ALP – When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

20 May

By Kevin Josiah Neo (Theme 6 – Architecture & Design)

This is easier said than done.

This is China we are talking about! Singaporean culture and habits are so vastly different from that in China.

Even for the Singaporean Chinese, culture shock is the norm.

Nonetheless, as mentioned in my previous post, i have made it a personal objective to push myself beyond my comfort zones. But of course, i shall do this very gradually since i consider myself quite “non-chinese” even for a Singaporean Chinese. The past few days have been days of assimilation and orientation to the city of Hangzhou. With this in mind, most of us adventurous SUTD pioneers ventured out to different parts of the city to explore. Being a city-lover and avid traveller, i believe that the best way to have a fulfilling exploration trip, is to do the less conventional touristy stuff (conversely do more of the stuff locals do) and more importantly to explore on foot.

Street View – Hangzhou (Taken by Kevin Josiah Neo)

Street View – Hangzhou (Taken by Kevin Josiah Neo)

The first thing we noticed is the way we dressed as compared to the locals. With the incessant rain these few days, being practical Singaporeans some of us have been decked out in the usual berms and flip flops to go about our city tours! Observing the other locals we noticed that the local guys usually wore pants and shoes even if it meant getting them dirty by stepping on land mines (the uneven floor bricks that splash water upwards when stepped on). I don’t know why this is so, all i can say is that we are such Singaporeans. hahaha!

Chun Yong loves his food.

Chun Yong loves his food.

A Singaporean’s favorite topic – Food!

Well the interesting part for me was finding the places to eat. Obviously in a big city there are many places to eat, but we wanted to explore the different places that different classes of locals go to. Curiously, along every major road of shops or offices, we were able to find a food street lined with small shops selling everything local. Unlike Singapore, having a food street (filled with random independent food outlets) on the outskirts of the main strip to support the community’s stomach is quite prevalent. In my opinion, Singaporean Hawker Centres are quite similar with 2 differences. Firstly, Hawker Centres tend to be more organised with the full selection (duh… its government run). Secondly, it is always located in a centralised location, with shared communal space that customers from the different outlets are able to use.

Ordering was a big problem for us. (hahaha by the way i was out with Benny and Chun Yong most of the time, and their Chinese are equally problematic) Most of the time,  menus came in a full set of Chinese characters and NO PICTURES. Despite knowing that we are in China, our first reactions were always “OMG its Chinese!”.  Most of the time, we would either try to get a recommendation from the waiter without knowing what the dish was, or choose the item with the most familiar Chinese characters. So the lesson here is: A picture speaks a thousand words, so include them in you menus!! (you might very well earn more money/communicate better by using them!)

When it comes to food quality, remember 3 things when ordering food! 😉

  1. Less Oil
  2. Less Salt
  3. Less MSG
Street View - Hangzhou (Taken by Kevin Josiah Neo)

Street View – Hangzhou (Taken by Kevin Josiah Neo)

Next i would like to talk about commuting in Hangzhou. Most major roads have a decent 3-4 lanes going each direction with an additional 1 lane for bicycles on either side and a pedestrian walkway with a minimum width of 1-2 lanes. This spaced out layout is something very different from Singapore, and does provide for greater freedom of movement. Then again this is constantly abused by Chinese motorist (using bicycle lanes and parking along pedestrian walkways). Chinese roads are a complicated affair where only one rule prevails: There is no rule. Learning the art of crossing roads in China was thrilling. You have to be daring enough to seize the opportunity when it arises, and remain composed as noisy drivers threaten you by flooring their acceleration pedals. We would definitely return to Singapore as professional jay-walkers! ;P

Taking the bus is pretty much the same as Singapore. You still put in coins or use a bus card, and you also press the bell to indicate when you would like to alight. The only difference was the aggressive driving of Chinese bus drivers. Hopefully SMRT and SBS educates their hires according to Singapore standards, because the bus drivers in Hangzhou sure love to play with brakes.

Taking the cab was slightly different experience. Yes, we had to give instructions in Chinese. And yes, i did successfully communicate my directions in Chinese. (i had to rehearse it several times before entering the cab!) But what stuck me about the cab ride was the plastic divider between the driver quarter and the passenger quarters. This was probably built to protect drivers from abuse or theft by wayward passengers. This indicates a significant level of crime in China, and probably the habits of the locals (maybe when they are highly intoxicated with alcohol or other circumstances). In Singapore, we do have several of such cases but its still considered negligible. In my opinion, we should continue to treasure the security we have in Singapore, as it is a rare attribute overseas.

The rest of the family! =P With Benny on the left & Kevin on the right. (Taken by Seow Chun Yong)

The rest of the family! =P With Benny on the left & Kevin on the right. (Taken by Seow Chun Yong)

Of course, we can’t follow everything the locals do. Some of the stuff they do can be quite unbelievable to me! Within the past few days, i’ve seen a father carry his kid  over a dustbin in the shopping centre to pee (when the toilet is just around the corner), and a pickpocketer blatantly ignoring his target, after being exposed, as if nothing had happened. These are but just some of the random occurrences that the SUTD exchange student would encounter here everyday. =)

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