Sunday, August 24, 2008

You can chew gum in Singapore, but you can’t…

Find napkins. Anywhere. Seriously, Angela and I must have eaten at over a dozen restaurants, and I believe that only one, maybe two of them gave us paper napkins to go with our meals. When I ate at Angela’s house, I received chopsticks and a Chinese-style soupspoon as utensils for dinner, but no napkin. And this, when I was eating things like chilli-covered crab and sautéed prawns! The result: messy hands at pretty much all mealtimes. I felt like one big American slob at the dinner table.

Buy black clothing. Or at least Angela can’t. According to her mom, black is an inauspicious color and should only be worn in mourning. When I found this out, I told her that I must be a very unlucky, because at least a fifth of my “work clothes” are black.

Drink cold water. Or, again, at least in Angela’s household. According to her mother, cold beverages are bad for the digestive system, so all of he water in her house is double boiled (kill those microbes!) and then left in containers on the counter. I, for one, cannot figure out how, in such heat and humidity, Singaporeans can stand to drink tepid, room-temperature water, but for the time I was there, that’s what I drank. No ice cubes, nothing. And forget about getting a cold beverage with any take-out meals. They don’t even offer beverages at the food counters. To get a drink, you have to go to a completely separate vendor. Apparently Singaporeans don’t need napkins to wipe their hands at mealtimes, and they don’t need any beverages to wash their food down, either. Being American, however, I do need some sort of liquid to whet my palate as I consume food products, so in order to avoid being a major annoyance every time we sat down to a meal, I carried a bottle of tepid water with me 24/7. Apparently that’s a normal enough thing to do; Angela carried one, too. She just didn’t drink hers at mealtimes.

Escape military service. If you’re male, that is. Upon turning eighteen years old, every Singaporean male is required to serve two years in the military. He may then be called back into service at any point in time, at the government’s discretion, up to the age of fifty or so. This on-call service include re-training, combat, etc.

Protest. Four people plus one sign equals a demonstration. Demonstrators are arrested. You want freedom of speech? Move to America.


Angela said...

Hello! I must apologise on behalf of my family, myself included, since you apparently didn't have as good a time as I had imagined in Singapore. However, I think I must not have communicated to you the finer details of the 'idiosyncrasies' of Singaporean culture as articulately as I have hoped. :( I shall now attempt to ‘demystify’ our behaviour here.

Napkins: Yes, 'food courts' and 'coffee shops' do not provide napkins at all, as it would add to the cost price of the meal (since I have mentioned to you before that food courts and coffee shops do not have the extra service charge/tips included in the bill). This is why each meal, as you have mentioned in your previous post, costs as little as between 2-4 dollars. Napkins (and water, for that matter) would add to the overall cost. Although during the times when we ate at the slightly pricier places (remember Crystal Jade, Sushi Tei, the Javanese Restaurant and the Dim Sum place called Yum Cha), napkins and water/tea were provided. I am sorry that we didn't provide you with napkins at meal times at home but we would have definitely provided you with napkins at each meal, as we did when you had your crabs at my place, if you had said something about it.

Black: Black is a sign of mourning but I did say that most of the younger crowd these days do not abide by the 'superstition' anymore. Each culture has its own values, and each family has its own 'rules' and they are not necessarily reflective of the culture as a whole. I wouldn't even think of imposing my family culture (which, as you said, doesn't take to black every well) onto, say, New Yorkers, whom, as you said, wear black frequently. And I am sure New Yorkers, as with all cultures, would have their own set of 'rules' and 'rituals' too.

Water: I am sorry that we didn’t' provide you with ice cubes, although I thought I did make it very clear that you could help yourself to the fridge anytime you need anything. My mom was especially delighted when you treated our kitchen as your own the few times you got your own drinks. :) Tepid water is something that I was raised up on, since in Chinese medicine cold water is thought to be 'harmful' to the body. This is not necessarily reflective of all Singaporean families. I have friends who drink iced water at home. However, if you recall, in the restaurants we went to, save for the tea in the Chinese restaurants, iced water was given. In the food courts and coffee shops, drinks are ordered from separate vendors simply because it is more efficient that way (as you rightly observed when we had lunch outside with my parents), and it would be less confusing for the vendors, given the vast selection of cheap food we have in these eating places. I am sorry you had to carry your water bottle along with you but I thought that was because we didn't want to be parched in the Singaporean heat while we were walking along the streets, or visiting tourist destinations, where drinks would be sold at exorbitant prices.

I am really sorry that I didn't make things clear for you when you were here but I hope the above helps. :) Talk soon! :)

Angela said...

Oh- as for military service, you can be exempt if you have a medical condition. The rational behind a conscription army is simply because we are a small country with only 4million people, and we need to build up our defences to the best we can. Hope this helps! :)