Jul 14, 2014

    Goodbye, Rio Hello, Changi...

    BY THE time you read this, I would have been in Brazil for more than a month and, hopefully, am still not dead.

    As I mentioned before, my mother is adamant that I'm going to leave the World Cup in a box and seems a little disappointed that her premonition hasn't come to pass.

    But Changi Airport beckons. So, I thought I'd offer a timely reminder of what we take for granted in the sunny island of Singapore.


    I always thought it was a bit insular and cliched to obsess over Singapore food - until I came to Brazil. There are generally three culinary options in the South American country: half a cow with chips; half a cow with salad if you're health-conscious; or a buffet, where you can have half a cow with chips and salad.

    This vegetarian is desperately craving some hawker-centre variety again.

    In the back streets of Rio, I discovered a small Chinese eatery where I ate noodles, got misty-eyed and found myself singing: "This is home, truly, where I know I must be."

    My homesickness isn't helped by my lack of Portuguese vocabulary. No matter what I say, write down or point at, my requests are always translated as: "Hold the salad, give me extra cow."


    The Brazil trip has underscored two universal truths.

    Monolingualism encourages ignorance, which makes me more determined than ever to learn another language.

    And second, when you don't know the Portuguese word for "toilet", you make a mess of your underwear.

    I struggled with strangers along the Copacabana promenade, trying to ask for directions to the nearest toilet. Miming was a possibility, but I didn't want to scare small children.

    Singapore's a bit too hard on itself with the whole Singlish thing. For the most part, we get by. Still, take my advice and learn the local word for toilet before your next holiday.

    P.S. I went with the miming routine in the end. Terrified Brazilians thought I was going to pee on their kids.


    Singapore bus services are not perfect. But the buses do not take corners on two wheels.

    In Brazil, drivers think they are riding mopeds. They take the roundabout in top gear and the screaming passengers cling to the windows and get on with it.

    They've even changed the lyrics to the popular kindergarten song in Brazil. Here, the kids sing: "Half the wheels on the bus go round and round. The rest of the wheels on the bus are suspended in the air as flying passengers are thrown into their neighbour's crotch. All day long."


    At the Chinese eatery, a Brazilian told me how much he loved Singapore.

    "Oh, I just love it, that airport is amazing, the best ever," he said eagerly.

    "It had movies, all kinds of food, loads of things to do. Singapore is the best, man."

    I was sceptical. "When you say you love Singapore, what you really mean is you love Changi Airport," I replied.

    He admitted: "That's true. I've been only to the airport. But I loved it! Everything worked."

    He's right - not everything works in Brazil.

    I walked through the wrong door at Rio Airport and stumbled into a building site. Unfinished roads give Brazilian bus drivers a chance to work on their two-wheel swerve.

    In Brazil, red lights are observed only if drivers have the time. No one has the time.

    I miss things that work. For my next holiday, I'll spend two weeks at Changi Airport.


    On the plus side, Brazilians do not discuss betting odds nor obsess over gambling predictions. But that also means no one asks for my so-called "expertise". I'm feeling a bit left out.

    In Brazil, they say: "You are a football writer? Must be great to be paid to watch all the games."

    In Singapore, they say: "You are a football writer? Hey, this weekend, how ah?"

    No taxi driver in Brazil has waved betting slips at me while speeding through the fast lane.

    No one has asked about half-balls. I never thought I'd say this, but I kind of miss the uncles asking me if they should eat their own balls on the weekend.