Putting Packets of Tissue to “Chope” Seats

Chope is to reserve a place, such as a seat in a fast food restaurant, sometimes by placing a packet of tissue paper on it

Chope, This Seat Mine: The Immutable Laws Of Singapore’s Hawker Centers

I have witnessed overly-cultured and genteel visitors from strange lands descend onto our popular hawker centre (where they serve flavors that define the country’s culinary culture), at mad peak hour moments and wonder, “Ahem, so is someone going to show us to a table for 4?” Not going to happen ma’am.

The technique of securing seats at those feeding frenzy hours had long ago been reduced and translated to a fine art form called “chope.” The first thing chope master artists do is to hone in on an empty table and mark their turf — by putting the cheapest or most useless personal item they have on them, usually a half used tissue pack, a cheap ball point pen or even a worthless bargain stall umbrella on the seat. That, in mod-Singapore street food speak, means “lay off, she’s taken,” or in local vernacular called Singlish “Chope, this seat mine” (a local English slang, sans the polite grammar and attitude the British left us with).

These are the 10 immutable laws of using Singapore’s hawker centres:
  • Firstly, scour the hawker centre for empty tables or chairs
  • Chope also an extra seat for your bags
  • Say your order in slow but clear broken English (loose all the polite grammar) for best effect
  • If you are wearing white tops that need to stay clean, stay away from curries, thick soups and dark sauces
  • Choose who you want to share a table with
  • Ordering drinks from the beverage auntie or uncle
  • When seated, wipe the edge of table directly in front of you with wet tissues
  • If it’s not a self-service stall and they offer to bring the food to your table, sit close to them
  • Transfer the leftover crockery of your vacated table to another, so the cleaner will attend to your table faster
  • If you are clueless as to what to order, just follow the queues

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CHOPE! I CHOPE! This seat is mine!

On April 22nd, 2017, Facebook User Manny Quest uploaded a footage of a heated dispute between a young couple and an elderly man that occurred a day before. The video begins with the lady arguing with the old man on the issue of the “reserved” seats or as we Singaporeans affectionately call “choped” seats. At around the 22-second mark of the footage, a man, presumably her boyfriend, bumped against the elderly man, causing the old person to stumble forward. It could have been a hard fall, but fortunately, the old man steadied himself by grabbing hold of the hawker table.

On 25th April 2017, the police arrested the couple involved in the incident for causing public nuisance.

Legal Questions raised - Some of us out there may have questions regarding this matter. It is also worth nothing that there are many legal questions and issues and they, and not limited to, as follows:
  • Why has the couple been arrested for public nuisance?
  • What constitutes to the charge of public nuisance?
  • What are the punishments that can be enacted on a person if convicted for the charge of public nuisance?

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Unverified news and Singapore’s “chope” culture

Singapore’s idiosyncratic “chope” culture also brought into question if such a practice was a practical life hack, or simply ungracious. On one hand, choping seats ensures that we do not have to end up carrying our food around in circles while looking for a seat, or have our food turn cold. On the other, reserving of seats could seem unfair to those who have already bought their food and are in search of a seat. It also disadvantages elderly patrons like the one in this Toa Payoh incident.

According to The Sunday Times, this habit of reserving seats is not practiced in overseas. A lady said that in Hong Kong, they actually moved their things away if someone wanted to sit, and felt that choping was strange. Foreigners who were brushed away by locals defending their reserved seats felt that our “chope” culture had tarnished their image of Singapore.

So should we chope or not? Personally, I feel that we should always exercise kindness and consideration for others, and practice a spirit of give-and-take empathy. We should at the very least, share seats at a table and not chope more seats than necessary.

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Couple in "Chope" table incident arrested

Police on Tuesday (Apr 25) arrested a 46-yr-old man and a 39-yr-old woman for causing public nuisance at a hawker centre in Toa Payoh.

In a statement, the police said they received reports on Sunday about a couple who allegedly used offensive language and force against a 76-yr-old man at Toa Payoh Lorong 8 market & hawker centre.

