Back in the Saddle


Telly update: The show I mentioned in the last installment was one filmed a while back for a another TV show. My understanding is that the footage shot Monday night will be on the Singapura Show, on channel 12 on Sunday February 14th. The footage they shot was the class doing a "stroll", basically the Lindy hop equivalent of a line dance. Line dances are possibly the type of dancing that I am the worst at. I am lousy at memorizing sequences of dance steps. One that I learned about a week previously, let's just say that watching the show should be a good oportunity to see me make a fool of myself.

Thursday night I went to the Lindy classes at the YMCA. I tried to get there in time for the 7:30 beginner class, but due to a crisis at work didn't manage to get to they Y until 7:45, where I learned that the class had been rescheduled to 7:00. So I started out with the 8 PM intermediate lindy class. While I could argue that I'm an intermediate level social dancer, one could argue about how good of a case I can make for my being intermediate level at Lindy Hop. There is also the case that every group teaches things slightly differently and in a different order. I've been to many groups where the students didn't learn 8-count lindy hop until they had become quite proficient in 6-count (east coast swing) and at least familiar with charleston. In Singapore the order seems to be reversed, they appear start off with 8-count, throwing in some Charleston and eventually get around to covering 6-count. In other words a lot of the stuff that I'm the most familiar with is totally new to many of my follows, and things that they assume as completely basic are still quite new to me.

Most of my friends have heard the joke that LRC stands for Larry, Rhythmically Challenged. The fact that I can pretend to dance at all is a tribute to perserverence, chutzpah and the fact that it is one of the few venues where a male computer geek has a reasonable chance of interacting with women. (I'll set aside the question of whether any of the women are at all enthused about meeting yet another computer geek barely able to tell his left foot from his other left foot).

After many years of practice, I have gotten to the point that if I am concentrating with nearly my full attention on the music, I can if not follow the beat, what I do sort of averages out as being not entirely unlike the beat. When I'm doing variations on what I know, so that I have to concentrate on the differences, or an entirely new dance where I have to concentrate on what I do every step the amount of concentration that I have left for following the beat is way, way below the necessary threshold. In short, I lived up the alternate acronym for my initials. In spades.

While I was writing this, it occured to me that the technical term for variation from the specified frequency is "jitter". The term for something that is wrong is "bug". I leave it up to the readers to draw any conclusions they wish about what happens when a nerd attempts to "jitterbug".

Friday, (OK it was technically Saturday morning) after the weekly dance at the Jitterbugs studio a bunch of us ended up at the coffee shop at the Hyatt. One of the other students at the studio was kind enough to give me a ride. We got to talking about things such as jobs. It turns out that he used to work with my friends Mike and Will, who 14 hours after this discussion was riding on water slides with me on Sentosa. I can travel a third of the way around the world, and my friends still already know each other. One of the items on the menu was Laksa. It was $14. I was feeling flush with cash (my pay had finally made it into my checking account) and I was curious. What would a $14 bowl of Laksa taste like? It was pretty good. I've had worse for $3. I've also had better.

It was during this conversation that a cultural difference between Santa Cruz (actually Central California in general) and Singapore was brought to mind. We were discussing things done to people who passed out at parties and I was relating about when a friend, who had been hot tubbing, passed out naked, face down in the middle of the living room floor and his back became the canvas for some very creatively obscene artwork. For me, the significant part of the story was that he did not find out about the artwork until after it had faded away, however the item that caught everyones attention was that he was naked at a party.

Today was chock full of transportation related peeves and adventures. My friend Mike (yes he was one of the two dozen gamers I knew in Santa Cruz that were named Mike) invited me to join him and some friends at the water slides at Sentosa Island today. By the time I dragged my sorry ass out of bed and called Mike on his hand phone, it was already noon. They were already walking across the causeway to Sentosa. Mike suggested that I just take a cab to Fantasy Island. After 25 minutes I decided to try plan B. There were plenty of cabs driving past, it was just that none of the the ones that drove past me were empty. If a cab was empty it was going the other way, or turned in the other direction at the intersection.

I pulled out my handy map and found the MRT station that was closest to Sentosa Island. Hopped a bus to the MRT, and decided that it would be a good idea to grab a bite at the hawker center. I saw a stall selling popia for $1.50 and bought a couple. I was just introduced to popia at lunch a couple of days ago. They are the nonya interpretation of spring rolls. While eating my brunch of popias I realized that every culture has it's version of a burrito. The Mexicans have tacos, the Japanese have sushi, Chinese have eggrolls, Thai have spring rolls and so on. If a culture does not have it's own, such as the United States, they then borrow a wrapper from another culture such as the tortilla and create their own.

I got off the MRT at the appropriate stop, found a taxi queue, got into the next available taxi and promptly ran into snag number two: "I can't take you to Sentosa Island". But there is a causeway, I've seen plenty of cars on it. The reply was mostly unintelligible but I was able to make out "only take" and "hotel". "OK", I replied, "take me to the hotel".

The cab driver was rather unhappy but in a tone of voice which clearly said "don't get mad at me if this doesn't work" he said "You want to go to Sentosa, OK, I'll take try to you to Sentosa". About three blocks later, he pointed to a bus, with Sentosa painted in big graphics on the side and said, "That's the bus that takes you to Sentosa". Then "There's the bus stop for the bus that takes you to Sentosa". "OK, I said, just drop me at the bus stop".

