Hello, my name is Natasha Hogan and this is a collection of personal accounts from individuals who have experienced the Emerging Markets in one way or another.
The Emerging Markets comprise of countries in South Asia, Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Due to the media only focusing on certain things in these countries, they tend to be poorly understood and often are associated with notions of poverty, violence, disasters and underdevelopment.
These personal stories show how there is actually more to the story than just what we see or hear through the media. These countries have so much more to offer if we were willing to open our minds and hearts to them.
In my own journey of meeting the individuals featured in this project, I too have learnt so many new things about the countries in the Emerging Markets. I would like to thank all the amazing people that have helped me in the creation of this work, they have definitely helped me gain a new perspective on these regions and maybe you will too!
‘I feel that most people think Saudi Arabia is a very rundown and unsafe place but in actual fact it is not like that at all. I love Jeddah, it’s my favourite city in Saudi Arabia. Jeddah is so beautiful and you really get to see a bit of everything here. In certain areas, the desert or mountains surround you and in other areas you get experience the bustling Saudi Arabian city life.
My favourite thing to do in Saudi Arabia is shopping. Most of the malls in Medina and Mecca are open 24 hours, I think it has something to do with how Mecca is known to be the city in the middle east that never sleeps. I would say that the Saudi Arabia is almost like Dubai because they have restaurants, cafes and even bars but the only thing they’re missing is the skyscrapers.
Saudi Arabia is actually very safe, even at night! They have their own police patrolling along the streets, I stayed there for three weeks and had no issue with safety even when travelling from place to place. The cool thing about Saudi Arabia for me was that there was no language barrier. The people there spoke Malay. I think they learnt the language because many people from Malaysia and Indonesia go there on holiday.
As for the people there, everyone was really nice. The women there were all quiet and modest like I expected but were all very sweet. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by the Saudi Arabian men because stereotypically I thought Middle Eastern men have a bad reputation for flirting or treating women badly. The guys were actually very kind and respectful towards women.’
‘Sri Lanka is infamously known for their dispute among the Sinhalese and Tamil Tigers so many would wonder if it is safe, even I myself was weary for the longest time. A colleague told me about how beautiful and safe Sri Lanka actually is. Also the fact that he’s been there about seven times now really helped me make my decision to visit the country. The people there were really friendly, I couldn’t tell if a group of people were Sinhalese or Tamil as they all seemed to live in harmony and there was no comparison between the groups of people we met in terms of hospitality.
I travelled with three other friends and we visited places with more relation to Buddhism as it’s not like you get to see these ancient temples every other day. One thing I had in the back of my mind while visiting these places was that Indiana Jones the movie was also filmed in the areas around Kandy, which was the area we were in so I thought that was pretty cool.
Sri Lanka was unexpectedly easy to get around unlike some other countries I have visited and it was a relatively clean place, which came as a pleasant surprise to me. It is quite laid back with pretty much a bit of everything, which made Sri Lanka memorable for me. The country can go from having nice surf beaches to holy Buddhist temples in the mountains.’
‘All the pictures you see posted online of the beach and the resorts are really just a fraction of what you see in Maldives, it is a more glamorised version of the islands. I feel that people do not take the opportunity to experience the local Maldivian culture because tourists usually visit the more commercialised areas. You do not really interact with locals at the resorts either because the workers there are mostly foreign. The city of Male is where you can immerse yourself in the culture and the way of life, I’ve got to experience this a couple of times because I’ve visited my mother working there. Just to give you an image of the city, it is kind of a rundown city but with very high density. It is always bustling with people, it reminds me a little of Johor Bahru.
To begin with, did you know that Maldives is a Muslim country? They’re also really conservative. For example, every Friday there would be Friday Prayers and because of this only one counter at the airport would be open, so the queue would go on forever if you plan to fly out on a Friday.
They’re also really proud of who they are. Maldivian people are dark skinned and live on an island in the Indian Ocean so they have similar features to the Indians but get offended when people mistake them for or call them Indian, they want to be seen as Maldivian and that’s it.
It is definitely worth spending some time in the city and knowing more about the locals because I feel if you’re in Maldives or any country you should definitely try to gain some knowledge of where you are instead of flocking to the highly commercialised places like most people do.’
