Saturday, February 10, 2007

Singapore How-To's

It's true: different countries just do things differently! Even in an English-speaking, Westernized country like Singapore, we’ve had to relearn quite a few normal, everyday things we couldn’t have imagined anyone doing any other way. Some examples:

How to turn the lights on. In Singapore, switches are down for “on” and up for “off.” It seems basic until you try to operate this way.

How to air-condition the house. First off, it’s aircon to you, in noun, verb, and adjective form. “Our aircon isn’t working. We should aircon the building. The house is not aircon.” And the temperatures are in Celsius, so I always do a double take when I turn the temperature down to 19 degrees. Note to self: flashing green and orange lights mean you've overused the aircon (again) and it's starting to freeze over. Call immediately to have it “serviced.” Typical Singaporean servicing schedule: once every three months. Time before we needed our first service: ten days.

How to take a shower.
First, turn the switch on for the room’s hot-water heater. Wait 5 minutes for the light on the switch to go out. Then, turn the switch on again. Leap into the shower, because the hot water may start to run out in 7 minutes. If the room contains both a shower and a bathtub, repeat the switch cycle at least four times, instead of two. (Singaporean alternative: avoid both air-conditioning and hot-water problems by opening windows and then taking cold showers to cope with the heat.)

How to open a bank account. Joey’s on what’s called an employment pass, since he’s been sponsored by his employer to work here. I’m on a dependent pass related to his pass. So when we went to the bank to open a joint account, the woman said to Joey, “Well, I can open an account for you, but for her, I need a letter of reference from a Singaporean or a Permanent Resident who has an account with us. That way we know her character is good.” (I knew I looked like the shifty type!) It’s the same with other accounts; the Internet guy needed Joey's vital stats, not mine. But he did let me sign the paperwork, “just this time.”

How to address someone named Joey. In Singapore, apparently “Joey” is always thought of as a female name, not a male name. Joey has gotten letters addressed to “Madam Joey,” and even the taxi driver who met us at the airport was holding up a sign that read “MS. JOEY.” But don’t you address him that way.

How to adjust to the tropical heat. Oh, come on, you really thought we'd learned that by now?

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