Investigators established the identities of the 2 people and they were arrested. Investigations are ongoing.

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This is the worst manifestation of our seat choping culture
The Straits Times reports that the witness, Ms Janice Lim, was having dinner at the hawker centre on Fri (Apr 21) at 8.45pm when the incident occurred

Ms Lim, 50, said that the elderly man, who was holding a tray of food, was asking the woman how many people were sitting at the table.

The woman replied in irritation: "Can't you see it's reserved", Ms Lim said, adding that there was a small foldable umbrella on the table. There was also dirty dishes and leftover food from previous patrons.

The elderly man said he could not, and repeated a few times that he just needed one seat, but did not raise his voice. According to Ms Lim, he also asked the woman what she meant by "reserve", as the hawker centre was a public place.

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Caroline Ng Yesterday at 13:26

Our hawker and food centres are public places. Seatings are first come first serve basis. While I understand it's common practice for many of us (including myself) to leave an artifact to reserve seats while queuing for food, since when does this equate to entitlement or ownership of these public items?

To get in depth with Singapore's infamous "chope seat" system will require a whole separate discussion, which I am not about to get into here .... Bottom line is (doesn't matter who is there first), my dad only wanted to share the table, there were only 2 of them (the couple) and their food wasn't even ready .... Will it kill them just to share the seats??!

I mean .. seriously??!! Not only the woman was uncouth with her hurling of abusive profanities, her companion just had to despicably ram my dad from behind, trying to knock him off his feet! ... no matter who is in the right or wrong, nobody should be treated in this manner, let alone to an old folk.

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Singapore’s food centre chope culture: Is it practical or plain rude?

It is 1.00pm at Maxwell Food Centreand the popular hawker centre is bustling with a lunchtime crowd.

A Hong Kong tourist, Ms Abbie Lam, 24, with her 3-yr-old niece in tow, approaches a table where a man in office attire sits, surrounded by 5 unoccupied seats.

Perspiring after hunting for seats for the past 10 minutes, Ms Lam is about to sit down when the man tells her all the seats are taken. He gesticulates to their “occupants” – one name card on each seat.

related: Table dispute at Toa Payoh hawker centre

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Give hawker centre 'chope' culture the chop
Packets of tissue paper being used to reserve a table at a hawker centre. Mr Ronald Lee says such a practice should be disallowed. ST FILE FOTO

There is one issue which the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee should address - the use of packets of tissue paper to "chope", or reserve, hawker centre tables ($90m fund lined up to boost hawker trade; Mar 9).

This practice is common among the lunchtime office crowd. For instance, tables for 5 or 6 are reserved with tissue paper, depriving single customers of a seat.

It is also not uncommon for a group of diners to stay on at the table after eating, chatting, playing games on their mobile phones, surfing the Internet or returning calls, oblivious to others who are looking for a seat.

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Why fix the practice of “choping” when it’s not broken?

After reading many so-called points from the opponents of the "first come, first chope" system in the media, I still did not see any good argument to thrash the system.

For that I have communicated with Dr William Wan( the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement) who has expounded to do away with the de-facto choping system in the newspaper and in in the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee which he is a member, on emails to ask him for any good reasons for doing this. All he could say was only that (paraphrasing) it's his opinion that "choping" is ungracious, and he wouldn't want to engage in a course of reasoning to make his point.

So what's so ungracious about the "choping system"?

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Singapore's food centre chope culture: Is it practical or plain rude?
Diners chope seats with items like umbrellas (above), work passes & water bottles. These pictures were taken at the food centre at Our Tampines Hub which, ironically, has introduced a set of "house rules" on seat-choping.ST FOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM

It is 1pm at Maxwell Food Centre & the popular hawker centre is bustling with a lunchtime crowd.

A Hong Kong tourist, Ms Abbie Lam, 24, with her 3-year-old niece in tow, approaches a table where a man in office attire sits, surrounded by 5 unoccupied seats.

Perspiring after hunting for seats for the past 10 minutes, Ms Lam is about to sit down when the man tells her all the seats are taken. He gesticulates to their "occupants" - one name card on each seat.

