There isn't really a theme to this chapter. It contains over a weeks worth of thoughts, observations and notes which I finally got around to writing down on Saturday and Sunday nights. Many of my self observations have to do with the fact that I'm starting to settle in enough that I'm no longer so constantly in awe of my surroundings that I don't notice what is going on in my own head. I also haven't been here long enough that my schedule is so completely filled up that I don't have any quiet time.
Banking here is different than in the states. Since I am not a permanent resident, I was not able to get a checking account, only a savings account. At least for this bank, the ATMs are not full service ATMs, but only cash machines. In many ways, it is almost as if my banking has gone twenty years back in time, since I have to do a lot of it in person, and if I don't get my check in by a certain time, I have to wait two days, rather than one to get my money. This may be exacerbated by the fact that my company uses a bank that isn't based in Singapore.
One thing that I started noticing almost as soon as I got here, but haven't gotten around to mentioning yet, is the attire of motorcyclists here. Helmets are obviously required, because I've not seen anyone riding without one. In some cases the combination of hair arrangement and muslim headress under the helmet makes it possibly more dangerous than going without, but people wear them. Other than that, I don't think that I've seen any of what I would consider protective clothing. Sandals are more common than shoes, and boots are a statistical anomoly. Shorts are common, as are light pants. Leather is worn about as much as you would expect people to in hot humid weather where it is unusual to be able to travel at more than about 50 kmh. In other words, I don't remember ever seeing anyone wearing any, on a motorcycle anyways. I've seen some fasion leather in bars once or twice. When people do wear a jacket on the bike, they wear it backwards, and open in the back. Apparantly for the sole purpose of being a windbreak.
Last Sunday Chin Foo took Gary, Suppakorn and I out to see a (the?) local koi farm. It was a very interesting change of pace to most of the other things that I've seen in Singapore. It is on the north part of the Island, not far from the causeway to Malaysia. This part of the island is nearly rural and there is a lot of commercial agriculture out there. ChinFoo said that Singapore is one of the (or maybe the) largest exporter of orchids in the world. The koi farm was very impressive. In the main "store" area are a lot of tubs of koi, many of them marked "special sale price". The special sale prices varied from $25 to several hundred. Most of the farm (probably 100m by 200m) are a series of ponds, with sections about 2 by 3 meters netted off. Each section had koi that shared some set of traits, usually similar in both color and size. There also seemed to be a fair number of koi swimming around free. At least they weren't in one of the netted off sections.
Another part of the farm were several large ponds which being larger and deeper than the other area were more conducive to growth. They talked about koi growing to 10 or 20 kg in a year or two. One neat thing about the koi, is that they are trained to be hand fed, so if you put your hand in the pond, they will all come up trying to get food from it. It is a very interesting experience to put your hand into water and have thirty or so koi come up and start "kissing" it. I asked Chin Foo if I bought a koi, would he be willing to take care of it in his aquarium. He said that he would so I bought a black one, about 7 inches long, which I was compelled to name Wilma.
After we left the Koi farm, Chin Foo took us back to his place where his wife cooked us a delicious dinner. It was the first home cooked Chinese meal that I've eaten in a Chinese home. I am still growing accustomed to everyone eating out of the same bowls.
One thing that I don't like about food here, is that it is very difficult to buy unsweetened fruit juice. For that matter, one night it was difficult to explain to the waitress that I wanted iced tea without sugar in it. I've also noticed that people here don't tend to drink as much with their meals. If you buy a can of soda, it will be 330ml rather than the 355 standard in the US. If you buy a glass of soda, it will be a small glass, filled with ice so that you end up with about 3 shot glasses worth of soda. Another difference here is that in the U.S. most places give free refills of Iced Tea. Here they don't.
I just returned from a night out carousing. Or rather an attempted night out carousing. There's a slight problem. I'm beginning to realize that I don't really enjoying going out drinking by myself in bars. I love to go out dancing, but I'm having a hard time finding places to go on a Saturday night where I can do the sort of dancing that I enjoy. Almost all of the swing dancing happens during the week, and there aren't a lot of casual bars that play dancable rock and roll, and even fewer where the people dance.
Everyone like to think that they are unique, that they are special. For me, this whole adventure of world, and self, exploration is such a dramatic series of awakanings and discoveries, it feels like it must be unique, that hardly anyone else could have gone through this. Yet, when other people who have travelled read my writings, the response I get from them is one of nostalgia. "That's exactly how I felt when I first came to Singapore, was a foreign exchange student, etc." There are cultures where a year spent travelling is normal for young adults. Many Israeli's spend a year travelling the world between getting out of the service and going to college. The Mormon's go on missions for a year or two.
I have not done much foreign travel as a tourist, but I cannot see how a whirlwind "If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium" tour could have the same effect. I have now spent about as much time as I did on my first trip, but the experience is very different. Rather than packing for home, I'm trying to find my rhythm of life here. On my last trip, about the time that the excitement of being here was starting to wear off, I was preparing to leave. Eating Laksa or Mee Goreng in a food court is not longer strange and exciting but a normal alternative to grabbing a fish sandwich at Burger King. Conversely, as odd as it seems for me to say this, grabbing a fish sandwich at Burger King has become an alternative to grabbing a bite at a food court.
