Our apartment suffers from a syndrome that seems fairly common among two-athlete-couples: “Too Many Sweaty Clothes, Not Enough Drying Space”. I can easily go through two sets of workout gear a day (run and spin, spin and yoga, swim and run, etc.), and KMN often contributes a set himself. We have one drying rack for our actual, you know, clean clothes – but we really needed another for our workout gear. The back of the bathroom door and the shower stall just weren’t cutting it anymore.
So I recently took a trip to IKEA. First, these things jumped into my arms:
Then, I located the drying rack we had picked out on an earlier visit (but was out of stock). I quickly made my purchases, and had a little bus-vs-taxi debate with myself. The drying rack was a bit bulky, but it was 9 PM, and the bus on the route I needed probably wouldn’t be that full. On the other hand, I was juggling my gym bag, and an IKEA bag, and the drying rack, and I hadn’t had dinner…and the taxi ride home would probably cost $10 and be 20-30 minutes faster.
Decision made: taxi. We don’t take taxis that often – only if we’re in a super hurry, or it’s between midnight and 6 AM, or we have a lot of stuff to move. But I certainly know how to do it (my, how far from Sussex County I’ve come…). So I flagged the next taxi that dropped someone off, and got me and my purchases inside.
My cabdriver was Chinese Singaporean. He was a very nice older fellow, who spoke decent, but strongly accented, English. I will recount several parts of our conversation, as they are both amusing and show some common misconceptions of Singaporeans about foreigners. I can also introduce you to a tiny bit of Singlish (Singaporean English).
I told the cab driver approximately where I wanted to go:
Him: Oh…will be very bad traffic!
Me: Mmm…usually OK this time of day.
Him: Oh…bad traffic!
Me: We try and see how? [<–Singlish, basically “Can we try?”]
And off we went, him explaining why traffic was bad for everyone, both taxi drivers and passengers, and how his last trip (taking someone home from the airport) took over an hour (he even showed me the taxi log, to prove it), and how he doesn’t understand why white people want to live so far outside the city.
Him: In the jungle! Why want to live in the jungle?? Why foreigners all want to live in the jungle?? *shudder* Jungle!!
It’s true that many expats do prefer the areas outside the city, probably in large part because they can rent a house there, rather than an apartment or condo. And traffic is bad – but Singapore is a pretty developed island. There’s not much of anything that’s a genuine *ahem* jungle. And the driver apparently missed the obvious contradiction: I am definitely Caucasian, and we were definitely NOT headed into the jungle. But he knew I was Caucasian, all right:
Him: Where you from?
Him: Aaaah. OK. USA good. Americans nice, and Australians also nice. Europeans not so nice. Rude. Americans and Australians nicer. Also tip.
Well…I might be a bad person for it – but I certainly didn’t tell him that I was Singaporean enough to know that I didn’t need to tip. But eventually my cover was blown:
Him: What is this? *motions toward drying rack*
Me: Drying rack, for clothes. No bamboo poles where we live. [<—This is the more common way to dry clothes – extending out on bamboo poles from outside a window.]
Him: Oh….how much?
Singaporeans talk about money much more freely than Americans. Asking someone how much they make, or how much they paid for something (apartment rent, a meal, an appliance), is quite normal and not considered rude at all. This took some adjustment, but now I’m used to it.
Him: Oh…pretty cheap. No need for expensive, if only will throw away in 6 months.
Me: I hope it lasts more than 6 months!
Him: How long you stay in Singapore? You here for work, right? Just a short time, is it?
Me: Well, my husband is Singaporean. He grew up here. We moved back to be closer to his family. Doh-know how long. [<—Best I can do, phonetically.]
Him: Oooh! Singaporean! What kind of Singaporean?
Him: What kind of Singaporean? He Chinese?
Me: Ohhh! Yes. Yes. Chinese. Chinese Singaporean.
Obviously, lots of expats come for short stints and without much tie to/longevity in Singapore. We were coming down the final stretch of road to our apartment, and I pointed out where he should turn.
Him: How you go there?
Me: Go where?
Him: How you go IKEA?
Me: Oh! Take bus.
Him: Take bus?!?!?!
Me: Uhhh…yeah. But too much barang barang to take home. [<– Barang barang = stuff]
Him: How you know where bus goes?
Me: Erm…I live here. Use signs at bus stop. Look up on computer, also can. [<– A bit more Singlish]
Him: You take bus?!?! *shakes head* Not cab?
Me: No, usually bus or MRT. Cab, only if no choice or lots of packages. Otherwise no need.
Today, plenty of people from all walks of life talk all modes of transportation in Singapore. But not that long ago, most of the Caucasians here were quite wealthy, and stereotypically took cabs everywhere. As I said – this is changing a lot, and at least 50% of the time, I’m not the only Caucasian on the bus. As we were waiting at the last traffic light:
Him: You live in HDB, or terrace houses? [At least he was open to the idea that I *might* live in the government-built HDB flats!]
Me: Neither. Apartment.
Me: No. Apartment. I show you.
I direct him around a curve in the road, and pointed:
Me: Here. Can pull over here.
Him: *skeptically* Here? [There is nothing sketchy about where we live. Nothing. Just a regular building, on a regular street.]
Me: Yes. Can pull over here?
Him: You live here??? *he slows*
Me: Yes! Thank you, uncle! *pays, no tip* [<– Which, by this point, he probably should have realized I wasn’t going to give.]
I’m not quite sure why he didn’t believe me about where I lived – but the rest of the trip brought to light some amusing generalizations and assumptions people sometimes make about me and my situation. I should highlight, though, that I almost never feel uncomfortable here. People – like this uncle – are sometimes curious, but never unfriendly or unwelcoming. Singapore is very, very good to me, whether or not I travel with KMN. Although, the best conversations (like this one) happen in his absence. 🙂
Travelers: Ever had some humorous false assumptions made about you based on your appearance?
Athletes: What’s your best trick for getting that deep-rooted stink out of your workout gear?
I find the “Athletic Detergent” to be totally ineffective, but am experimenting with adding vinegar now. Other suggestions welcome…