How To Chope a Table in Singapore

This applies mostly to tables at hawkers, since you’re seated as usual in a “sit-down” restaurant by a host.

In a hawker center (take that to mean food court and kopitiam as well) there are a lot of people trying to eat and there usually aren’t enough tables to go around.  In Singapore, it’s not uncommon to get your food, turn around, and then realize there’s no where to sit, especially at high traffic times during lunch and dinner hours.  You might stand around for quite a few minutes looking for a spot for yourself and whoever might be with you.  That can be really frustrating and sometimes you wind up eating with strangers, which doesn’t seem to faze locals, but was uncomfortable for me at first.  In food courts in the US you eat at your own table with your own friends and family and that’s it.  There aren’t any strangers buddying up next to you.  It’s awkward and unwanted and depending on who you try it with you might get whacked in the head for your trouble.

Singaporeans have a solution for their dilemma.  They call it “choping”.  Basically, it’s a way of reserving a seat in advance.  If you’re from the US, the term “dibs” is about the same.  If you chope a table, you’re calling dibs on that table, though it’s taken a bit more seriously here.  By the way, in Singapore “Dibs” are ice cream bon bon things.

I call dibs on these Dibs.

The way it’s typically done is by leaving a travel-sized packet of tissue on the table.  If you’re wondering why people would all have tissue on them (other than women, who have everything under the sun in their bags), it turns out that at hawker centers it’s incredibly rare to be provided with a napkin to go along with your meal.  The only place I know of that does it is a Western-style hawker stall called Amigos in Pasir Ris.  So, if you’re a local and you’re going to the hawker you have tissue with you.  You deposit this tissue onto the table to claim it as yours and then you go get your food.  This practice ties in with Singapore being safe because in a lot of places if you left your tissue on the table (and it was obviously not used) it would disappear before you got back.

I’ve seen some posts on the internet about Singaporeans having a fit because foreigners don’t respect their “chope”.  Luckily, most of them are smart enough to realize that choping is a local custom and the foreigners more than likely just didn’t know what the tissue was doing there, or thought it was tissue provided by the hawker.  I recall sitting down at a table that had a packet of tissue on it once.  I even pocketed the tissue.  I guess some one ate their lunch in brooding silence that day.  It wasn’t until I’d been in Singapore for about a year that I learned about choping.

Nowadays I think the practice is starting to fade out and is being replaced with a more familiar way of claiming a table.  Someone from the group simply sits at the table and claims it while other people go get their food (and hopefully that person’s food as well).  But, if you find yourself standing, looking out over a huge crowd of seated people, remember what the tissue on the table means!

Typical Movie Experience in Singapore

Going to the movies in Singapore can be an ugly experience if you’re not prepared for it.  I’ve often been told by Singaporeans that this is a small island and there isn’t much to do.  I’m not sure I can agree with that, since there seems to be quite a lot to do here.  There’s definitely more to do than in most places I’ve lived, but I suppose it’s a matter of perspective. Regardless, I think that mentality is partially why going to the movies has become so popular here.  More so than what I’ve come to expect anyway. Every movie is packed, even the bad ones.

The first thing you should know about going to the movies in Singapore is that you HAVE to book your seats in advance.  That’s not something I was used to, coming from the US.  There, it’s possible to book your seats in advance through the internet if you want to, but it’s often not necessary.  In some cases, there is no internet booking and you just have to show up early enough to get a ticket before the movie you want to see is sold out.  In Singapore, even days after a movie has been out, if you wait til the last minute and try to get your tickets at the theater you’re likely to be disappointed.  Movie theaters here fill up fast, often leaving only the front two or three rows open to latecomers.  I’ve sat through a movie in the 3rd row before, and it was a very unpleasant experience that left me with a stiff neck.

So, booking online is a must. All of the major theater chains here offer the service and to get really good seats, you should try to book at least a day and a half or two days in advance. Ya, crazy right? That’s especially true if you want to book a ticket for a Friday or Saturday night. For example, about six hours ago (Thursday night at about 8pm) I booked tickets for tomorrow afternoon for a 4:40 showing. Half of the seats were already taken. Ah, and if you haven’t guessed, tickets are booked on a selected seat basis, whereas in the US it’s a first-come first-served when it comes to getting the best seats, regardless of when you bought your ticket.

An example of the seat selection screen for Cathay.  Notice the timer.  If you don’t finish in time the seats become available for someone else to book.  Also, keep in mind that this screen cap was taken 18.5 hours before the movie starts.  The blue Xs are occupied seats.

An example of the Cathay booking confirmation screen.

A friend of mine in Italy asked me what sorts of things you can expect to find at the refreshment stands in a Singapore movie theater, and in this regard things are basically the same as you would find in the US. You’ve got popcorn (sweet and salted), nachos, soda and other drinks and candies. I think there are hotdogs too. This is a bit off-topic, but I was amused to find out from Rowena that in theaters in Italy you can usually find beer at the refreshment stands. That’s an interesting example of cultural influence.

Once you get your refreshments and present your tickets you can head to the theater hall and find your seats.  You would think that at this point everything would go about the same right?  Well, sure, for the most part it does.  You sit down and get to see some previews, the admonition to turn off your cell phone ringers, and the warning that video recording is illegal.  But, interspersed with those previews and warnings are many, many commercials.  Half the time they’re local commercials for small businesses and they’re really not that great.  Also, there are a LOT of them.  I mentioned that right?  If your ticket says your movie starts at 4:30 PM, you can expect the actual film to not start until roughly 4:50 PM or a few minutes later.  I can understand sitting through a few previews and maybe a Coke or Sprite ad, but not 20+ minutes of the stuff.  So, when we go to the movies we tend to walk in a few minutes late, or we mess with our cell phones while waiting for the actual film to start.

After that it’s smooth sailing.

Just some other, dry info:  Tickets are usually 8.50 to 10 SGD apiece and refreshments are high as well, though that’s not anything new for most people.  For two people going to the movies and getting refreshments you can expect to spend 35 to 40 bucks.