10 Short Stories in Singapore
I spent a day recently in Singapore and was amused by some discoveries. These are the stories, shortly.
1. The queuing experience was a crucial pain in the ass. First, I had to run and fight with other bus passengers for passport-checking procedures at Woodlands Checkpoint. I was unlucky since I was in the slowest queue. When I finally reached at the counter, the officer scrutinized my face so seriously I thought he wanted to ask the authorities to arrest me for having some association with Mas Selamat. This follow-the-book officer was a bit old and slow. He really made everyone in the queue mad and irritated. Having passed this testy process, I was forced for another bus queue. All these queuing drills seemed endlessly tiring. I wonder how those Malaysians commute to Singapore for work on a daily basis. It must be maddening.
2. The names for MRT stations truly reflect the linguistics marvels of the lion city. Chinese names like Choa Chu Kang and Yio Chui Kang remind me of Gurmit Singh in Phua Chu Kang. Tao Payoh sounds like ‘Tok Payoh’ in Kelantanese dialect, meaning ‘no need-lah’ (in Malaysian English). Khatib and AlJunied make me think of some religious figures that might have made a history in Singapore. Oh, I didn’t expect to find familiar names like Tanah Merah (in Kelantan) and Bukit Gombak (in Selangor) on the public signboards in Singapore. Admiralty, Commonwealth and Queenstown are some of the names that trigger the colonial sense of Singaporean history. My vocabulary is truly expanding.
3. The MRT passengers knew how to make use of their time on the train efficiently. There was a Chinese lady who must have been very busy at home and office that she was oblivious of the sharp sounds she purposely made when clipping her long nails. While other people stuffed their ears with I-pods, a Muslim lady filled up her sweet time on the train knitting her latest handmade hand phone holder. The smart-looking expatriates seemed so intellectually indulged in playing their expensive digital games. Smooching was not uncommon. Just enjoy the free show. They certainly knew how to pass their time more colorfully.
4. The whole city-state is like a university’s mega-campus. I can’t help feeling being in the campus park when observing the blurring lines of housing estates in Singapore. Most of the streets are tree-lined. The old trees, especially, are so charmingly standing that offer an ‘academic’ aura to the surroundings. Plus, there are a lot carefully-manicured fields that, to me, are meant to compensate the endlessly-widespread apartments, condos and flats all around the country. For a country that is highly condensed with increasing population, the existence and maintenance of these greens is admirable.
5. The Singapore tourist pass really put me at ease when going around places in the city. With only $8 and refundable $10, I could easily tap on all MRT entrances without worrying about the cost. The card was supposed to be linked to all buses in Singapore. However, I was embarrassed when the bus driver asked for cash. When I complained to an officer, she said that the card could only be used for normal buses, not express buses. I thought that they should clearly write ‘For normal buses only’ in their promotional leaflet, instead of ‘For all buses’. I felt cheated. And I am still clueless about the differences between normal and express buses. Well, Singaporean transportation system is, after all, humane. Aren’t we all bound to err?
6. The colonial charms are captivatingly preserved around Civic District. It seems that the whole historical buildings have been effectively ‘botoxised’. City Hall boasts itself with the impressive design that made me almost breathless. Looking at the green Padang, the Merdeka Square in KL came into my mind. Raffles Hotel stood so elegantly which mesmerized me with lively fantasy. Sir Stamford Raffles seems so alive, ‘standing’ proudly near the majestic Singapore River. I was indeed marvelously colonized.
7. The mosques are uniquely positioned among the mass of other ‘daunting’ buildings. For example, Bencoolen Mosque, located at Bencoolen Street, is part of a commercial block and a residential area. This intimidates its presence, making it look so tiny and almost invisible. However, the classic Sultan Mosque is still standing ‘arrogantly’ in the midst of a rapid development in the Muscat Street. Oh, the mosque has an interesting incoming program called Myspex08 Finale which features the host Fiza O who smiles cheerfully on the banner outside Sultan Mosque, showing her freshly-shampooed hair.
8. Besides hundreds of daunting CCTVs, the Singaporean government must have allocated a gargantuan amount of budget for public escalators. These escalators are seen at every nook and corner inside shopping malls and underpasses. There are even cute mini escalators with only 10 steps. I was like, hey, can’t they just use the stairs? Ah, talking about spoilt riches. Wait a minute, where are the dustbins in the MRT station? I found it ironic for an obsessively clean-conscious city for not having enough budgets for dustbins. I wonder where people put their rubbish – in their bags? Maybe they keep it and throw it at home. Save the government budget. Less dustbins. More escalators. Correct.
9. The largest street shopping in Singapore is indeed the largest. Bugis street surprised me with its communal splendor that made me feel at home. Home? Yes, this is just a modern and organized version of Wakaf Che Yeh in Kelantan. If only the Kelantanese knew how to make Wakaf Che Yeh more organized and funkier, the largest street shopping in Singapore could be in trouble. Just put bigger roofs and bigger fans. Wallah.
10. The Arab Street is a cool hangout place. The street is lined with enchanting shop houses. According to three busybody makciks I spoke to in Sultan Restaurant, these buildings were previously the houses for Bugis men, before it was renovated and transformed into business premises. It was indeed enchanting to walk along this narrow road with Sultan mosque in the background. Enjoy this peaceful ambience by sitting down at one of the restaurants there. If you get lucky, you might bump into one of the Singaporean celebrities, just like what I did.
Imran Ajmain and Hilmi Hamzah, hehe