I was having a quiet moment at the smoking area near my office the other day when a very brightly dressed tourist wandered up to me and made a gesture of clicking a cigarette lighter in front of my face. The tourist was male and looked as if he was in his early thirties. When I say he was brightly dressed he was wearing long yellow-checkered shorts with luminescent orange running shoes on his feet.
Oops – I just remembered my Mum will read this. Sorry Mum – I may have been fibbing a bit when I told you on the phone that I had quit smoking. I am certainly thinking about it though. I think I might have also promised you that I would stop swearing too.
I am trying very hard to do so but it isn’t bloody easy.
Shit, I just did it again.
The tourist was also attired in a sleeveless t-shirt emblazoned with the letters USA on the front and back. His head was adorned with a baseball cap that also had the letters USA on them. This cap was on backwards and he was wearing those type of sun-glasses that have mirrored lenses.
I could tell that he was a tourist because he had a camera slung around his neck and he was carrying a backpack that had a tourist map of Singapore poking out of a side pocket. Unsurprisingly, the backpack had the stars and stripes flag sewn on it.
His attire alone was sufficient for me to feel vexatious. The cigarette lighting gesture made in front of my face and his open-mouthed chewing of gum was even more annoying.
I felt an almost immediate and compelling desire to set him on fire however I resisted. I am learning patience as I age and don’t worry Mum - I have never actually set anyone on fire. It is just a figure of speech.
I feigned a look of puzzlement and non-comprehension at the tourist as he persisted in clicking his fingers in front of my face and then I nonchalantly blew smoke into his face.
It did not dissuade him.
He then clicked his fingers once more at me and said, "Gimme a light".
The Californian drawl was unmistakable and the lack of a "please" pissed me off. I get peeved by poor manners and I once again felt a rising urge to incinerate the man.
"You mean gimme a light please?" I responded.
"Yeah sure. Please. You English are so funny" he replied.
English now - to an Australian. There is no greater insult.
"I am not English dude", I replied.
I pulled my cigarette lighter out of my pocket and handed it to him.
"Never say that to an Australian. You are Canadian?"
He lit his cigarette and handed me back my lighter then he blew cigarette smoke back in my face and gave me a blank look.
"Nah I'm from LA"
In my experience sarcasm is wasted on West Coast Americans and I shouldn't even have bothered. New Yorkans have a much greater appreciation of the art.
"You know it is illegal to chew gum in Singapore? I enquired.
"No shit?" he said.
He didn't look too concerned.
"No shit" I retorted.
"Mate you can get a $10,000 fine and ten lashes of the cane for even bringing chewing gum into the country", I added putting on my most serious of faces.
"You're not shitting me dude?" he asked.
He looked a little more concerned now.
"Really" I said.
"I shit you not. Lots of tourists get into big trouble chewing gum in public. The Singapore government are very strict on gum and there are cameras everywhere".
I pointed to a couple of security cameras on the buildings on either side of us.
Cameras are everywhere in this country.
The American tourist looked quite worried now and to my disgust he pulled a wad of pink gum out of his mouth and made to put it in the ashtray that was adjacent to where we were standing.
"Don't throw it in there" I hissed.
"They will be watching you now and disposing of gum is more of a crime than chewing it"
The American looked panicked now.
"What will I do with it?" he asked
"Put it back in your mouth and swallow it" I commanded.
He immediately put it back in his mouth and with a big gulp he choked it down.
"They're not American cigarettes are they?' I enquired.
I was looking at the half burned cigarette in his hand - knowing that they were.
"Yeah" he said nervously.
"Oh dear mate, bringing any foreign cigarettes into Singapore is a major crime too. You can only bring in one open packet into the country and all others must have this government stamp on them".
I showed him my unfinished cigarette with the government duty stamp on it to demonstrate the point.
This is true. You are only allowed to bring one packet of cigarettes into Singapore. It is no major crime though and if you get caught with more they just make you pay the tax on them.
"How many packets have you got?" I asked.
"Shit I got me whole carton"
"Dude you are very lucky you weren't stopped at customs. You would have been in serious shit"
"What should I do?"
"How many packets have you got on you?"
"Without making any sudden movements go over to that trash can and discretely drop them in there. Move slowly. Be very casual" I instructed.
I pointed to a rubbish bin about twenty meters away. I referred to it as a trash can because this is the American term for a rubbish bin. I wanted to make sure that he understood what I was talking about. The silly fellow did what I suggested - then he came slinking back to me.
"Mate I would get rid of the rest of them as soon as you get back to your hotel. Don't throw them in your hotel room trashcan though. That is the easiest way to get caught. Take a walk around the block and drop one packet into different bins. It is safer that way"
"Man this is one strict country,” the sucker American tourist complained.
"It is mate,” I agreed.
"Thanks for the tip dude. Which way is it to the Marina Bay Sands Casino" he asked.
"Walk about a kilometer that way" I advised whilst pointing in the opposite direction of where the building is.
"You can't miss it"
Now I will be the first to admit that my behavior was rude and cruel however he was rude first though. He also called me English and he clicked his fingers at me - and he was American.
He was from the west coast - not the best coast.
I was riled.
Singapore does have a whole heap of Rules and Regulations – both “R” words.
The chewing gum law though is a bit of an urban myth. You can chew gum here and you can in fact buy it. You get it from a pharmacist. All you have to do is sign a register after showing your ID.
It is not illegal to bring it into the country.
There are harsh rules for littering, as there should be. Throwing rubbish on the ground should not be condoned anywhere. Large fines apply in Singapore if you are caught littering and the courts can also force litterers to do a stint of picking up rubbish as an additional penalty.
It is not illegal to be homosexual in Singapore however any act of homosexuality is considered to be a breach of law. Section 377 of the Miscellaneous Offences Act of Singapore specifies that:
"Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine"
Section 377A states that:
"Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts tom procure the commission by any male person of any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment of a term which may extend to 2 years"
Nudity is also illegal in Singapore.
The government doesn't like it.
It is specified under Section 27A of the Singaporean Miscellaneous Offences Act that:
"(1) Any person who appears nude
(a) in a public place; or
(b) in a private place and is exposed to public view,
shall be guilty of an offense and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to both."
(2) For the purpose of this section, the reference to a person appearing nude includes a person who is clad in such a manner as to offend against public decency or order"
It is therefore perilous for me to wear my speedos at my own swimming pool in the condominium in which I live.
They may easily offend Singaporean public decency.
I am not joking.
These are real laws.