IKEA Trip and Hilarious Cab Rides: “You Live HERE? Are you SURE??”

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:

I hugely prefer fabric potholders to silicon ones.  Sorry, KMN.  And my juicer got lost/donated/thrown out somewhere between Rochester/New Jersey/LA/Singapore. And I juice a LOT of lemons...

I hugely prefer fabric potholders to silicon ones. Sorry, KMN. And my juicer got lost/donated/thrown out somewhere between Rochester/New Jersey/LA/Singapore.  I use a *lot* of lemon juice, so this is practically an essential kitchen tool.

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?
Me: USA!
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?
Me: $29.

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?
Me: Huh?
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.
Him: HDB?
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.
Him: Here.
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.  🙂

And look:

The one in the foreground is the new "man" in town.  Within 5 minutes, he was adorned in sweaty workout clothes.  His existence promises to be a glorious one...

The one in the foreground is the new “man” in town. Within 5 minutes, he was adorned in sweaty workout clothes. His existence promises to be a glorious one…

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…

18 thoughts on “IKEA Trip and Hilarious Cab Rides: “You Live HERE? Are you SURE??”

  1. Lisa @ Jogging on Coffee

    Loved this! It’s always so cool to hear about other people’s experiences living in different countries. I lived in Germany for a little while, but apparently I passed as a German though so I wasn’t treated any differently – at least not until I spoke in my broken German 😛 Luckily I always found people there to be super friendly and accommadating too, in spite of all the stereotypes!

    1. Holly KN Post author

      We never lived there, but traveled through – and were also pleasantly surprised at how friendly and helpful everyone was! And lots of them (we were mostly in Berlin) spoke enough English to help us out. 🙂

  2. Nicole

    Interesting how he expressed his assumptions about where you’d live…we lived in an HDB sublet and on the rare occasions I took a cab home from somewhere (it was usually on my way home from work with my uniform shirt on so that may be why) they never expressed surprise over our housing choice.

    1. Holly KN Post author

      Hm….Interesting! I really enjoy comparing our experiences – whether they are very different, or re-affirming the same perceived oddities!!!! 🙂

  3. Meg

    Love this post!

    In Chittagong, people on the street would take pictures of me (and my colleagues) because we were white. Obviously, I was a celebrity. (More seriously, white foreigners were rare in Chittagong, and a sighting was a big deal for many Bangladeshis. It’s the closest I’m likely to come to actually being a celebrity. :-)) And I obviously was rich: prices would go up if I had to re-ask in English how much something cost after asking in Bengali and not being quick enough on the uptake.

    The money discussion made me laugh– it was the same in Bangladesh/ India. Where are you from? How much money do you make? How much did your parents’ house cost? Where did you go to school? What degree do you have? How much did you pay for your new outfit? That’s too much! I always felt like it was an attempt to fit me into the social structure map my conversation partners had in their heads– much more comfortable discussing those things than Americans tend to be 🙂

    1. Holly KN Post author

      I did the “only white person” (or, rather, group of 10 white people!) on a DIS trip to Eritrea while at Drew – and that is a WEIRD feeling! We’d pull into a rural town – this rattle-trap bus full of white college kids – and we were instantly the main attraction.

      There are plenty of Caucasians here – and although I think the locals are pretty fair to foreigners, I will confess – sometimes, if I have a problem or want to make sure I get a good price on something negotiable, I will DEFINITELY wait until KMN is available to come with me! 🙂

  4. misszippy1

    Such a great conversation! It is funny how much we all generalize about other cultures, etc. I know I sometimes fall into that trap. You probably gave him lots of food for thought that night!

    1. Holly KN Post author

      To be honest, my situation *is* an unusual one – but I do get some pleasure out of challenging people’s assumptions about it/me.

      And this whole experience has reminded ME to think twice about my own assumptions!

  5. Jules

    Lol, love your Singlish!! This post made me literally laugh out loud!

    We also have two clothes racks for drying. One for clean clothes and the other for sweaty post exercise clothes! Do you dry your clothes in the sun? Maybe that will help.

    1. Holly KN Post author

      Hahaha – thanks! It’s….beginner Singlish, but I’m trying. 🙂

      And it’s so hard to communicate the lilt and accent of it in writing. I mean, I don’t have *much* of an accent at all, but even the abbreviated sentences (missing a/an/the and lots of prepositions) read strangely to me – but sound perfectly correct coming out of my mouth!

      I put the rack in the sun, but we don’t have access to outdoor drying – so the only direct sun is what comes in through the windows in the afternoon. But a bit of sun-baking (although bad for the technical fabric and spandex) might help the smell. May have to co-opt my mother-in-law’s bamboo poles and rack on afternoon!

  6. greengirlrunning

    That was hilarious! The language reminds me a little of Hawaiian Pigeon talk 🙂 When I’ve been in Hawaii people assume I’m from the Islands because of my appearance. I take it as a compliment!

    Try baking soda in the wash for workout clothes stink!

    1. Holly KN Post author

      I think there’s something fun about being mistaken for a local – KMN is, when we’re in Japan. Even better, he’s really good at guessing what someone is saying, even if he doesn’t understand the language. So he’ll nod, or point, or gesture – just to keep up the charade. 🙂

      Baking soda: Iiinteresting. I’ve been experimenting with vinegar, but am not sure it’s helping much (I also don’t have a really quantitative way to measure…). Baking soda may be worth a shot. Or – OR! – I could use BOTH and have a VOLCANO in the washing machine. Oh, my word. KMN would *love* that…. 🙂

  7. Kate

    I love how you just threw ‘uncle’ in there at the end – you really are a Singaporean! (And I wouldn’t know…but my father in law lives over there).

  8. Karen

    Re assumptions that people make, one time I was in Angola and introduced to a local colleague. He asked if I was Korean. I said, “No, I’m Chinese.” He was shocked, “All the Chinese women I’ve seen are ugly. You are not ugly. That is why I thought you were Korean. Korean women are beautiful.”

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