By Frankie Chee
They don't call it Sunny California for no reason. The American state is famous for its sandy beaches, warm summer sun and a laid- back lifestyle.
And though similar weather can be found in Singapore, Khoo Chong Lee, 37, finds that the low humidity there offers a world of difference.
The lead software test engineer has been living in a small city called Aliso Viejo in Orange County with his wife, 31-year-old office manager Laudene Lee, for seven years.
The weather aside, food choices there are endless. You can find them all - Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and huge American servings - just no Singaporean food.
That is not the only thing food-loving Singaporeans might find hard to swallow. While cars are expensive and food is cheap here, the reverse is true in California.
The best way to explore the city is...
By car. As with most southern Californian cities, public transportation here is virtually non-existent. Even with gas (that is what Americans call petrol) prices here rising fast, it is still relatively cheap compared with those in Singapore.
The best time to visit is...
During summer. Why do you think they call it Sunny California?
The weather during summer is nice and hot. With almost no humidity, it remains cool in the shade and indoors. Californians love to show off their tans, so it's definitely an interesting place during summer here.
Which places in the city excite you?
Absolutely no place in Orange County can be labelled exciting, apart from Disneyland, California Adventure Park, Knott's Berry Farm and the daily traffic jam on the 405 Freeway.
FOOD AND WINE
Where can you find food that is close to Singaporean fare?
No other food anywhere in the world comes close to Singaporean food.
But if my cravings get the better of me, I can find com ga hai nam (Hainanese chicken rice) in Luc Dinh Ky restaurant (9812 Bolsa Avenue Suite 100, Westminster, tel: +1-714-839-6813) in Westminster, which has the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam.
At least the overpowering ginger sauce masks the fact that you're eating chicken meat that would fail horribly in Singapore.
Your favourite breakfast is at...
Home. My wife makes a mean bowl of cornflakes with lactose-free milk.
Your favourite eating place is...
For Korean barbecue, we really like Shik Do Rak (9691 Garden Grove Boulevard, Garden Grove, tel: +1-714-534-7668). If there's one thing the Koreans know how to do, it is barbecuing over a charcoal flame.
I never knew a cow's tongue could be so crispy and yummy, just like bacon.
For Chinese food, we like going to nearby Irvine, which has lots of Taiwanese, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese immigrants, and feed on some pretty good and reasonably priced ding ding chow (Chinese food). Many people think the mass-market Sam Woo restaurant (15333 Culver Drive, Suite 720, Irvine, tel: +1-949-262-0688) is great. However, we prefer the small mom-and-pop eateries there that serve econo-rice.
There are also some pretty decent Thai restaurants here. The Americans seem to love Thai food.
We enjoy patronising a very small mom-and-pop Thai place near home that serves great barbecue pork and the closest thing to char kway teow this side of the Pacific. It's called The Siamese Express (26952 La Paz Road unit C, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656, tel: +1-949-831-0882).
The latest craze here is frozen yogurt (www.pinkberry.com), topped with your favourite fruits, nuts and candy. It's amazingly refreshing. The yogurt is not your ordinary kind. It's apparently Korean-style and more like icy light ice cream.
The coolest place to chill out is...
Home sweet home. It really is. Such are the joys of a domesticated lifestyle.
Coming in second might be Laguna Beach. It is a very scenic and clean beach with lots of people sunbathing, playing beach volleyball, walking their dogs, barbecuing, checking out people who are in turn checking them out and generally having a good time under the sun, especially during summer.
What do you think Singaporeans will like most about the city?
The weather is excellent here. No humidity means no sweaty armpits just after taking a shower. The summers are lovely and the winters are mild.
Also, people here are generally very chilled out. There is plenty of diversity and people seem to accept one another for who they are. The pace of life is definitely more relaxed and people actually have lives outside of work.
Here, you are allowed to be the person you are, even if it means busting out your favourite purple hat and green slacks for school or wearing a plaid shirt with a pocket protector to work.
What is the biggest difference between Singapore and this city?
Relatively speaking, cars are expensive and food is cheap in Singapore. Here, cars are cheap and food is expensive.
For example, a typical lunch can easily set you back $20 or more, and you can drive away in a brand new luxury car for less than $50,000.
I must also add that there is a lot more land here, so everything is spread out thinly. In Singapore, we keep climbing higher and higher.
The biggest difference, though, would be the mindset and attitudes of the people. You know, the whole easy-going Western style versus the more conservative and traditional Eastern culture.
What is the one thing you must do in the city?
You must drive on the wrong side of the road. It's the law.
What do you do on your weekends?
Lounging at home, taking a well-deserved rest from a productive week at work. Occasionally, I will go dirt-bike riding or my wife and I might take a car trip somewhere nearby, such as Palm Springs, to get away for the weekend.
Where is the best place to shop?
South Coast Plaza (www.southcoastplaza. com). It is a huge place and you can get lost looking for Banana Republic, J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Bodyworks or Victoria's Secret.
A LITTLE FURTHER OUT
What things are there to do outside of the city?
Plenty. Orange County is midway between fast-paced Los Angeles and laid-back San Diego, both of which are about an hour's drive away.
San Francisco and Las Vegas are also a few hours' drive or an hour's flight away, and offer many famous landmarks for good photo opportunities.
SINGAPOREAN ABROAD IN ALISO VIEJO WITH...
Khoo Chong Lee
Occupation: Lead software test engineer
Length of stay: Seven years
This article was first published in The Sunday Times on August 17, 2008.