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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

Not to be confused with “the real test”, for which there are boundless theories on its form, its rewards and of course its judicators.  Though the use of the definite article would be a shade more dramatic1perish the thought, what awaits your fearless author and his blushing bride later today is just another test, this time, in literal form.

We’re going for our Singapore driving licenses.

The process is actually quite a few shades easier for expats with valid driver’s licenses from other, select nations.  Lest I, or you, gentle reader, get up on our high horses at my phrasing, its my understanding the list of countries from which drivers cannot convert their licenses to Singapore’s is far, far smaller than the list of countries that can.  As I understand it – though in full disclosure this hasn’t ben something I’ve studied in depth  – if your country makes you pass a written and driving test all you need to do here is pass a what is called the “Basic Theory Test”, a sampling to see if you’ve learned the2many rules of the road and the3quite numerous means in which they are communicated here.

The roads in Singapore are incredibly easy to adapt to.  For American, or any right hand, drivers, the switch to driving on the left side of the road presents no real challenge.  Most of the major streets here are divided roads – or in the Queen’s English, dual carriageways – creating the effect of having mostly one-way avenues on which you do the majority of your driving.  Multi-lane roads, like the expressways, are easily switched in reverse.  Instead of keeping right, you keep left, and change right to overtake someone.  Pretty simple and natural for anyone that’s driven for more than a few years.

In fact, the whole “everything in reverse” thing has created the only real difficulty I’ve had in vehicular operation; the controls on the steering column are reversed as well; the blinker is on the right and the wipers the left.  This caused a bit of laughter when I got behind the wheel of my beloved Mini Cooper back home, as the first thing I did was attempt to signal but instead engaged the wipers.

The rules of the road are largely the same here as they are in the United States, and I would imagine in most developed and governed nations.  Keep to the left, yield to oncoming traffic, don’t exceed the speed limit, drive with caution and use your mirrors.  All basics for operating a motor vehicle, really.  Right turns are handled much like left turns are in the States – enter the intersection only if there is a turning lane and a green light.  Yield to all other traffic and turn when safe.  Leave the intersection when the light goes yellow as soon as possible.  All stuff any American kid knows by rote4we hope.

The more interesting elements come with interactions with road markings.  While I’d say most road markings are obvious, Singapore5and, I imagine, the UK, from which the host country takes most of its rules has a more confusing system of road markings for parking and overtaking laws.

Example – parking rules.  In the US, we’re all familiar with the painted curbs6Here, the spelling is kerb.  I can’t do it.  ‘Kerb’ sounds like a nickname you’d give your frat buddy. that denote parking availability.  Red, no parking; Yellow, loading; Green, timed parking; and so forth.  We have a few regional differences – street parking is a city matter, after all – but most cities have metered parking and signage claiming when you can or cannot park legally for more complex rules.

Here it’s not too different, except the markings are on the road, not the curb.  And the markings are much more varied.  There are single yellow lines that mean “no parking or waiting, but loading/unloading passengers is okay.”  There are double yellow lines7which are always a bit confusing to the American driver who yearns for the double yellow to break so that they can open up the throttle and overtake granny doing 42 in a 65 which mean “no stopping, period.”  Both of those lines have “wavy” variations, where at first glance look like uncle or auntie had a few too many Tigers while painting the lines, but really are intended to note that not only should you obey the previously stated laws, but if you don’t, it’s an offense and you face demerits and a fine.

The BTT is supposed to test our understanding not only of the rules and their markings on the roads, but also the consequences of disobedience.

Oh, I’m sorry, did that sound too harsh?  Too stern, perhaps, with images of a Minister peering over his or her glasses at you in resigned disapproval, as a parent might towards an unruly child.  Well suck it up, Buttercup, this is Singapore, and there are consequences.

I’m being dramatic again.  There are consequences, but not really all that severe unless you are truly stupid behind the wheel, and drive drunk and/or use your phone.  In those cases, well, my God have mercy on your soul, and rightfully so.  But otherwise, Singapore works on a demerit system, so many points in so many months824 in as many months, thanks BTT study guide!, and you face suspensions, fines, loss of license, etc.  Truly egregious offenders can see jail or the cane9ye Gods, but again, mostly you’re looking at people that hit someone while on the phone or drunk.

This should apply worldwide.  Don’t fucking drive drunk, and stay off the damn phone.  We’ve all done it, we all need to be better at it, just be conscious, all right?

Was there really a point to all this description of the Singaporean driving system?  Not really, other than to reinforce it all in my mind.  Wish me luck.


This past month the weather has dipped into levels that I might even at some small level, describe as “cool”10ish.  The monsoon winds have truly picked up, and to be fair, Singapore doesn’t often see very high temperatures.  High 20s to around 30 degrees Celsius11mid 70s to 80s coupled with a strong breeze is incredibly pleasant, as most Californians will tell you.  The humidity has even been kept in check by frequent rain storms, so for a few glorious days, I walked around in jeans and enjoyed something a bit closer to what I grew up in.

Like a bad rum commercial, I’m sure this will come to a screeching halt sometime around March when the Earth begins its northern tilt towards the sun and we get the full force of “spring”.  April and May are the hottest months here, as I remember with discomfort those early weeks here of 35 degree weather and 90% humidity.  Already, the past few days have seen some warm humid days, but the mornings lately have been glorious – strong breezes that push clouds by so quickly, sometimes you wonder if there is smoke on the horizon instead of dark rain clouds.  If the building pressure in the afternoon doesn’t produce rain, well, ugh, but I think we’re on the clock for some epic thunderstorms.

I actually really love the thunderstorms.  Tropical storms are, all told, pretty amazing events.  Sometimes so fast you turn around and miss them, the quick bursts of cooling rain are like jumping into a pool.  I won’t miss the weather that spawns them, but they are quite incredible events, especially coupled with the local birds signaling “all clear”.  I don’t know what it is, but nothing says “living in the tropics” to me more than bird calls.


As I was on my way down to “the office”, I ran into Ida, a woman who lives with/works for a family in Parvis.  One of Singapore’s numerous “helpers”, Ida has been a bit of constant during my time here as we often see each other while walking the dogs.  Mini and Penny, a young Portuguese water dog, hit it off rather well when they first met each other.  Now, Mini runs to Ida who lavishes her with love and scratches, and Penny runs to me for some ear scratches.  Over the past eleven months, its given Ida and I quite a number of times to chat.  Today, she mentioned that her employers are headed back to the US within three months, not wholly unexpected, but the bitter part of expat living rears its head once again.  Ida, no doubt, will have a new employer and move on to another part of town.

It will be a shame to lose someone to chat with about nothing important, but such is life here, I suppose.  The dog park and the rotating cast of dogs and those who walk them has been something of a comedy to me at times.  Mini’s first playmates were an odd couple of a black lab mutt and a french terrier, Truman and DeNiro, respectively.  The woman who walked them in those early months was replaced at some point – I have no idea why or when and its none of my business either way – so when their newest ‘family member’ ran into an excited Mini running towards her playmates, I had to explain that they were already fast friends.

The same scenario plays out on the weekends when the helpers have the day or weekend off and the dogs’ owners are out for a walk.  You run into a dog you know well, who even runs up to you for a scratch or two, and their owner and you have that awkward moment of, well, our dogs know each other, isn’t it quite hot today, by the way, my name is Josh.

Even in Singapore, you can only talk of the weather for so long.

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