Swimming in an outdoor pool on Christmas day...only in Singapore. As I watch my kids frolicking in the water, I make a mental list of all the other things that make Singapore unique and differentiate it from Verona, Italy (my hometown, but also from most other places).
I came up with 20...can you think of any others?!
1) Parental Guidance No need. Profanity on television is bleeped and there is no nudity. I mean, none. My kids are totally shocked when they watch TV in Italy. And, that's just the commercials.
2) Air Conditioning You may be in a tropical land but... if you are going to the movies, a restaurant, or shopping, prepare to freeze. Bring a sweater.
3) Live-in Maids Cheap labor from Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar. Here, even the maids have maids.
4) School Etiquette Currently there is a debate as to whether teachers have the right to cut off their student's hair. Conclusion being yes if it's longer than the standard allowed or if the student has already been given prior warning. Students wear uniforms, no jewellery, no make-up. No bullying over sneakers.
5) Construction Work Ubiquitous working sites, trees being cut down, and consequent loud jack-hammering...you just don't hear this in Verona. As my kids see it: "That's because everything is already done in Italy."
6) Food Courts Fantastic culinary oases, open all day and late into the night, where you can eat all sorts of delicious, inexpensive meals. Indian curries, Korean kimchi, chicken rice...all for $5 (less than a coffee at Starbucks). In some courts, you can use a special debit card that can be topped up at the entrance. BYON (Bring your own napkins; actually, an ingenious way to cut down on waste.)
7) Tuition...for kindergarteners? Do you remember when you were little and couldn't wait for school to be over so you could go out and play? At first, I wondered where all the Singaporean kids were and then I was told they have tuition after class. In kindergarten? How far behind are they?
8) Cheap Taxis Very, very cheap. The price of an espresso at a bar in Italy. Albeit, one where you pay extra to sit down.
9) No Seasons This is actually a stereotype. It's not always very hot and humid. Sometimes, it's just hot and humid.
10) Singlish So, is the national language English or Chinese? Nobody really knows. The government can't make up it's mind and there are too many dialects to consider. No bother, most Singaporeans speak Singlish. Not always clear as certain answers sound like questions and vice-versa. "Can I have some coffee?" Can. Can. (So, is that a yes or an invitation to break into a French dance routine?)
11) Racial Harmony Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Diwali...you know, any excuse for a party. Seriously, it's great.
12) Unemployed Immigrants Nonexistent. Unlike Italy, where this is huge problem, there are no unemployed foreign workers here. You can only come into the country if you have a job and if you lose it you have exactly two weeks to find another one. If you don't, your visa expires and you need to leave the country.
13) Chewing Gum Banned, although rumor has it you can now buy generic gum at the pharmacies for medical purposes. But for the kind that tastes delicious and makes big bubbles you'll have to go abroad. Oh, and if you are caught importing it into the country you will be fined.
14) Caning Used to be widely accepted form of punishment in schools and homes, now it's mostly just used in prison...and my house. (But that's just when Alexander forgets his homework at school.) Anyway, if you're thinking of indulging in graffitti or scratching up somebody's car with a key you can expect to be caned. And, the law is really the same for everybody (i.e. President Clinton was unable to get American teenager, Michael Fay, pardoned).
15) Expat Haven Thanks to the strong multicultural and international presence it's very easy to make friends.
16) Very High Car Tax Levies Annoying for most expats, but actually a great way to fight pollution and traffic. And, encourage people to use public bus and metro lines.
17) EZ-Link Very cool card that everybody carries. It can be used to pay for bus fares, metros...and even McDonalds (think carefully before revealing this to your kids).
18) Swimming Pools They are ubiquitous in condos but you won't see many local kids swimming in them. They're at tuition.
19) Good Manners Remember to take your shoes off before entering a house, give your business card with two hands, and distribute oranges at Chinese New Year. You will be asked back.
20) Swimming in December Jump in the pool...where else can you do that?
(Photo: Alexander and Eliot taking advantage of living in sunny Singapore)