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“Don’t break our rules,” she said

Samuel Garcia, NUS Exchange, Fall 2014

“Don’t break our rules,” she said, as I walked onto the subway platform holding a fresh cup of Starbucks coffee.

“You can’t drink, or eat, on the subway. You can hold it. Just don’t drink it.”

“Anyway, have a good night with your friends, I hope you aren’t doing anything I wouldn’t approve of.”

“Don’t worry,” I said as I boarded the train. I didn’t mention my friends and I are gay, something this religious Singaporean lady I had just met was quite likely to disapprove of.

That was my first experience with how rigid Singaporean society can be. Before I came, all my friends seemed to know Singapore as “the place where it’s illegal to chew gum.” But I didn’t know just how strict it is.

When I boarded the newest subway line a few days later, I was surprised to find the above sign with one addition:

No durians. Admittedly, durians (a common fruit in Asia) do smell quite terrible, and I am glad I don’t have to smell them while riding the subway. But the fact that they bothered to specify on the sign, NO DURIANS, makes me chuckle.

The rigidness stretches far beyond just the subway, to everyday life. Alcohol is expensive and drinking is frowned upon, students study on Friday and Saturday nights, and no one wants to stand out. In the US, I walk down the street and see all kinds of people, from the traditional business man to the hippie girl. Here no one dares to wear anything too bright, guys don’t dare to dress too feminine and girls don’t dare to dress too masculine. I have yet to see a gay couple holding hands. Everyone conforms to a similar lifestyle. Sure, it’s a comfortable one, since the society is so prosperous, but it lacks originality.

Some people love it here. While I have a very comfortable life, in the cleanest, and possibly richest city I have been in, I would not want to live here for a long period of time. I can feel the rigidness in the air.

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