Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In Singapore, its easy to get lost in translation

Singapore Orchard Road is lit up every year du...Image via Wikipedia

08-March-2010 07:32 PM

Since my childhood, I have learned a lot about Singapore from other people. Knowing that it was recently named the most livable country in the region, my family and I set our expectations high as we took the three-hour flight from Manila to the island-city state in late January.

As one columnist wrote in Singapores most widely circulated newspaper, Straits Times a copy of which I would later buy "rigid" is usually the most common word used to describe the country which is famous for its high-rise buildings, long stretches of paved roads, and a world-class business district.

The way Singapores roads and buildings were laid out seemed the perfect example of urban planning. With its wide and perfectly cemented roads, driving around the city would definitely be the envy of every Filipino driver.

Everything in Singapore seemed well designed from its corporate buildings to apartments and condominiums that have modern but classy architectural designs. These buildings seemed to be the preferred dwelling places of the locals. I was told typical residences, such as gated houses with a garage or a backyard and stuff, can only be found at the outskirts of the business district, far from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Huge double-deck buses and cars which all come with black plates, unlike our white and yellow ones, seamlessly dash through the streets. Theres none of the cranky noise emanating from engines in our beat-up jeepneys and dilapidated buses, or their toxic black smoke.

Not used to their right-hand drive vehicles, I made the mistake of trying to open the right side front door more than once, only to realize the seat already has an occupant the driver.

Its pollution-free surroundings and traffic-free roads more than make up for Singapores slightly hotter clime. I wouldnt mind turning the Philippines temperature a notch higher, if thats the only way (although we all know its not) to ease EDSAs heavy traffic, or unclog our sewerage.

The world-famous, water-spewing Merlion is best photographed with Singapore's skyscrapers. Mark Merueas

Although it was almost like a cutout of a Utopian society, at least to me, there was one big thing missing in Singapore. We were at a McDonalds chain at the Changi International Airport ordering food and, glancing at the menu behind the cashier, I was looking for that one staple meal I always enjoyed back home but could not seem to find it. Then my brother elbowed me and whispered: They do not have chicken here." McDonalds in Singapore does not have chicken?! Aside from iced tea, fried chicken is the only thing that makes fast food dining complete to me. And so, left with no choice, I settled for a burger and twister fries.

After eating, we spent the whole day going around the city until it got dark. In Singapore, the start of night time" would be between 7:30 and 8 p.m. Yes, you read it right. Go out at past 7 p.m. in Singapore and youd be surprised to see the sky still in bright daylight. This probably explains why shops and restaurants in the business district manage to stay open until the wee hours of the night.

Orchard Road, for instance, explodes in vibrancy at night. Similar to New Yorks famous Times Square, Orchard Road is the sight of towering department stores, huge glowing billboards, blaring sound systems, designer shops, party-goers and lots of shoppers. But theres a trade-off to this very late night life establishments open late the next morning.

Multi-cultural city

Singapores population is mainly composed of three races: Chinese, Indians, and Malays. When I was in college, I learned in one of my classes how these three races co-existed" something that tickled my curiosity at that time. When we went to Singapore, this co-existence unfolded right before my eyes.

On the streets, it was not uncommon to see a Malay woman jogging with a Chinese friend, or a group of Indians and Malays having coffee, or even an Indian and Chinese couple dining with their mestiza daughter.

Although multi-cultural, it helped a lot that most locals know how to speak English which means no need for translators or over-the-top hand gestures when speaking with a native.

Before leaving Singapore, we made our final stop at the Marina Bay home of the famous Merlion Statue. The Merlion Statue is to Singapore what the Eiffel Tower is to France, or the Taj Mahal is to India. You just cant fly out of Singapore without having your picture taken in front of what I think is its single, most definitive symbol.

Standing at 8.6 meters, the part-lion, part-fish statue one of only five of its kind in Singapore sits on the edge of the bay with jets of water gushing out of its mouth. On the adjacent viewing deck, tourists can pose for a shot with the merlion and - with the proper angling of the camera the skyscrapers behind as their backdrop.

Before heading to the airport, we dropped by Little India, a small district which is the Singaporean Indians answer to Chinatown. Basically, its the perfect place to buy affordable souvenir items and so, souvenir shopping we did.

Whats the ban?

Just when I thought I was going to leave Singapore without blunders in conversing with the locals, I got a taste of how their unique Chinese accent can leave me as the famous Hollywood film depicts lost in translation.

We were about to board the plane at the (I should say, overwhelming and state-of-the-art) Changi Airport to our next destination when I noticed that my camera was missing. Half the fun of going to a foreign land is returning with pictures to share to your relatives back home, and so I told myself I was not leaving Singapore without my camera. I rushed back to the inspection area, thinking I must have left it there during inspection, and asked one of the airport security personnel.

Oh, this one?" the man replied, producing my camera from one of their lockers. Can you tell me what ban?"

Im sorry. I didnt get that?" I replied.

Can you tell me what baaan?" he said, stressing the last word.

Resigned to the fact that I cannot connect the word ban" with a digital camera, I said: Im sorry, sir. I really dont understand. What do you mean ban?"

As though talking to a toddler who had just learned to speak, the security personnel repeated the word slowly and enunciated every syllable: Bbb-rr-aann-dd."

Oh, brand!" I exclaimed. It turned out he just wanted to know if I was the real owner of the camera.

And so when we reached Malaysia, I had learned my lesson well: Enjoy the scenery, but dont talk much. Instead of asking around, I would read signboards which, when in Malaysia, would turn out really fun.

Continue Reading: Highlands, caves, and Petronas on a postcard in Malaysia


From GMANews.tv; see the source article and other pictures here.

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