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"The ‘Chope’ Culture"

Post on: November 23, 2018


A phenomenon which baffles the tourist; however, the locals do not even bat an eyelid! Yes, I am talking about the “chope” culture in Singapore. Chope means “to reserve seats” — in a hawker centre or food court taken in this context. The locals are used to it although divided about such an act. Some say it is practical to “chope” while others decry it as an ungraceful act which tarnishes the country’s image.

Imagine this scenario — there are plenty of seats at a hawker centre; you bought a hot plate of Chicken Tikka Masala with Roti and greedily stomped towards a nearby table to devour your meal. But alas, there is no such a table – all the seats had been magically taken while you were ordering. You have to go around the food court searching for a seat with your hot piping meal. Isn’t it dangerous?

Risk aside, by the time you get a seat, it is 20 minutes later, your meal has become cold and not to mention an appetite which had ebbed as a result of the stressful, aimless manoeuvring for that elusive seat. You could simply have avoided the ordeal if you had jumped on the “chope” bandwagon.

Diners place tissues, umbrellas, newspapers, name cards etc to “chope” a seat. They usually mark their turf with an inexpensive item they are prepared to forgo should someone steals it. However, I have witnessed a brave soul using his handphone to “chope” a seat. I guess he had confidence that fellow citizens are law abiding or he could be emboldened by the fact that CCTV cameras zoom in to deter any miscreant.

But detractors feel this gives us a bad name. The act itself is ungracious and smacks of selfish nature. Pavithiran V wrote to the press: “In public eateries, getting seats should be on a first come, first served basis. No one has an inalienable right to a seat just because he has placed an object on the table.” His view isn’t an isolated one. There is a plethora of letters in the social media denouncing “chopping” as unbecoming of a first world nation.

Some have even gone to the extent of suggesting that the authorities impose a fine on those who do this shameful act. They likened it to the much-publicised press report in 2016 which is parallel to “chopping”.

The Straits Times had reported that the Swedish furniture retailer, Ikea, provided free coffee in its restaurant in Shanghai. This kind act was abused by an elderly “matchmaking group” which thronged or “chopped” the cosy restaurant, grabbing the free coffee and hogging seats.

It soon resembled a “Singles Club” with retirees and divorcees, amongst others. The eatery became a hangout where the lonely hearts found companionship and solace, and sometimes creating a ruckus in their pursuance — to the consternation of genuine diners. Ikea had no choice but to put up a notice against occupying seats for “extended periods” – a restriction deemed a reasonable request.

During my recent visit to the Amoy Street Food Centre, I witnessed the shenanigans first hand. The hawker centre was teeming with the lunchtime crowd as I mingled so seamlessly. I scoured for a seat but it was to no avail. After exactly 18 minutes, I managed to get a table. In a flash, three strangers approached me and requested if they could share my table. I consented. Two ladies placed packets of tissue paper while a gentleman, his newspaper to stake his claim. Thereafter, they proceeded to order their food so triumphantly.

When I asked one of the ladies if such an act was prevalent, she sheepishly said it was and that she does it all the time for “practicality” and “convenience”.

I made some observation – the experience enables total strangers to share tables just because they had first “chopped” their seats. And most diners did not “chope” more than necessary. They left as soon as they had finished, thus not depriving others of going through their own “chopping” process. There was an unwritten rule in place and everyone was civil — it was not riotous as some have claimed. However, I do recognise that skirmishes can occur in such a bursting environment.
As I was on an assignment and not a bona fide customer, I decided not to “chope” and rob someone of a precious seat. I offered my seat to a deserving customer who was frantically searching for one — he thanked me profusely.

Thank goodness my job enables me to have my meals at off-peak hours where seats are aplenty and the “chope” system superfluous. My take — I do not condone such an act and neither do I condemn. Until a solution is found, it is here to stay.

By Shaji Thomas Varughese

#JollyGoodTimes #ChopeCulture #ShajiThomasVarughese
Photo: George/jollygoodtimes

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