Carrying outlawed substances through south-east Asian airports is not the smartest idea. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t take it any longer. I gave into my inner demons and cracked under the pressure. My head was ringing. I couldn’t think straight. I needed some relief. I needed a fix, bad.
“Have you got any chewing gum?” I asked over the counter at a pharmacy at Singapore’s Changi International Airport. My ears had popped on the first leg of a long-haul flight from Australia to Europe and with the longer, second-leg still to come, I needed some gum to try and chew out the pain in my eardrum.
The Singaporean pharmacist looked quickly to his right, then his left, as if to make sure no-one was looking. He then leaned forward and bought me in closer to him with his gaze.
“You want chewing gum?” he whispered. Add a big black hat and lower voice and he could have been straight out of central casting as a bar room villain in a cheesy western movie.
“If you want chewing gum, I’m gonna need your passport.” Now I know rules are rules. And if you like them, then Singapore is the place for you. The super efficient island state is renowned for its ruthless organisation, strict regulations, zero tolerance government and law-abiding citizens. But this was ridiculous.
A passport to get some chewing gum? Yep, chewing gum is outlawed in shiny, happy Singapore where everyone sticks to the rules and there is no crime, no jaywalking, no littering and no chewing gum on the ground to stick to people’s feet.
They have started to introduce some exceptions to the chewing gum ban though, and the airport is one spot where you can get a fix (due to the pleading requests of travellers with sore ears no doubt).
However, the chewy stuff is strictly over-the-counter pharmacy material and you will need to hand over your passport to get your hands on it. They copy down your details onto what I presume is the top secret ‘Chewing Gum Register’ of all those hardcore addicts who have signed up for a Singapore fix.
It’s a bit hard to enjoy it after all that fuss. It does provide some relief for the sore ears, especially on the impending take-off, but you find yourself walking around the airport trying to chew as silently and as innocuously as possible knowing that you are guilty of indulging in a forbidden (juicy) fruit. By the way, the chewing gum you get from a Singapore pharmacist isn’t Juicy Fruit, PK or Extra but some weird, rubbery medicinal-looking stuff coated in heavy alfoil-like wrapping.
Your paranoia is compounded by the knowledge that you will be well and truly in the firing line (perhaps literally) if you accidentally dropped any of the devil’s gum on the floor. In my mind, that’s where the precious ‘Chewing Gum Register’ would really come to the fore.
“We’ve got some chewing gum in the carpet on the way to Gate 32,” a machine-gun wielding cop barks into his walkie talkie. “It is a real mess, a man’s got some on his Nikes and is screaming furiously. People are fainting and being sick. Get out the Chewing Gum Register now and round up all the suspects.”
Imagine standing in a police line-up or being questioned in a dark interview room over chewing gum?: “Is this your gum, sir?”, “Can you please chew on this new piece of gum for us so we can check your teeth indentations against the offending piece?” The only thing weirder than that would be ending up in prison and being asked by some mean looking criminals what you were in for.
“Some chewing gum dropped out of my mouth as I sneezed at the airport. How about you?”
Who says long-haul travel and hanging around airports doesn’t mess with your mind? I gotta get some sleep.