Saturday, February 24, 2007

Singapore's Other Passion

It’s not my fault that so much of this blog has involved food. Singaporeans, despite their usually petite physiques, live for food. The unique blend of cuisines forms the cultural heart and soul of the country. There are restaurants, food courts, and hawker centers on almost every street, lurking around every corner. People try new food, get together for food, talk about food nonstop. We have yet to ride with a taxi driver who doesn’t work it in somehow. And for us, it’s been an easy entree into Singaporean society.

But Singaporeans’ other passion, without a doubt, is shopping. We’ve never lived somewhere with so many shopping malls in one place - even New Jersey can’t touch it. We figured these were just air-conditioned havens from the muggy heat outside, but apparently people actually buy things, lots of things, or how do all those stores stay in business? But we haven’t had much luck with this particular Singaporean passion. I have yet to figure out how they actually find everything, with no Target or Wal-Mart as an all-in-one stop.

For something specific here, you need a specialty shop. But there are thousands of these, some tucked into warehouses and back alleys, and almost none of them in the phone book. To find a sprinkler for our grass, I searched the malls - nothing - and every possible entry in the yellow pages - no help there. So I tracked down an obscure online reference to a specialty garden store and talked a taxi driver into helping me find the building. It still took me half an hour to find the shop itself; the entire ground floor was a loading dock filled with people who couldn’t speak English, and when I finally found the elevators and a directory, the place I was looking for wasn’t listed. I headed up anyway and ended up exploring a labyrinth of dark, concrete hallways punctuated by shipping and receiving areas, abandoned offices, and mysteriously ornate doorways with gates securely locked. But I found my garden store, which had no plants but did have a warehouse full of garden equipment in unlabeled cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling. The proprietor, a man of few words, dug a sprinkler out of the piles of boxes and named a price. I didn’t try to haggle.

And we haven’t learned how Singaporeans avoid being completely overwhelmed by the endless, though findable, variety of mall shops. We’ll hit a mall on a weekend with a list of ordinary household items and emerge hours later with nothing on our list, but with some completely random item that might be useful at some vague point the future. Today, for example, we went 0 for 10 on our list, but we became the proud owners of a rice cooker/slow cooker combo (special settings for rice, porridge, nasi lemak, and stew! Making a stew with rice probably causes it to explode). I’m not quite sure how this happened. But while we have this nifty new kitchen appliance, we still have not managed to procure meat and vegetables to eat with the rice. Of course, we’ve seen some great meat and vegetables when we’ve passed by a local wet market (like a farmer’s market), and we always intend to buy some. But, wouldn’t you know, we’re always on the way to the mall...


Anonymous said...

I thought you meant food is an easy "entry" into Singapore society, but on reflection, "entree" is just right!

Jim said...

Ooh. I remember that struggle to find things like that. FWIW, there are a bunch of "garden" shops on Thompson Rd, up near McRitchie. They might have sprinkler stuff (wasn't looking for that).

Also, have you found the "the green book"? It's a web-directory of businesses there, searchable and organized by product.

Good luck, and great post!

Mom said...

I am looking forward to tasting all those delicious vegetarian delicacies - and shopping too!

Venitha said...

I think Carrefour is as close as you'll come to Target, and it's still, well, yeah, not so much. I promise to appreciate Target extra much for you next time I'm there.

Impressive that you managed to find a sprinkler! You definitely deserve a pat on the back for tracking that place down.