So far what I’ve learned about Singapore comes from ridiculous amounts of trips to grocery stores and malls. But I think it was Anthony Bourdain who once said the joke about Singapore is that there is nothing to do but eat and shop. So I’m basically a local and this is what I’ve come to learn about my new home.
1. Always carry an umbrella.
I’ve been going to a grocery store nearly everyday since we’ve arrived. Crazy. I don’t have a good reason for it other than, I’m still learning the cheapest, most convenient, where-to-go-for-what stores, and we arrived to an empty apartment. You forget all the things you need besides basics of food and water when you don’t have anything: toilet paper, tissues, sponges and soap – for hands, bodies, dishes, floors, clothes. When you shop like I do, slowly and forgetfully, it requires several trips. So one morning last week, I dragged the kids out yet again for more stocking up. I wanted to check out our local wet market which according to the most detailed internet directions was “opposite Parkway Parade” our closest mall.
Now I had been once before to the area I would consider “opposite the mall”, but as far as I could see there were only hawker centers and several shops selling the same surprisingly wide variety of household items (like Bed, Bath and Beyond but in a 200 square foot space). We circled the area several times before I called uncle and with every frustrating loop around, the skies grew darker. I still didn’t have anything for dinner so we went to yet a different grocery store in the hopes that by the time I finished, the storm would have passed. Compared to Shanghai rain, Singapore showers are light and quick (from what I had previously observed).
Except for this day. We emerged with our groceries, slightly battered as you do when you attempt to navigate a bulky double stroller through a crowded (with people and merchandise) store, with two active boys who had been sitting too long. The heavens had opened up and there was no sign of the Supreme Being closing them anytime soon. With melting ice cream in my bag and the boys teetering on the brink of losing it, I made the critical decision to pray to the dark skies for mercy (or at least make our wet walk home not as bad as it seemed like it might be).
2. Singaporeans are nice. Very nice.
By the time I crossed the street just outside the store, we were soaked. Completely. Water running off my finger tips, soaked; hair knotted, matted down and dripping wet, soaked; shoes squishing water out the sides with every step, soaked. Mercy did not come. The boys had some protection…from the hoods of the stroller that are meant to shield from the sun, not torrential rain.
As I fought to get my clunky stroller up a curb, a young women stopped, in the downpour, to help me. Nice. She then offered me her umbrella insisting, “I have another in my bag. Take it. Take it!” Very nice. I assured her we were already too far gone and an umbrella would just add to my barely manageable fumbling.
A block later, we were waiting to cross the street. While the seconds dripped by, an older women appeared in my personal space generously holding her umbrella over both of us. Nice. I joked we were new here and obviously need to learn to always carry an umbrella. She dutifully laughed and asked where we were headed. I vaguely pointed to a row of stores across the street because the truth was, I wasn’t sure. I told her we lived about four blocks away, but I was just looking for a place to pull over for a minute. She said she would shepherd us to safety but when I asked her which direction she was originally headed, it was the opposite way. Very nice. So again, I thanked her but insisted, her umbrella could not save us. We were already too far gone.
3. Just because Singapore can be crazy expensive, cheap entertainment options do exist.
Throughout our wet adventure, the boys were squealing with delight. “You guys ok?” (Honestly, what kind of mother drags her kids out in a downpour?) “Yes! Don’t take us inside yet!” Turns out, toddlers love getting caught in the rain. Nolan later declared. “I love the rain.” Now I know. Instead of getting cooped up inside on a rainy day, out we will go.
4. Singaporeans are smart.
If not pushing a toddler bus, its actually surprisingly easy to stay dry/shaded for blocks at a time. The Singaporeans are well prepared for tropical showers and tropical sunshine. Wide awnings hang from store fronts covering the sidewalks, covered walkways are abundant and shady trees hang overhead. What’s more, the natives know sometimes it’s best to just seek shelter and wait for the rain to let up. In my head, we were in it with all the others who had surprisingly gotten caught in the storm. But as we kept walking, the nice people offering umbrellas seemed to disappear. The reality is that we clearly stood out, not only because our lack of rain gear but also, simply because we were some of the only idiots still walking the streets.
When we finally made it home, I promptly stripped the boys out of their sopping clothes, put on some dry undies, handed them the gooey ice cream, and realized I’m no local yet.