Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Singapore Day 26: A list of Other-ness (or "This place is not like home!")

Everyone who travels experiences moments when they realize, "This is not like what we're used to!" I thought you'd enjoy a short list of some things that are different between Singapore (or Indonesia) and Seattle.

Jakarta traffic

  • Human cargo: 
    • To save space on the roads, work teams of foreigners sit on the bed of pickup trucks. Rails on the sides and a canopy suffice for moving people efficiently, protected from the weather. (In the US, animal rights activists sometimes protest dogs riding in the open back of a truck.) A taxi driver explains that employers move huge numbers of people this way: having them crowd into buses in their workclothes would be inefficient and dirty.
    • About 270,000 men from China, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, India, and Bangladesh provide the bulk of a work force for landscaping and construction, while female Filipinos and Indonesians help with housework and nanny-ing. Most support their families at home with wages from Singapore.
    • In Indonesian cities, middle and upper class households hire drivers and maids. City commutes can be hair-raising if you're not used to lane changes, cars zipping by on the shoulder, or motorcycles squeezing between the lanes. People walk through any space provided (at their own risk).
    • Locals who have been down-sized sometimes join the taxi workforce. Singapore's taxi drivers are AMAZING: they find the address quickly, are fountains of info on food, shopping, and local sites, and fees are regulated. (Here's a funny video about taxi drivers: click here, and get a feel for the language, too.)
Electrical socket and plug

  • Electrical plugs: 
    • voltage is 220, not 110 (so you'll fry Ami electronics that aren't wired for dual voltage). 
    • The plugs themselves are varied, but mostly British style - big and clunky. 
    • You have to turn on the out at the wall and on an extension cord before power flows.

  •  Kitchens: 
    • Many Singapore kitchens have no oven and some have no stove. Why would you cook and bake when there are hawkers stalls within walking distance?
    • Every neighborhood has food courts with individual vendors in hawker stalls. Eating outside (on the open ground floor of a building) is cheaper than eating inside (enclosed air-conditioned space).
    • Most parents work late. Children eat with friends at the food courts. Many kids become picky eaters: from the time they're little, they can choose whatever they like from a variety of cooks. A family eating together will have many different kinds of food from various food stalls.
    • Restaurants that serve supper are open until 10 or later. Friends or family often hang out together after work. Little kids run around their parents' table area with no fear of danger or getting lost.
Change of style: you may have to
squat not sit

  • Toilet stuff: 
    • The bathroom is called a toilet here, as in "Where's the toilet, please?" It's called a WC (short for "water closet") in Indonesia. 
    • In many places, you'll use an old-style toilet, a hole in the floor.
    • In most flats, tap water runs only cold (that is, a tropical lukewarm). We flip a switch to turn on point-of-use heaters for showers. (Hardly anyone has a tub.)
    • Some Singapore toilets and every one we saw in Indo come with a bidet: manual (a water hose running from the wall beside the toilet) or automated (a water jet sprays from inside the toilet rim).
    • In areas of limited sewer capacity (like Indonesian cities), the garbage bin in the stall is for toilet paper. Do not flush it! Before you say, "Eyew!" keep in mind that it's the same in Israel and other limited-water/sewer areas.
Shopping in Chinatown
  • Getting around:
    • Walking? Watch your step. You need to know what's underfoot, both in style and stuff.
    • The curbs and sidewalks are smooth and uniform in newer neighborhoods. In others (like Little India), every shop has paved or tiled its own frontage. Steps up and down, level or slanted walks, and variations in width are just a few of the hazards. In Indonesia, there seems to be no regulation. When pavement is dug up for repairs, it might be replaced by uneven blocks (18"X32" near our hotel) or repaved in any fashion. The sidewalk can serve as a motorcycle passageway if roads are too congested, or may disappear entirely in some places.
    • Instead of following the curving roads on sidewalks, most housing is built with an open ground floor. You can take shortcuts through courtyards and under buildings.
    • Buses and taxis are commonplace. The SMRT (trains and buses) that run through Singapore are efficient, routes are easy to figure out, and the cost is reasonable. If it takes an hour and a half to get from city center to our eastern side of the island, there's a lot to see from the bus window. Long lines wait to get on the trains during rush hour. People are polite, even while queuing and jockeying for position. However, sometimes Chinese or Indian grandmas elbow their way past us without qualms.
Wave down a taxi when
the green roof sign is lit
  • Service:
    • Whether it's food or shopping, Singapore takes its experiences seriously. The people go out of their way to give great service. Check out this "Goldfish Birthday" video. Made me laugh.
    • Singaporeans are hard workers. Competition for education means tutors and after-hours studying. Then the workplace demands a lot of overtime.
    • Singapore is CLEAN. If there's litter, it disappears in a hurry: mostly foreign workers sweep and wash public spaces. Garbage is efficiently disposed of. From shop windows to bathrooms, surfaces are wiped down and sparkling. Back alleys and ethnic neighborhoods aren't always as tidy or hygienic.
    • The Singaporean government uses ad campaigns, fines, and other incentives to enlist locals' help in wiping out mosquitoes. Standing water is forbidden and inhabitants are strongly cautioned against providing breeding ground for bugs that carry disease and fevers.
How we love this part of the world!

Read more:
*O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do. Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me. Psalm 71:17-18  NLT

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly enough, we find with some anatomical research that hole-in-the-ground toilets are better for our digestive tracts than the chair-style so common in America! They even sell a "squatty potty" now which is a raised stool (no pun intended?) to make a conventional chair toilet more similar to the hole-in-the-ground toilets. It's all about the angle, apparently! Ha ha. The things we learn.

    So many differences .... and so fascinating to read about, thank you for sharing :)