Saturday, 3 March 2007

my encounters .....

“My encounters” here in Singapore are by far the most interesting, entertaining and sometimes, just a little overwhelming!

Probably my first was with our bank here. At the beginning, it was rather a traumatic experience for the both of us to organise and then create a bank account that we could use without any hassles. We wanted an easy to operate account and one where we could also do internet banking.
The first bank we went to could set up an account and yes we could bring money into Singapore via the net, but no we wouldn’t be able to send any money OUT of Singapore thru internet banking!

So ‘bank shopped’ till we could get what we wanted. It took us one complete day to organise this and so once it was done we were quite relieved.

Next ‘problem’ was that we would have to wait a week for the cheque books and our ‘card’ the following week. They were very helpful, even suggesting they would phone us at the hotel to let us know when we could pick them up.The call came and as John was at work, I went to the bank myself to pick up the books.

The ‘customer officer’ saw me coming thru the door and came out with a welcoming “hello Madam Fabre”. How on earth did she remember my name? But not only did she greet me, she took me upstairs to the banking sector, and suggested I take a seat while I waited. Not just any seat, these are full on lounge chairs! Then the security officer came over to let me know there would be a wait of about 10 minutes and was I OK ?

Listen, if anyone treats me like a ‘princess’, then I am definitely going to be OK.

Another (not so pleasant) encounter was at a Japanese Café / Restaurant. We only wanted and needed something light, so we asked for a bowl of miso soup with noodles. The waitress asked did we want an entrée, and we replied that we didn’t. How about a drink she continues ……… I said No, that I was fine. John decided yes he would like a drink, so she brings out Lime Juice for the two of us.

Then she says: “are you sure you wouldn’t like me to fix just a little entrée for you?”. I said no we were fine……then she looked at John (the softie) and said, “Sir, how about if I just make one little plate of things for you?
What do you think he said? Yes, of course!

So out came one small plate of little bits of fresh fish – all up about 9 pieces. Of course came the time for us to pay the bill, the waitress was nowhere to be seen so we went to the cashier who tells us the total was $73.00. What? We were horrified. $73.00 !!

Keeping in mind the bowls of soup would have been a total of $8.00 and the juice probably another $4.00. That leaves $61.00 for that one little plate of entrée.

What left the sour taste in our mouths, was that we were deceived. She should have told us what the entrée was and the approx cost. She was out to make a commission and did it in a very deceitful way.

We have since heard this often happens to the tourists around Singapore, I find this very sad indeed.

But another encounter was by far, much more pleasant.
I had decided I needed to puchase new bedlinen, especially as I had brought with me to Singapore, my queen sized sheets and they were too small for the bed at our new home! As I was wandering along Orchard Road I met one of the guests from the serviced apartments where we were staying, she asked where was I going and so I told her that I needed bedlinen and did she know where I could get them. She was kind enough to not only suggest a department store, but in fact took me there!
Even at the store itself, I had a pleasant encounter with the sales lady .... the story really is far too long to go into. But she was such a nice lady and wouldn't let me carry anything around the store. Everywhere I went, she was right there helping me with my sheets, pillowslips and Duvets. Then once I was at the register I went to take the parcels, but was told in a very firm voice:
"Oh No Madam, we will deliver them to your hotel"
It may have been her job to do all this, but it does not take away the fact that she was always very polite and pleasant.
I was back in the same store a few days later and she recognised me, (not hard to do!) but she came up and said hello and asked if my bedlinen arrive OK.

Another encounter was at the postal centre. The Post Office (AKA SingPost) is an experience in itself. Not only do they sell postage stamps, send letters and parcels but a host of other services too. SingPost has more than 60 post offices, about 80 authorised postal agencies, close to 200 Self-service Automated Machines (SAMs), more than 660 stamp vendors and over 800 postboxes located throughout Singapore. All the post offices serve as one-stop convenience centres for postal, agency and financial products and services, and form one of the most extensive networks of any retail business in Singapore. SingPost has three main operating divisions: Mail, Logistics and Retail.

So not only do they sell stamps you can pay most of your bills, pay medical insurance or hospitals stays, pay the dog licence or driving licence or even the rental of your HBD (Housing Commission) unit. Just about anything can be done at Singpost!

…….. and this is why they are so busy.

The queue can have 40 – 50 people waiting in line, this means a wait of approx 45 minutes! The hours of opening are excellent, most days open from 9.30 till 6.30, but Wednesdays are open till 8.00pm.Then of course they are open on Saturdays too.

My “encounter” was with an employee of Singpost, he is the man that is out the front with the customers, making sure they have the correct paperwork for whatever they require, answer questions whilst they are waiting etc. In short, a very helpful person!

