I find myself in an interesting position here in Singapore where I straddle two different worlds. The first is the expat world where things resemble life back home but are more cosmopolitan and more expensive. Yet, I don’t live in the downtown area close to public transit and I’m not that close to the multinational chain stores that stock brands I’m most familiar with.
Instead, I live in a very residential neighborhood where we drive to most things, there are less expats and speaking in a local dialect gets you the best service and price. Things are cheaper and I get to experience more of the local culture. I’m not firmly in either world but depending on the day, I live in one world or the other. One example of my “local” life, was searching for new lights for our home.
My husband is from Singapore and we share a house with my in-laws. It’s a big house but now, with six of us, we needed to change a few things. We’ve been upgrading the wireless network, buying furniture and adding more light to some of the rooms. We had shopped around at a few places for lighting but had no luck. We had read about a place in far-flung Sembawang so we decided to check it out.
Sembawang Lighting House is located in an older shop house row similar to an American strip mall. It’s an unassuming shop, smaller than others but well-curated. Every square inch of the walls and ceilings plays host to more lights and ceiling fans than I ever thought possible. Despite the overwhelming choice, we managed to find lights relatively quickly.
We needed to buy at least three lights and in these local shops you need to find any excuse to ask for a discount. It’s not what we would do back in the States but it’s normal here. In fact, my Singaporean friends have told me it’s a must or I’ll get taken advantage of. You will usually get a discount and this time was no exception.
Once we agreed to purchase the lights, we were pleasantly surprised that the store took the time to carefully inspect each fixture for us. In Singapore, it’s difficult to return purchased items so buyers need to examine things carefully before purchasing. (Yes, I miss all the consumer friendly laws in California.)
Eating in Sembawang
After successfully finding lights, it was time to eat. We thought we’d try one of the eateries book-ending the shop houses. It is pretty typical to find an eating house on the corner in these shop house rows. They have awnings hung over the tables to provide shade with oscillating fans hung at every other table to provide a welcome breeze in the hot weather. This set of shop houses was no different.
We ended up at d’Rubinah, an Indian/Muslim restaurant with alternating lime green and orange tables and bright saffron chairs to complete the tropical look. A pictorial menu of dishes was brightly displayed above the counter. The patrons were all either Indian, Malay or Chinese. I was met with a curious stare by the Indian auntie at the counter. She took our order motioned for us to take a table and walked off, presumably to have someone start assembling our order, leaving us to wonder when we should pay.
The food came quickly and was beautifully presented in the authentic, unfussy manner of people who care about their food but are true to themselves and their customers. The food was as delicious as it looked. We approached the counter to pay and had to ring a bell to get someone to collect our money. To top off the experience, we paid less than $20.
It’s always a little strange for me when I get into these areas of Singapore that don’t see a lot of expats. I’m a little more self-conscious but interestingly, the people I interact with also seem to be more self-conscious. If I order coffee at a local coffee shop, there is a brief exchange of panicked looks as to who will take my order. Maybe some are foreign workers and English isn’t their primary language or maybe they just don’t know why I’m there. I too, have a moment of panic wondering if I’ll understand their Singlish well enough when they respond to me. I find, it’s best to just smile and make fun of my pronunciation of Singaporean words and people open up. If I’m lucky they’ll tell me something new or show me something I wouldn’t have noticed.
Do you want to hear more about these moments of real life? Or are you more interested in hearing about places to visit here?