Monday, February 22, 2010

And Another....31 Things that are Different!

1) The sizes of the beds are different- no queen or king size here! The beds are generally shorter than American beds, and even though I'm only 5'6", I don't have much room to keep my toes from hanging over the edge!

2) On food labels, calories are often referred to as "energy," but sometimes the energy information is expressed in kilojoules instead of calories. I discovered this one day when I was eating a can of pumpkin soup and staring at the label. I almost spit it out when I noticed the label appeared to be claiming that the innocent can of soup was packing a ludicrous 900 calories- the caloric equivalent of a McDonald's Big Mac, small fries, and a small Coke. After further investigation, I discovered the kJ/calorie difference- 900 kJ is about 215 calories.

3) The date is written differently here- in the U.S., May 7th, 2009 would be written 5/7/2009, but in Singapore the day goes before the month, so it would be 7/5/2009. I gave up trying to do one or the other and now I just write it out.

4) The paper here is different sizes- not 8.5 X11, but longer and skinnier. So the paper doesn't fit into the folders I brought from the U.S., and binders and folders here are all different sizes.

5) More lingo. Duct tape is "cloth tape" and a woman's period is called her "menses," which always reminds me of my grandmother. A small truck is a "lorry" and a semi truck is a "trailer".

6) S'pore has a substantial Muslim population, so public places make accommodations for Muslims that want to maintain a Halal diet- some restaurants are "Halal certified", and in the lounge of the Psych department at NTU (where I work) there's a microwave for regular food and one for Halal food. When you eat in cafeterias, there are sometimes different colored trays for Halal food, and different places to return the trays. Eating Halal is a little like eating kosher- there are guidelines for how animals should be slaughtered, and pork is forbidden. In addition, alcohol is not considered Halal.

7) There are a lot of juice stands, often located in hawker centers, that make fresh juice out of any kind of fruit imaginable- honeydew melon, strawberries, papaya, pineapple, mango, soursop, sugarcane, avocado, bananas, watermelon, and even carrots or tomatoes. When you order juice, they make it right in front of you, either throwing a bunch of fresh fruit in a blender with some ice, or by squeezing it through a press to extract the juice (this is what they do with pineapple and sugarcane). There are usually no added ingredients like sugar, and the juice tastes naturally delicious. It's also insanely cheap- between S$1 and S$3 for a big mug of it. The only place I can remember getting fresh fruit drinks in the U.S. is from overpriced smoothie places that put a bunch of extra stuff in with the fruit.

8) Most large grocery stores are located inside malls, which can be a bit of a hassle, as you often have to haul all of your groceries through hordes of mall-goers in order to get outside.

9) There are often random performances in malls around here. So far we've seen figure skating, young girls dancing, a Chinese lion dance, and some person dressed up like a moon walking on stilts. Some examples...10) No one lives on the first floors of any of the HDB apartment buildings. In some buildings, the first floor is occupied by a hawker center or some small shops. Other apartment buildings, like ours, have a big open space called a void deck, where kids like to play and events sometimes take place. (edit 4/28/10- actually, sometimes people do live on the first floor of HDBs. It's just not very common in Jurong East, where we live. Tall buildings are more likely to have void decks and there are a lot of tall buildings in this area.)

11) Funerals aren't held in funeral homes- they're often held on the void decks of apartment buildings. Funerals can go on for days, and are rather raucous affairs- people play instruments, eat food, and sometimes parade around in bright outfits. There have been a couple of funerals in the void deck of our building, and I always feel strange when I walk by them. Recently there was one downstairs, and I walked by the casket every time I left the apartment.

12) In the U.S., people go to tanning beds and buy spray-on tan products. I have yet to see a tanning salon in Southeast Asia, but skin whitening products like this one are widely available.

13) Janitors here work during the regular working day, rather than in the mornings or evenings when businesses are closed. This means that at NTU there are often bags of trash waiting to be taken out in the hallways in the middle of the day. More noticeably, at malls that are packed full of people on the weekends, custodians can be found nudging them aside with floor-cleaning machines. It really just adds to the chaos.

14) Unlike in the U.S., but similar to many other countries, motorcycles do not follow regular traffic laws. They weave in and out of traffic, squeezing between vehicles and ignoring designated lanes. It looks dangerous, but I sometimes envy the motorcyclists when they scoot by as I sit stuck in traffic on a bus.

15) The standard work day is longer here- generally about 8:30 am to 6 pm rather than the typical American 9 to 5.

16) Processed food, such as Kraft macaroni and cheese (the famous blue box!  Yum!) and frozen pizza, is expensive here, but fresh food and basic ingredients- fruits, vegetables, rice, etc. are all very cheap- so cheap that Bryan and I frequently joke that they're "basically free." The high processed food prices also apply to things like canned beans or canned vegetables, which can be purchased in their raw form very cheaply, but require a little more work.

