Throughout Asia in general, I've found the service industries to be very friendly and helpful. The culture just feeds right into the main principles of being a good host. At most stores or other places that require a clerk or attendant wait on you, there's usually a little too much help to go around. You are constantly telling sales people, "No thanks, I'm just looking."
The one exception to this rule is the restaurant industry in Singapore. At first, when you hear that you don't have to tip in a restaurant, you think it's great. You've just saved 15-20% on every meal you eat out. After a while though, you come to recognize the value of tipping. If some 19 year old waiter is going to get the same pay whether he helps you right away or he stands around doing nothing for another few more minutes, you can guess what choice he's going to make.
In very nice places, the service is very good. And many of the places you eat on a day to day basis are self-service food courts or hawker centers. We do however, go to a mid-scale restaurant from time to time. These are the places that let you sit there for 15 minutes before allowing you to wave them down to take your order.
We're pretty sure this is a widespread thing. At first, we thought it might just be because we were white. We have run into an occasion or two where we were clearly ignored in places where we were the only "Anglos", but it's surprising how obvious it is when you're clearly being discriminated against because of your race. (Listen to me, I sound like I'm oppressed or something.) We really do think that it's not a race thing; the service just stinks.
What I'd really like to try is personally starting a tipping trend in Singapore. The next time I sit down at a restaurant, I'm going to hand a random waiter $10 as I walk to my seat and tell him there's another $10 waiting for him if we get good service. Who knows, he'll either take good care of us, or report me to the police.
By the way, this picture is from the meal that pushed me over the edge to write this post. We were eating at a place called "New York" in the Ang Mo Kio Hub. This is not some photography trick. The plate is really that big. Jack and I were going to share the "Meat Plate for Two." It showed up with an entire roast chicken, 6 ribs, fried chicken, sausage, steak fries, corn, cole slaw and beans. We didn't finish it. If Berto ever visits, he and I will have to give it a try.