Friday, May 8, 2009

Second Time Around

Everything in Singapore is easy - if you’ve already done it once before. That’s how life is here. Like today, when I went to the industrial estate of Ubi to pick up a water filter for the fridge.

The first time I needed a water filter, sometime last year, I had no idea where to start. Rather than end up in a scary Alice-in-Wonderland environment (like that time I bought a sprinkler), I went to a few appliance stores to see if they had the part. But we have an American-brand fridge that’s far from common in Singapore. After several fruitless trips, I finally found a salesperson that would give me the address of a wholesale parts store. They sold only to contractors, she said, and they might or might not have my brand. But it was my only option, and that’s how I found myself heading to Ubi.

Still new to driving in Singapore, I felt like I’d reached the end of the earth. I dropped off the highway at a practically unknown exit, panicking as I glanced at the street directory and found I’d missed a turn. In the pouring rain, the gray buildings seemed hopelessly confusing, each looking exactly like the next. The workers seemed grim and dour, the security guards suspicious and unhelpful. I parked at a coupon lot a block or two away, still unsure if I was in a legal parking lot. Walking along the street, I felt utterly out of place. People stared at me curiously from under their umbrellas; what was an ang moh (and a tai tai, at that) doing here, in the blue-collar industrial park?

Today, though, I casually swung by Ubi on my way home from a pleasant lunch downtown. Now I easily recognized the exit as one of the ways to Joey’s workplace - not exactly the end of the earth! The sun shone in the blue sky as I entered what now seemed a cheerful, bustling neighborhood. Sure, I did miss the street on the first go-round, but in a matter of minutes, I’d found the right building, had a friendly chat with the grinning security guard, and parked my car right outside the door.

The dealer had the part in stock. Only cash accepted? No problem; I followed his directions to the mysterious
“canteen” where the ATM was. Last year, I might have felt out of place, but the Chinese and Malay faces were the type I’m used to seeing every day. A businessman helpfully showed me the canteen, where I’m sure I was the only ang moh for miles around. But all I thought was, “Hey, I should come back someday to try that new mee goreng stall!”

Minutes later, paid-for part in hand, I began to navigate my way out of Ubi. Only one thing hadn’t changed since my previous visit: the cars with a giant L on the back and the painted line, “Please be patient and let me learn!” In Singapore, only certified instructors can give driving lessons, and one of the major driving schools is right in the heart of Ubi. If there’s a worse place to learn to drive, I’d like to see it; parked cars on the side of the road reduce two lanes to one and a half, and orange cones and construction barriers block the rest. The L drivers wobble hesitantly around corners, hoping against hope there’s not a giant bulldozer blocking the path.

But as a driver in Singapore myself, I sympathize. I learned to drive from my dad, in mostly empty parking lots and broad, quiet streets. That’s how it is the US. In Singapore, though, for driving or navigating or finding the part you need, you’re thrown in the deep end. As I said, everything here is easy - except the first time.


Pam said...

Great post! I just started driving in Sing, so I can relate your experience from last year. Love your blog!

Cheryl said...

I love this idea for a post. You beautifully convey the transition from newbie to old hat. Well done!

lizabaker said...

I don't see anything wrong with nightly pest controls? :)