View from the Gutter

By Dave Fox

The answer to your first question is: No.

No, I was not inebriated when I stepped into the storm drain and plummeted 17 meters into a deep and scary hole.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t 17 meters deep. It was about three feet. I struggle with metric. In any case, it was a big fall, and it hurt, which is probably because before it happened, I had only consumed one beer.

I consumed this one beer with my friend, Kreig, who, after consuming one beer himself, said, “Dave, let’s go across the street for some noodles.” So we started to cross Upper Thomson Road, which would have gone fine, except that Kreig is 34 meters tall, which is approximately 33.7 meters taller than me, so rather than watching where I was going, I was craning my neck upward, trying to look at Kreig as he talked. What happened next, from Kreig’s perspective, is he heard a shriek, and then I was gone.

Singapore is a nation crisscrossed by deep storm gutters. According to my wife, roughly one person per year dies falling into these gutters because they are not watching where they are going. I asked Kattina where she heard this. She thinks she might have heard it from a co-worker who heard it from a co-worker. So I have been unable to confirm this statistic is true, but to help you understand why Singapore has so many deep storm drains, here are some meticulously researched scientific facts:

Singapore is a tropical island located one degree (6.3 centimeters) north of the Equator, and as we all know, the Equator is where rain comes from. Much of the time, Singapore enjoys blazing sunshine, but on frequent afternoons, foreboding cumulonimbus clouds billow upon the horizon, giving the appearance there’s been a horrible cotton candy factory explosion in Malaysia.

Equatorial gnomes: Protecting Singapore from creepy clowns and clumsy drunks. (Photo: flickr/aprilandrandy).

This, as you can imagine, totally freaks out the rain-making gnomes who work at the equator. The next thing you know, the boss gnome is all like, “Holy crap! All of that candy floss (the gnomes call it “candy floss” because they speak an Outer Hebrides dialect of English) is going to attract circus clowns, and clowns are creepy! So let’s make lots of rain and maybe they’ll stay away.” Within minutes, torrential rains come crashing into Singapore over the Strait of Johor.

To combat flooding, the MOGIRE (the Ministry of Gnome-Induced Rain Emergencies – Singapore is the leading world producer of acronyms) has installed drainage systems in low-lying areas of the country, which is just about everywhere, other than the top 26 floors of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. In downpours, these giant gutters fill quickly. The flood waters, along with people who were too sloshed to watch where they were going, are safely channeled out to sea.

In dry weather, however, the gutters lie empty. So when I landed, there was no river to sweep me off on a white-water adventure, nor were there any rats to cushion my fall. There was concrete, which, I discovered, is painful to land on after a 17-meter plunge.

If the concrete doesn’t get you, the rusty metal grates might.

My feet, protected only by cheap flip-flops, hit first, down in the gutter, followed by my wrists and elbows, which were not protected by cheap flip-flops, and which splattered against the sidewalk at street level. After I landed, I stood there, hunched over and dazed, poking my head up from the hole like a rodent in an amusement park Whack-a-Mole game.

Many outdoor diners saw this happen. They reacted in the urgent manner one would expect from concerned citizens, which was to look up from their beer and pizza to be sure there was not someone they should get up and help, such as a celebrity fashion model. Noting I was not one of those, they then went back to their beer and pizza.

One young man did, however, sprint toward me with outstretched arms. He was about to pull me from the hole when Kreig screamed at him.

“Don’t touch him!” Kreig shouted. Then Kreig screamed at me, “Don’t move!” which sounded like a fine idea because, in spite of the fact that I was now hunched in a deep storm sewer with lots of people staring at me, I was sufficiently dazed from my landing that moaning a series of profanities seemed like a more comfortable activity than attempting to climb out.

“Did you hit your head?” Kreig asked. Kreig used to be a medic in the Australian Navy. Medics like to ask that kind of question.

“I don’t think so.”

“Can you move your fingers and toes?”

I could, as long as I continued moaning profanities.

Eventually, I climbed out of the gutter, with an assortment of scrapes and bruises, and a twisted wrist and a tweaked-out foot.

“Let me examine your hand,” Kreig said. “This might hurt.”

He squeezed hard on my palm, just below my thumb. I yelped – the same way a dog yelps when you step on its tail.

“Your hand is okay,” Kreig said.

I hobbled across Upper Thomson Road and we ordered our noodles.

I learned an important lesson that night: When a 34-meter-tall former naval medic has just squeezed your injured hand very hard, it is difficult to eat with chopsticks.

Also: If you are going to fall into a deep storm gutter, you should plan ahead and consume more than one beer beforehand, and not just for analgesic purposes. You should also do this because if you claim to have only consumed one beer, your friends will accuse you of lying. Or, if they believe you, they will accuse you of being an idiot, because what kind of sober person falls into a storm drain?

Of course, if you are not yet of legal drinking age, this advice does not apply. If you are not yet of legal drinking age, stay in school, study hard, and whatever you do, stay away from storm drains.


Published on Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One Response to “View from the Gutter”

  1. Erin
    April 6, 2012 at 12:49 AM

    I’m laughing like a fiend over here in recognition of the crazy things that happen to us. I haven’t managed to fall in a storm drain yet, but then I haven’t been to Singapore. When I do eventually go, I’ll make sure to consume plenty of beer…

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