‘I went to six countries in Latin America, but I’m choosing to talk about Colombia because of their reputation. When I told people that I was going to Colombia or Bogota, which is the first place I landed in South America, I got a lot of, ‘ooh Narcos! (the TV series)’ or ‘ooh drugs!’ type of responses. There’s so much more to the country than that, but people who haven’t been there don’t know that and they don’t really have a good impression of Colombia. The next thing people then ask is always ‘Is it safe?’ From my experience, I can tell you that it didn’t feel much more dangerous than any other European city that I’ve been to – like always, just listen to the locals and you will be fine, if they tell you not to go somewhere, don’t go there.
I really liked Medellín, it has a really nice vibe. It’s located in the central area of the country and is well known as the former drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s home town, but the city has been trying to rehabilitate its image. One of my favourite things in Medellin was the free walking tour, I’d definitely recommend anyone visiting to sign up for it. The guides are really well trained and interesting, they bring you around the city, talk about its recent history and show you how the city has changed since those days. The town centre for example used to be a no-go area and really dangerous even for locals; these days it’s filled with tourists and art and really pleasant to hang out in. Medellin is also the only city in Colombia which has its own metro system, complete with cable cars as an extension of the metro lines to help people get up those steep slopes. What really struck me was how clean the metro was. You can usually find graffiti just about everywhere in Colombia all over the buildings and streets, but not on the metro because the people living in Medellin are just so proud of it. I found that really interesting.’
‘The stereotype of Dubai being a city of rich people, skyscrapers and flashy cars is true however, this is to a certain extent because there are areas where people are not as privileged.
Though it was a little more touristy, my favourite and most memorable thing we did there was the desert safari. We rode in a truck and were going up and down the sand dunes for almost 3 hours! The best part was when we had dinner in the middle of the desert, we had a delicious middle eastern meal which consisted of lots of meat cooked in different styles and grains. On top of that, we drank tea while belly dancers danced around us, it was pretty surreal.
The markets were very colourful, they sold a lot of traditional Arabic clothes like Abayas and they also sold fabrics, which my mother bought a lot of. Knowing how to speak Arabic is really important
there because we realised they tend to rip you off in the market if you do not speak the language well. Don’t get me wrong though, everyone was really nice but when there is the opportunity to earn more money they would jump at it. I felt like the men were nicer maybe because they put themselves out there more than the women who were more modest and kept to themselves. The guys were real gentlemen.
Dubai in my opinion, would be a lot more modern than other Arab nations in terms of the culture and the way people acted and I though that was pretty cool. When I went, instead of wearing a Burqa that covered the whole face they would wear big sunglasses and a scarf over the top of their head instead, super casual. If I were to tell Singaporeans about Dubai, I’d say ‘I’d rather live in Dubai!’’
‘A country that is portrayed very different from it’s reality would be Iran. Initially, I did not tell a lot of people I was going to Iran as I was anticipating negative comments. In fact after I came back, I shared my experience with a couple of people and they still found it unbelievable that I had spent weeks there. The question that kept coming up was: “Is it safe?” I’d tell them, “Well I’m back in one
piece”, and yet, they were still uncertain about actually travelling there. People stereotype Iran as an unsafe place with lots of terrorists roaming around. However while I was there, I felt even safer than I did in many other countries!
The people in Iran are so nice and courteous. I went during the month of Ramadan this year and while I was walking around the square (Nash-e Jahan Square), I received a lot of invites from families to join them at their picnic for the breaking of their fasts (Iftar). Many also invited me to their house for Iftar too; the best part was that I did not know who these people were and they were all being so kind to me. Every night I sat with each family for about three to four hours.
The people were probably my favourite part about going to Iran. Though they may have a very conservative government, the locals were very open and receptive to other cultures. They genuinely wanted to learn more me and were also very happy to share we me their customs.
I felt so much love and warmth in Iran that it made me really sad to see how the traditional media made them out to be. One of the things that really broke my heart was when some of them told me to tell the world that they are not terrorists.’
‘I was in Mozambique visiting a friend for two weeks. Mozambique is not a very well known place, I myself did not know where or what it was until I met him.
I was told Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, I will not deny this as you could see people living in not even slums but huts along the road in the outskirts of the city. However, certain places were developed, it kind of reminded me of places I’ve visited in Indonesia. It was also really beautiful wherever we went because Mozambique is by the sea, when you drove you would be literally driving on a straight road by the water.
