Henry O. Farad in the city of SIN
by Larry Colen


My first overseas flight started out with my bags being labled SIN, in bold, all capital letters. I couldn't help but wonders, was this an omen? Perhaps an imperative? Twenty hours later I was about to find out that it wasn't much of either.

I landed in Singapore primed and ready for an exotic tropical port, adventure in a third world asian country. The first thing that struck me was how strange Singapore isn't. First of all, English is the Singaporean Lingua Franca. I wouldn't be surprised to find that a higher percentage of the population of Singapore speaks English than of San Francisco. Sometimes the accents are a bit thick, but almost all of the signs are in English. Walk around a mall and it's easy to forget that you aren't in the Bay Area.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Singapore is the food. I've barely managed to scratch the surface of the Culinary delights available. Singapore prides itself on being multi-racial and a trip to any of the hawker centers, or food courts, will bear this out. My first meal on the island was Laksah which I would describe as halfway between a red thai curry and pho. It's my favorite dish so far.

The next night I was taken out to dinner at the Seafood Centre. I let my two native coworkers order for me. I must admit that I was a bit nervous when the waitress brought a glass cassarole filled with live prawns to the table. She then poured a glass of wine into the cassarole and shortly departed with the "drunken prawns". When I next saw them they were featured in a very tasty soup, called drunken prawns. The other noteworthy dish that night was chilli crab. This was undoubtably the best crab that I've ever tasted. I don't normally particularly care for crab. I don't dislike it, but it doesn't do anything special for me, but I did have seconds of the chilli crab. OK, and thirds too.

For the most part, Singapore is not a place to go looking for incredible shopping bargains. Prices tend to be comparable to those in the United States. On the other hand, there are a few things that you can get here that you can't get in the US. On our way to dinner my first night here I was able to find a bookstore that had two Terry Pratchett disk world novels that aren't available yet as paperbacks in the US, and the camera store next door had, in stock, a lens that I had spent months looking for back home.

My big shopping quest has been a bicycle. On our way to the hotel from the airport I saw a really cool bicycle. It had two top tubes, metal pull rods to activate the breaks and a chain guard that fully enclosed the chain. I spent a fair amount of energy Friday, Saturday and Sunday trying to find out how to buy one. Monday after work I found a bike shop that had one similar, brand new, for about Sing $110, or about US$70.

Another thing that is better in Asia is the soda. The US has protectionist tarrifs on sugar to promote the commercial use of corn syrup. Corn, unlike sugar cane, being a major domestic crop. I'm tempted to ship about a dozen cases of Coke and Pepsi home.

On Saturday I took the tram out to Sentosa Island, which turns out to have the southern most beach in Asia. It is yet another tacky tourist spot, with tacky tourists acting just like they do in every tourist trap that I've ever been in. And while the food was probably the worst that I've had on the Island, it was far, far better than any I've had from a fast food stall in any other tourist spot I've ever been in.

Singapore has a reputation for being a "Fine city". A police state where you get charged exorbitant fines for minor offenses. On the other hand, when you consider the population density you understand the reason for these rules. Almost all of these rules are things that you would not want someone else to do, and if everyone did them the city would quickly be buried in garbage and effluvia. As it is, despite the astronomical population density, it is the cleanest city that I've ever seen.

Cars are very expensive in Singapore, about three or four times what the same car would cost in the U.S. On the other hand, there is barely room for the people on the island, if there were the same ratio of cars to people as in California, there wouldn't be room to park all of the cars, much less drive them. There is one aspect of Singapore traffic that I find rather disconcerting. Lane markings are considered to be loose suggestions, very loose. Cars are as likely to straddle the lane markings as drive between them. While performance oriented drivers in the US may play with lane changes to optimize their line through a turn, drivers in Singapore seem to change lanes at random through turns. It is almost surprising that the majority of car doors are actually convex rather than concave.

There is one thing that you can't get in Singapore that you'd expect that you can, and that is a decent foldout map. The map that everyone uses is a book published by the government. At a scale of 1:7500 the individual pages show so little that you practically have to turn pages to map a trip across the street. An ex-pat friend of mine says that this is part of a social engineering project by the government to keep people from realizing how small the island is. He also pointed out that the roads are laid out so that it is not too easy to go long distances, also to make the island seem larger. I've noticed that the locals balk at walks of as little as a kilometer.

I'm now five days into this trip to Singapore and still very much in the "Wow! I'm 10,000 miles from home, isn't this cool!" stage. This trip continues to reaffirm my belief that cultures differ, but people are the same.

Last modified 01/23/98

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