As soon as I got on the bus, I realized why taxis weren't allowed to go to Sentosa. The officially sanctioned bus costs $6, which will pay for a taxi fare a third of the way across the island or a couple of MRT trips across the island. The island of Singapore, not Sentosa. On the bus was a sign saying that Fantasy Island (the name of the water slide park) was the last stop on Sentosa and if you didn't get off the bus there you would be taken back to the main island. Sure enough, the very first bus stop had a sign that very clearly stated that this was the bus for Fantasy Island. So, twenty minutes later, after circumnavigating Sentosa Island, I finally come to the bus stop for Fantasy Island. Right across the street from the first bus stop on Sentosa. Not only was it the stop for the bus that took you to Fantasy Island, but it was also the stop for Fantasy Island. Sometimes I am amazed at how versatile signs can be.

Roughly two hours and 15-20 km after leaving my flat, I was finally there. To my amazement, only a few minutes after showing up at a strange amusement park 8500 miles from hearth and home, I found Mike and Company. They were sitting on lounge chairs under a large tent, recuperating from playing in the water for several hours. They were about to go off for snacks, but insisted that I go on the water slides by myself. I'd never been to a water park before, and was told that glasses were not only a bad idea, but they weren't allowed so with eyesight that barely lets me discern blue blurs from green blurs or brown blurs I went off in search of water slides.

One of the first things that I found were stacks of inflatable tubes next to pools into which people were intermittently jettisoned from either semicircular or circular tubes. Most of the people heading up hill were carrying said tubes. This made sense, they'd all end up at the bottom of the tube anyways, so that was a good place to store them. Following my current philosophy of "in for a penny, in for a pound" I decided that my first ride on a water slide should be on one enclosed tube rides. It turned out that tubes were only allowed on one of the two so that is the one I took.

I enjoy situations where I can experience a wide range of dynamically varying accelerations (I'm a g-force junkie). However, I usually experience them under conditions where I have at least a modicum of control like riding my motorcycle or driving on the race track. The combination of having no idea what to expect, no control over my situation and pitch darkness made for a very interesting experience. Especially after I managed to get turned around and was hurtling down this pitch dark, three dimensional, maze backwards. As you might have already surmised, I did survive the experience. Then, as I got out of the pool, on an overcast day, with a bit of a breeze I experienced another nostalgic sensation: a slight chill.

We had a very pleasant afternoon on the various rides. The park was not crowded at all so I didn't even have to deal with the raft of peeves one usually gets with cheesy tourist attractions. I.e. there weren't too many cheesy tourists, but I did notice one or two attractive ones.

Fantasy Island, however is hell on your feet. You spend a lot of time softening them up by soaking them in water, then you get to walk around on fairly rough pavement. My soles are still a bit sore. I did do my bit to prepare for Chinese new year next week though. My shoulders are now bright red.

After Sentosa, I went on another quest that had been put off until I had both time and money: to buy a bicycle. My plan was to get another one of the cheap chinese bikes, and eventually get a sidecar for it. I'd also been considering a folding bike. By a folding bike, I mean one that was designed to be folded so that it can be more conveniently transported as luggage rather than the object of transportation. I am not refering to what happens when bicycles are subjected to particularly creative investigations of newtonian physics. After a bit of shopping around on Joo Chiat road I purchased what purports to be a folding mountain bike for $210 (US $125).

While I was looking for bicycle shops, I also stuck my nose into a couple of motorcycle shops as I passed. I am beginning to get a pretty good case of moto-lust for an Aprilia, which it turns out is an Italian sport bike of about 125cc displacement. I also learned that Kymcos, which look like a 2:3 scale cruiser are made by a Taiwanese subsidiary of Honda.

After purchasing my bike, I went off in quest of the first place I had laksa at. I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered or if part of that was colored by it being my first time. I was accelerating around a bus that had stopped to pick up a passenger when I exceeded the tensile strength of the plastic used to make the nifty folding pedals on my nifty folding bike. I was extremely lucky, not only did I avoid being introduced to Mr. Tarmac, but I also avoided an introduction to the seamy underbelly of Mr. Bus. I brought the bike back to the shop and they cheerfully replaced my pedals with ones that while they would not fold up to save space, they would also not fold up in manners not specified in the design either.

On the way back to the bike shop, I found the coffeshop (Singaporean definition of coffee shop) that I was looking for and once the bike was repaired, returned for a bowl. It was indeed good, but not quite as awesome as I remembered. Once I got back to the flat, I realized that what I really wanted to do was go for a bike ride. Not only have I not been riding nearly as much as I'd like in the past year, but walking, buses, taxis and subways all leave a lot to be desired as means of exploring a new city. Either you can't cover enough ground, or you cover too much, or you just don't have much control over where you do explore. I won't even mention blisters and chafing.

It turns out that 9:30 at night is nearly an ideal time to go out and ride a bike around Singapore for a couple of hours. Traffic is light, the streets are all well lit so seeing where you are going is not a problem, people tend to be active here quite late, especially on the weekends, and most of all, it is pleasantly cool. Also the 15-20 KPH breeze helps negate a lot of the effects of the humidity. I ended up riding to Pasir Ris on the east end of the north coast of Singapore. This California boy thought that it was really weird to be able to stand on an ocean beach and see another country.

One thing that I noticed was how much alike different parts of the Island look. Perhaps, once I've been here a while Pasir Ris will look different from Tampines and Ubi and all of the other HDB neighborhoods but to me they are all just forests of apartment buildings with the same collection of food courts and small shops on the ground floor.

I want to thank everyone that has written me since I mentioned that I wanted to get more email from home. I really appreciate hearing from all of you.

Last modified 06 Feb 1999

Back to the listing of Singapore Tales.