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Essay

Choping

By Tan Ying Zhen

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Walk into a hawker centre in Singapore during lunch hour, and you'll probably see packs of tissue paper on the tables, one for each seat around the table.

Nope, these aren't free tissues for customers. Rather, Singaporeans have a habit of choping, or reserving, seats in hawker centres by placing items such as tissue packs, name cards or staff passes on the tables while they queue for their food.

Chope is Singaporean slang that may have come from the word chop — which is itself a Singlish word that comes from Hindi and means a stamp or seal.

I can't remember when this practice began, but it's recently become a hot topic on our sunny shores. After the government announced that a fund would be set up to boost the hawker trade, several readers wrote to the papers to criticize what they feel is a rude practice.

Apparently, many tourists are left perplexed when they're told they can't sit at unoccupied tables. Some have been told off rudely. But most Singaporeans are aware of choping. So we'll look for a seat without any tissue pack or random item, chope it with a random item of our own, then buy our food before returning to our seat.

Perhaps it looks ridiculous to have lots of tissue packs and random items on empty tables. I can also imagine how frustrating it may be for someone who's unaware of the practice. Besides, a choped seat may actually be left vacant for ten minutes or longer while the choper waits in line for food. Someone else could have occupied the seat and finished their meal.

But I also marvel at how people don't just simply toss someone else's tissue pack aside and replace it with one of their own. To me, this is a sign of civility. More importantly, choping arose out of necessity. During lunch hour, and especially at popular hawker centres, crowds form so quickly it's pretty challenging to look for a seat while balancing a tray of hot food. If you are lunching with others, one person can be left at the table to reserve it. But what if you are alone? Wouldn't it be easier to mark a seat so you can queue for a meal knowing you have a seat waiting for you?

I have more of an issue with students who chope seats at cafe chains. They arrive early, plonk down their laptops and textbooks, buy one drink, and then the seats are theirs for the entire day. Some youths leave all their valuables behind while they take study breaks. Meanwhile, customers who really need a drink or meal end up waiting.

I guess neither issue can be resolved easily. Meanwhile, if you are planning a trip to Singapore, do remember to carry a tissue packet. It'll come in handy.

ティッシュで席取り

シンガポールの屋台市場では、食べ物を買いに並ぶ間、テーブルの上にポケットティッシュを置いて席を確保する人が多いという。地元の人が"choping"と呼ぶこの慣習はどのようなものだろうか。

The Japan Times ST: May 5, 2017

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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2017年12月15日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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