The people were also really nice and the main language spoken there is Portuguese because Mozambique was colonised by the Portuguese. Not many of them spoke English and were not used to foreigners so I would get a lot of stares only because the people were curious, you mostly see only Mozambicans around and they all had a certain look so it was really obvious that I wasn’t from there. The food there was really good, I had a lot of seafood and I love seafood so that worked out great for me. I even got to try different kinds of meat because Africa is big on eating meat, they served Horse, Ostrich and even Zebra. I think Singaporeans should definitely go to experience Mozambique because it has so much culture and interesting food. However, I think everyone should go with someone who knows their way around the place if not you would not know where to go or who to trust.’
‘I thought Bangladesh was great, I really enjoyed my trip there. I feel that lots of people stereotype Bangladeshi people to be mostly construction workers but this isn’t true because they go to school just like us in Singapore and take a certain course of study. The younger generation also now learn English as a subject in school so it was not really difficult to communicate with them.
The people there were also a lot friendlier than I expected. When I visited a school there, all the students were really excited to see me and some even told me that their dream is to come to Singapore. I’d get a lot of curious stares, most of them don’t own anything to take pictures with so some of them would end up following me around and observing me. They were probably wondering ‘what is this Chinese dude doing in Bangladesh’ or also maybe because there were no other tourists in sight besides me. Some of the people that came up to me would grab my arm but this was because they were curious about my tattoos, I guess it is not common to have them in Bangladesh.
As for safety, just two weeks before I arrived in Bangladesh an area there was bombed. However, there was no point in time where I felt unsafe but of course you had to watch your belongings as usual, you shouldn’t be leaving them lying around. They even got a guard to follow me around the city of Dakha to ensure my safety.
One interesting thing that I noticed was that I always saw the women working. I would see the men drinking a tea or coffee but when I looked over to the women, they would always be doing something to keep themselves busy.’
‘I backpacked through Egypt for two weeks and leart a lot more about the country and its people than I did before. For one, I feel that Egypt is still a little backward in the sense that gender equality seems to be almost non-existent. In fact, I was told that there is a specific cabin designated especially for women on the metro, just to keep them safe. My male Egyptian friend told me that women usually don’t interact with men much, and that in more “local” places, you’d have to cover yourself up to avoid harassment. I guess I learnt to accept the fact that in general, there are parts of Egypt where staunch rules that align with the main religion, Islam, triumph. I had to respect that this is simply part of their culture that has been around for centuries. Other than that, Egyptians are great. They’re pretty helpful people. For example, even though most of them barely spoke English, it was clear to see that they were really trying to help when I needed – from the random convenience store owners to the suited security guards outside fancy malls.
Another aspect of Egyptians in general that I’ve learnt is that they are almost always late. “Egyptian time” is a real thing, but this ended up working out in our favour once because when we got to our hostel, the hostel owners said that the rooms were not ready. As such, my team and I made an impromptu decision to hire a boat and go out the River Nile. It’s honestly one of my best memories of Egypt, and I would describe those moments of jumping off the boat as pure bliss.
Initially, I thought that our Egyptian hosts were bringing us out every night simply because we were their guests. But no, this was their actual lifestyle and that they were helping us assimilate into it. The cool, chill, and laid-back lifestyle & attitude of the Egyptians is something that I really admire and appreciate. Egyptians also really do look out for one another. I got into a mini car accident with my friends and after the collision, we simply drove off. This felt so strange to me, because I was always taught to stay and wait for the police or the insurance company to come. A part of me felt guilty for our irresponsible behaviour, but we didn’t get far before another driver, driving a very expensive Mercedes, risked his car to stop us and insist we go back to help the man in the car we bumped into. It’s crazy to think someone would get themselves involved in a problem that’s not their own, just to help a person they don’t know!’
‘I was born and raised in Russia. Russia definitely has its good and bad sides just like any other country, for example, people there have a very traditional mindset and always keep to themselves but they also have a rich cultural history and are passionate about it even to this day.
Its a really beautiful city but it is also very simple, an example would be our food. I feel that Singaporean food has so many flavours but Russian food is very basic compared to that, a usual meal would consist of a meat and vegetable, then you could pick if you wanted a side of rice or potatoes with that.
