Everything So Expensive, La

“First time in Singapore?”
“Nooo.”
“How often you come here, la?”
“Every two months. Three, sometimes.”
“You like it here?”
“Oh yes. Very much.”
Silence. And then:
“What you like here, la?”

I tell my complex answer, attempting brevity. We’re approaching the Suntec City Mall, and it’s raining, and I’m not sure we’ll arrive beneath a shelter.

This exchange with these very same words and sequence happens each time in Singapore when a taxi driver or a waiter or waitress or shop assistant gets comfortable with me and my frown-face. The conversation ends at this point, but in recent visits cab drivers have had one more thing to say — as in this case.

“It’s okay to visit, la. But it’s not easy to live. Everything so expensive.” He dragged the last word out. He pulled long on the “so,” taking the emphasis the highest he could.

This is a three-day trip, a private one, and I’m paying at a lesser hotel nearly the same that I paid at a business hotel here a couple of months ago. In the restaurants bills have been gliding up visit to visit these last years. I feel guilt as I pay and get off the cab, knowing I’ll never not love this city.