Singapore – again

Per Johansen was quite happy when a few years back he accepted a request to move back to Denmark to work at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen to work with organizing the Danish presidency of the European Union. He and his wife moved into their house back in Denmark, Rita got a job and their son Mads started in the local Danish school. They had spent a number of years abroad and the family was looking forward to some years back in Denmark.
     But suddenly after one and a half year, a chain of events ended with a request for Per Johansen to move back to Singapore, where he was needed as Consul.
     “Of course it is nice to be back,” Per Johansen admits.
     “Singapore is a place we all like a lot. But it was frankly not very convenient. Rita had to quit her good job and our son had just adjusted himself to the Danish school system which is quite different to international schools abroad,” he adds.
     For the Danes in Singapore, having Per Johansen back at the embassy was, however, almost like welcoming a long timer back after a summer vacation. When they came up to have their passports renewed or an international driving license issued, it was only natural to see Per Johansen back behind his desk again.
     But things have changes. Sars has come and gone. Terrorism has hit the region. And the area, which Danish Embassy in Singapore covers, has been enlarged to cover both Australia, New Zealand and some minor nations in the Pacific Ocean.
     Also the Danish community in Singapore has changed.
     “The number of resident Danes is diminishing in line with the declining number of other foreign residents in Singapore,” Per Johansen explains.
     “A couple of years ago, we were around 1200 Danes. Now we are down to some 800 Danes, which is, however, still not as drastic a reduction as for the Dutch and Japanese, for instance. The Dutch are down from 2800 to 1600 residents and the Japanese community has been reduced from 30,000 to only 20,000 people today.
     “Two to three years ago, we saw many Danish IT people relocating to Singapore. It was part of the efforts to create a Silicon Valley environment in Singapore. But today, almost all the IT experts have left Singapore more or less frustrated.”
     “Singapore also used to be an attractive location for the big multinational corporations who established regional Head Quarters here because of the efficiency and safety. But today other locations like Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok have improved in these respects and are now capable of delivering the same qualities at a cheaper cost.”
     Per Johansen believes, Singapore has also adjusted its to this new situation. When he returned he could have rented his old apartment at half the cost he monthly rent he used to pay.
     “That’s also why we today see new Danish initiatives like a Danish kindergarten and a Danish restaurants. Because of the significantly lower real estate costs these initiatives are today feasible even with the diminishing number of residents.”
     Per Johansen’s job has also changed with due to the implementation of new technologies. Previously, the embassy was involved every time a Danish shipped docked at Singapore. Today, the embassy does not have to open and close the log books as this is done electronically – and at the same time, Maersk has moved a major part of the traffic to Malaysia.
     “As for Australia, the Consulate General in Sydney takes care of most of the daily business like issuing new passports to resident Danes, visa applications etc. But because our home page comes up when people search on the internet for the Danish Embassy covering Australia we do get of lot of request for information. Some ask for visa regulations some ask if there are many polar bears roaming the streets of Copenhagen. The polar bears we take care of our selves – the visa questions we refer to the Consulate General,” Per Johansen laughs.
     He also laughs when recalling the day an employee at the ministry back in Copenhagen called him to ask if he could “pop over to Tonga” to give an emergency passport to a Dane there.
     “I asked him if he knew where Tonga was. He replied that since it was covered by our embassy, it couldn’t be that far away. He was quiet for a few seconds when I told him, that it was faster to go to Denmark from Singapore than to Tonga. Then he agreed to my suggestion that we just mailed it to him…”
     Despite the inconvenience of uprooting his family from Denmark again, Per Johansen does not regret accepting the job helping to organize the Danish presidency of the European Union back at the ministry in Denmark.
     “Together with a colleague we were in charge of coordinating the different ministries involved and the different departments within the Foreign Ministry and contracting the many sub suppliers involved. A number of top summits were held during the period and he knew well what a big task he was in for.
     “I told my family to put up a picture of me in the kitchen so they wouldn’t forget how I look,” he jokes.
     In that respect, life is certainly better in Singapore, now that the family is back in the old rhythm again. Some old friends have moved, but new people have become good friends instead – and there are still 18 holes and a lot of good time to be found on some of the island’s many golf courses.

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