No Studying in Singapore Cafés

Singapore’s a pretty hot place, and in the heat of the day, a lot of people want to move to cooler locations like the malls, cafes or libraries.  Generally it’s a place where a person can make a small purchase and then occupy space for an extended period of time.

This is also something of a problem. If you go to any Starbucks, or especially a McDonald’s, you’ll see tons of people sitting around with open textbooks, notebooks, and/or laptops. Usually, they’ll have a half full cup on the table, so they can look like they’re sitting there legitimately. They’ll stay there for hours, often with a group of friends so they can hold the spot even if they go to the bathroom. The problem with this is that it takes up seating space that other customers may want to use to actually sit down and eat. It’s so much of a problem that some restaurants, like The Coffee Bean, have put out notices on the tables alerting people that loitering to study is not acceptable, as seen in the pictures included with this post.

I suppose it’s a big problem with no easy solution because of Singapore’s climate and the cultural habits of the people here. What I mean is that air conditioning is seen as a luxury still, rather than something you just use to keep your house comfortable. Most families only turn on their air conditioners at night while they’re sleeping, so during the day it’s extremely hot indoors. In one way this is good because it promotes healthy, outdoor activities. In another way it’s bad because you can’t really write papers or study when it’s so hot that your hand is sweating and smearing your ink. So, people flock to where it’s cool.

Another thing I noticed is that while most every mall in Singapore is equipped with wireless routers that let you hook up to wireless@SG for free (if you register), there isn’t any free seating available. Malls in the US often have a large amount of benches available for shoppers to take a break on. Or, for bored husbands to sit down on while wives rummage through another store! As I walked around Tampines 1, the newest mall in Singapore, I realized that there was only one indoor bench for people to sit on, and it was in an undesirable location: right across from the entrance to the bathrooms on the lower level by the Subway. Plus, it didn’t look very comfortable. It was just a stone bench.

Because of these two factors, people are driven to find better ways to accommodate themselves while they study. What better way to stay cool and have a comfy place to sit than by buying something cheap and lounging about in a booth or at a table in a cafe or restaurant. That’s especially true in a place like Teadot in the new mall, which even provides a few wall outlets for people whose laptops are running low on battery power.

You may be wondering why these people don’t just go to the library, but there’s only so much space in a library. Plus, you can’t take breaks to eat and drink and you can’t have conversations with your friends there. The cafes and restaurants are just more appealing.

So, how do you solve this? I don’t see the habit of only using air conditioners at night changing any time soon, especially with the cost of electricity here. Not to mention the standard homes here aren’t laid out appropriately for it, unless you want to sequester yourself in your bedroom all day. I think the easiest way to solve the problem would be to provide more public seating in malls that have a small table area. Or perhaps to build new libraries larger, with more seating areas and more wall outlets.

What do you think?