Thursday, October 1, 2009

31 Things That are Different

Bryan and I have been thinking about things that are different here from how they are in the U.S., and we thought it might be fun to share a list of them with everyone:

1) Drinking. This is a big one- for one thing, alcohol is heavily taxed here, so it's expensive to drink- about $9 USD for the cheapest six pack you can get (Anchor beer). Also, beer isn't usually sold in anything larger than a six pack. And of course, most of the beer is different, with a little overlap. The most popular beer is Tiger, but there are lots of others too- the cheap Anchor I mentioned, Sapporo, Asahi, Tsingtao, Carlsberg, ABC, Heineken. Most of the beers are pretty light, which works well for me since I don't generally like dark beer. My top picks are Tiger and Asahi. Strangely enough, my favorite Mexican beer, Sol, which was sometimes hard to find in Las Cruces, an hour from Mexico, is widely available here on the other side of the world. Another interesting difference is that bars are not widely distributed like they are in the U.S. In fact, most bars are concentrated in areas like Holland Village and Orchard Road, which are full of expats and tourists. In Jurong East, where we live, we don't know of a single bar. There are food stalls that serve beer, which is interesting for a couple of reasons. You can buy beer and drink it with your dinner, or they'll give them to you to go. Also, beer is always served in giant bottles, and they usually give you a bucket of ice so you can put ice in your beer. The picture to the right is beer that was served at a food stall near our apartment- Yanjing and Tsingtao, both delicious!

Even the bars in places like Holland and Orchard are a little different from American bars- they mostly serve food and don't play loud music, and most notably, people don't seem to be getting drunk- just having a drink or two. We've gone with our new friends to a bar in Holland Village a couple of times for trivia night- our team hasn't done too well so far, but I think we're really just getting started. Below are Brian and Andrea, another American couple, in the top picture, and Tei and Tomi, a Finnish couple, in the bottom picture. Brian, Tei, and Tomi all work with Bryan. 2) You have to pay for a membership if you want to take books out of the public library. You also have to pay if you want to place a hold on a book. The library has separate sections for English and Chinese books.

3) At the movies, you're assigned a seat when you buy your ticket. In some theaters, you can look at a screen that shows you which seats are available, and choose the ones you want. In other theaters, they assign seats a row at a time, so even if the movie isn't crowded, everyone still sits together in the back rows of the theater. We've started requesting seats so we don't have to sit right next to people in a mostly empty theater. Also, when you get popcorn at the theater, they ask you if you want salty or sweet- salty is regular, buttery movie popcorn, and sweet is like caramel corn.

4) Driving. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and people drive on the left side of the road. As a result, I always try to get in the wrong side of the car, and for the first few days, I always looked the wrong way when crossing the road.

5) Lingo. The elevator is the "lift," air conditioning is "air-con," a text message is an "SMS," eggplants are "brinjals," cilantro is "Chinese parsley," bell peppers are "capsicums," and apartments are "flats."

6) There are almost no TV commercials. Because of the lack of commercials, the shows, which are made for American TV, are too short to fill up a full half-hour or hour block, so sometimes there are fillers, like short interviews with celebrities, music videos, or "minisodes," which are 5-minute episodes of old TV shows like Charlie's Angels and Married...with Children. Local channels have more commercials than cable channels.

7) The phrase "coffee shop" is used to refer to both places that serve food and places that actually serve coffee, so if you walk into a coffee shop and try to order coffee, you might find that they don't actually serve coffee. Actual coffee shops, like Coffee Bean, often have signs posted that ask people to refrain from studying on the premises. And it's kind of hard to get coffee grounds for making coffee at home (they're available but not with much variety- no Folgers! and it's more expensive). Most people drink instant coffee- the kind that you stir directly into hot water.

8) Diet Coke is called Coca-Cola Light. Regular Coke is made with real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

9) Cigarette packs have terrifying warnings on them that include photos. For example, some show pictures of a disgusting, diseased foot with toes missing and the message "WARNING: Smoking can cause gangrene." Another has a picture of a bloody fetus and the message "WARNING: Smoking can cause miscarriage." Still another has a picture of someone's rotten, black teeth and infected gums and "WARNING: Smoking can cause mouth cancer." And of course there's the one below. There are lots of others, and they're all equally stomach-turning. Everytime I see them I feel glad that Bryan stopped smoking when we moved here.

