Thursday, September 23, 2010

Still Not Running Out- 31 More Things That Are Different!

1) All of the birthday and Mother's Day greeting cards here refer to "Mum" or "Mummy."

2) The stoves are gas-powered and the gas comes from big containers hooked up to the stove (like the ones we use for grills in the U.S.). When the gas runs out, sometimes in the middle of cooking, you have to call the gas man to bring more. If you run out of gas after business hours, you can either scrap the food and make something that doesn't require a stove (or an oven- we don't have those!) or you can ask your neighbors to let you finish cooking on their stove!
Typical Singaporean stove- a tank of gas and no oven!

3) Almost all of the trash in S'pore gets incinerated. It used to go to a landfill on Semakau Island, but according to my friend Tei, the island is in the process of being cleaned up and turned into a nature reserve!

4) Health care is cheap!!  I've spent some time here with no health insurance, and I have to say, Singapore is much kinder to the uninsured than the U.S.  I went to the dentist, where I had a consultation and got my teeth cleaned and X-rayed, and it was only $100 SGD, about $75 USD!  I also needed to have a minor medical procedure done here.  It would have cost me over a thousand dollars in the U.S., but only cost me about $500 USD here!

5) Nearly all of Singapore's food is imported from elsewhere, because there is pretty much no room in S'pore for farms.  A few things, like some eggs and relatively small quantities of fruits and vegetables, do come from Singapore.

6)  In most of the U.S., from season to season and with Daylight Savings Time, the number of hours of daylight changes substantially over the course of a year.  Singapore's lack of DST and position on the equator keep the number of daylight hours pretty static from month to month.

7) In some older buildings in S'pore, elevators only stop every few floors.  For example, you might get into an elevator in a 10-story building and there will be three buttons: 1, 5, and 10.  If you want to go to the fourth floor, you either have to walk up four floors, or take the elevator to the fifth floor and then walk down one floor.

8)  Singapore has a so-called "baby shortage."  The fertility rate for women is really low here, which seems rather unsurprising to me- everyone's always working and commuting; there's no time to make babies!  But the baby shortage is becoming a problem- as the aging population dies off, if Singaporean women don't have children, the population won't be able to sustain itself.  This is NOT a problem in the U.S.  People (often the people that are least able to care for them) are popping out kids right and left.  Some families go to extremes, having huge families- the Gosselins have 8 kids, and the Duggar family of reality TV fame has a whopping 19 children (I think.  I may have lost count.)

9)  More lingo.  Cantaloupe is called "rock melon," shopping carts are "trolleys," and whole wheat is "wholemeal." Instead of ordering something for "take-out" or "to go," you ask for it for "takeaway."  If you say anything else, the person behind the counter will just stare at you until you correct yourself.

10) Singaporeans use the British spellings of some words, like tyre, storey, and centre.

11)  In the U.S., coffee is a part of the daily life of the average American worker.  In most workplaces, there's usually a pot of coffee percolating in the corner, and plenty of people brew coffee in the morning and take it with them on their commute- either in the car or on the subway.  Here in Singapore, coffee isn't nearly as common, and people really don't rely on it in the morning. Even if you find a convenient place to get a carry-out cup of coffee, coffee isn't allowed on the MRT.

12) I've mentioned before that there are a lot of groceries that we used to buy in the U.S. that aren't available here, and also that processed food is higher priced than fresh food.  We've found that some of the processed foods we had in the U.S. ARE available in Singapore, but they're available at specialty stores like Tanglin Marketplace, and they're much more expensive than what we'd pay in the U.S.  They're also presented as sort of gourmet items, which cracks me up.  Seeing Rice-a-roni carefully arranged on a shelf under some mood lighting is just hilarious.  And seeing Mexican Velveeta with a $20 (about $14 USD) price tag underneath is mind-boggling too.

13)  The majority of Singapore's population is Chinese, and Chinese people structure names differently.  The family name comes first, followed by the given name.  As a result, my name on most of my Singaporean documents is Riley Crystal, but my name in my passport and my American documents is Crystal Riley, so there's sometimes confusion about which is really my first name.  Also, a lot of Chinese people give their children a Western name in addition to their Chinese name.  For example, Lee Kuan Yew (former prime minister of S'pore) has the Western name Harry, so his full name is Harry Lee Kuan Yew (Harry= Western name; Lee= surname; Kuan Yew= given name/Chinese name).

14) Some Singaporean friends of ours recently got married.  Unfortunately, Bryan and I were both in the U.S. and couldn't attend, but we learned secondhand about a few of the differences in how weddings are done here.  Apparently it's quite common for the bride and groom to pose to take pictures with a big, beautiful wedding cake, just like we'd expect.  However, typically that wedding cake is in fact a decorated box, used just for show, and no cake is served!  Also, while wedding receptions in the U.S. are typically long affairs with dinner and dancing long into the night, from what we hear, most receptions here are just long meals, and everyone leaves after the last course is all finished!

15) In the U.S., the vast majority of people rely exclusively on modern medicine to cure their ills.  Here in Singapore, a large proportion of people embrace traditional types of medicine, particularly Chinese medicine either as an alternative to Western medicine or as a type of supplement.  As a result, Chinese medicine shops abound.  They sell some creepy things, like little seahorses and animal horns and stuff. 

16) Singapore is one of the most densely populated cities in the entire world.  Most American cities aren't even on the radar in terms of population density.  S'pore is the second most populated country in the world, after Monaco.
Crowded Singapore

17)  The release of new technology generally comes a little slower here, so when the iPad or the new iPhone comes out in the U.S., Singaporean technophiles have to wait impatiently for the delayed release here.

