Singapore – the good, the bad, and the weird la

April 6, 2007 3 Comments »

Photo: Spiral Staircase at Pagoda

View pictures around Singapore 

I’ve spent approximately 3 months on and off in Singapore – it’s been my home base for SE Asia. I feel like I’ve got to know it fairly well – all of it’s ups and downs…and oddities. I’ve tried to compile a list of some of my observations:

Hi-Tech Parking – The parking garages are amazingly high tech. First off, everyone has a little card/reader in their car (like an EZpass), but it works for every parking garage or lot in the country…yup…every one of them. This makes public parking a breaze…you just pull into the lot, it automatically reads your card and assesses your balance. The gates go up and you park. Upon your exit – it reads your card again and deducts the cost from your account automatically. Granted – this isn’t rocket science – but the fact that you can use it absolutely everywhere is genius! Airport parking, grocery store parking, Zoo parking, city park parking, museum parking…just one card. The other great thing about parking garages here is that they have a system that tells you how many empty spaces there are left on each floor of the garage. You get this information fed to you on an electronic board when you enter the garage. You then go right to the floor where they have 11 spots open! You may be wondering how do they know what spaces are open…well…that’s the beauty of it…they have little lights above each parking space in the garage. They are either green (if the space is empty) or red (if a car is occupying the space). I’m assuming there is some kind of laser or motion sensor. This info is fed back and tabulated quickly to update the board within seconds. The best part is that you are driving through a packed parking garage and you can immediately find the empty space by spotting the green light above the space…ingenious!

PagodaTransportation Privacy -The public transportation in Singapore is also really great. They have an above ground subway called the MRT. It’s easy to figure out, clean, and good signage. As I was riding the MRT I noticed that the windows were made of fogged-over glass so that you couldn’t see out. The above ground train would go very close to apartment buildings, therefore the fogged windows made it so you could see into people’s 3rd story windows/living space…very courteous of them! However when I got on the train, I could have sworn that they were clear glass. I felt as if I were losing my mind…must lay off the beer for a while I guess. However, a few minutes later, I noticed again that they were fogged. As I watched these mysterious windows, fog and then unfog – I realized that the windows would automatically fog over when we passed an apartment building, and then unfog when there was open space to see. Brilliant!

Grocery Carts Corals – Singapore figured out a great way to ensure that grocery carts get back to the coral…a deposit. When you go to a grocery store and get a cart out of the big line of carts in the front – you have to put a dollar coin in a little slot on the cart and it then is released from the herd of carts and you can use it freely all over the store. When you go to the parking garage to load your car, the only way you will get your dollar back is to take the cart back to the coral and hook it back up to the ‘herd’…and your dollar pops back out!

Customer Service – I had a number of people tell me this – but I was surprised as I always thought that Asia in general was supposed to have excellent service. I was flying to Lombok and was in the process of checking in with my eticket. After I got all confirmed and checked in – the final step was for the woman to ask me for my credit card that I purchased the e-ticket with. Hmmmm – that was strange…why on earth do you need that? She said that they need to see it in order to prevent fraud. Strange – I just showed you my passport, and you have matched that information to what you have in the computer (at least that’s what was running through my head). I told her that I didn’t have the credit card with me as my sister had purchased the ticket with her card over 2 months ago. She looked me in the face and said “then you’ll have to buy a new ticket.” Deep breathes….just relax….”I have to what?” Needless to say, it took about 15 minutes of arguing, with me and my sister both present to convince them that there was no way I was buying another ticket when I just checked in and gave you my passport. After all, if they were going to try to stop fraud on e-tickets – then they should start back on their website as the ticket has already been paid for 2 months ago!

