THE SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK NOOS » Cultural oddities and other probing questions

Cultural oddities and other probing questions

28 12 2002

Question 1:
When driving from Singapore to Malaysia you must:
a) Get a Gurkha to take your photo at the border
b) Have at least 3/4 of a tank of petrol
c) Crack jokes to the immigration officer about the terrorists hiding in the boot
d) Be at least this tall (indicates roughly 1.2m) to enter

Ok, buy viagra pills before anyone gets all narky about the discrimination against vertically challenged people; there are no height restrictions when entering Johor Bahru. So, if you answered d) you may not be smart enough to participate in today’s Noos. Click away now!

But on with the story…

I scored an invite to Crazy Val’s mum’s house for lunch on Christmas day. This entailed a skip across the Causeway into Johor Bahru, Malaysia. It seems so weird to skip to another country on Christmas day, get the passport stamped and then come back, but hey, that’s the kind of exotic life I’m leading now. My exotic life. Oh, how the exotic Noodle lives!

Two years here and I’d still never done the trip into Malaysia, so this jaunt was an attempt to rectify this grave oversight AND score a family-type Christmas gig. Even if that family was not my own.

Singapore and Malaysia are only separated at JB by a bridge. There are lots of signs before the checkpoint. One of particular note is a rather puzzling image of a fuel gauge with the needle at 3/4 full. Meaning? Well, there is a $500 fine if you get caught with less petrol than that. Can’t have those bargain-hunting Singaporeans ducking into Malaysia for cheap petrol!

So, if you listed b) as your answer in the quiz, you may collect 1,000 ringgits.

Anyway, we pull up on the Singapore side of the Causeway and get the up-and-down look by a guy as he tried to match our faces with our passports. Well, not really up-and-down, more a through-the-car-window look. I, being a stupid tourist, am attempting to make a visual record of this historic trip, so I snap his photo. The flash goes off.

There is a small outcry from the other passengers in the car. I promise not to do it again.

Then we’re off across the Causeway proper. I miss the ‘Welcome to Malaysia’ sign at first because it’s about the size of - I was going to say bathmat, but that would be inflating its dimensions. It’s very small. Maybe half a bathmat. I missed the photo op, dammit!

Blink once, twice, then you’re through to customs in Malaysia, depending on the banked-up-edness of the traffic. I fill out my departure slip and get the passport ready for inspection again. One teeny-tiny stamp later and we’re in!

Once at Crazy Val’s, I avail myself of some Christmas vino, recline in a chair and think about how lovely and green the place is. Ahhh…. Christmas in Malaysia. Just like Aus… but with damper lawn. Much damper.

Lunch includes turkey, spuds, rendang, glutenous rice and some chilli-type noodles. Tis all delish. I get very full, very quickly. Then cake. Yes, I have room for Chocolate Mousse cake… just try and stop me.

A bit later, Val takes me on a JB tour. I take some photos, make her stop at places she’s never stopped at (hey, cemeteries are cool!), then we go back to the house. My touristy selfishness has caused Val to miss the ‘opening of the presents’ ceremony. Oh well. Sorry, Val.

I try a piece of bright yellow cake. Crazy Val’s mum tells me there are 15 eggs in it. This seems excessive to me, but it’s comforting to know that at least my coat will be shiny. Fifteen eggs in a cake… it tastes… GOOOOD! Methinks the hips protest-eth too much, but what the hell do they know? They’re only hips.

Question 2:
When going to a Chinese wedding you must:

a) Present the bride and groom with a red money packet
b) Scarper before the final course even hits the table
c) Make off with as many chocolates as you can
d) All of the above

I feel so guilty. I didn’t want to take so many chocolates, but one thing led to another. One minute, I’m just putting my little chocolate box in my handbag, and then Giles is stuffing an extra one in, then Mr Chan too. Then the waitresses, “Here, put these in! They’ll only go to waste”. Next thing you know, I’ve got about seven in there, and it’s a small handbag.

Giles tells me later that as I was saying my farewells to the bride and groom, I was being videotaped. You could see with utmost clarity all these chocolate boxes sticking out the top of my bag. How embarrassing. But hey, they were going to go to waste—and in any chocolate lovers’ book, that’s a sin of the highest order!

As you can probably guess by this stream of thought, I recently dusted off the party frock and hauled arse to my first Chinese wedding banquet. Ten courses, big shindig, frock-type occasion. Very swish. It was Michelle’s wedding—a designer chum from Ion Global.

I brushed up on a bit of cultural etiquette and purchased a fancy money packet (not a run-of-the-mill, from the bank job but a boutique purchase), to put my cash in for the bride and groom. Was all set. Hailed a cab. Realised when I got there that I’d left the money packet on my kitchen counter. Idiot.

Fortunately, I took some extra packets along for people who might have forgotten to get one—like say, someone called Giles for example. Lucky I did. I made up another one from me. Borrowed cash off Loy for it. I’m such a buffoon.

