A ‘Fine’ Country

An homage for Singapore’s 50th birthday. 

“What?” I was just nodding, feeling stupid because I couldn’t quite catch what she was saying.

“Yes, yes… right,” I said. And she stopped talking and looked at me expectantly. Did she just ask a question?

That was one of the things I had to get used to the first time I was in Singapore. They speak English, yes. But they have their own accent which these American or British immersed ears found totally foreign. I think it’s a mix between British and Chinese languages resulting to that unique Singlish.

When I worked as an English teacher, I always told my students that listening to English is very easy and they would look at me as if they would just throw the chair right to my face. But really, it’s just a matter of getting used to. And true enough, I sort of got used to that Singlish twang, even adopting it; dropping my r’s and adding “lah” at the end of sentences. “Lah” doesn’t mean anything. It’s a sort of verbal filler which probably is for emphasis.

Now the whole world knows that Singapore is a “fine” country. Fine as in super clean and organized. If I am to pick two words to best describe the place, it would be those two. And of course it’s not a fine city for nothing. You get fined for everything – littering, eating in the subway train, smoking, chewing gum. Well, chewing gum is okay but it’s illegal to sell it. I learned from Rockwell, our host dad, that the gum ban came from an incident when the subway malfunctioned because of gum stuck on the railway.

Speaking of transportation, let’s talk about the cars. All the cars in Singapore look new. I’m not exaggerating but I wasn’t able to see one that actually emitted smoke. Owning a car here is one fascinating story. The permit is auctioned, you pay for the car, and you are to use it only for ten years. It’s their way of regulating the number of vehicles considering that it’s a country the size of a city.

They have it all figured. The traffic, the way things are done like efficiently checking one’s order in a menu list if in a restaurant, softening the concrete jungle by planting trees everywhere – so organized as I said. It’s a Singaporean thing.

It was my second time in Singapore as this was a port of call for SSEAYP (Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Programme). I’m glad that my homestay family gave me a fresh perspective of the Lion City. We went to the usual tourist spots and heard stories and history of these places which was nice. It was also a thrill to try out the many different kinds of food as we explored these food courts which they call hawker centers. It’s where you can get a smorgasbord of Chinese, Malay, and Indian food. Ah, food heaven!

Overall, the port of call in Singapore was a lovely experience and I hope to be back again someday to have that third time charm.

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Author: Ryan Bestre

Environmentalist. Teacher. Writer.

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