Category Archives: Life in Singapore


Those of you who know me, know that I’m a very happy person…90% of the time. I have every reason to be happy; my life for some strange reason has been blessed, particularly so because I’m able to go through it with my twin soul—the other half of me, much like how Jerry and George teamed up to be one complete person in my favourite Seinfeld episode, The Summer of George 🙂

However, I have three pet peeves: (1) pedestrian etiquette, (2) taxi drivers who think I’m a tourist and don’t know the quickest route from A to B, and (3) bad manners, in particular, coughing without placing a hand or tissue over your mouth. I’ve already blogged about the first two, so I figure it’s time to deal with (3).

As a child, we were taught to cover our mouths when coughing or sneezing so that germs, viruses, whatever you had, weren’t spread to those around you. And this seems like a pretty easy thing to do in order to show others that you’re thinking of them and their wellbeing first and foremost.  When someone with a cold, flu or other virus doesn’t cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing, they’re saying, ‘I’m sick and I couldn’t care less if you end up sick as well.’

The average human cough fills about 3/4 of a two litre bottle with air together with approximately 3,000 droplets of saliva which fly out of the mouth at speeds up to 80 kilometres per hour (50 miles per hour)! And it’s even worse with a sneeze. Do you like the idea of being doused in someone else’s saliva? If that person is sick with a virus, the virus is on those droplets and can survive in the air for hours afterwards. A single cough can catapult as many as two hundred million individual virus particles in your direction; there is nowhere to hide.

Viruses need a living being (human or animal) to survive so when they land on a surface, their life span is limited to a few minutes or at best, in humid conditions for example, a few hours. They last longer on hard surfaces than on soft surfaces like fabric. And since we wash our hands several times every day, the chance of infection this way is less than if we breathe in the virus—we can’t avoid breathing but we can avoid putting hands in our mouth.

The World Health Organization has predicted that the next pandemic that will kill millions, will be spread in this way, and it is not a case of ‘if’ this will happen but ‘when’. So practicing the hand-over-mouth drill now will reduce the risk of this killer virus spreading worldwide in record time. We’ve already had a glimpse/warning with SARS and H1N1, H7N9 and other birth flus but people still seem complacent…except for the Japanese. In Japan, if you have a cough or cold, virus or flu, you wear a mask. It’s another easy solution but I guess if you just don’t care about other people, it won’t matter how easy the solution might be, and that seems to be the way of the world today.


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Therapeutic Chewing Gum is OK


I came to live in Singapore in 2004, which was the year the Singapore government relaxed its ban on chewing gum to permit the import of gum that has a therapeutic value. And since chewing gum is allowed solely for this purpose (therapy), citizens like myself must buy our stash from the pharmacy, actually consult with the pharmacist, and sign the Chewing Gum Register. The Register includes your name, ID card number, signature and how many bottles of therapeutic gum were dispensed. If there is no pharmacist on duty at the time you happen by, you are connected by video to an on-duty pharmacist elsewhere who asks a few questions and checks you out through a camera lens before authorizing the purchase. Pharmacists who do not observe these rules could be jailed for up to two years and fined $2,940.

Therapeutic gum available at the pharmacy includes Wrigleys Orbit (for healthy teeth) and Pfizer Inc’s Nicorette.

Since chewing gum is now imported into Singapore arising from the 2004 United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USS-FTA), there is a misconception amongst citizens that this means it is OK to bring your own supply into the country whenever you return home from overseas. Not so—even small quantities for whatever purpose are technically prohibited under the “Regulation of Imports and Exports (Chewing Gum) Regulations.”

Singapore has a global reputation for being the cleanest, tidiest city/country in the world, and it is a well-deserved title. Chewing gum was banned because it was causing serious maintenance problems in high-rise public housing flats, with vandals disposing of spent gum in mailboxes, inside keyholes and even on elevator buttons. Chewing gum left on floors, stairways and pavements in public areas increased the cost of cleaning and damaged cleaning equipment. Gum stuck on the seats of public buses was also considered a problem.

In 1987, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) began operations. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that vandals were sticking chewing gum on the door sensors of MRT trains, preventing the door from functioning properly and causing disruption of train services. Although the incidents were rare, it was costly, and so the ban was implemented in 1992.

Since 2004, street cleaners have complained about the return of spent wads on our pristine pavements, albeit therapeutic wads. Should this continue, those of us in the Chewing Gum Register might well be rounded up and asked to explain.