I am really beginning to appreciate what it means to have a car. First of all there is the freedom of being able to get someplace, easily and on your own schedule. You don't spend a third of each trip waiting for buses, trains or an empty taxi. Your schedule isn't affected by such thoughts as, "If I leave now, I can catch the last train and it'll cost me $2 to get home. If I wait even 15 minutes then it will be a $10 cab fare". Given my druthers, I would have hung out downtown for another half hour or hour in search of something interesting to do, or even just people watching. But it wasn't worth $8 to do so. The other advantage of a car, that I never truly appreciated before was that it is a place to keep your stuff. This afternoon, I did not want to carry around the stuff that I'd want to wear to go out tonight. Nor, when evening came around, did I want to carry the stuff that I bought this afternoon. This meant that I spent about two hours getting from downtown, to my flat, and back, when if I had a car, I would have just needed to find a bathroom to change in, and I could have left my stuff in the car.
One way that Singapore differs from the Bay Area, is that when we have a large shopping center it will have a variety of stores. OK, about half the stores will be clothes, and the rest will be a variety. While there are some of these American style malls here, it seems to be more common to have a shopping center that caters to one particular kind of merchandise. If you want to buy Electronics, you go to Sim Lim Square, or across the street to Sim Lim tower. For Higher end Electronics there is Suntec city.
Out on Victoria there are several building very close to one another, one has a lot of camera shops for new cameras, another has more used camera shops, and next door to that is a building with Hi End Audio. The last is 4 stories tall, and more than half of the stores cater to the audiophile crowd. It's really quite impressive. With a fair amount of searching, I was able to purchase a used Minolta SRT-101, like the one that I got for my Bar Mitzvah 25 years ago. While there are times when the automatic features of my modern Minolta X-700s are nice, I find that it doesn't take much more time to set the exposure, and I'm often wishing that it were easier to fudge the exposure a couple stops in either direction. The meter almost invariably optimizes the exposure for the part of the photograph that you aren't interested in.
I finally hooked up with the Singapore Motor Sports Association. They meet once a week for beer and socializing and have driving events several times a year. I can appreciate how frustrating it would be to be a motorhead in Singapore.
I'm beginning to realize that constantly being in a state of exploration can become exhausting. It can be great fun to go to a food court, try to figure out what is being offered and order something that you may never have tried before. After a while though, it can get tiring. Tonight I felt like having some familiar food in a relatively quiet sit down restaurant. Some company would have been nice, but I don't know enough people here yet to be able to find dinner company on short notice.
I ended up going to Kikuya, a Japanese restaurant on Scotts Road, off of Orchard. I had some nigiri (I forget the name of the fish, they were out of Hamachi and she suggested this as an alternative and the waitress did not know the english name of the fish), tempura and chicken rice. The food was good, though not spectacular, and at slightly over US $20, it was pricey, but not outrageously so. I really gained an appreciation of the term "comfort food" because of how much more relaxed I felt after having a meal where I pretty much knew what I was getting just by reading the menu. Who knows, in a few weeks maybe I'll even go to Black Angus for a steak.
The one problem with the meal was that I was still a touch hungry afterwards. I was going to go to Muddy Murphey's for a pint of Guiness, but when I got there, I realized that I was not in the mood to be by myself in a loud smokey bar filled with people I don't know. After a bit of wandering around I had an inexplicable impulse to go to Planet Hollywood for some fries. I'd never been to one, and I was curious what it was like. Yes it was loud, but at least it wasn't smokey. The fries were decent (lightly seasoned) and served with ketchup and mustard. However when I asked the waitress brought a bottle of chilli sauce.
One advantage Singapore has over the States when it comes to fast food is chilli sauce. It is basically ketchup with some kick to it. Perhaps as spicy as commercial "medium hot" salsa for chips. In other words, spicy enough to notice, but not enough to be challenging to any but the tenderest of pallettes.
Rita, the waitress at Planet Hollyweird was a kick. She was from Bali, and I guess that she was in her mid twenties. She thought that my accent sounded Mexican. When she found out that I was from California she told me that she really wanted to go to San Diego. Apparently it is possible to get short term transfers from betwen the various Planet Hollywoods around the world.
One discovery this weekend was an open source program called Synaesthesia. It combines a CD player (though you can feed it any digital source of music) an FFT and a graphical display. It was not quite formatting properly on my computer so I did what any self respecting hacker would, I beat on the code until it worked. This is especially fun because it is very similar to a program that I've been wanting to write for over 15 years.
Unfortunately, it's not tremendously well documented, so I haven't yet figured out how to make it jump through all of the hoops that I want to, but I'm having fun with it nonetheless. My other computer project this weekend was to get the dialup ppp line working. Once I was able to log into the net from the flat, I had to go to the hardware store and get a phone extension cord so that I could log in from my room. Running phone lines here is a bit different than running them at home. At home, when I ran the ISDN line for red4est, (and a couple other lines while I was at it) I simply purchased an extra long drill bit and put appropriate sized holes in convenient, yet inconspicuous places, through any walls between the outside phone jack and the computer room.
This technique does not work nearly so well with concrete walls. Concrete is solid, relatively inexpensive and good sound insulation. It is not, however, conducive to home improvements. With the aid of some masking tape to cover up the loose wire, I did manage to do a fairly clean job of running the phone line. It is very nice to be able to access the net without having to walk into the office.
Last modified 06 Feb 1999
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