Report from Tomorrow - Vol 19
1USD = S$1.71 (S$1 = 0.58USD)
It's a Cultural Thing - II
Singapore has no concept of SERVICE in any form. Most restaurants manage to take your order and get food to your table, but you should not be surprised to never be bothered again by more water, or questions about the food or an offer of dessert. Maybe the fact there is generally no tipping is a factor (although there **is** a service charge in restaurants). Few travel agents seem to think that your trip is the most important thing on their desk today. Phone calls are unlikely to be returned. We found one travel agency here who seems to have snapped up all the warm friendly people on the island and when we tell other expats about them, they all say, "No, can't be. You must be mistaken".
PHONE ETIQUETTE is nonexistent here. Almost no one answers the phone (at work or at business) with anything more than "hello". They almost never announce who you have contacted or tell you who is calling when they call you. Few people/companies have any sort of answering machine. Of course, there'd be little point in leaving a message, because few businesses would return the call anyway.
SHOPPING here can be very cumbersome. There are some large department stores, but they are relatively few and located in one area of the island only. For many of your needs, you find yourself visiting specialty shops. One expat woman complained about "returning to the hunting and gathering age" when they came to S'pore.
In the same vain, once you do find a specialty shop, you'll likely find a dozen in the same business right next door. I think most of the shoe stores in S'pore are in the Queenstown shopping center (just across the road from us). It's sensory overload to go there. This place is 4 floors of tiny (~400 square feet) shoe stores right next to each other. Okay, there are a few other stores (mostly sporting goods stores), but at Queenstown you'll easily find 8 shoe stores in a row. No grocery. No pharmacy. The pattern is common all over S'pore. It's nice if you're looking for one particular thing, but if you need to visit 5 different kinds of stores, you may well find yourself visiting 3-5 areas of town to get the stuff. How 'quaint'.
For whatever reason, every S'porean seems compelled to go shopping from noon to 7 PM every Saturday and Sunday. Surely they can't be buying things all the time! Granted there are a lot of people on this island, but do they ALL need to go to Orchard Road (main shopping district) EVERY weekend? When we first arrived it was terribly crowded and everyone said it was just because of the Chinese New Year. Well, yes, it was crowded then (I've never been in such a seething mass of humanity - hardly room to walk), but ordinary weekends are only just a little less crowded.
One store I sorely miss is a place like MENARDS, HOME DEPOT or HQ. If you need a screwdriver or want to make a shelf, you'll find it a nontrivial task. We happen to have a DIY chain across the road from us. They're basically a hardware store and I'm sure all the expats here keep them going quite nicely. But if DIY doesn't have it or you think you should be getting a better price, then you'd better be prepared for some serious hunting and gathering.
In the fashion section I mentioned the emphasis on BRAND NAMES. One curious aspect of this phenomena is shopping bags. On the way to work every morning, I'll see lots and lots of young women carrying a small bag which is conspicuously labeled with some fancy high priced store - you know, the kind of place that sells scarves for $100. Now obviously at 9AM we all know she isn't coming from the store. Maybe it's just that they make such strong and long lasting bags, do you suppose?
This is not a friendly place for BICYCLES. The streets are generally quite wide, but are four lanes - four lanes that are just a few inches wider than the buses. The roads never have shoulders. The bus drivers are relatively aggressive drivers and do not care to give you lots of extra room. On my ride to work each day, I'll see 3-4 old men riding very old bikes. They peddle along at a leisurely pace with cars and buses passing within inches. I don't know how they can do it. I remember the terror British drivers inflicted on me when we were in the UK and this is far worse.
Speaking of bicycles, I should point out this WAS the land of the TRISHAW (a 3-wheeler bicycle with a wide seat for one passenger, or two small people), a.k.a the pedicab. These are no longer in use, except for a few for tourists. You'll still find them in use in Malaysia. See trishaw.gif for a picture.