Let me tell you, ten courses at a Chinese banquet is a lot of food. I put aside my Western ick-factor feelings and had a crack at the Shark’s Fin Soup. To tell the truth, it tasted a lot like crab soup… probably because it has a lot of crab in it. The bits of shark fin were… what I imagine shark’s fin to be. But at least I can say I came, I saw, I tried the shark’s fin.

I tried a few other things that I normally would’ve left strategically placed under a serviette on the plate. Something long, clear and skinny that looked like the gizzards of a see-through creature and with the consistency of … well… warm jelly snakes. I can’t remember what that was. Tasted ok though. I didn’t go for the eye of the Grouper fish (I didn’t like the accusing stare it gave me), but the cheek was pretty damn tasty. Good eats!

I should mention the toast, mainly because as a clueless Ang Mo, I had no idea what was going on. Everyone stood, the MC guy gave a bit of a speech, and then instead of saying ‘Cheers, big ears’, everyone said ‘Yum Sing’. But you hold the ‘yum’ for a very long time.

The longer the better.

“Yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum sing!” And there you go. I’m standing there thinking, hmm, this is different. Then we do it again. Once more, with feeling. A lot more feeling… a lot more volume actually.

A bit later, the bride and groom go round the tables and more yum sing’s erupt. People really get into it.

A bit later, before the final course had even hit the table, people began leaving in droves. This is apparently common. People just clear out. It would never happen at an Aussie wedding. There was still grog. I looked at my red wine, grabbed another one, just to be quick.

Verdict: Chinese wedding banquets are awesome. Michelle looked absolutely stunning. The couple’s entrance though a fog of dry ice was pretty spesh. I liked it a lot.

Q2. Answer: If you answered d) collect a money packet with $88 inside.

Question 3:
When setting up your own business as a foreigner in Singapore you must:

a) Have the patience of a Saint
b) Have a bucket load of money saved
c) Not have a pre-existing ulceritic condition
d) Have plenty of pages in your passport for visa extension stamps
e) All of the above

I have just set up shop, finally, as a sole proprietor in Singapore. It has taken donkey’s years, man. I lined up a contract as soon as I lost my job with Ion (that was the end of September), and I couldn’t start work until I got my EP. I got it on Friday, December 20th. Woohoo!

If you’re thinking of setting up a one-person business in Singapore as a foreigner, I warn you, it is a very complex procedure. In my case, there was a lot of hoop jumping. It didn’t help that the Ministry of Manpower lost my application in the first two weeks. Not at all.

From that high point on, this was how I functioned:

* Occasionally, I could be heard to say, “My EP has fallen down and can’t get up”. This would be a calm moment.
* Then I would explode with anger (usually while alone).
* Sometimes I would bitch to whoever would listen.
* Every so often, a depressed pall would take over my soul.
* In moments of supreme confidence, I would attempt to argue with a very stubborn bureaucratic-type, then lose.
* Once in a while, a frustrated tear would threaten to spill. This period would be followed by manic giggling at the absurdity of it all.
* With a resigned air of acceptance, I would trek to Immigration to extend my social visit pass every two weeks and get another stamp in my passport.

…and on and on and, oh again, on.

Finally, but FINALLY, I got the thumbs up to set up my business and get cracking on the saving of monies. The ulcer has gone away. I have run out of pages in my passport (nearly), the savings are a mess, and my patience has shrunk to the size of a nano-gnat.

I should tell you. I wanted to give the business itself a name of great gravity. A name that summed up my view on things, my take on what I do, the motto by which I will do my work. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but I think people will remember it. Curious? Click the pic to find out.

Q3. Answer: If you answered e) for this question, collect one genuine Singapore Employment Pass and hang on to it for dear life.

Question 4:
When buying a laptop online you must:

a) Use someone else’s credit card
b) Buy only from “Crazy Bill’s Laptoporium”
c) Mention that you intend to use it to create weapons of mass destruction

Being a regular online buyer (I wouldn’t consider myself an early adopter, but if I could, I would like to be able to order most things online), the decision to bite the bullet and buy a computer online was not such a biggie. Yes, I just bought a laptop through the World Wide Web.

There were a lot of opportunities to back out of this big purchase. A lot. Confirm this step, check out that step, let’s just show you how much it’s going to cost again, another chance to back out, you want to see the price again? I hit the accept button. Then I’m given one more chance to cancel.

I hear the Singapore GST is going up to 4% next year. That settles it. I hit confirm again. Then I’m asked the following question:

“Will the product (s) be used in connection with weapons of mass destruction, i.e., nuclear applications, missile technology, or chemical or biological weapons purposes?”

Does anyone really tick ‘Yes’?

Q4. Answer: If you answered c) collect one radioactive isotope. Actually, if you answered a) I’ll pay that too.

Interpreting your score:
4 out of 4: Hey, you’ve got 1,000 ringgit, an $88 money packet, a Singapore Employment Pass and 1 radioactive isotope. I’m sure you can stir up some trouble with that.
Less than 4 out of 4: What a loser. Join the club.

Toodle-Noo. Here endeth the missive.


©Janeen McCrae 2002



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