Tag Archives: sidewalk

In search of shade


There are a few signs that you’ve lived in Singapore way too long: (1) the 32 degrees (celsius) in ‘winter’ feels significantly cooler than the 32 degrees in summer and you find yourself reaching for a cardigan (or ‘jumper’ as we say in Australia).  (2) You pronounce the number ‘three’ as ‘tree’ and pluralize words that are already plural eg underwears, and (3) you have a profound fear of the sun.

This fear of the sun will have you wearing long sleeves during the day, using umbrellas when it is not raining, and pavement-stepping like Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets in search of bits of shade to protect every other exposed part of you from those rays.  You are prepared to fight people for that shade.

In Asia, and historically, a tanned skin indicates you are of a lower social standing, the assumption being that wealthy educated people work indoors while poor people have no choice but to work outdoors in more menial roles. Asians love white skin, envy it, and cannot understand that we Caucasians would intentionally tan it. The majority of skin products available here include whitening agents whether you want it or not, and skin whitening spa treatments are a lucrative business. And to advance the process, you can take Crystal Tomato© and other pills to whiten yourself from the inside out.

I grew up in Australia where my misspent youth was devoted to sun worshiping doused in coconut oil or baby oil. That was how we spent the most part of our holidays at the beach or the pool. A tan was a sign of good health and fitness. Historically, in western societies it was also associated with prosperity ie you have the time and income to be laying around in the sun, while white skin was associated with being sick or elderly.

So when we first arrived here 10+ years ago, we were amazed to have our condo pools to share with just a few other Australians and Europeans. The locals and Japanese expats only came out after 4pm if the sun had passed and even then they were still covered head to toe. This seemed like a perfect arrangement.

It took a couple of years for me to realize there was a direct correlation between sun and aging after attending a joint birthday party for a 40-year-old Singaporean woman and 40-year-old Australian. They did not look the same age; more like a decade separated them.

And so today, I am as Singaporean as you can get and I will walk the extra distance if it means I am out of reach of that demon sun.

Pedestrian etiquette

I love living in Singapore, as everyone knows, and have practically nothing to complain about, except for one major gripe—pedestrian etiquette. Since I do not have a car (I don’t need one plus they are horrendously expensive here), this affects me every day. There is no pedestrian etiquette in Singapore, as there is in Australia, and in case you are not familiar with the protocol, I’ll explain.

Sidewalks, or footpaths as we call them in Australia, are generally wide enough for two people to pass comfortably. If you are walking two or three abreast, pedestrian etiquette requires one or two members of your party to assume a single file during a passing maneuver ie while you are overtaking or when a pedestrian is on approach from the opposite direction. This is common courtesy, and in Australia, this is observed along with the customary cheery greeting to the passer-by. In Australia, Queensland in particular, if you approach someone on the street while out walking, a hello is expected, stranger or not.

In Singapore, the natural citizens ie the non-expatriates, walk two, three or four abreast and never make way for someone coming in the opposite direction. They will drive you into the terrain either side of the sidewalk or if you do decide to maintain your rightful position, striding on your fair share of the concrete, someone will walk into you rather than surrender. Similarly, they will stand in the middle of the footpath, or aisle at the supermarket, and chat away on their phones, completely oblivious or uncaring that others are trying to pass.

Understanding this behavior is a conundrum. Generally, Singaporeans are non-aggressive, polite individuals, who know and understand the importance of rules and procedures, for example, proper queue etiquette. There are queues to join a queue and there are queue officials who ensure proper order and conduct is observed at all times. Queue jumpers do not survive. I would therefore expect Singaporeans to similarly appreciate the importance of sidewalk etiquette.

It might be explained by kiasu, which is a fear to lose out to others, and always wanting the upper hand. Kiasu, and it’s partner, kiasi (fear of death) are widely used terms in the local vocabulary. As an example, “Look at him so kiasu pushing people away to get a seat on the bus first.”

If the government painted the sidewalk with a dotted line up the middle, there is a very good chance that behaviors would change since Singaporeans are conditioned to obey such ordinances, like those related to spitting, chewing gum, jaywalking etc. Is this the only solution? Must I write to the government to report this blemish on an otherwise almost-perfect society?

What is the status of pedestrian etiquette in your hometown? How should one deal with poor pedestrian etiquette, in a lawful way?


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