Auntie Wants Her Coffee

(Image Source: Coffee in Malaysia)

This is just something short that I wanted to mention.

Last night my wife and I went up to the shopping area at around midnight to pick up a few things.  There’s a 24 hour Shop ‘n’ Save there!  Afterwards, we dropped by the hawker so I could get a cup of iced Kopi O.  I’m addicted to the stuff.  My wife had some juice.  She likes the Kopi O, but had to get up early for work today, so she had guava juice instead.

Anyhow, as we were sitting there chatting we noticed this little old lady walking up the aisle between the tables.  She must have been about 70 years old and used a cane to help get herself around.  I was surprised that she was out so late.  Like I said, it was around midnight!  Still, it seems like people in Singapore stay out later than anywhere I’ve ever lived.  It has to be because the country is so safe!

This little old lady walked up to a table of young guys next to us and started speaking in Chinese.  I’m not exactly sure what she said, but I picked out the word Kopi O, and I recognized her tone.  She was asking the young guys drinking beer to do an old lady a favor and get her a cup of coffee.

I started imagining the worst case scenario, where the guys would ignore her, or blow her off, or, worse yet, say something rude to her.  That would’ve been quite a scene!  I bet that old lady would have gained retard strength and gone to work on them with her cane.

Instead, it caused a lot of indulgent smiles, and one of the guys got up right away to go get her the coffee she wanted.

I suppose I wasn’t really that surprised.  Asian culture is different from Western culture after all.  There’s a lot more emphasis placed on respect for elders here.  And, in the end, it was somehow satisfying to see this little old lady smiling and laughing over something as simple as being treated to a cup of coffee at the hawker.  I’d like to think I would have done the same for her, if she had asked us instead.

Drinking From A Bag

When you move abroad you expect to run into things that are different from what you’re accustomed to.  Things like the types of food you’ll find, the language, the customs, and the way people dress.

One thing I didn’t expect however is that “to go” drinks are usually given out in plastic bags.  The first time I saw this was in the Philippines in March of 2008, when I was visiting Margee’s family.  I thought it was really amusing.  The bags are mass produced and shops buy them to put the drinks in.  When you buy a drink, and say you want it “to go” they will open it and pour it into a bag, along with some ice.  Then they’ll drop a straw in, pull the drawstring tight and pass it over to you.

I asked my wife about this and she said it’s because it’s cheaper.  I didn’t get it.  I asked her, “In what way is it cheaper for them to have to hand out an additional plastic bag?”  So she told me that there are deposits on the bottles and cans.  If you get a drink and take the bottle or can with you, you have to pay for the deposit as well as the drink, and it’s inconvenient, or sometimes not possible, to return the container to get the deposit.  So, to avoid that, the stores pour the drinks in bags and handle the return of the containers themselves.

I later found the same to be true in Singapore at hawker centers.  When you get a drink to go, it’s most often poured into a plastic bag.  The hawker centers use the bags not only for drinks from cans or containers, but for the drinks they make themselves, like the local iced Kopi.  I imagine it’s cheaper for them to use the bags than to use paper cups.  I also imagine it’s more about being able to put ice in the drink than having something to do with a deposit in Singapore.

I’ve seen people carrying everything in these little bags: juice, soda, coffee, and even beer (in the Philippines).  It took a while to get used to, and it was a bit strange to carry one around myself, but I’ve become accustomed to it.

Oh, and one other thing about “to go” orders.  Here in Singapore it’s referred to as “take-away.”  When I first got here I would sometimes ask for something “to go” and the person taking my order would just give me a blank look and ask again if I wanted my order “for here” or “take-away.”  In the Philippines, it’s referred to as “take-out.”

Sometimes it’s small things like that, that remind you of how far from home you are.