The up side to visiting Russia for Singaporeans would be that your stay there would be really cheap in terms of buying groceries or really anything tangible for that matter. However, if you plan on going to Russia don’t expect to have small talk with any of the locals, we prefer long meaningful conversations. some people say it’s a little tough to be friends with Russian people but when you actually get to know us well, we would probably be friends forever. Also, when you visit Russia I feel like it’s best to have a Russian friend with you because not many people there speak English maybe because we do not get too many tourists in the first place. The government is trying to make it more English friendly though, now they even have English announcements over the PA system. But I don’t think this works because its actually English being spoken in a heavy Russian accent but at least they’re trying! Travelling in the underground metro was also probably one of my favourite things to do because it is actually really beautiful in my opinion. It was also really fast, there wouldn’t be any queues because the trains would be rolling up every 30 seconds. Singaporeans should definitely visit Saint Petersburg, you definitely can see old school Russia meeting modern Russia there and it’s very pretty.’
‘I feel that for trips overseas, the people really play a big part in making or breaking it and for my trip to Iran, the people really made it. There was not a day that went by without people stopping to say ‘hello’ or make small talk with you.
I was pleasantly surprised at how modern it was, not in just the context of the buildings but also the people. For example, women must wear head scarfs for modesty purposes but for some women you would be able to see about 3 inches of their hairline! I guess they just had to make sure you couldn’t see their hair from the back, they even wore tight jeans and their make up was always on point!
Everyone was also super helpful. One day we were looking for a place to eat and had run out of ideas of where to go. We saw a little cafe in a bazaar and asked the lady running it for recommendations, she and the other patrons recommended a healthy vegetarian restaurant. When we got to the stall we saw that the menus all in Persian, which we could not read. We went back to the cafe to ask for help, one of the patrons actually put down his coffee and followed us all the way to the stall. He went through every single thing on the menu and even helped us place our order.
They also have a couple of interesting mannerisms like this one called Taarof. Taarof is where someone would offer you something and you are supposed to refuse it as long as you can until you felt that the offer was sincere enough. Most the trip I was shamelessly accepting things because I was unaware of this custom only until later. There was this one instance where our driver offered me an orange and I just took it without pushback. Then i remembered about Taarof so i had a few segments of the orange and then offered the rest to the driver, he refused as expected but accepted it after I offered a second time.’
‘I wanted to go volunteer somewhere far from Singapore so I chose to go to Uganda and I taught English in a primary school for about four to five months. I picked this place also because it’s a quite unexplored part of the world and I didn’t know much about it. Prior to going over, I had the stereotypical impression of Africa like a lot of poverty, not a lot of technology and a slightly backward country. Uganda has been under civil unrest in the past 50 years but has become a lot more stable because of the change in political leaders, I didn’t know this at the time so I was a little weary about going over. When I eventually got there, I saw that they are a lot more advanced than I perceived. They even skipped the telephones and went straight to mobile phones and internet, nobody even uses landlines there. I would say the busyness of Bangkok would be comparable to that of the capital there. It is also now a country where the government makes it mandatory that schools teach English as a first language, so there was no difficulty in communicating with locals.
Everywhere you went, you would feel a strong sense of community. In the village I was living in in the Busoga region, there was a well next to our house where the locals hung out and everyone there would smile at us or say ‘hello’ though they didn’t know us. Everyone looks out for each other in the community and even after one another’s child, they would make sure that they were safe. People think Africa is unsafe but I felt super safe in Uganda. Just don’t take things for granted, for example, you still have to lock your house.
All the schools I went to had a lot more boys than girls, the community itself was very male dominated anyway. However, what pleasantly surprised me was that these girls who were in school would fight for themselves not physically but in the sense of making sure the boys know that they are present and equal to them.’
‘Daniel and I travelled through Central Asia 2 years ago solely by land transport. Out of the five “Stans”, Uzbekistan was my favourite and we were there for about one to two months. It was so beautiful, it felt like we were on a film set with all the beige coloured low-rise buildings. All the buildings were very grand and had very intricate designs, which really intrigued me as you can really see the workmanship that went into the walls.
