Ask a local what the little island of Singapore is best known for and you’ll get answers gleaned from souvenir postcards and Sentosa brochures – The Merlion, chili crab, Tiger beer, the Orchid Garden, Raffles Hotel. These answers are, of course, all wrong. To the rest of the world (including those who think it’s part of China), the most memorable thing about Singapore is its infamously silly ban on chewing gum.
Anyone who’s been to Asia can tell you that littering is a serious problem and, before the ban, chewing gum was a menace in the city-state’s high density public housing with gum spit out in elevators and vandals using it to clog key holes and mail slots (sounds ridiculous, but after living here 2+ years I can completely believe it). The final straw came when gum was stuck to door sensors on Singapore’s new MRT system disrupting train service and causing delays, and the sticky stuff was officially banned in 1992.
Though the ban persists, it was amended in 2004 after pressure from the USA to honor their free-trade agreement. Singapore bowed slightly, allowing the sale of gum with “therapeutic value” such as to whiten teeth or quit smoking. However, you’ll still need to get your gum from a pharmacist and show some ID.
|My personal stash|
That said, the ban on plain ole’ chewing gum is not on consumption but on import and sales. Much like how marijuana is treated in some Western countries, a blind eye will be turned to a small amount for personal consumption, though dealing is a no-no. I feel perfectly safe going through Singapore Customs & Immigration with pack in my purse, but wouldn’t risk transporting a Costco-sized case of Dentyne Cinnamon Fire (my personal favorite) back from Canada -- smuggling a retail quantity could land you a fine of SGD $10,000 or a year in prison.
|do u like it rough, lah?|
- Cigarette lighters shaped like guns
- Handcuffs (not sure if there’s an exception for the furry sort)
- Malaysian newspapers
- Poppy seeds (may contain a trace amount of morphine)
- Pornography – videos, magazines, and even a block on some websites
- Until 2007, oral sex between a consenting man and woman was only legal if it led to intercourse.
- Songs with ‘inappropriate content’: this has ranged from “Puff the Magic Dragon” in 1963 to Janet Jackson’s “Velvet Rope” in 1997.
- The most recent international hit to not get any airplay in Singapore was Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl (And I
Liked It Thought It Was a Crime Against Nature)”.
- And, perhaps most hilariously, the movie Zoolander was banned until 2006 for a subplot about assassinating the Prime Minister of Malaysia. In the eventual DVD release which was rated NC-16, the name of Singapore’s neighbor to the north was redubbed as “Micronesia”