Before Going to Singapore, Learn the Language

Before Going to Singapore, Learn the Language

Prepared by Harold Stephens
Travel Correspondent for Thai Airways International

     The next time you are in Singapore, pick up a copy of the Straits Times newspaper. You will read that the OCB is financing the HDB flats with CPF funds. Then ROV has new registration laws, and there's a warning that SAF will be holding live firing exercises at the off-shore islands until midnight every night for the next month.  You don't have a boat, so that's no problem.
     But maybe you decide to rent a car and drive around town. Be prepared! Let's say you want to cross the Causeway and drive to Malaysia for the day. You ask directions.  It's simple. Take the BKE and not the CTE to the PIE and get off at Woodland Hills.  And, they will tell you, make sure your gas tank is filled up. You can't leave Singapore without a full tank of gas. They have gas tank checkers at the border.
     Maybe you want to drive to Changi International Airport. The best bet, you'll hear, is to take the same BKE to the PIE and follow it until it intersects with the EPC and there you get off at the Changi exit. If you find that confusing, take the "green line" on the MRT.
     Singaporeans love to use initials, which may be well and good if you know what they are talking about, but if you are a newcomer to the island republic, it can be a bit baffling, especially if you are driving an automobile. 
     Other than following the signs BKE and PIE and ECP, driving in Singapore presents another set of problems. For example, there are laws and rules that apply in the morning but not in the afternoon, and there are little police ladies hiding in the shadows who need only to jot down your license number to get you into trouble. Even if no police are around and you jump a traffic light, look out. Hidden high speed cameras are activated when the traffic light changes, catching law breakers on film.
     Then there is the RZ and SLS.  Don't forget them.
     Between the hours of 7:30 am and 10:15 am, the CBD becomes the infamous RZ.  An explanation is due. The CBD is the Central Business District, or the downtown area, while the RZ is the Restricted Zone, and the SLS is the Signal Light System.
     What it means is that motorists cannot enter the RZ unless they purchase a monthly pass (for S$100) or else buy a disk for S$5 for a one-time entry and place it in the corner of the car windscreen. This enables them to drive into the RZ.  Another way to gain entry is have four or more occupants in the vehicle.
     What happens if you don't qualify and enter the RZ gates? Posted at each entry point are two to four meter maids. If they don t see the disk or four passengers, your license number is jotted down and the ROV adds a fine to your car rental bill.
     If you live in Singapore and own a van or a pick-up truck, and you speed over 55 kph, you don't stand a chance.  An amber light installed on top of the cab roof flashes when driver exceed the limit.  Violators can expect a summons in their mailbox.
     Maybe you don't want to drive and will settle for taxis to take you around town. If you think it will be easier, don't kid yourself.  You have to have a book of regulations to figure out the taxi rates.  How's this for rules:
     Two people pay normal fare; for three there is an extra charge.  Luggage is extra. Coming from the airport there's a surcharge. If you catch a taxi outside the CBD, the driver must purchase a sticker to enter the RZ.  The passenger pays.  But if you are already in the RZ during the afternoon traffic rush and want to drive out of the zone, there's another charge.  
     That's not all. If you try to catch a taxi before midnight, forget it. Twenty minutes before the hour they all seem to have stopped running. At the stroke of midnight they suddenly emerge from parking lots and side streets like ants after honey. At that bewitching hour taxis can add 50% to your normal fare.
     And Singapore is the only place in the world where taxi rates increase rather than decrease the farther you travel. Instead of becoming cheaper it becomes more costly. It would be a savings to get out of a taxi and catch another one if you were riding taxis from one side of the island to the other. And, I've been told, if it's raining you can be charged an additional fee.
     If driving is too much, take the bus.  Signs are posted at all bus stops.  You can catch the SBS, the CBD 1, the CBD 2, Scheme B or the City Shuttle.  Have the exact change when you climb aboard.  Little machines take your money.
     If it s just a matter of getting somewhere, and you don't care about a scenic view, then take the MRT, the underground railway, Singapore's latest Mass Rapid Transit System. 
     For the record, PIE means Pan Island Express; MRT, Mass Rapid Transit; EPC, East Coast Parkway; BKE, Bukit Timah Expressway; SAF, Singapore Armed Forces; HDB, Housing Development Board; CPF. Central Providence Fund; OCB, Overseas Chinese Bank; and the ROV, it has something to do with automobiles. And I almost forgot. There is the CTE, meaning the Central Expressway.
     Singapore is a mass of rules and regulations but once you master the system it's a great place to live and visit. We have to admit, it's the cleanest, greenest, neatest city in Asia. 


Q. Dear Mr. Stephens, I enjoyed your stories on China. I wrote to you once before asking if you were glossing over the facts about travel in China. There are so many conflicting stories about China that I don’t know what to believe any more. What is the political situation? —Hazel Copenfield, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Dear Ms. Copenfield, if you are looking at a political analysis of China, I don’t want to disappoint you. I will leave that up to the political pundits, politicians and economists. I write stories about travel to bring the world closer together. I like to write about the romance of travel. I want to point out to readers that we live in a very beautiful world and let’s take advantage of the world that we live in, and enjoy it. I found when I travelled though China, if I smiled, people would smile in return.  —HS


Harold Stephens
E-mail: ROH Weekly Travel (

Note: The article is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the view of Thai Airways International Public Company Limited.

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