10) Shoes aren't worn inside people's homes. People leave them in the hallway outside their flats, or on the floors just inside their doors.

11) All men are required to serve two years in the military, where they receive weapons training. However, guns are illegal. This is a strange contrast to America, where people can have guns even if they have no clue how to use them. I have to say, I think I like Singapore's way better.

12) If you order meat here, you don't just get the meat- you get the meat, the muscle, the bones, the ligaments, and the fat (according to Bryan. Vegetables are my specialty).

13) If you bring a computer here from America, you need a transformer for it. If you just plug it into an adaptor, it will constantly emit electricity, giving you little shocks while you work on it. The plugs are different here, and so is the voltage.  So, you need transformers for bigger electronic devices like computers, and converters (but not voltage transformers) for any other, smaller American appliances- hair-dryers, toasters, curling irons, etc.

14) Construction is always going on- seven days a week, and all hours of the day. We saw construction workers working near the MRT at 11 pm on a Sunday.

15) You almost never see police, but when you do you usually see a lot of them at once and they are seriously heavily armed. I'm scared of them.

16) No tipping at restaurants.

17) The clothing and shoe sizes are different.

18) Foods at the grocery store that look identical to foods in the American grocery store might actually have different ingredients. For example, Twix bars here are super-gross, but I'm not sure why. Oreos are pretty nasty too. Even Campbell's soups have different ingredients, so I have to look carefully to make sure that something that I ate in the U.S. is still OK to eat here (e.g. it might have been vegetarian in the U.S., but might contain fish oil here).

19) Eggs aren't refrigerated here. Also, in the store there is a section of refrigerated milk and another section of non-refrigerated milk.

20) Sports. People play squash instead of racquetball, and cricket instead of baseball. Soccer is called football, and the football that I'm familiar with (with helmets and pigskins) is called American football.

21) Phone numbers are eight digits long.

22) Movies and TV shows are censored. Blood and gore are pretty heavily edited out, so if you're watching something like a zombie movie, things can get a little confusing because big chunks are missing. Love scenes are also censored.

23) Because most people live in flats, dogs are pretty uncommon. The dogs that are here are mostly owned by expats who live in houses.

24) The metric system is used for measurement instead of the U.S. system. This means measurements in litres, ounces, degrees Celsius, grams, meters, etc. It also means some confusion for me when following a recipe, or when trying to figure out how hot it is outside.

25) Some handicapped people sell useful things, such as phone cards or little packets of tissue, in MRT stations and bus stations. I think it must be a government program, because it's really common. It seems to be pretty successful.

26) The money is super colorful, and comes in different increments than in the U.S.- 5, 10, 20, 50 cent and 1 dollar coins, and 2, 5, 10, 50, 100, 1000, and 10000 dollar bills.

27) All students wear school uniforms.

28) Cars are really expensive to have here, and require special taxes. As a result, cars aren't as common as they are in the U.S., and most people take public transportation. Another interesting side effect is that there are almost no old, crappy cars here. With the exception of things like construction and work vehicles, most cars are in good shape and are relatively new.

29) Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore, unless being used for medicinal purposes. Some chewing gums are sold by pharmacists for dental health purposes, but if people buy the dental gum, their names and addresses are taken down, along with the quantity of gum they purchased. The sidewalks and the subway are perfectly free of nasty discarded wads of gum.

30) Some American chains exist here, but not others. There are McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and I even saw a Chili's once. But no Taco Bell, Hardee's, Papa John's, Wendy's, and most importantly, Wal-Mart has not yet reared its ugly head.

31) Most public bathrooms have two options: squat toilets or flush toilets. Squat toilets are exactly what they sound like (see the photo below). I got used to using a more primitive version of the squat toilet (a hole in the ground with walls around it) when I visited Kenya, but I never really mastered it. I'm not proud to say that squat toilets are not my specialty, and I once peed on my own foot while trying to use one. So it goes. Anyway, luckily for me, most places have both options- some places like hawker centers only have squat toilets available, and sometimes you must put 10 cents into a toilet paper dispenser if you would like to wipe. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying, "I'm not used to that, but that's OK."There are many other differences that we haven't mentioned- some have been mentioned previously in the blog, and I'm sure many didn't even occur to us while we were working on the list, and still others remain to be discovered. I'll update soon with any new and interesting differences!

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