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Singapore has one ugly side “reserving” table with a packet of tissue.

I see no reason for me to entertain that packet of tissue and I feel embarrassed when foreigners ask me why can’t he take the seat.

This is one ugly culture that needs to stop. I see no reason to entertain

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The Origin of the Word “Chope”

The Singlish phrase ‘chope’ needs a dedicated post. Although everyone goes on about tissue paper packets in food courts and coffee shops, the word ‘chope’ has an interesting history.

The Singlish word ‘chope’ (Slang for reserving a seat) was derived from chop; to leave a mark. The word ‘chop’ was originally from the Malay word cap, which is from the Hindi word छाप ćhāp (stamp).

‘Chop’ and ‘chope’ are sometimes sounded the same because of the blending of the vowel sounds. Normally when a silent ‘e’ occurs at the end of a word, it converts a vowel to is ‘long’ equivalent.

In Singapore, these two sounds are blended into one sound, and the diphthong is kept short for ‘oh’.

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Ugly Behaviour beyond Tissue Pack Reservation | Living Out Loud

Lately, there’d been some controversy in the local news about using tissue packets to reserve your seats in hawker centres, food courts and coffee shops. For foreignors or tourists who are unaware (Of course, they would be unaware and probably feel delighted that there’s a ton of free tissue packs lying around), this is a unwritten rule in these eating places where a pack of tissue placed on the table or seat means it’s reserved so everyone can go buy your food without having one poor soul left behind to man the table.

Some people think this practise defies social etiquette because it’s just plain rude while some people think it’s ok cos they do not see what’s the problem plus a long list of reasons. Some see this as a Singaporean culture while some think it’s reflects bad behaviour and lack of social graces. Whatever, whatever……..

So is it a “chope” (colloquial for reservation- Eg: I had “chope” this seat, so buzz off cos it’s my seat now.)

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Anger Mounts Against using Tissue Packets to “Chope” Seats at Food Courts and Hawker Centres

It appears that more sections of the public are fed up with what’s possibly a “Uniquely Singapore” style of making reservations at food courts and hawker centres – putting tissue packets on tables to “chope” seats.

The action is perhaps best described by local makan expert KF Seetoh, who described it as such:
“The first thing chope master artists do is to hone in on an empty table and mark their turf — by putting the cheapest or most useless personal item they have on them, usually a half used tissue pack, a cheap ball point pen or even a worthless bargain stall umbrella on the seat. That, in mod-Singapore street food speak, means “lay off, she’s taken,” or in local vernacular called Singlish “Chope, this seat mine”
Upping the stakes, some diners go so far as to leave personal items such as handphones, car keys, umbrellas, work files on empty tables to mark their spot.

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Chope - The most useful Singaporean word I’ve learned so far

The food in Singapore is so amazingly good, and so affordable, that I’ve taken to buying my lunch in the university canteen every day, and Andrew and I will often eat out of an evening. Thankfully some friends introduced us to the fine art of Singaporean ‘chopping’ to help us navigate the logistics of canteens and food centres.

These centres can be a few different shops, or up to twenty (and many more at larger ones) all of which will only cook one genre or specialty. There are also separate beverage stalls. Navigating this with several people can be tricky. Singaporeans negotiate this by making sure they 'chop’ a table before ordering food. This can be as simple as leaving a packet of tissues on the table, or as elaborate as leaving your entire bag. [on a tangent, I’ve seen the slogan “low crime does not mean no crime” around - clearly attempting to prevent this kind of complacency that would never happen anywhere else]. Here’s an example of 'chopping’ I took a photo of at lunch one day.

The word is more or less the same in function as the Australian English bags (“I’ll bags/chop us a table while you get drinks”), but I like it better. It’s quickly made its way into my daily vocabulary!

