We call New York City and Singapore home. As we travel around both cities, we spend a lot of time on the subway (NYC) and MRT (Singapore). Both are extensive and efficient in their own ways. They have very different characters and can be an interesting experience for visitors. Here’s our experience of a Singaporean in NYC and a New Yorker in Singapore.
A Singaporean Enters The New York City Subway
Wah. So crowded, leh. So Noisy. So Dirty ah.
Why those people running? Another train coming soon oh.
Why don’t pai tui? [Translation: why don’t they stand to the side of the door and let people off before they try to get in?]
Where is #StandUpStacy? They don’t give up their seats to their elders.
Really? We only have to swipe once? How they know how much to pay? Wah $2.75 for one stop. So expensive ah. Wah $2.75 for many stops. Cheaper to go further.
That person—they eat pizza and other one curry ah. On the train le.
Who #PizzaRat? Why rat carry pizza down to subway, hah?
“Attention Passengers [static unintelligible]…Next Stop [static unintelligible]” Aya. Gong si mi. Liak Bo Kiw. [Translation: Oh. Dear. What are they saying? I didn’t catch anything.]
NYC Subway–The Backstory
Some of the observations above are written in Singlish. We have translated where necessary.
Several years ago, Pizza Rat was famously captured in a YouTube video dragging a whole slice of pizza down the stairs on onto the subway platform. There is a lot of eating and drinking on the NYC Subway (and many rats). New Yorkers run for trains and hold open doors.
Wondering what to do after you get off the Subway? Read our favorite things to do in NYC.
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8 Impressions of the Singapore MRT from a New Yorker
It’s so clean here. Hey, I don’t see anybody eating. Not even drinking water. Is there a fine for that in Singapore? In New York, the subway is another name for a dining car.
Do people really stand on the side of those lines? They let people off first? Really?
How come everyone is walking so slowly? There’s a train coming. Why aren’t they running?
What? No one hold the doors open while the conductor tries to close them? They just missed the train by a second. God knows when the next one will come.
Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. In New York, we stand on the right and pass on the left.
How do I get out of here? I need to swipe again? Why do the turnstiles have a red “X”?
#StandUpStacy Why does she have a hashtag? Who is she?
What do you mean—the MRT doesn’t run all night.
So quiet. Calm. Is everyone on vacation or something?
Singapore MRT–The Backstory
You can be fined up to $500SD for eating or drinking in the MRT. We’ve never seen anyone fined, but then again, we’ve very rarely even seen anyone take a sip of water on the MRT.
#StandUpStacy is a campaign by the government to encourage people to give up the seats closest to the door to the elderly, pregnant women, people with mobility challenges and others needing assistance. Most people do this as a matter of course. If you don’t, you may face a strong lecture by the other people on the train.
While you are in Singapore, here’s some places to go.
Tips For Riding The Subway In NYC
It seems like chaos because it is NYC chaotic. People run for trains, hold the doors open and squish into a train even if it doesn’t seem possible to get one more person in. Go with it and experience being part of NYC.
Make sure to get a MetroCard at one of the machines. There are many stations that you cannot enter unless you have a MetroCard.
Many of the booths in the station are not staffed. Find a friendly looking New Yorker to ask a question. Many of us like to be helpful.
You only have to swipe when you enter, not when you exit. And, you may need to swipe several times if it doesn’t work the first time. NYC is moving to a tap instead of swipe system soon.
There are maps in the station. Best if you download one onto your phone.
The NYC subway system has a lot of eccentricities. One of our favorites is West 4th Street station—it actually doesn’t have an entrance on W. 4th Street. You have to go to W. 8th Street or W. 3rd Street.
Weekends are very confusing in NYC. Most subway repairs take place late at night or on the weekend. That means some trains don’t run and many are re-routed. You need a Ph.D. to understand the posted signs. Ask a local if you’re confused (we are often also confused). Expect your trip to take longer. If you end up somewhere unexpected, checkout the subway art or a new neighborhood.
Tips for Riding the MRT
The Singapore MRT is one of the easiest systems to navigate. All Stations have maps and signs that indicate how to transfer and what line to ride. In addition, there is a control booth in every station. If you have questions, ask the station manager.
You can purchase an MRT card at the machines in each station. You need to tap to go in and to exit at your destination. The fare is based in how far you travel.
There is a line in the middle of the hallways that mark the dividing line between the left and right side. Walk on the left side (opposite of New York). On the escalators, stand on the left side if you are riding. The right side is for walking.
Do stand on the side of the train doors and let passengers exit before you get on. And, pay attention to #StandUpStacy.
Look above the door when you are in the train—it will indicate what stop is next and which side the door will open on.
Announcements are understandable. And done in 4 languages (English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil).
Singapore MRT vs. NYC Subway
We love both systems. They are unique and quintessentially representative of both country’s cultures.
Opened in 1904, the NYC subway is much older than Singapore’s MRT (only 33 years old). NYC has 474 stations, covering 245 miles (394KM). In contrast, Singapore’s MRT has 122 stations over 125.8 miles (202.4KM).
Spend some time on mass transit in both cities. It is the best way to get around and get to know a city and its people.
And, one last thing, the bathrooms in the MRT are clean and definitely usable. In NYC … not so much.
You might also want to read The Coronavirus: 14 Lessons From Asia.
Have You Been on the NYC Subway Or The Singapore MRT? We’d Love To Hear Your Experiences?
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This is a great post! I have a very clear idea of what each subway system is like now! The dining car situation in NYC will have to be seen to be believed!
Eating on the subway in NYC is an art form.
I’ve lived in both places and spent quite a bit of time on public transport. To be honest, public transport is a necessity and I complain about both but it does get me where I need to go inexpensively.
We agree. We use public transportation everywhere we go. Gives a better sense of the place and the people’s experience.
I’ve only used the subway system in NYC so cant compare it to Singpore’s. NYC subway is tremendously confusing for tourists, you guys need some maps on those walls 🙂 We also saw our fair share of rats, none dragging their pizza home for dinner though! Yet we loved travelling by public transport in the city, despite getting lost, navigating closures and it being hotter than hell down there. Next time we’re in Singapore I’ll be sure to ride the MRT to compare. Love your Singlish by the way 😂
I laughed loudly and shook my head in vigorous agreement reeding this post. I lived in NYC for 13 years and had the pleasure of living in Singapore for 4 months so I totally get this. Miss both places.
Glad that you enjoyed it. We have the pleasure of living in both places. It’s an adjustment every time.
It was an interesting read, a bit funny. Even in the subway, you have cultural differences. Thanks for tips!