A desire to discover city's charms

A group of tourists from China at the Merlion Park on Feb 5, 2014.
A group of tourists from China at the Merlion Park on Feb 5, 2014. PHOTO: ST FILE

For Ms Wang Ying, 35, shopping in Singapore is a breeze compared with Tianjin, China, where she is from.

"The service attitude here is good," she said in Mandarin.

"And they won't pressure you into buying anything. If you want to buy something, you buy it. If you don't, you don't," added Ms Wang, who works for the highway bureau in the northern metropolis.

She was visiting Singapore for the first time, from Jan 6 to Jan 10, with her daughter, her mother and her aunt, on a tour with local agency Lex Travel.

Tour agencies said shopping is a major draw for tourists from China's second-tier cities like Tianjin, Taiyuan, Chengdu and Chongqing.

On the last day of the five-day tour of Singapore, Ms Wang and her family spent an afternoon browsing duty-free mall T Galleria by DFS Singapore in Scotts Road.

They had already bought branded shoes and other items earlier in their trip.

"Branded goods are more expensive in China. And you know the goods here are real," she said.

Singapore's clean, orderly nature is another draw. "Here, everything is so organised. Back home, people just run red lights," said Ms Wang.

Another tourist from China, Mr Zhang Wei, 62, said Singapore's reputation as a well-run city was itself the main attraction.

"We wanted to get a feel of the city - how it's run, the people, the environment," said Mr Zhang, who was here with his wife. "We don't have much interest in shopping at our age," he added with a laugh.

Mr Zhang, who is from Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, said he heard a lot about how former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore, and wanted to see it for himself. "Singapore is also one of the 'four small dragons', so we thought it would be interesting to take a look." The four dragons refer to the advanced Asian economies of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Just one thing has left him disappointed - the relative lack of Chinese-language signs on public transport and at attractions such as Gardens by the Bay. "So much of the population here is Chinese, and you get so many Chinese tourists, so it would be good to have more information in the language," he said.

Singapore's food culture is also of little interest to Chinese tour groups. They mainly eat Chinese food, apart from some local favourites such as bak kut teh, or pork rib soup.

"The Chinese food here is sweet. In the north, we're more used to salty food," said Ms Wang.

Other tourists like Mr Zhang Yong, 37, preferred to savour local delicacies instead of splurging on consumer goods. Food, he said, was the most enjoyable part of his trip.

"We've heard a lot about Singapore's food," said Mr Zhang, an engineer from Qingdao city in Shandong, who was in town with his family on a two-day stopover.

"But pepper crab and chilli crab are what we wish to taste the most," he said. He did not have plans to buy consumer goods, but said he was likely to buy speciality products available only in Singapore.

And what about unruly tourists from China who made the headlines after causing a ruckus on flights and defecating on temple floors?

China set up a blacklist in 2015 to stem such bad behaviour, where the names and misdeeds of errant travellers is published. Those on the list may have trouble going on group tours for two years, as well as with visa and credit card applications.

Chinese tourists like Mr Jian Xian Lin, 34, who works in the interior design industry and is from second-tier city Beihai in Guangxi, said such bad behaviour is unfortunate.

"Unruly acts like these reflect on the quality of Chinese citizens, and a lack of self-awareness," he said.

"If these acts greatly affect perceptions of the country internationally, punitive actions are warranted."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'A desire to discover city's charms'. Print Edition | Subscribe