The Telegraph
Saturday , January 12 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999

Look before you spit

I’d never have believed that an entire city could be so clean before I went to Singapore. I’d probably eat if someone placed some food on a random street there!

Such discipline has, of course, not come about without a strict government. This city-state takes its laws very seriously and chewing gum is banned there. There were lots of places with “If you do this, 1000 dollars fine” signs and anything to do with drugs invites a death penalty here.

When I went there in 2007, the city had a large number of gardens and the guide told us that the authorities were trying to transform Singapore into a “city in a garden”.

During this trip, I was with my parents and we were part of a travel group of around 30 people.

The tour operators took us around in an air-conditioned bus (I did not see any vehicle without air-conditioning there) and it took some of us a few days to get used to it.

They were two men in their early seventies, who were travelling with us. They were good friends enjoying their retirement.

Illustration by Suman Choudhury.

Once, when all of us went to a shopping mall, they disappeared. We waited for a while for them on the bus and the worried tour manager had no idea what to do next or where to look for them. Finally, he decided that the others should go back to the hotel and then he’ll decide what to do next.

When we reached the hotel, we found the duo there, quite a few beers down!

Another time, one of these guys was sitting in front me on the bus. We were both on window seats, and I heard him clearing his throat in a way that brings out phlegm to your mouth. And: “SPIT!”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Did he just do what I think he did?

My eyes shot through the space between the seat in front of me and the window so that I could see his reflection.

He had a puzzled look on his face, and on the glass window in front of him, was a large blob of phlegm.

The guy had quite forgotten that buses in Singapore had glass on the windows!

I could hardly suppress my laughter.

After a few seconds, when the guy realised what had happened, he fished out a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and coolly wiped the window clean.

I think I heard more than a few muffled giggles.

Picture by Arnab Nandy