President Tony Tan Keng Yam meets Singaporeans in Poland

Mr Davinder Singh Loomba (second from right) with President Tony Tan and Mrs Mary Tan.
Mr Davinder Singh Loomba (second from right) with President Tony Tan and Mrs Mary Tan.ST PHOTO: RACHEL AU-YONG

WARSAW - Whenever businessman Davinder Singh Loomba tells people where he is based, they give him a quizzical look.

Poland is not an obvious destination for Singaporean businessmen, who must struggle to overcome the language barrier, cold weather, and sometimes, the fewer options for Asian cuisine.

But that did not deter Mr Loomba, 57, who set up his IT company, NTT, in the Eastern European country in 1987.

Thirty years on, he is married to a Polish national, and they have a six-year-old son. His company was also listed on the Polish stock exchange in 2007.

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Describing Poland as the "best Eastern European country" with good physical and communications infrastructure, he encourages more Singaporeans to take the plunge. "The Poles are very advanced and eager to learn and there are many opportunities for business here," he said.

On Sunday (May 21), Mr Loomba was among 80 Singaporeans, inluding businessmen and exchange students, who met President Tony Tan Keng Yam at a cozy tea reception at The Westin Warsaw, on the first day of Dr Tan's state visit to Poland.

They are among a small group of Singaporeans living in Poland, which has a population of 38 million.

Though their numbers are small, said Dr Tan, this was not a bad thing as it allows the Singaporean community to be close-knit.

"And every Singaporean in Poland plays an even more important role of being Poland's window into Singapore," he said at the reception in the Polish capital.

Dr Tan, whose trip aims to strengthen economic cooperation and scientific exchanges between Singapore and Poland, said there is mutual interest to do more.

Bilateral trade was $1 billion last year - double that a decade ago. "It shows that our Singaporean entrepreneurial spirit is well and alive in this part of the world," he said.

Ties between the two nations go back almost 50 years and have gradually strengthened, he added.

In 1966 - three years before Singapore established diplomatic relations with Poland - then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew visited the country as part of a Goodwill Mission to Eastern Europe.

Some Poles have also played important roles in Singapore's early days, such as architect Krystyn Olszewski, chief designer of the team that developed Singapore's first Concept Plan in 1971 that oversaw land use and infrastructure planning.

In more recent years, the Polish Investment and Trade Agency set up its first South-east Asian trade office in Singapore last December, while Singapore is in the midst of appointing an honorary consul-general in Warsaw.

People-to-people ties are also growing. Singapore universities played host to 30 Polish students last year, and some 30 Singaporean university students are now on exchange in Poland.

Among them is Mr Jacob Lim, 24, a Singapore Management University student on exchange with Kozminski University.

He said: "I wanted the experience of being in a developing country which has many different ways of working. Who knows, I may come here to work someday."

On Monday, Dr Tan and his wife Mary will receive a ceremonial welcome at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, before meeting Polish President Andrzej Duda.

He is also slated to witness the signing of three agreements that mark the start of more business opportunities, as well as greater sharing of scientific knowledge, between Singapore and Poland.