The view is surreal. Coming from Singapore, where every flat seems engineered and uniform, the houses in Davos, a village in the alps, are cozy wooden sheds in a forest straight out of a fairy tale. And nothing beats speedy fast Wi-Fi in those cozy sheds!
I had come to the Alps with certain stereotypes, half-expecting all the people living there to be traditional farmers. Ironically, it was only at a hockey match, an essential part of Swiss culture, that I realized the people there were just like us. There they were, enthusiastically cheering the best hockey team in Switzerland in a modern, state-of-the-art stadium like any other sports fans would.
My host family in the adjacent village of Monstein have all the latest gadgets such as a state-of-the-art dishwasher (which most Singaporeans don’t even have!). As our world becomes ever more globalised, the habits of the people halfway around the globe become less and less foreign. Even school seems rather similar. For example, French class was just like the typical tutorial in school; going through homework, followed by reading of text, then a listening comprehension. German Literature class was rather fun, as the teacher was being overly dramatic in reading poems, making the class break out into laughter. So, just like Singapore, how interesting the lessons are is mostly dependent on the teacher. Even the workload is a tad similar, or even worse than Singapore: my buddy came home at 5 on some days, and then, like us, rushed through his homework for an additional two hours.
It’s all in the Details
But don’t make the mistake of equating similarity with homogeneity. The great thing about an exchange trip is that one gets to notice the small, subtle differences in people’s daily life, leading to interesting observations.
One thing that has impressed me during this trip is that the Swiss that we met are all-rounders: fluent in many languages, street-smart and physically active. My buddy takes 12 subjects (he learns 5 languages) and hikes up mountains in his free time. His sister is also very independent. At age 15, she went to Australia (alone, not with her schoolmates) on a year-long exchange programme to learn English.
A melting pot of versatility
Like its all-rounded people, Switzerland is not as clear-cut as black and white. It is a melting pot of traditions and identities, with old and new fusing together. You can observe this most in Swiss cities, where the modern parts of the city are usually built surrounding the old town, which was itself constructed in the Middle Ages. I saw this in Chur, in Luzern, and in Zurich. I had thought that the only places worth visiting in Switzerland were the Swiss Alps (which is what they’re famous for, right?) but Swiss cities are actually pretty amazing too. In terms of popularity, Zurich pales in comparison to London, Berlin, Paris, or even Vienna, but I think that at least in terms of attraction value, Zurich stands right up there with those cities, perhaps even outshining them, with its wonderfully-struck balance of old and new, its meticulous conservation of original landmarks, and its rich history.
The Swiss have made me fall in love with Ice Hockey. I loved the crowd’s atmosphere, the dance-like motion of ice skating, and the number of goals and near misses. In hockey, both the fans and players get physical. While in the stadium,, I saw a tussle take place, and then an Away fan being dragged out of the stadium. I saw furious men pounding on the glass walls of the arena, and I saw the hardcore fans throwing their flags in frustration, one hitting an attendant. And amidst all that was the ferocious non-stop cheering led by a man with a loudhailer, standing on a podium, his sleeve rolled up to reveal his gang tattoo. The players were also out of control, wrestling each other to the ground, pulling and kicking violently. There were many players who received a time-out penalty. And the icing to the cake of all that excitement? HC Davos (the team from my buddy’s town) snatched victory with a thrilling 4-3 win with a golden goal in extra time.
Even in food and housing prices, you can see the uniqueness of Switzerland. In little Davos with a population of 11,142, you expect the material cost of living (I’m not talking about quality of life!) to be low, but the cheapest food around is McDonald’s (in the nearby town of Chur), which isn’t that cheap at all. The price of a Big Mac meal there rises above SGD 15, with a single milkshake cost SGD 6.
I had also thought that the land in a rather remote village of Monstein would be very cheap, but to my surprise, the cost is as expensive as land-scarce Singapore.
We often think how the lives of others appear magical, but to them, ours are pretty strange too. It amazed my buddy that we have hawker centres filled with 50 over stalls, with meals that can be obtained at just $2. And that there were so many skyscrapers in such a small space. Many aspects of our lives are things they have never seen before. In truth, visiting Switzerland for two weeks not only made me appreciate the Swiss culture and identity, but also my very own, as it gives a fresh perspective on the life I live now.
For more photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHskoapRKn