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Can I borrow your fire?

Published: 01 April 2024


Heidi and I just got home from holiday in Singapore and Thailand. It was my first trip out of the country. But what made it really special is it was for celebrating our first anniversary as a couple. I can't complain about anything— it was 100% a happy trip. So, for this post, I'll just enumerate some observations.

Traffic and Travel

We left Manila, Saturday the 23rd, and arrived in Singapore late in the evening. One of the things I immediately noticed was the flow of traffic. In Singapore (and in Thailand), they drive on the left side of the road, which means pedestrians also go to your right, by default, when they go the opposite direction. While it wasn't really a struggle to walk from point A to point B, I honestly found it a bit jarring. And I don't think I ever got used to it, even after spending a week in that environment.

From Changi Airport to the hotel, we took the MRT. It wasn't unlike taking the LRT2 line here. The Singapore MRT and our LRT2 trains looked very similar on the inside. For me, the only indication that I was in another country was the mix of races inside the train— there were a lot more South Asian-looking people there. But just when the reality of you not being in the Philippines anymore starts to sink in, you'll hear someone whisper in Tagalog. And your brain is once again short-circuited.

I was also left with the impression that in both Singapore and Thailand, yellow means “go faster”; “distancia kaibigan” is measured in inches and not in car length; “turn left (right here) any time with care” requires extra special care; and since there's almost always a double yellow line, if not a centre island, separating opposing traffic, overtaking is done on the outer lane.

It's a good thing I didn't follow through with any fantasy of renting a car; otherwise, I'd have run into a lot of things.

Smoking and Smoking

Since I was a kid, I knew that Singapore has a blanked ban on bubble gum and smoking. What I knew is only half correct. Bubble gums are indeed banned in Singapore. But smoking isn't as taboo there as I initially thought.

In Singapore, the rules as I observed it are: 1) you have to be outdoors; 2) there must be no structure like a roof or eave over your head; and 3) there as to be an ashtray (on top of a trash can). If all those three requirements are met, you can smoke. And unlike what many people say when comparing Singapore to our business districts here, like BGC or Ortigas Center or Makati CBD, you can smoke a lot more freely in Singapore— just don't litter, that's what the ashtrays are for.

If Singapore is smoker-friendly, Thailand is more so, where the rules are so much more relaxed.

In Thailand, aside from being able to smoke cigarettes in a lot more places, you can also smoke weed. Both in Phuket and in Bangkok, it's not unusual to find “cannabis dispensaries”— although they're easier to find in the former than in the latter. Those dispensaries are essentially marijuana cafés where you can pick a variety of weed to smoke, that you have to smoke within premises. You're not allowed to smoke weed on the street. You're not allowed to smoke weed where you're not allowed to smoke cigarettes, like inside your hotel room. And some hotels, that allow cigarette smoking on your balcony (like the one we booked in Phuket), still won't allow you to smoke weed there or even at their designated smoking areas.

I heard, though, that the government of Thailand is strongly considering banning marijuana for recreational use. Reports say that recreational use wasn't the intention of decriminalising it in the first place. Rather, it was for medical purposes. I think, that's why the existing cafés are branded as “dispensaries”. How the new law, if passed, affects the existence of those dispensaries and the growers themselves, I don't know.

A lot of people would surely be less than happy.

Language, Money, and Technology

English speakers will find the language barrier an obvious challenge in Thailand and this is where technology can be a great help.

Moving around Phuket and Bangkok, Heidi and I relied a lot on Google Translate to communicate with the people around us. We also found Grab (food and car) indispensable as that's where we ordered takeout and booked rides when we wanted to go around. We did try going by Tuk Tuk once, from Central World back to our hotel, just for the experience. And while we only had to communicate for the price of the ride, the driver still had to see where the hotel was through Google Maps.

But it's not just with the locals that the language barrier becomes apparent. Even with fellow visitors, communication can be quite an experience. Like when you have to explain with gestures what you mean when you say, “can I have a light?” or when you're told, “can I borrow your fire?”— it can be quite funny.

It needs to be said, do not go abroad without planning for a mobile Internet connection. We used a travel data SIM that Heidi bought from Lazada. It connects to pre-designated telcos within Southeast Asia and it just works.

Gcash was very useful as well, specifically the Visa prepaid card, since we didn't really carry a lot of the local currency. For me, I just kept SG$30.00 for emergencies, which I didn't get to spend and still have in my wallet. And 1,000 Baht, that at some point, Heidi and I spent on groceries. For other things such as transportation, food at restaurants, and even booking tours, it was either Grab credits or the Gcash card that we used to pay with.

But I think this post is long enough. There's so much more to write about our holiday. I'll need to find more time for that.