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!

Islamic Honor Killings: Tulay Goren

You know that “hot stories” sidebar thing on the right side of the Facebook newsfeed?  Well, I happened to click through on an article from Mail Online about a father accused of murdering his 15 year old daughter as an ‘honor killing’.  I’d read about another instance where that happened in Canada.

If you’re not familiar with honor killing, here’s a quick definition from Wikipedia:

An honor killing (also called a customary killing) is the murder of a family or clan member by one or more fellow family members, where the murderers (and potentially the wider community) believe the victim to have brought dishonor upon the family, clan, or community. This perceived dishonor is normally the result of (a) utilizing dress codes unacceptable to the family (b) wanting out of an arranged marriage or choosing to marry by own choice or (c) engaging in certain sexual acts. These killings result from the perception that defense of honor justifies killing a person whose behavior dishonors their clan or family.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the annual worldwide total of honor-killing victims may be as high as 5,000.[1]

It’s a common relatively occurrence in Arab culture, which is where the majority of Muslims come from. So, it has become one more item on a long list giving Islam a bad reputation in the eyes of the rest of the world.  As if they needed anything else, what with extremists blowing themselves (and the people around them) up left and right.

I understand that there are differences in culture, but I also believe in the priceless value of human life.  It should never be taken for something as ridiculous as a perceived loss of honor.  How can a culture ever hope to mature if it continues to practice such outdated and obviously flawed ideologies?  It’s not ok to kill your daughter just because she wore shorts to school instead of a Hijab.

Article aside, I was more disturbed by the comments being left in Facebook, which seemed to paint all Muslims as being evil terrorists bent on the destruction of the world.  I’m not Muslim myself, but I’ve had the opportunity to know quite a few Muslims and I can say with some assurance that none of them want to blow me up. So, I pointed out in the comments that Christianity has been used as a reason to commit horrible acts, like the Crusades, Inquisition and even the Salem Witch Hunts.

The response was that those weren’t ‘real’ Christians and that Islam is violent, and that it’s evil in general.  I had pointed out that if Christians lived according to some of the stuff that’s in the Old Testament we’d seem pretty odd and scary too.  So, this person lambasted me, saying that Jesus did away with all that Old Testament nonsense.  That being the case I pulled out a bunch of quotes that are less than pleasant about slaying people and burning them that’s in the New Testament.  I also pointed out that you can’t blame the whole for the actions of a few, that there are extremists in both groups.  Another person chimed in that Christ didn’t abolish the law of the Old Testament.  He said that He came to fulfill it.  Christians still observe the 10 Commandments so there must be validity to that statement.  I also threw in some quotes from the Qur’an that I found that support the idea of Islam not advocated wanton murder.

In any case, this person wouldn’t have any of it.  The person is hell bent on believing that Islam “advocates violence and oppression and murder” and that “JESUS never advocated violence, oppression and murder”.

So, I told her this:

“But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.”

Luke 19:27

The message never really got through to her and I don’t believe it will. There are people who are so blinded by popular media, bad personal experience, or a combination of the two that they will refuse to see reason.  From what I’ve seen, different news channels in the US slant things different ways.  It’s a ratings game.  They don’t tell the news.  They cater to their audience.  I’m kinda starting to prefer Al’Jazeera, because it seems more impartial and maybe I just feel comfortable with a 3rd party (usually Brits) reporting on matters.  Of course, Al’Jazeera is funded by Qatar, so who knows?  Maybe there’s no such thing as unbiased reporting anymore.

I’m sure there are violent aspects of the Qur’an, Shari’a, and other Islamic religious texts, but the same can be said of Christianity and Christian religious texts.  Both religious groups have committed travesties over the course of history.  Does that mean that people that belong to particular religious groups are inherently bad?  I don’t think so.

I think we all just need to keep things in perspective.  Just because someone’s Christian doesn’t mean they’re going to drink poisoned Kool Aid and commit mass suicide, and just because someone’s Muslim doesn’t mean they’re going to strap on a bomb and blow themselves up.  Get a grip on reality.

Note: This is not a debate about the validity of either religion. Any comments left on this post bashing either religion, rather than discussing the idea proposed here, will be removed, and depending on what’s said, the commenter will be banned by IP address.  NO hate speech.  Thank you.

The Abuse of Non-Resident Workers in Singapore

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog recently you’ll have read that Singapore can be a pretty rough place for a foreigner.  There’s plenty of racism and discrimination from locals.  Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is also common in the work place.

In Singapore business, appearance is everything.  Companies want to present the best image they can, regardless of the internal cost and that’s usually going to be at someone’s expense, because they want a certain level of service to be rendered but at the same time they don’t want to put forward the capital or manpower required to adequately meet their goals.  Someone winds up suffering, and those someones are typically foreign workers.

You see, being in Singapore on a work permit is a rather unique situation.  People usually apply for jobs in Singapore through recruitment agencies in their home countries.  If they’re approved they receive a card that designates them as being about to legally enter Singapore without needing their passport stamped and remain for the duration of their work contract.  Now, people that do this sort of thing are either looking to improve their lives, or they have financial obligations at home, like a family to support.  Either way, they have to maintain their job.  If a person loses their job they’re only given so many days to find a new one before they have to leave Singapore, and sometimes that time-frame is only 2 weeks.  You see what I’m saying?  There’s a lot of pressure to make sure you stay in your employer’s good graces, because you’re almost guaranteed to have to leave the country if you leave your job.  Moving from one country to another can be a big deal.  It can be even more stressful when your income is cut off and you have obligations to meet.

In other words, there’s really no wriggle-room.  You work, or you get put out and you have to leave the country.