Return policies – Since I was in Singapore for Christmas, I did most of my shopping for my nieces in Singapore so that if they didn’t like it they could return it easier. The main toy store in Singapore is Toys R Us…great…an American company that I am familiar with. I picked out some presents and put them under the tree. The girls happened to get 2 of the same games for Christmas, therefore we had to return one of them. We went to the customer service counter with our receipt on December 29th. We told them that we wanted to return this game because we received two of them and showed them the receipt. They proceeded to tell us that we could not be refunded out money because their return policy was ‘money back within 7 days of purchase’. For Christmas purchases this was insane – did they want you to shop on December 24th? They were closed on the 25th – so you lose one day right then. They said that we could pick something else out that cost the same or more….what a rip off. We argued with them about this for quite some time – but they will not bend the rules – even if the rules are ridiculous. All of this happened as I was reading their lovely Toys R Us ‘vision statement’ posted behind their customer service counter…”We want every customer to be satisfied”….ha, they don’t have any idea what customer service is! I can’t only pick on Toys R Us…as this was the norm for all retailers in Singapore.

Japanese Garden Branded – I had been here about a month when I noticed that many cars had a large 6 inch sticker in the back and front window. The sticker simply had a orange, reflective triangle on it – like a warning sign. I asked Cyndi what it was and she said that it is a symbol that denotes a new driver. That seemed reasonable I suppose – I used to have a learners permit – but I didn’t have to stick anything in my window for the whole world to see – that seemed like a little bit too much information. Then she told me that they have to display this symbol for over a year! I was horrified that people had to carry this symbol with them for so long even after they passed a driving test! Plus, it didn’t matter if you had your license for 20 years, if you had a kid that was learning to drive – you still had to have the big sticker in the car. It was like a branding or sorts – one that said –“ watch out for me – I don’t know what I’m doing!” Cyndi just laughed at me and said that I was too used to my ‘freedoms’ in the states.

Electronics – During the holidays as I walked around some of the malls in Singapore I kept seeing little booths advertising Massaging MP3 players – no I’m not kidding – here’s the marketing spiel on it:
The age of teledildonics draws ever closer with the OSIM iGoGo, a 128MB MP3 player that can communicate wirelessly with two massage units. Distribute these rectangular devices on those spots that get you hot (and/or those of your comely young companion), and turn the music up to 11. It’ll get you where you want to go. But aren’t the little massagers the wrong shape? Maybe there’s a more anatomically-correct version in the pipeline. It’s $437.
I love new gadgets – but no, I passed on this one – I know that’s hard to believe.

Practicing Hymns – Ok, I can’t tell a lie – prior to December it had been quite some time since I had set foot in a church. Since I was staying with my sister, I felt that part of my responsibility was to attend church with them on Sundays…it certainly couldn’t hurt I suppose. The first service I went to though was like no other service I have ever been to. They belong to a small Catholic church. The Priest came out before the service started and actually asked us to open the hymnal to practice the songs that we would be singing during the service. It seemed rather odd that the congregation had to practice the songs 4 minutes before that we were going to sing them. He gave us advice on when to sing louder and with more joy – then he started the service and we sang the same song again…but better I guess. During the sermon he asked us to close our eyes and fantasize about what we wanted out of our church… I fantasized about a Starbucks counter in the back…it seemed harmless. He told us to open our eyes after about 3 minutes and much to my surprise and terror – he started calling on people in the congregation to share with everyone what they were fantasizing about! I sat there as if I were in high school again praying that he wouldn’t call on me as I didn’t do my homework properly!

Parking – In Singapore, everyone backs into parking spaces. I have no idea why this is the case – but everywhere you go – there are never any cars that pull forward into to a parking space. Everyone backs into their parking spaces. I’ve yet to figure out why this is the case. As a side note – my sister is an excellent backwards parker now!

Baby Cake – In Singapore, when someone is expecting a new baby, you generally give the baby a gift/money as you would in the US. However, the strange part is that after the baby is born, the family gives you a photo of the newborn with all of the stats and a coupon for a free cake from a local bakery. Add this up…that can be a lot of cake coupons for new parents to give out…maybe they want everyone else to have to loose weight with them?!

La – Finally, one of the stranger things that I became acustomed to was that most Singaporians place the word ‘la’ at the end of a sentence – very similiar to Candians using the word ‘eh’.

Every country has it’s quirks – and one of my favorite things to do is to find them…kind of like a scavenger hunt! Singapore didn’t disappoint la!

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