06 May 2011


Singapore is very much like the United States in a lot of ways. Paul often says that it could be Florida any day of the week. The city has a cityscape; some outlying areas are only referred to as feeling like suburbia, though there are no actual suburbs. There are lots of people, lots of trees; shopping seems to be the number one hobby. Cars are everywhere, even the ultra-luxurious ones like Ferraris (which blows our minds - who would buy a Ferrari to drive on an uber-restricted island that is only 14 miles by 26 miles?). There are, however, a few times that it is very clear that we are not in Kansas anymore (not that I have ever been to Kansas). One of those times was Wednesday when I took a trip to the local wet market. This place was not one to which I will return, although it was not atrocious. There was a cement floor under a pavilion and there were several rows of stands with people selling fresh meat and produce. I had no idea what these people were saying as I walked by, but I just smiled and kept walking. I wanted to get the lay of the land before I made my ever-important meat decisions.

I read that these wet markets open around midnight and are often closed before lunch, so I went early. I was searching for a pork roast, some chicken breasts and some beef. I left with only one of the three. The vegetable counters were nice - overflowing with fresh produce. Signs were hung to show the varieties and the sellers were eager to make deals. The fish stalls somewhat excited me. They had a lot of variety and a guy was preparing the fish as I walked by. I found quite a few meat counters but none of the meat was red, so I was out of luck there. The chicken was not cut in a familiar way in any of the chicken stalls and the butchering quality left a lot to be desired, so I backed away. I did find one piece of pork in the entire market that matched what I was seeking. I pointed inside the refrigerated case and told the old man behind the counter which one I wanted. He picked it up with his bare hands. When I asked how much, the man placed the piece of pork onto a scale with other little pork pieces stuck to it. Once I agreed to the size and the price, he reached for a plastic bag with his pork fingers and placed the meat inside the bag. I then handed the man my money as he exchanged my dinner. Without wiping his hands at all, he took my money and presented me my change, gooey pork bills and all. I was really grossed out and didn't want to put this money into my brand new leather wristlet but I knew I had no other option. I put the pork bills away and walked across the street to the grocery store.

On the bus ride home, I sat on the upper deck so that I could see a familiar stop approaching. I looked out the windows and watched people on the streets and the sidewalks. We were in a part of the island that I was convinced could be Chinatown, anywhere, knowing full well that the real Chinatown, Singapore, was in another part of the island. At that point, I knew I was somewhere foreign. The clothes did not match what I knew as typical, the mannerisms did not match, the transportation, the style of buildings did not match. And then I saw a Pizza Hut and it made me chuckle. A block later I saw a Domino's Pizza across the street from an Italian pizzeria and figured if Singapore would have a pizza district, this could be it.

What we miss most about living in the U.S. is a list of a lot of little things: pizza and ice cream, for instance. American pizza here is hard to come by. When the pizza is found, it is often priced high. A Domino's delivery pizza is S$18; one Paul had in a restaurant last night was S$26. Ice cream is everywhere but the portions are so small and the prices are so high - a trip to Ben & Jerry's for three people could easily run S$40. In the store, the good brands like Hagen Dazs and B&J run S$14 to S$16 a pint. The normal local brand vanilla is still S$8. I have not had any ice cream since we moved. With it being so hot here, why is no one selling ice cream cones for a nickel? I'll tell you - because the local people will pay S$8 for an ice cream cone. Meanwhile, back in reality, the expats are going crazy.

The scoops of ice cream do not even compare to half a scoop at Jeni's. One scoop here is about 1/5, maybe 1/4 the size of a Jeni's ice cream scoop, which brings us to our next missed item: American-sized portions. I often complained about how American portions are so huge and I often declared that restaurants should serve actual portion sizes for many reasons. In Singapore, I am not sure we are served a full portion of anything. Paul and I ate at an outdoor cafe when we first moved here. Our sandwich, chips and drinks were somewhere around S$20. The sandwiches were normal sized, but we had maybe 10 chips beside the sandwich on our platters. We ate brunch at a bakery and had ham and cheese croissants with two thin slices of ham each. And the croissants were about half of the ones seen at any Starbucks. We hungry. We want more food.

