peace tends to mean hushing things up. The indigenous peoples are not acknowledged as the original inhabitants of the land. There are racial quotas on public housing among other policies, but discrimination boils beneath the surface. I haven’t been here quite long enough to judge, but over time I hope to learn more about how Australia struggles with race.

What I can say confidently about both Canberra and Singapore is what Bill Clinton said about the US: that the bad things are no match for what’s good about it.

Canberra isn’t home yet, but I feel like someday it could be.

What were your impressions of Canberra when you first arrived? How would you compare and contrast Canberra with Singapore? What does it mean to be Canberran?

Sumithri Venketasubramanian studies environmental studies at the ANU. She is the social media manager for Kim Huynh, Independent Candidate for Ginninderra (which is why this appears under Kim’s byline until Sumithri gets one set up). Check out their work at or on Facebook.

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16 Responses to
Singapore and Canberra are not all that far apart
dungfungus 9:17 pm 25 Sep 16

JC said :

dungfungus said :

The weather could not have been worse for the inaugural flight of an SIA aging B777. Some of these models are actually 31 years old and unfortunately for those of us who can’t fit in econmy class and can’t afford business we will never be able to use them.

Ill informed as usual, you are out by about 10 years. The oldest 777 is 21 years of age. First commercial flight was in 1995, you do the maths.

Besides Singapore airlines does not have a single example that age in their fleet. Their oldest one is actually 15 years of age, next Tuesday actually. Want to fly on a 21 year old 777 fly United, British Airways or Thai airways, plus a whole raft of other airlines. All said aircraft are fine for purpose, but yeah at 21 reaching the end of their useful lives in tier one airlines.

The variant of the 777-200ER that Singapore airlines is flying to Canberra are all aged 13 or 14 years of age, and all had an internal refit within the last 3-4 years. So not sure what age has to do with it at all.

I actually flew on the very aircraft that operated the inaugural Canberra flight just last week (Singapore to Hong Kong) and nothing wrong with it at all, though yes the in-flight entertainment system is not as good as what you would find on SIA’s newer aircraft, but still better than most airlines. I return from my Asian jaunt next week and will be coming back on the direct flight, which will be good. (most of my flying is on SIA these days)

Also not sure your concern about being too big for economy and too poor for business class. What exactly do you want Singapore airlines, or any airline for that matter to do for you? SIA does have premium economy, though not on their regional fleet, which is what they operate to Canberra.

And yes the aircraft flies to Wellington, then back to Canberra then Singapore. At first I was sceptical about the timings, but

I wasn’t ill informed – I was misinformed and if you go back 5 posts you will see that I corrected the record.

I hope you had a nice trip in your business class configuration on your regional SIA flight.

Most retired people fly premium economy or equivalent so SIA are missing out on a huge market that other airlines will be happy to get (out of Sydney and Melbourne).

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