I had been waiting in line for around 30 minutes when he came up to me and asked what was I wanting to do at the postal counter. I told him I had two small parcels to post. So he suggested I wait in line at another counter where they sell “just stamps”, and that the line I had been waiting in sold other services.

I said that it was OK, I had waited for quite awhile already and now there were only 3 people in front of me. But he insisted that I wait at another line as that was the “correct line”. OK, I am not one to create a scene, so moved over to where he wanted me to wait – there were at least 8 people waiting ahead of me, so I had in fact, added another 10 mins or so to my waiting time. I was not concerned in the least – so just waited for my turn.

Except, that a very well dressed Asian gentleman and his wife were just ahead of me and the man became very cross at the Singpost employee …… I was not aware of what they were saying for a moment. Then I saw that people were watching them and then looking at me! I soon realised that the employee was being “told off” for treating me this way and that I should have been put at the front of the queue and not be kept waiting longer by being put into the slower queue!! This confrontation was very loud and everyone that was waiting, was listening intently.

I was very embarrassed and said to them both, that it was OK and that I now know what to do next time. But the Asian gentleman would have none of that and insisted that I be treated with more respect. (must admit this was very nice of him though) So off he went with his wife without even a backwards glance at me. But the Singpost employee was mortified, so was I, standing in line with at least 60 pairs of eyes on me!
He kept apologizing over and over again. I just kept saying it was alright and not to be concerned ….. mind you, I was very near to tears by this time.

Off he went, 30 seconds later back again, more apologies PLUS two mandarins as a Chinese New Year offering to me, lots of bowing and more apologies. Then I reach the counter, and did what I had to do quickly as all I could think was “let me outa here quick”. I turned to leave only to see him right behind me, ready to escort me out the door with a few more bows and dare I say .......

More apologies!

But such a nice polite man, certainly an asset to SINGPOST.

I really should keep “my encounters” much shorter, but some need more explanation, so please bear with me!

Another ‘encounter’ was with a lady at the newspaper kiosk at the MRT here. I had gone to ask if they had matches. Matches? There were three women in the kiosk, not one understood what I was saying.

Little fire? Fire for cigarette (I don’t smoke!), Bit of wood with fire on the end? Cigarette light? You know – match, matches?

“Oooooohhhh, you mean MATCHES?”

Isn’t that what I said?

“No sorry, no matches.”

“OK, where do I buy these ‘matches’?”

“Ooooohhhhh, dont no, sorry.”

That’s OK, I will keep looking and off I went. So wandered in the crowded shopping centre, but about 15 minutes later, a tap on the shoulder.

“are you lady for matches?”

Yep, that’s me allright…….so here is the lady from the kiosk, holding my arm and taking me out the shopping centre and leading me up the street to a $2.00 shop to show me where “the matches” are!

Can’t beat that for service eh?

But all “my encounters” have proved to be a great learning experience too. I have had many more than what is written above. Like the Chinese Lady (Sophie) I met in the supermarket as we both were buying dog food, so what was our conversation about? Dogs of course! But the communication between the two of us was great, as neither really could speak each language. We ‘chatted’ for about half an hour, blocking the aisle, but who cares, we had fun talking about Milo, Pokey and Oscar and the antics they all get up to with much animation and laughter!!

Then there were the people that worked at the Orchard Park Suites, the security men, the doormen and the cleaners, always so polite and helpful. The people in the kiosk at the MRT stations, always there to help.
Or the lady that works at Bukit Batok Town Council offices that helped me with some maps and made many a phone call to help me locate the local Church.
Then there are the Taxi Drivers, we have met some very friendly and helpful drivers that even point out landmarks to us whilst driving along or suggest places to visit while we are here.
The food vendors have all been great, especially at the hawker centres and in the smaller food halls. It is obvious we have a lot to learn with what we are ordering, but the pictures on the menu are a BIG HELP believe me!
Once I asked for curried vegetables with some roti, but the waitress even suggested that "I might prefer the chicken curry rather than the vegetables", this has often happened where I order what I think might like, only to be told I might prefer this or that, or have I tried this with that ........ OK, OK, whatever you say, I will try it!!!!

So our ‘encounters’ so far have all been very helpful with us living and settling in Singapore.


BernOZ said...

I could totally understand what you have experienced with the locals, after living there for 13 years.
Some of these episodes do sound 'hilarious' to me, such as the SingPost one.

Foreigners, especially caucasians, certainly receive 'different' treatments there. After all, Singapore had been a colonial country in the past.

BernOZ said...

I really like the photo "Our first meal in Singapore". It made me smile... good old hawker center food.