Sure, sure . . . Singapore is that weird place where they hang tourists at the airport on Friday afternoons for any kind of drug possession, but are completely OK with a red light district. Most people know about that already. But I want to discuss something which you may not be aware of . . . something of utmost importance for the Western man with ample facial hair – The great Singaporean Tissue Issue, aka the Annoying Napkin Problem . . . Specifically, the complete absence of them. That’s right, unless you’re at a fancy place with cloth napkins, which is very rare, restaurants just don’t have paper napkins at all. And what makes this even weirder is that Singapore is really serious about cleanliness – gum is illegal, ya’ll, as is spitting. (God help you if you have to hock a loogie.)
Singapore is this Stepford-esque, incredibly clean, no-tacky-gum-marks-on-the-sidewalks place of a black hole where all normal paper napkins just cease to exist. I’m talking like the kind of durable brands we’ve all heard of before – Bounty and Brawny. You are expected to carry your own napkins. But you can’t find them in stores. You are expected to purchase ‘napkins’ from horribly disfigured and/or disabled people in the subway stations who are sadly missing limbs and eyes and who often have trouble counting change.
But these unfortunate maimed and elderly are not selling napkins. They’re hawking those little packs of plastic wrapped soft tissues that you send kindergartners to school with so they can blow their tender little noses. And yes, you are expected to buy them – as in – you’re almost committing a criminal, abusive and unsympathetic act if you were to attempt to purchase them yourself in stores. It’s so ingrained in the Singaporean culture that disabled people sell these wares that there’s a current crackdown on able-bodied foreigners selling them. I think it’s weird for such a rich country to have an entire cultural phenomenon where it’s perfectly normal and considered an honorable and charitable act for their countrymen to buy bogus, over-priced “napkins” from disabled citizens in the subway.
I don’t have a huge problem with wiping my smooth hairless face with these silky little kid tissues, but I travel with a man with a giant beard. In his words, these tissues are ‘simply chintzy little fake napkins made for non-hairy girlie mouths.’ And let’s face it, most Asian men just don’t have the genes to grow facial hair, so this culture has zero concern or insight as to the plight of the heavily bearded male visitor.
When my husband pats his hairy face with one of these velvety cotton snot-rags, they just completely and utterly disintegrate into a flurry of teeny white flecks that get hopelessly stuck into the shag on his face. So – beware bearded hipsters – definitely leave the weed at home and bring some real damn napkins. Or perhaps invest in some stylish monogrammed handkerchiefs.