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Your Guide to CHOPE-ing in Singapore

Weekday lunchtime in Singapore’s central business district is probably the epitome of when everyone gets their best chope face on. These lunchtimes are immensely crowded, everyone’s hungry, and the air is humid and stale from a roiling mass of people. That’s when competition to find a seat is strongest. Harried office workers beadily eye tables at food courts and hawker centres, much like vultures circling their prey, for that opportune moment when seated patrons finish their meals and leave. In a flash, those waiting around swoop in to place a tissue paper packet on the table – chope! This table is mine and you ain’t getting up in my space.

The power of chope was witnessed by us personally. Picture this – a man, clutching a takeout box of food, sidles into the seat next to us one sweltering afternoon. He looks innocent and honest enough, a perpetual deer-caught-in-headlights look, and he gingerly opens the box to eat. He doesn’t realize the seat is taken. We don’t either. Suddenly, we hear a taut voice from a lady with a cauliflower perm, saying, “Excuse me, this seat is mine. I put a tissue paper packet there. Where is it? It’s gone. Did you see it?”

The man now looks like a deer more than ever. Poor Bambi. Unconsciously, he shifts to the edge of the seat, as if sitting on hot coal. “I’m sorry,” he stammers, “I didn’t see any tissue paper packet. It was gone when I arrived.”

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Don’t leave home without it: Tissue Packets Edition
Place your tissue packet down to chope your seat

Several times since living over here I’ve found myself being saved by the humble tissue packet—an invention that I’ve come to regard as ingenious. Absolutely necessary if you live in or visit Singapore. “But it’s just tissues,” you may say. Wrong. Besides your usual snot rag, these little portable packets have a myriad of uses. Let me count the ways.

For many of you, (for most, if not all) you won’t be familiar with this term. To chope or “reserve” a table is the only way you’re going to be able to eat a good cheap meal at a Hawker Center around here. The practice of choping follows: If you see an open table, reserve your spot with your, wait for it… tissue packet, and proceed to the food stall to order your food. By placing your tissue packet in the spot on the table, it’s a universal sign that this seat is taken.

Don’t try to leave an article of clothing or a newspaper or any other item to reserve your seat, though. You’ll come back to an occupied table with your belonging pushed aside. I’ve grown quite fond of this system.

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‘Chope-ing’/Reserving seats with packets of tissues, name cards, lanyards or umbrellas

There was a time in the not so distant past that this practice was viewed with disdain.

It was even featured several times on a certain citizen journalism portal as an ungracious practice – until Singaporeans decided that this was actually a pretty efficient and effective way of securing seats for a meal at hawker centres.

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High-end Chope
Tissue Chope-ing is so last year. Also, FREE PHONES HERE

Singaporeans really have a lot of confidence in our low crime rate hor?

Reader Wilfred Wong shares - 'I heard about this story where an undergrad used her laptop to chope a table in the school canteen. Of course, the laptop disappeared. She asked the cleaning lady if she had seen anyone taking it.

The lady just said, "Tak ah nee juay zhek, boh nao…"'

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Be more gracious and stop reserving tables

The spat at a Toa Payoh hawker centre over the reservation of seats led to readers writing to the Forum page calling for a ban on "choping". Here are some excerpts from the letters.

The incident highlights the need to address this anti-social behaviour.

I have no issue when a person sits at a table and reserves it for his friends or family. But I do find it inconsiderate when tissue packs, name cards, umbrellas and other objects are used to "chope" a table.

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Couple in "Chope" table incident arrested

The couple who bullied an ah pek at a hawker centre in Toa Payoh Lorong 8 in in April have been charged in court.

45-year-old Chow Chuin Yee, who barged into the 76-year-old ah pek from behind, was charged with using criminal force.

38-year-old Tay Puay Leng was charged with intent to cause alarm, after she was caught scolding the ah pek using vulgar language.

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Bickering over a Reserved MRT seat

A video of a woman and an auntie engaged in an altercation over an MRT reserved seat has been circulating on Facebook.

The video, shared on Sure Boh Singapore’s Facebook page, shows a woman sitting on the reserved seat on board a MRT train. An auntie in turquoise can be seen standing in front of her. The woman then told the auntie:
  • “You pay, I pay.
  • “I don’t think you deserve it (the seat).”
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