Home > Take Off E-Mail this page || Print this page
Singapore Musings

R Thampan George shares some interesting anecdotes from his recent visit to the Lion City

The Malay immigration lady at Singapore’s Changi Airport looked quite stern and grumpy (like my kindergarten teacher). Time and again, she kept comparing my passport and me. “Heee, heee... that is me, Ma’am,” I said. (Perhaps my unshaven countenance may have caused her to think of me as an Al-Qaida suspect). Not amused, she asked quite firmly, “Is your name Rahul?”

(Gulp) “Yes, Ma’am it is.”

“Oh, you’re quite popular here.”

“Am I Ma’am!!!??”

“I love Hindi movies and all the heroes have that name.”

Then with a big broad smile she said, “Welcome to Singapore.” I almost gave her my autograph.

Never ask an Indian in Singapore whether he is Indian. My Punjabi colleague from Delhi did the unforgivable. He asked the Sardarji concierge at the hotel, “Indian?”

“Singaporean,” came the reply in an ugly tone and a nasty look.

While in Singapore, try picking up the Singaporean accent. It is really very easy and a lot of fun too. Simply put a ‘lah’ at the end of every sentence of English and, voila, you’ve got it. Like the Singapore Tourism Board would say, “Live it up in Singapore!” (lah).

75-year old Peter Chan and his wife have heard of India. I met them in the A/C metro train service one morning. “Your country, too much fighting, too much problems lah.” I nodded my head vigorously.

“Singapore is a very fine city lah.” Vigorous nodding again. “You have fine for spitting, fine for throwing trash, fine for urinating. Fine for everyone lah.”

“Very very fine lah lah.”

‘Better dead than corrupt’ is the adage to be remembered while on business in Singapore. My Chinese friend Kelvin Wee told me of an incident where a prominent minister was caught in the act. The rumour had started on a Wednesday. Thursday proved that the minister had, indeed, been bribed. Friday, he was summoned. Saturday, he was found dead. Premier (former) Lee advised that the most honourable way for the minister was to commit suicide; else it would be ensured that from generation to generation, the minister’s family would live in humiliation in Singapore. The honorable minister wisely put a bullet through his head. Desi Babus, hope you’re listening.

Taxi drivers in Singapore are a totally different breed from their counterparts in Mumbai or Delhi. We found them to be helpful, courteous and honest. An expat friend told us how one of them refused to charge the fare because a wrong turn taken by him had inconvenienced his passengers. A taxi driver taking you for a ride would be quite a rarity in Singapore.

Avoid carrying deodorants in your hand baggage while checking in at Changi Airport. We discovered the unpleasant when we had to surrender five bottles to security. “The stuff is being sold in all your duty-free counters,” I protested. “Besides, you permit one litre of alcohol, which is more inflammable than a deo. This is cheating, you can at least warn passengers in advance.”

“You complain to the government,” said the guard. “No, I’ll prefer to make a donation to your government,” I muttered.

You can’t help, but appreciate the way Singapore is marketed. At times, it seems as if the entire population is involved in the task. My taxi driver asked me, “Are you a businessman, sir.”

“No, I work for a newspaper.”

“When you go back sir, please write something good about Singapore.”

On reaching my destination.

“Forgive my repetition sir, but please write good about Singapore.”

I promised him I would.