Published in Maharashtra Herald ‘Centre View’ on 21 Dec 07
It was our maiden trip abroad. Joining the hoards of Indians thronging SE Asia, we too signed up for a package tour to visit Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. We had a great tour and kept high levels of self-discipline especially where shopping was concerned. Being a ‘mall addict’ and having visited all shopping avenues in my city, I considered myself to be an ‘aware’ and ‘alert’ consumer. These self-declarations do not match my actions on the tour…
After completing the first leg of our journey we were on Bangkok airport awaiting departure to KL. Now my husband (and very rightly too) insisted on reaching our designated departure gate without delay. I was dazzled by the duty free shops and naturally wanted to linger there. However I had to hurry there because it is a huge airport and hence had to miss out on checking out the goodies these stores had to offer.
So here we were, waiting for our flight to be announced and already through security check. It was too tedious to go out and do the procedures again so I whiled away time at the couple of stalls there. We had some unspent Thai Baht, which I wanted to spend instead of carrying them ahead. Forty Bahts was a very small sum and most of the stuff in the stores was priced much higher than that. I was not keen on any further currency exchanges. However sugar free chewing gum was all that would fit my meager budget. Now none of us are fans of this product. It does horrible things to your teeth and one ends up looking like a cow chewing cud all day. Yet something possessed me and I ended up buying the packet. Why not? We were on a holiday and should be doing things we do not always do. My daughter and husband were most surprised at this purchase, preferring to keep a diplomatic silence.
So for the next couple of days I religiously ate the gum. As we were preparing for departure to Singapore, you can imagine my horror when the guide told us; “finish all chewing gum that you may have because the authorities do not allow it to be carried into the country”. Finish it? Why I had about 10 pieces left and only a couple of hours to finish them in. Our tour leader told us of how some people were delayed for a long time at Singapore immigration the previous day since they had the stuff in their bags.
So I had to eat the (expletive deleted) things, two at a time and even made my family eat some. I cursed the moment I purchased the packet. I should have followed my normal practice and stayed away. Whatever possessed me? There was no way out now and I accepted full blame. What if our entire group was held up because of me? I threw away the last few pieces at the last halt in Malaysia.
Feeling a great load off my mind, I went through immigration with a spring in my step! I had none of the prohibited stuff with me; no liquor, no cigarettes and no chewing gum! Once in Singapore we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there. My daughter picked up many of the pamphlets available in the hotel reception with plenty of tourist information. We carried them back with us because we had not managed to see all the places nor read about the city’s history.
We read those brochures after we had settled down to our usual routine at home. By now I had been licking my wounds regarding the purchase of the gum and had almost recovered. But one particular line in that brochure sent my daughter into peals of laughter. Unable to stop giggling, she gave it to me to read. Now, I quote from page 50 of the “official guide and map of Singapore” section called Fast Facts….
“The ban on chewing gum has been lifted but it has to be sugar free and sold only at pharmacies.”
I could have cried again then and spent many moments in agony. Questions like why we were not informed etc were merely academic now. My wounds reopened and I could not look at the local stuff with out being reminded of my deeds! What hurt most was the crack to my market savvy self-image. My impressions of a beautiful stay in Singapore have only one sticky patch namely “the chewing gum”.
Time, the great healer, did his bit but I am wiser today….
I repeat my warning again: Do not give in to impetuous purchases. Follow your usual standards for selection and purchase of items irrespective of where you are!