Being the pricks they are, people like to take advantage of that here.  They create unrealistic expectations in their KPIs.  They ask employees to stay longer hours, often unpaid, to do more work, even if that employee has exceeded the target set for the day.  This is done so that the company can get around hiring more people to manage the workload more effectively, but is an abuse to the worker.  In the case of maids, I’m sure there are far worse abuses that happen despite the strict rules regulating maids in Singapore.

Regardless, there’s no much of a recourse for these foreign workers.  If they decline the request to work the longer hours too many times, they’ll simply be let go and they’ll have to pack up the life they’ve made in Singapore and return to their country, often with not much to show for their efforts and no immediate prospects for work.  If they file a complaint with the company?  Same result.  File a complaint with MoM?  Well, something might happen in the future but the company would find a reason to fire that person.    Change their job?  Well, it’s not always that easy.  Most foreigners come to Singapore on a contract, so they can’t change jobs.  If they can, it could be hard to find one, and if they do, and there’s even the slightest delay in the paperwork, they could have to pack up and leave the country and then come back once the new contract is approved.

You see what I’m getting at here?  The labor laws in Singapore regarding foreigners are either not strict enough or they’re not being properly enforced to protect the interests of the foreign workers that are being hired.  These people are employees, not slightly paid slave labor.

(Image Source)

Air Conditioning: US vs Singapore & Philippines

Living in the US, I got accustomed to central air conditioning.  Besides the fact that it’s generally cooler in the US than it is in Singapore, the idea of having your air conditioner on all day long is culturally acceptable in most parts of the country.  The air conditioner is simply set to maintain a certain temperature.  It’s a set and forget type of deal, and some even have timers that will automatically disable it during the hours when no one is in the house.  When someone is in the house though, it’s on, and that’s just normal.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that the same air conditioning usage patterns aren’t only uncommon, but are seen as socially unacceptable, or at the least unusual or a waste of money, in Asia?  Doesn’t make sense right?  Especially since it’s so much hotter here.  Besides that, houses in the US are built with insulation in mind.  The buildings I’ve been in here in Singapore and in the Philippines seem to be plain cinder block and plaster, with no sort of insulation at all.  That means the buildings build up heat during the day and then maintain it through the majority of the night. The place I’m living now stays at an average of 33 C (91.4 F) all day long, and all night long too.  We’ve even come in at 1 AM, having left the window cracked all day, and seen that it still read 32 C on the temperature gauge on the AC remote.

A typical family in Singapore (based on what I’ve seen) will only turn on the air conditioner at night, after they’ve showered, when they’re about to get in bed.  During the rest of the day and evening, they simply leave the windows open and use a lot of fans.  Also, the air conditioners here aren’t central, with vents in each room.  They’re either window mounted units, or they’re the type that mount outside and have smaller ‘control’ units inside the bedrooms.

That’s another thing I wanted to mention.  The air conditioners in Singapore are typically only located in bedrooms.  From what I’ve seen myself, and heard from my wife, it’s basically the same in the Philippines, if the family even owns an air conditioner at all.  The difference there, though, is that most parts of the Philippines are a lot cooler than Singapore.

At my last place, I would run the air conditioner almost non-stop.  I wasn’t acclimated to the weather here and it was just so damn hot all the time that it seemed impractical to open the windows.  Plus, the air conditioner provided with the room was a piece of shit (see the photo below). Who wants to sit in their own house sweating like they’re in a sauna?  Not to mention that high temperatures can’t be good for electronics.

(This POS, tiny AC was meant to cool a master’s bedroom. Even blasting on maximum, with the temperature set to the minimum, the room would rarely cool below 30 C (86 F))

Another thing to note is that I read on Jonna Wibelius blog, SHE in China, that in China they only turn on the air conditioners during certain seasons.  It reminded me of the way they did it in schools in the US.  I remember days when it was incredibly hot, but the scheduled day for the air conditioners to be turned on hadn’t arrived yet.  The same with the heaters.

I’m constantly finding new things that amaze me about the differences between Asian and American culture, what is and isn’t considered socially acceptable, and the way people live here.

Auntie Wants Her Coffee

(Image Source: Coffee in Malaysia)

This is just something short that I wanted to mention.

Last night my wife and I went up to the shopping area at around midnight to pick up a few things.  There’s a 24 hour Shop ‘n’ Save there!  Afterwards, we dropped by the hawker so I could get a cup of iced Kopi O.  I’m addicted to the stuff.  My wife had some juice.  She likes the Kopi O, but had to get up early for work today, so she had guava juice instead.

Anyhow, as we were sitting there chatting we noticed this little old lady walking up the aisle between the tables.  She must have been about 70 years old and used a cane to help get herself around.  I was surprised that she was out so late.  Like I said, it was around midnight!  Still, it seems like people in Singapore stay out later than anywhere I’ve ever lived.  It has to be because the country is so safe!

This little old lady walked up to a table of young guys next to us and started speaking in Chinese.  I’m not exactly sure what she said, but I picked out the word Kopi O, and I recognized her tone.  She was asking the young guys drinking beer to do an old lady a favor and get her a cup of coffee.

I started imagining the worst case scenario, where the guys would ignore her, or blow her off, or, worse yet, say something rude to her.  That would’ve been quite a scene!  I bet that old lady would have gained retard strength and gone to work on them with her cane.

Instead, it caused a lot of indulgent smiles, and one of the guys got up right away to go get her the coffee she wanted.

I suppose I wasn’t really that surprised.  Asian culture is different from Western culture after all.  There’s a lot more emphasis placed on respect for elders here.  And, in the end, it was somehow satisfying to see this little old lady smiling and laughing over something as simple as being treated to a cup of coffee at the hawker.  I’d like to think I would have done the same for her, if she had asked us instead.