by Larry Colen

16 dec 98

It's been a week and a half since I've had a chance to write-lah. I've been keeping busy. Most days I'm at the office from about 9AM till around 8PM. About a week ago I got word that a friend of mine had a fatal heart attack. Terry was about the last person that I would have expected to have a heart attack. At 60, he danced several nights a week, and vigorous styles like Irish and Morris at that. It was a painful and powerful reminder to live every day of your life as fully as possible, because you never know when your time will be up.

I have been doing my best to enjoy my trip as much as possible, keeping in mind that I am, in fact, here on business rather than holiday. I continue to be enthralled with the food here. I have noticed that there seems to be almost no correlation between the quality of the food and the cost. The food from sit down restaurants costs two to ten times that of the street vendors (hawkers) and is rarely much, if any better. Sunday night, we went to a multi-story food court on "the golden mile", which is the thai neighborhood. I do not have the literary skill to describe the Tom Yam (seafood soup). It will have to suffice to say that I had a smile on my face long after the meal was over. It was mildly spicy, and the flavor was wonderfully complex. I was surprised to see Pineapple rice there, served in the Pineapple. I ordered that in honor of Geoff, who recently ranted that despite being a mediocre dish everyone feels compelled to order it. The difference between this and pineapple rice in the states is akin to the difference between a good Bordeaux red and a Gallo Rose'. The ingredients, and the production are nominally similar in both cases, but on the palate the end product bear only the most superficial resembalence. The third dish that evening was a "BBQ chicken salad". Pieces of chicken in a vinegery sauce, with a few vegetables and a leaf or two of lettuce. Quite pleasant, but unlike the other two dishes not, of itself, worth a letter home. This meal, was rather expensive by food court standards, being S$30 for two people.

Sunday was one of my more expensive days on the Island. I started out by buying my nephew a really cool toy for his holiday present. On my way to Joo Chiat road to buy myself a bicycle, we checked out a shop selling bootleg software. I will say in my defense that none of this is software that I would own if I had to pay "real" prices for it. It is a Chinese made single speed bike, in the style of the classic British bikes, like the blue bike with baskets that I would bring to the race track. Rather than cables, the brakes are actuated by means of metal rods. It has double top tubes and I bought some bolt on fork braces for it. The kickstand is actually a sturdy metal triangle which hold the bike upright and stable. It cost me S$130 which works out to about US$70. It is not, by the way, a light bike. I doubt that I'll be riding it from Felton to San Jose, but it should do just fine on some of the easy group rides that a friend of mine organizes monthly.

Later in the day, we went to Clarke Quay which is kind of a touristy area with restaurants, bars and shops. One of the shops there has very good prices on silk. I decided that the most expedient way to do my holiday shopping was to buy a whole bunch of silk scarves and ties and figure out what I'll give to who when I get back to the states. Clarke Quay is also the site of a bar called "The Crazy Elephant" which has excellent live rock and blues music. The clientelle seems to be almost entirely middleaged caucasians. Speaking of bars, drinking in Singapore is rather expensive. A bottle of Guinnes costs about S$10 (US$6), as did a shot of Glen Fiddich at the Crazy Elephant.

The "happening place" for clubs, used to be just down river of Clarke Quay at Boat Quay. We went there for dinner last Friday night. There are a lot of clubs there, as well as a large selection of touristy restaurants. We had Balinese food out by the water. We had an assortment of a dozen satay skewere. Four each of mutton, beef and chicken. We also had a pleasantly spicy curry. This meal was quite good, but at $50 for the two of us it was nowhere near as good of a deal as the far superior thai meal we had the following night.

According to Sunday's paper the "in" place is now Mohamed Sultan Road. This neigborhood is noteworthy because it happened without any financial, or zoning backing from the government. One entrepeneur, Sam Wong if I remember correctly, opened a bar in a funky industrial space, and as it became popular other clubs followed. I managed a reconaisance trip there tonight and the bars were populated mostly by kids in their early to mid twenties, dressed mostly in black. It is supposed to be the place to go dancing on the weekend, but no one was dancing in any of the bars tonight (Tuesday). Unlike the clubs on Boat and Clarke Quays, which seem to play mostly disco, pop and rap, these clubs seemed to play more 80's and alternative music. To my dismay, swing does not seem to have been discovered here at all yet.

Karaoke, and KTV seem to be extremely popular here. I'd say over half the bars boast karaoke, or ktv.

More "traditional" styles of fast food can be found. One chain of note is Komala's, which is vegetarian, Indian fast food. For lunch on Sunday we had burgers at Mos, which I've since learned is a Japanese chain. These burgers were truly dreadful. Curiousity got the better of me tonight and I had a mushroom swiss burger at the Burger King across the street from the hotel. To my surprise it might have actually been a bit better than food from Burger Kings in the US. One difference of note is that in addition to ketchup they also serve a chilli sauce, which is similar to ketchup but a little spicier and more vinegary.

One nice thing about Singapore is that, for the first time in my life, I am actually taller than most people. Whereas in the States most guys are between 5'8 and 5'11, I'd say that here most are betwen 5'3 and 5'6. People here also tend to be quite slender. Not only do they not have much fat, but they don't seem to have much muscle mass either. Of course, the whether here is not at all conducive to outdoor sports, or outdoor activity of any kind. The locals seem disinclined to walk more than a couple hundred meters, if they can avoid it. On the flip side, almost all buildings, taxis and buses are airconditioned. The transition between inside and outside, in either direction, can be quite shocking. Going from a cool airconned to the hot muggy outside frequently causes my glasses to fog up for a few seconds.

Another side effect of being within spitting distance of the equator is that people can't give you a swirly. When you flush the toilet, the water neither swirls clockwise or counterclockwise.

I was finally able to find some fold out maps of the Island, but have been thwarted in my attempt to find a busroute book. New ones get printed every year and by mid December, every store is sold out. I have not yet figured out how I am going to ship soda and other goodies home. I've been kept a bit too busy at work to have a chance to figure this out. One cool geek achievment is that notebook computer that I have for work now will boot Windows 98, RedHat 5.1 Linux and the Linux Installation that we ship on the Internet Appliance boxes.

One thing that is very striking about Singaporean culture is the extreme level of commercialism and brand-consciousness of people here. Reading the paper and seeing ads, one also quickly realizes that people are even more uptight about body weight than in the States. Likewise, the culture has very conservative attitudes towards sex. Yet prostitution is legal. I bought a book on the local sex trade titled "No Money, No Honey", which starts with an analysis of the local attitudes, and quotes several surveys on the subject.

I continue to notice how most of the drivers live up to the stereotypes of Oriental drivers. Everytime I take a ride in a taxi, I get to my destination mildly surprised that we did not have an accident en route. Granted, 7 years of teaching driving has probably made me a little over sensitive to bad driving habits, but I think that event the most casual american passenger would note the cavelier attitude towards lane selection of almost every Singaporean driver.

I'm still not certain when I'll be going home. Our admin was able to confirm a flight for me on the 24th, but I'm still on standby for the 19th and the 20th. I mentioned that I would be interested in coming back to Singapore for a period of several months, and it looks very likely that such a deal will come through. I don't know when, or for how long, but I am looking forward to the opportunity to spend enough time here to explore a bit more of Southeast Asia.

Last modified 01/23/98

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