The stories we swap

One of my colleagues is flying to Singapore tomorrow. Training. Two weeks. To boot, it's his first time out of the country, so there's understandably an amount of concerned ribbing from those who have gone out of the country, me included.

Well, that, and there's me partly wishing I get sent back to Singapore this year, although I do know it's not likely; they would've told us about it by now.

This was the obvious discussion over lunch. Here's a first-time traveler going to Singapore. Boy, is he in for a shock, of how much different it is from the chaos of the Philippines. Sure, the walks may be long, but at least the trains work. He's staying in the same hotel I stayed in, so there's that, me being able to tell him, with confidence, that the nearest train station is a 15-minute walk away. Well, provided he intends to go sightseeing on the weekends. I'm sure he would, but where would he go? I rattled off a list on my head, slightly aloud.



Gardens by the Bay.

Marina Bay Sands.

Ano pa ba?

Orchard Road.

There really is little to see in Orchard Road, isn't it? You're not in Singapore to shop. You're in Singapore to work.

There were five of us having lunch, four of which have gone to the island city, whether for business or pleasure. The tips we all gave the first-timer were, well, obvious ones, if not outdated. You don't spit anywhere. You can't smoke everywhere. You don't bring chewing gum in. (I am pretty sure this is a misrepresented thing; you can chew gum in Singapore, but you can't buy it. Couldn't buy it. That restriction was lifted, if I remember correctly, and chances are, I still got that completely wrong.)

He'll be there two weeks, so one of my colleagues suggested he get a top-up MRT card and just reload it as he goes. Now, here's something I never really thought of in my week-long stays in Singapore. Yes, it's just logical to get a top-up card when you're in a country for a prolonged period of time (granted that they have that, of course). You don't spend a lot of time by the automated ticket counters, trying to figure out how to buy a single-use ticket. The only time I really did that was when I spent a week in Taipei; Jackie made the suggestion, of course, adding that I could use those cards in a bunch of other places, like convenience stores. That came in handy when I had to buy a box of tissues in a jiffy.

Inevitably the first-timer would be asked to buy coffee. My dad. Well, my mom. Old Town White Coffee, at least three packs; they were sold here but they were hard to come by, and they have apparently disappeared again. Also, it's not as if I'm not heading to Malaysia in six weeks' time. If it's cheap in Singapore, it's much cheaper in Malaysia. I mean, it's a Malaysian brand.

"Merong grocery malapit sa hotel," I said. "Ten-minute na lakad, pero kakanan ka, hindi ka kakaliwa."

And then I feared that those directions weren't clear enough. Yes, there is a mall, and it is a ten-minute walk away. You step out of the hotel lobby and walk towards your right. But there is an intersection. You continue walking. You do not cross the road. You cross the Singapore River - well, actually, a canal leading to it - and then you'll see the mall. You can't miss it. It's big. It sits on a former amusement park. It's big. Also, there's an elevated pedestrian walkway, almost always empty. That's when you cross the road. That's where you cross the road, because that leads straight to the mall.

These are directions I should've given, but that would be information overload, and I would look like an ass. In that case, no, let's hold those details back. He's a grown man. He'll figure it out.

Then again, I'm a grown man too (although definitely younger) and I spend days before any foreign trip analyzing train systems and mapping out routes.

What else do I add?

"Ay," I said, somewhat excitedly. "Huwag kang tumayo kung saan-saan sa escalator. Kumanan ka. Or kanan ba 'yun? Basta, sundan mo 'yung tao."

This is something I still have to be reminded once in a while, most recently by my sister, who spent two months in Singapore trying her luck. We were in an escalator leading out of Marina Bay Sands and towards that long walkway to Gardens by the Bay - there's still no direct train station leading to that, not yet at least - and she pulled me towards her. "Kanan, kuya," she said, and I remembered that, yes, the left side is for those rushing to get out, and the right side is for those who don't feel encumbered by time.

Yes, it is the right side of the escalator he should be in, yes.

I've thought of that many times since, usually when I'm going home, and I'm on that long escalator at the Shang, the one that takes you two floors up. Here, we don't really think about it. We just stand where we want to stand and stay there. If we're rushing to get up, we snake our way through the others, awkwardly saying "excuse me!" while navigating ourselves to the end. Anyone who's used to the order of Singapore's escalators may find that rude, but here, it isn't. That's really just the way we've done it. I have not seen anybody complain, and I've been on escalators in Manila for two decades, maybe more.

You know, cultural differences, much like how, when you return to Manila, you're in for a shock, of how much different it is from the sterile order of Singapore.

And your responses...

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