I’ve probably said it before, but it’s worth repeating because of how completely and utterly true it is: Singaporeans love to shop. It’s basically their national pastime and obsession. Never have I been to a city (or country) where every attraction and museum is practically empty, while the neighbouring shopping mall is rammed with people. I mean, I cannot emphasise enough how much these people love to shop. And to eat. Also, to do both together is pretty big. It’s therefore almost impossible to go anywhere without having to go into or pass through a shopping mall. The majority of MRT stations are inside or next to shopping malls, and it’s rare to find a supermarket outside, they’re normally tucked into the corner of a basement and take 15 minutes and 5 wrong turns to find. Don’t get me wrong, so many shopping malls means that there is a lot of shopping to be done, but there’s a knack to bypassing the mega-expensive shops (I’m talking big name designers and those shops that are so posh they only seem to stock 6 different things) and actually finding the places where mere mortals can afford to buy things. I now live very near to Orchard Road, Singapore’s main shopping hub, which is great but there’s no place like it in the world for making someone feel poor and common. Over a 2km stretch of road there are roughly 20 shopping malls of all shapes and sizes, selling pretty much anything you could possibly want to buy. Cutting right through the middle of a shopaholic’s paradise is Orchard Road itself, which is filled with aggressive drivers and a few brave cyclists. As you can imagine, this is a road that can be pretty hard to cross at times, and so I come onto the horror that is the Orchard Underpass.
Among the many, many malls on Orchard Road, there are a few that it’s possible to move between without ever having to go outside. ION Orchard, Wisma Atria, Lucky Plaza, Ngee Ann City, Shaw House, Tangs Plaza, Wheelock Place, the Mariott Hotel and Orchard MRT station are all connected by the underpass from hell. It’s almost impossible to navigate your way around it successfully, sometimes even if you do know where you’re going and have gone there before. I cannot count the number of times I’ve popped up somewhere I didn’t expect to be and I’ve definitely wasted a very long time getting very, very lost down there. Just the other week I discovered a hidden staircase that ends in an inconspicuous door right in the middle of the danger zone. Needless to say that getting lost down there, especially on a weekend or public holiday when it’s packed, is not something I recommend doing.
I’ve gone off topic a little, but something I mentioned right back at the beginning of post number 1 was that, when you live somewhere for a while, things that seem strange at first just sort of become normal eventually. And so it is with automatically flushing public toilets. These are both a blessing and a curse, while it is very useful for the toilet to flush itself when you’re finished with your business I seem to be unable to use a public toilet in Singapore without it deciding to flush, sometimes more than once, while I’m still sat on it. Still, I spent a fair amount of time while I was at home staring incomprehensibly at public toilets, expecting them to flush. I also forgot how nice, easy and friendly English supermarkets are. I had grown completely unaccustomed to decent customer service and couldn’t really get over people talking to me and just generally being nice, personable and helpful in shops. However, one thing I did not miss was the British self-service checkout. They have them in Singapore, but there’s no bagging area nonsense – you put your items where you like after scanning, bag them in whatever weird and wonderful way you like, and that’s that. You can also take as many bags as you like, in fact I’ve got into a few silent conflicts in shops because the cashiers do not like it if you refuse bags, and they also do not like packing more than 5 items in any one bag, no matter what they are. You can imagine just how caught out I was by the new 5p bag charges back home.
I think that going home, and talking to everyone about Singapore, I had kind of glamourised the weather a little, and it’s been a short sharp shock to be rained on on an almost daily basis since I’ve been back. I mean, yes, it’s tropical, hot, humid, brilliantly sunny sometimes, but, it turns out, rain is pretty universally depressing, no matter how warm it is. As are grey skies, and thunderstorms where the sky goes green and there’s fork lightning get pretty tiring pretty quickly. And it’s no fun trying to walk in flip-flops when the rain is torrential, you just end up getting very wet toes and soggy shoes.
Finally, I want to mention Singlish, something I’ve probably talked about before. It’s a unique take on the English language which is confusing as hell the first time you hear it but which slowly becomes more recognisable, if no less confusing, over time. I hear it a lot at work, working with Singaporeans and teaching Singaporean children, and I’ve picked up a few favourite phrases and ticks. One is that the letter ‘l’ is quite often replaced with an ‘r’, which is especially amusing in the words ‘colour’ (c-r-ur-a), and ‘clock’ (crock). ‘Can’ is used to mean yes and ok, and can pretty much answer any question, as can its opposite: ‘cannot’ (it is, strangely, also perfectly acceptable to say ‘cannot can’, meaning: I can’t, ok. And weirdly, can’t is rarely used, it’s always cannot). It’s also pretty common to miss out fifty percent of the words you would normally hear in a sentence, and add in a smattering of others which you wouldn’t normally expect. ‘Also’ and ‘already’ are generally thrown in, at least once, for good measure. Add to that the final nail in the english language coffin that everything is said in the present tense, no matter when it happened or is going to happen, and I think you have more than enough to scratch your heads over for the next few hours!
Leah Out X
One final note, and a conversation I might have with myself if one of me was Singaporean. “Leah, are you going to write any more today?” “No, cannot lah. I do write finish already!!”