Having been here for over a month now, I’ve noticed some interesting things about Singapore:
1) ‘Kiasu’ is something ex-pats and tourists will learn about very quickly here. It describes the local ‘fear of losing,’ and this mentality of ‘not coming last’ causes people to ignore queues, politely shove you out of the way and gently push you down escalators.
2) I am both a ‘Sir’ and a ‘Maam’ in Singapore. I didn’t know my look was so androgynous, but I am called ‘Sirmam’ wherever I go.
3) There is a beloved breed of bird here called an Asian Koel. It sings in repetitive ascending scales every morning around 6am. See / hear it for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIssAHyay0I
4) Children wear shoes that sound like squeaky toys. Every step is accompanied with a high pitched squeak which reassures their parents as to where they are. Luckily even I can out-stride a toddler.
5) When handing over money, you should always use both hands to pass it to avoid hiding anything with the hand that is out of view. This is tricky when you’re juggling bags, but always try.
6) Spitting is a natural sport. Hawkers has developed a whole new meaning.
7) On finishing your meal, never stand your chopsticks upright. According to Chinese manners, if you do not set your chopsticks down you are wishing death upon an elder present at the table. The chopsticks emulate the funeral shrine, where two lit incense sticks are placed standing in a bowl of rice or sand.
8) CandyCrush is the most popular pastime on the morning commute.
9) The secret to staying young is to eat sheep placentas, according to my new favourite hairdresser.
10) Durian is the local tropical fruit which smells diabolical but is a favourite with Singaporeans, especially in pancakes and as a flavour ice cream. This is how Victorian explorer Wallace described it:
“[The] pulp is the eatable part, and its consistency and flavour are indescribable. A rich butter-like custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but intermingled with it come wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, brown-sherry, and other incongruities. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid, nor sweet, nor juicy; yet one feels the want of none of these qualities, for it is perfect as it is. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat durions, is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience.” (From Wallace’s 1869 book The Malay Archipelago).