Another thing that we miss is American banking, mostly because Singapore banking is very difficult. It took us three attempts with three separate checks to make a successful cash transaction. The first time Paul received a reimbursement check from his boss, we were advised that the markings on the check indicated that this check was for deposit only. If we had an account with the bank, we would be able to have the money placed in our account. Great, except Paul's employment pass had not yet been approved (and still hasn't been approved), so we were unable to open an account. We received a new check for the second attempt with no "deposit only" markings in the corners. We were denied again, however, because one of the two signatures on the check did not exactly match the one the bank had on file. Grr. The third time we had yet a third check with two perfect signatures and we were able to walk away with some cash. We were both astounded at these happenings. When away from the bank, Paul went on a tirade:

   "This is ridiculous. Why can't I open an account? I want to give you my money! Why won't you just take my money?"
   "In America, we can present a check written in crayon and they would cash it. I don't understand!"

I also found it odd that the bank did not carry S$100 bills. I could have a S$1000 bill but the next size down offered was a S$50. There are S$100 bills in circulation. Why can I not get them at a bank?

Cash is the most widely used form of currency in Singapore. Unlike in America, people pay for almost everything in cash. There are credit cards, but many companies charge fees for using plastic where fees do not exist when using cash. The bill system is very similar to the U.S., which is quite helpful. They use the term "dollars" and have 2, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 1000 dollar bills. There are one-dollar coins, 50-cent coins, 20-cent, 10-cent and 5-cent coins. I confuse them with the American coins very easily and often take some time to figure it out. We liked using our debit cards to pay for things in the U.S. It was very easy. And fast. Here it takes much longer to use a card than to use cash. One can actually hold up a line by using a card.

If more people used credit or debit cards in Singapore, maybe they would appreciate online shopping, another fabulous thing not offered here. Oh yes, I am serious, no online shopping. I believe one mobile phone store and one grocery store will allow you to shop online and have your items delivered, but that is all I have seen. Websites are so bad and so unhelpful here, we are not able to Google a store to see their product offerings. If websites offer products at all, there will simply be a list of brand names with "and many more" at the bottom. No links to the brands appear, no pricing appears, no option to buy anything online exists. We are not able to see which stores offer which items, let alone brands or prices. It's crazy!

Without the option of online shopping and the uncertainty of products offered, the only thing one can do is what everyone else on this island does - go to the mall and see for yourself. There are many good days to go to the mall, whether rain or shine. Most days are the same in Singapore: the sun rises around 7, the sun shines brightly overhead, the temperature is hot and humid, often in the 90s, and then, some days, the rain will come in the afternoon. There is a little variety when it comes to the rain. We will see sunshine for a few days and then rain for a few afternoons; the hot and humid are here forever. I stopped asking Paul for a weather report after day three in Singapore because I figured it out. Unless the sun is not out around 7, it will be sunny in the morning, high around 90, humid meaning sweaty and there will be a chance of rain in the afternoon. While we certainly do not miss the dark, cloudy skies of Ohio, we do miss the chance of fluctuating temperatures, warm some days and cooler others.

Other little things we miss are the American-style appliances. The Singapore oven is small and it has odd features; the gas stove will boil anything on the lowest setting. There are rarely ovens in homes, so we got lucky; dishwashers are also hard to find. We do not have one. While doing dishes regularly has not upset me yet, I think it will today as I realize that all of the dishes and silverware and containers coming over by boat will all need to be washed. I think it will take me a week to wash all of these in shifts. And garbage disposals do not exist, so we have a little grody catcher in the bottom of the sink. I call it that because it catches all of the items left on the dishes and those little leftovers get all grody and wet and I do no want to touch them. But I do and doing that completely grosses me out. I also miss American toilets but I will just leave it at that.

I could write for days about trash cans, wine and all of the American products that are different here. But, instead, I think I will focus the next entry on things we don't miss. 

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