18)  Bryan likes to watch all movies with the subtitles on so he doesn't miss anything.  In the U.S., it made no difference to me one way or the other, but in S'pore I LOVE watching the subtitles, because they're often absurdly wrong!  For example, a character in Wuthering Heights said, "We're as different as frost and fire," which the subtitles interpreted as "We're as different as Boston fire."  The Seven Year Itch was a wealth of subtitle hilarity, with my two favorites being, "It was a regular hootenanny," which turned into, "It was a regular horse melee," and "I'll finish making the cinnamon toast," turned into "I'll finish making the settlement towels." 

19)  The electricity never goes out in Singapore because all of the powerlines are buried.  In the U.S., the power often goes out when it storms, leaving everyone scrambling to remember where they put flashlights and candles.  I've spent many an evening in the U.S. playing Scrabble by candlelight while eating sandwiches and hoping that the power will come back on soon so everything in the freezer doesn't turn into a big, melted mess.

20)  Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the WORLD. In comparison, the U.S. has relatively high crime rates, particularly in large cities, and as a country, the U.S. has one of the highest homicide rates in the industrialized world.  As a result, Singaporeans sometimes look at the U.S. as a big, scary den of iniquity.

21)  Mold is a big problem here.  Every time we shower, we have to leave the bathroom door open or the bathroom floor and our towels will get moldy.  The same goes for the coffee pot and the electric teapot- both of those have to be left open after use or they'll get moldy.  One day I opened a bottle of paprika and found that even IT had turned into a big mass of mold.  Gross!  I've never had this problem in the U.S., but the air here is so humid that mold is just aggressive. Ick!

22)  Singaporeans tend to have a great deal of respect for their elders, and often refer to older individuals, even unrelated ones, as "Auntie" and "Uncle."  Our young neighbor kids don't speak much English, but whenever Bryan and I get home, they run to their door shouting, "HI AUNTIE!!!!  HI UNCLE!!!!"  It's super cute!

23)  In the U.S., people regularly criticize the government, and their right to do so is protected by the Bill of Rights.  People often say stupid, ill-informed things, but the U.S. protects our rights to spout our uninformed criticisms of the government.  In Singapore, criticism of the government, whether ill-informed or not, is illegal.  Think the prime minister sucks?  Well, you'd just better keep that under your hat!

24)  Singaporean casinos charge steep admission rates ($75 USD and up) for Singaporean citizens and permanent residents as a way to discourage gambling addictions in the local population.  But you can waltz right in if you're a tourist!  It's a sharp contrast to places like Montana, where anyone 18 or over can gamble in the gas station!
Marina Bay Sands Resort & Casino

25)  PDA is mush more frowned upon here than in the U.S., where amorous couples sometimes do unspeakable things in movie theaters, back alleys, buses, and more.  It happens here from time to time that a couple will be seen making out, but it's a much bigger deal- so big in fact that you just might end up being frowned upon by half the country when your picture gets posted on Stomp under the S'pore Seen section!  Watch out, couples!  You could end up like these unfortunate souls:
Couple #1, Couple #2, Couple #3

26)  For some education-oriented Singaporeans, the government agrees to pay for their post-graduate education abroad, provided that they agree to return to Singapore to work for a few years after obtaining their degree.  So some Singaporeans get their PhD's in Europe or the U.S. on Singapore's tab, then return to Singapore to fulfill their obligation to work here for awhile.

27)  Prostitution is legal in Singapore, but there are restrictions.  Prostitutes are only allowed to work out of licensed brothels in red-light districts- they're not allowed to solicit sex on the street.  They are required to present themselves for regular health checks, and to carry a health card to record their health history.  In the U.S., prostitution is unlawful everywhere except in some parts of Nevada, where prostitution out of licensed brothels is legal.

28) The U.S.'s divorce rate is about five times the divorce rate of Singapore.

29) It appears that Singapore's method of execution for criminals sentenced to death is hanging.  It's difficult to find information on this online, but it appears that hangings were occurring at least as recently as 2007.  Hanging fell by the wayside in the U.S. quite awhile ago, with lethal injection being the preferred method of execution in American criminal institutions.

30)  Singapore has more millionaires per capita than any other country in the world, including the U.S.

31) Paper here gets punched with TWO holes instead of THREE and then goes into a binder with two rings!  I know this is a minor difference, but it bugs me.  I brought a couple of binders here from the U.S., and I can't put any more paper in them because I don't have a three-ring hole punch or any paper with three holes in it!


  1. Another difference I remembered when bicycling last weekend: speed bumps are humps.

  2. And the ash still goes to Semakau, they are actually building the island from it. Animals and plants have already found the place; no species have been introduced. No monkeys there yet, though.

  3. Actually most of the stoves in Singapore no longer use those big containers of gas! Its mainly the older flats that still do.

  4. New condos still have bottle gas. In our previous place (finished in 2009) we had pretty much 24/7 service and it was fast.

  5. Yeah, I think most places still have bottled gas. Some of the newer places I've seen have the kind of stoves I was used to seeing in the U.S., but the HDB flats that 86% of the population lives in generally haven't been recently updated, and still use the bottled gas.

    I thought I read that Semakau was being constructed from ash, but then I thought I must have misunderstood. That's really interesting! I wonder if that's been done elsewhere in the world.

  6. Very interesting.......Sounds like the US could learn a lot from Singapore.

  7. Hi Crystal and Bryan,

    My name is Alexandra and I'm managing a meta-blog about travel and activities in South East Asia:

    I read some of your articles carefully and your content can be really useful for my readers looking for activities in Singapore ! I'm from Singapore and I like your descriptions and the details you provide.
    In consequence, I decided to select your blog !

    I would like to know if you would be interested to appear on our web portal? It will increase your visibility on internet, and provide good information for my users.

    Send me an email at and I will try to answer within 24h.

    Good job again !