I have been here a couple days and have a couple left and have noted some things about Singapore that I wish to share in list form:
– Fines and signs. Just like the US has little signs like “Caution: contents may be hot” on beverage lids and so forth, Singapore is also fond of putting signs everywhere. This is especially notable on the MRT, or subway. The seats flanking each door are marked as “RESERVED” and almost all are accompanied by a little comic above it about the virtues of being polite and giving up your seat to those who need it more. There are also signs like “no durians,” especially on the line that includes Little India, and a list of fines for certain actions taken on the subway. Eating or drinking? S$500. Bringing flammable substances? S$5,000. I don’t know what the fine is for chewing gum, but I made sure I chewed everything on the plane so there was no problem in customs. Speaking of customs, there was a prominent sign informing visitors that having drugs is punished with death. Yikes!
On my walk yesterday there were signs for other things like no riding bikes or scooters over bridges (Fine: S$1000) and what not to do if you encounter wild monkeys. Do not feed the monkeys (Fine: up to S$5000), carry a plastic bag, go near the monkeys, or use flash photography. In the hospital bathroom there was a sign about how to use a bidet. (No fine for improper use, as far as I know…)
– Safety. All of those fines and laws do serve a purpose: they make Singapore a very safe place to be. All of the ex-pats I have talked to say the same thing that Singapore is safe, and I feel it too. Last night after getting back from hiking, I went for a stroll alone in Little India. It was Sunday, the only day off for many, and the streets were packed. Think of the last big festival you went to and imagine that crowd swarming through crooked, narrow streets. All of these people babbling away sounded like a packed stadium with everyone talking at once, but it was just another Sunday. Interestingly, almost all of the people out were men. Where were the women? At home, perhaps. Being alone after dark it seemed somewhat intimidating, but there was nothing to worry about. No unwanted pawing, no jeering looks, nothing. It was fine. That said, it is still important to be mindful of one’s surroundings. I stride with purpose and carry myself assertively, which likely helps. Plus I am taking care to wear clothes that are not too revealing, which is in my favor.
– Reaction to foreigners. Happily, Singaporeans are not gawkers. The presence of foreigners does not warrant second looks or forthright staring, which is nice. Some kids, however, still show an interest in me. Just now the little girl in this cafe pulled up a stool and watched me type. Yesterday another little girl (in a purple princess-like Indian costume) watched me eat at lunch. I was eating an egg prata with my hands (as the only white person in the place I was also given silverware and napkins) and started to wonder if there was something on my face. That aside, I don’t get too much attention, which is fine by me. Better than hearing echoes of “Farang! Farang!” in Thailand.
Restaurants with pictures are helpful, otherwise I make a guess and pick something with the assurance that it is vegetarian. I already knew what a dosai, thali, and naan is, and am learning more. Indian food is my favorite and I am having a ball trying all these different things.
As you may know, Indian food is eaten with the hands. The right hand, in particular, and the palm should not be soiled. Life of Pi said something like “The fingers taste the food before the tongue” or something like that (it was more poetic in the book) and it seems to be true. Sinks are placed in the restaurant where patrons wash their hands before and after the meal. No napkins or silverware are given unless you are a foreigner.
At lunch yesterday the restaurant was packed and I sat at a communal table with three men eating with their hands off banana leaves. I tried to make surreptitious observations about how to eat rice and curry with the hands. After the meal I saw grains of rice sticking to their fingers, but the fingers were not discolored by the sauce. Soon I will give it a go and will hope that my audience it not too large. For now, I will stick to eating more bread-like foods.
Other things in Indian restaurants: cups and a water pitcher are placed either on the table or near the sink. Guests help themselves. There are no extra spices on the table. Service is fast, and the food is cheap. A hearty thali last night cost less than S$8. My prata and accompanying sauces for lunch cost only S$2.20 and was extremely satisfying. Tipping is not necessary. It seems that leaving an empty plate is encouraged, because if one has extra grain, more sauces may be brought. And if one has extra sauce, more grain may be brought. More rice? More sambal? Yes please!
Of course, there is more to Singapore than Little India. Right now I am between accommodations with my next spot in Chinatown. From there it is easy to get anywhere really, but especially to the old colonial district and Marina Bay, the iconic resort and casino:
It sets Singapore residents back S$100 just to enter, but for tourists it is free. Maybe I’ll check it out. But for now, next stop: Chinatown!
PS: S$1 equals about 80 cents USD. The US dollar is stronger, but not by much.