17) Most people in S'pore are bilingual, speaking English as well as their "mother-tongue."

18) I saw something here in Singapore that I've never seen anywhere else. I stopped at the public library one day a little before 10 AM, and there was a big crowd of people outside. I immediately assumed that something was wrong- perhaps some sort of crime had been committed or something. You can imagine my surprise when I found that everything was fine- everyone was standing around patiently waiting for the library to open. By opening time, a crowd of over 50 had gathered, and I was having a hard time suppressing my giggles. The only instances I could recall of people in the U.S. waiting outside for a place to open were 1) people waiting to wait for ticket counters to open and 2) lines waiting for sales on Black Friday. When the doors finally opened to let us all into the library, all of the employees were standing in the lobby, waving and saying "Good morning! Welcome to the library!" At that point, I did laugh. A horde of people, waiting to get into the library on a random Thursday morning!! It just seemed so funny to me, especially because I had immediately assumed the worst. I thought it was so great that I took a picture with my phone.19) When you go to the ER in Singapore (don't worry, we're OK), someone stops you at the front door and takes your temperature. If you have a fever, you go into a separate area called the "Fever Ward". I think this is a great idea- it definitely seems like it would help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Plus, who wants to sit next to someone while they sweat profusely? Gross.

20) On websites, there are advertisements targeted at Singaporeans. The ones advertising an opportunity to win a Green Card for the US really strike me as bizarre.21) Ambulances wait at traffic lights just like everyone else- they have their lights on but they don't weave in and out of traffic, and people don't move out of the way. One day I was sitting in a taxi and an ambulance with its lights on sat patiently behind us, waiting for the light to change. It was so foreign to me; I wanted to roll down the window and scream"HURRY UP!!!! SOMEONE COULD BE DYING!!!!" I've seen it a lot since then, and I think I'm finally getting used to it.

22) Apartment buildings like ours have spots where you pick up your mail, just like American apartment buildings. However, if you want to mail something, you can't do it at the mailboxes at your apartment building, you have to find a public one. The public ones have two slots- one for Singapore mail, and one for mail going to other countries.
The Very Best of the Grateful Dead

23) Some of the music that is super common in the U.S. isn't well-known here. For example, someone asked me the other day if I'd ever heard of the Grateful Dead, because they'd just heard that a lot of Americans love some band called the Grateful Dead.

24) In the U.S., the most commonly used illegal drug is marijuana. In Singapore, it's heroin. But of course, illegal drug use is less common in S'pore overall.

25) When you go to the doctor in S'pore, you usually don't have to make an appointment.

26) I asked a friend about what S'poreans do with their dead- the island is so small, it seems impossible that everyone would be buried. He said that there are some graveyards, but most people are cremated. Some people still wish to be buried for traditional reasons, but it's compulsory that those people be exhumed after a period of 15 years- that way there will be room for more people to be buried, or, more likely, for more buildings to be erected in Singapore's endless quest for construction.

27) A lot of people here employ domestic helpers- most often these are live-in maids that come from Indonesia or the Philippines. The women stay for a few years- unless they get pregnant, in which case they are promptly deported.

28) A high proportion of women (compared to what I've seen in the U.S.) don't shave their legs.

29) Most college kids in S'pore don't live on campus. They just keep living with their parents.

30) It's not uncommon for businesses here to leave their doors open, allowing the air-conditioned air to leak out onto the street (I guess that's why they call it the Air-Conditioned City). It seems horribly wasteful, and every time I walk through a cold patch of air on the sidewalk, I hear my dad's voice saying, "Close that door!! You're lettin' out all the bought air!"

31) The driving age is 18 in Singapore, whereas it's 16 in the U.S., with some states allowing you to drive with a learner's permit at 15 1/2.


  1. I was also surprised by the ambulance and traffic behavior until I learned that there are two kinds of ambulances in Singapore: emergency ambulances and non-emergency ambulances (they have different numbers to call), and the traffic really has to yield only to the first ones.

    I am equally mad about leaving doors of air-conditioned places open, even if I could use some of that warm air in my office cubicle.

    (btw. thre were always lines outside the Monroe County Public Library, Ind. in the mornings :)

  2. Woah! I didn't know that about the ambulances! Interesting. Do they look different from one another?

  3. I don't think they do other than on the back of the emergency ambulance it says: for non-emergency ambulance call 1777.

  4. u just made me laugh at my own country!
    sad to say but true,you've gotten most of them right.

    if you need to know anything about singapore (other than that of monkeys) feel free to email me at'll reply with my best english!(at least,you won't be able to hear my singaporean accent!)