Since we were commuting overland, we took a lot of public transport like the local buses and trains. One encounter I’d never forget would be while we were on a train, a man who spoke little English approached us and invited us to his village to meet his family. He must have figured we were travellers as not many tourists come through Uzbekistan either. We accepted the offer because the people there just came off so warm and genuine, which made us trust them easily.
When we got to the village we met his whole family at his house. Although not being able to speak English, his family treated us with utmost generosity and kindness. They prepared so much food for us and interestingly most of the food was organic and grown in their back yard! After staying at the house for couple of hours, the guy actually brought us around the village to meet the rest of his extended family. He was really proud to have met us and wanted us to meet everyone. Everyone there was really welcoming, we were offered food at every house without even expecting anything in return.’
‘While travelling through Central Asia with Gina, Turkmenistan stood out the most to me. I felt it was like the North Korea of Central Asia and it was an experience that I definitely have no regrets doing. I say this because there are a lot of security personnel stationed in the area and if they see you taking pictures, they will come up to you and tell you to delete it. Security is really tight also when it comes to getting into the country and you can only stay for a maximum of 5 days if you’re on a transit visa.
The highlight of going to Turkmenistan was the gas crater which looked like a meteor fell to earth on that spot and created a huge hole. This crater was created over 40 years ago when the scientist were digging for natural gas. They then wanted to burn the gas away to get rid of it but to no avail. The experiment did not go as planned and the crater has been burning ever since, even through the four seasons. We stayed at a place about seven kilometres from this crater and we set off around three in the morning to go check it out. It took us about 2 hours to trek there, there were no street lamps and you could see the crater glowing in the distance so it created quite an eerie UFO scene. It was even more surreal when we got there because literally no one was out there and it was not cordoned off like regular tourists attractions. It just felt like we had discovered something extraterrestrial. It was winter time while we were there too so it was really convenient that the crater was hot. This was definitely a very interesting experience.’
‘I had the opportunity to go to Pakistan for my internship. Prior to going, I was concerned about how my privileges would change there as compared to here. Two things really stood out to me, the majority of the women I saw didn’t walk with a confident posture like with their shoulders back and chest out. I think it is because they’ve been conditioned to feel like certain parts of their bodies are offensive and they should be conservative about that. Another thing is that sometimes the men in the room seem to get more attention for the things they’re saying while a women would get more attention first for how she looks.
However, that does not represent the way the general population acts as a whole. Most of the people you meet like the rickshaw drivers or people in the shops are very nice though there would always be one or two people that would look at me weird or say nasty things. I feel that this small population has been given spotlight by the media and created this bad perception of Pakistan worldwide. For example, when I went there I did acknowledge that this small 2% of people did exist but I met the other 98% who do not behave like that and I, of course, spent my time with this majority.
One of my favourite things about the people there was the solidarity of my friends. It was fairly easy for me to make friends with the locals from attending events or mutual friends. It was so amazing how open and friendly they were, some of my good friends in Singapore have never shared such closeness with me and i feel it is because of the environment and circumstances we were in which created a certain bond.
One thing that not many people know about Pakistan is that there is actually a huge underground art and music scene. Pakistanis love their music and it is definitely very beautiful One thing that I would never forget was when I went to this art exhibition created by a controversial artist, Amin Gulgee, his whole house was turned into a stage where he displayed both live moving pieces and stagnant art.’
‘I was in Jordan studying Arabic for two months and my favourite thing about the country was the food and people. The food was consistently really good, I think I ate the most hummus and falafel I’ve ever had while I was there! I also think food is a big part of their culture, I would get invited to people’s houses for meals especially during Ramadan even though I didn’t know them. We bumped into a Syrian refugee whom my friend worked with the last time she was in Jordan, he invited us over to his place for tea. After spending a couple of hours at his house he still invited us over the next day for Iftar as it was the beginning of Ramadan. When we arrived the next day, they cooked up a delicious feast of rice and lamb for us, which I thought was really generous because there were 7 of us in the group.
The people made us feel super welcome and are a lot friendlier than you would expect. When we ask for directions or wifi from a shop, they would do their best to help us out and some even gave us free desserts. One instance was when we wanted to buy something from a sweet shop but we had no idea what we wanted, the shop keeper actually took the time to let us try everything to help us make our decision.
