Singapore - A Fine City
© 2010 Leighann Lord
My work entertaining the troops recently took me (and the New York Underground Comedy Festival All-Stars) to Changi Naval Base in Singapore. Who wouldn’t want to visit the country that's featured in almost every episode of National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad? "Tune in next week when an American goes to Singapore and does something stupid. Again." Do you remember, Michael Fay, the American kid who got caned for vandalism back in 1994? Singapore isn’t exactly soft on crime.
The customs and immigration form I filled out on the flight said, in big bold letters, “DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS!” Not a lot of wiggle room. They don’t care why you’re dealing drugs: Death! They don’t care about what kind of childhood you had: Death!; What kind of medication you may or may not be on: Death! There’s no plea bargain, reduced sentence, or time off for good behavior from Death!
Singapore is called a “fine” city not only because of its commitment to cleanliness but because of the myriad of seemingly innocuous offenses for which one can be . . . well . . . fined.
• Eating and drinking in public? Fine!
• Jaywalking? Fine!
• Spitting? Fine!
• Gum Chewing? Fine!
Singapore is sweating the small stuff.
It was tough to refrain from jaywalking, the birthright of everyself-respecting Native New Yorker, but no gum chewing? That was really difficult. I chewed gum all through Catholic school and never got caught. But I’ve been out of school for a while and have grown accustomed to chewing at will. If the nuns caught you in the act of mastication, they made you put the gum on your nose. Yeah, that’s exactly what Jesus would do. Singapore is a bit more punitive with a $1,000 fine and possible imprisonment. You’re not even allowed to bring gum into the country. The penalty for gum trafficking: Death? No, but the $10,000 fine is rather killer.
So unwilling to risk a “Locked Up Abroad” episode, I divested myself of my gum stash. I considered hiding a pack or two in my suitcase, but I worried that they might have gum sniffing dogs at the airport. My dog, Rolie, could easily do that job. He’s the reason that I don’t leave my purse on the floor. On more than one occasion I’ve seen him neck deep in my bag like a pig rooting for truffles. And yes, he’s figured out how to work the zipper. He’s a crafty little cur.
Even if I had managed to smuggle gum into Singapore, I would have been too afraid to chew it. Are the cops on the look out for people with minty fresh breath? Does Singapore have chew cams strategically placed around the city to catch careless bubble blowers in the act? I just couldn’t risk it. And besides, Altoids aren’t so bad once you stop wondering why they’re so “curiously strong.”
But I half hoped, half feared that I’d be approached by an illegal gum dealer: "Hey Girl, whatchu want? I got Bubble Yum, Bubblicious, Hubba Bubba! I'll hook you up, Boo!" But just my luck, he would’ve been an undercover cop.
To be clear, Singapore isn’t run by fascist dentists. They’re more like over zealous neat freaks. The No Gum Chewing edict preempts those who would spit out their gum in the street rather than throw it in the garbage. But it just goes to show, “weapon of mass destruction” is a relative term. Perhaps Singapore never considered sending troops to Iraq because Saddam Hussein wasn’t stockpiling Juicy Fruit. He didn't have any weapons either but that's another story.