Jordan is also a very beautiful country. When I had free time off school, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of places like the dead sea, Aqaba and the Wadi Rum desert. The highlight was probably the Wadi Rum desert because it was such a surreal experience camping under the stars away from civilisation, drinking tea from a pot over the camp fire and speaking to our local guide. We saw a lot of stars that night too, probably the most I’ve ever seen my whole life!’
‘I went to Cape Town when I was 17 with my older sister, our parents were wary of us going because they had the impression of the place being dangerous as there was trafficking. So when we went we had the impression that we were entering an unsafe environment and had our guard up wherever we went. However when we got there, we realised we may have been wrong about the country. Already at the airport, the staff were welcoming and greeting us so nicely. When we ventured off to the town area, the locals would just come up to us and ask questions out of curiosity. The people there were genuinely interested in us and wanted to learn about where we came from.
I also realised that there was a huge diversity of people there and they all lived together in harmony. In a way I drew some similarities to Singapore because we have so many races living here, so I felt a sense of familiarity being there. One thing that really stood out to me about the people was their warmth and love for their country. For example, you could actually see how much our tour guide loved her country as she was so passionately telling us all about it, she even invited us over to her house when we did not know her too well yet.
Being there for only less than a week, I already felt a sense of belonging there. I actually do tell my friends that I want to live there someday, this never would have crossed my mind if I never visited Cape Town because since going there I feel a part of me truly feels at home there.
The landscape itself was insane, cape town is where the mountains meet the ocean and just seeing that was so surreal. Even the people living there told me that it is the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen, some describe it as waking up to heaven every morning!’
‘I traveled to four countries in South America, out of the four I liked Ecuador the most when it came to sight seeing and new adventures.
Ecuador is where the Galapagos islands are and also the place that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution. When you are there you feel like you’re on another planet, the animals are almost living in harmony with the people. The animals that I felt were the most comfortable with us were the sea lions, you will see them on the beaches, the port and even the little towns close to the beach. A couple of them would literally be lounging on the park benches in the afternoon, it actually felt like the benches were made more for them than us! It’s pretty funny because we ended up being almost like paparazzi because they’re just there doing their own thing and it was like we were invading on their space. There’s a huge variety of wildlife in Ecuador so there are a lot of things to do in the outdoors. It is quite rare that you get so up close to animals without them really caring about you especially coming from a concrete jungle like Singapore.
Ecuador is also nice as it is a fairly small country unlike the others in South America. For example, you could be at the beach in the morning and in the Amazon jungle the very next day. In a sense you get a taste of everything in a short amount of time.’
‘I went to a little village called Kalyan. There was once where we were driving and we saw a baby elephant casually walking on the street. At the time it just seemed like normal traffic because of the way people acted about it. But when you look back, it’s like ‘wow we were actually driving next to an elephant!’ you can never have that kind of experience here in Singapore. I would say Kalyan is quite backward compared to Singapore but that’s also the beauty of it. The village does not really have proper roads, it is more like sand paths that just became roads. They even use the old fashioned lifts that you have to close manually which I thought was pretty cool. The locals live a very simple life, a regular house could only have one or two lightbulbs with the basic necessary furniture and appliances.
I learnt a couple of things while I was there; for one, I now know healthy means fat there. The people there kept telling my mother that I looked really healthy, back then I was actually very chubby! The people are super hospitable too, we stayed with my father’s cousin’s cousin so there was pretty much no relation to them but they still treated us so well. For example, we were prepared to occupy one small room in their house but they wanted to give up their master bedroom for us. The wife even had back issues but they insisted on us taking their room, you really don’t fully understand the word ‘force’ until you’ve been to India. They force feed you as well but with good intentions and every meal we had was prepared at home. Everyday there is a pre-breakfast meal, breakfast, post-breakfast, pre-lunch, lunch, post-lunch, snack, pre-dinner, dinner, supper and dessert, on top of that there were always snacks on the table ready for consumption. Food is just a huge part of their culture.
India is not that rude place that people make it out to be, everyone really respects one another. People are always there for you when in need and I feel that maybe we can learn a thing or two form them in this aspect. It isn’t always a competition, we can actually help each other and be successful.’
I hope you enjoyed reading this just as much as I have had creating it, maybe one day you too will GoBeyond to tell a story of your own!