Recently in Singapore Category

Monday Stroll: Merlion, Suntec, and Bugis

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Today's Singaporean "adventure" involved walking around the city and helping Piyawat take hundreds of pictures. I brought my camara along as well, but after three photos, my card was full. Apparently I forgot to transfer all of the Europe photos to my laptop. Duh!

In any case, we had a marvellous time seeing the sites: the river walk, the Merlion (Singapore's city half lion-half-fish symbol), the bug-eyed (or durian) shaped Esplanade Theatres, the world's largest fountain at Suntec City, and the amazingly gentrified ex-red light district but now fashionable Bugis shopping center.

At Bugis we had coffee with Kelvin, another good Singaporian friend of mine. Again, it was great to catch up with him and hear all about the latest stories of life in clean, efficient, but (even he would admit it) somewhat boring Singapore.

And now, time to head back to the laid-back chaos of Bangkok. This was my third trip to Singapore and I think it was the most enjoyable. Having Piyawat along definitely helped. (I went alone the other times.) But I think part of it was that now that I have lived in Asia for a couple of years, I can see past the "exotic" and get a better feeling for the "reality" that is around me. At least that is my view today. Who knows what I will think and feel years from now...

Order Vs Chaos (Singapore vs Bangkok)

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As promised, today was a busy day for us on Orchard Road. I am now the proud owner of three new pairs of pants, three shirts, 6 pairs of socks and a belt. Piyawat added socks, a belt, a couple shirts and a light jacket to his collection. Whew.

After shopping we had coffee with Mark near the California Fitness on Orchard. It was good to catch up with him. I think he is one of the few people in the world who travels more than I do. He just returned from an impressive month-long trip to Myanmar (Burma). He said that the trip was a real adventure, including one not-so-pleasant experience of getting food poisoning while on an 18-hour bus ride through a country with very poor roads. The 18-hour bus ride is bad enough, but being sick on top of that is an experience I'd rather miss.

Piyawat and I have walked around Singapore quite a bit today. A recurring theme in our discussions is "Could Thailand ever look like this?" Singapore is perhaps the cleanest, most efficient, most orderly city I have ever been in. Bangkok, on the other hand, is probably one of the most chaotic.

Or, to look at it another way, Bangkok has so many things that Singapore doesn't have: mangy soi dogs sleeping in the street, beggars (many of them children), piles of trash waiting to be collected, black stinking canals, air pollution, street vendors taking up all the space on the sidewalk, uneven sidewalks that force you to watch where you are going or else face a twisted ankle or worse, loud motorcycles, horrible traffic, non-airconditioned busses that belch black smoke...

There is some reason to have hope for Bangkok. After all, Singapore was an average SE Asian city just 50 years ago. The improvements they have made in those 50 years are nothing short of amazing.

Could Bangkok become like Singapore? It could, if it was willing to make changes. Small things like flat, even sidewalks and a little landscaping could go a long way. Charging cars a toll to use the streets in the downtown area would be a great idea too. Requiring busses to meet minimum emissions standards would also help. Bangkok could also follow Singapore's lead in moving all of the street vendors off the sidewalks and into government-sponsored Hawker Food Courts.

You may be asking, "If Singapore is so wonderful and Bangkok is so terrible, then why don't you move to Singapore?" I think the answer can be found in my feeling that Singapore has gone too far in their drive to produce order and cleanliness. ChinaTown, although beautiful with it's freshly painted centuries-old shophouses, looks like Disney World to me. It is too perfect. Singapore has sacrificed its soul, its heart, its emotions in the rush to have order.

I'd say the perfect city lies somewhere between the two extremes of Bangkok and Singapore. Where is that city? I'd say San Francisco and Sydney come close, with San Franciso being on the chaotic/emotional side of the fence and Sydney being on the orderly/rational side. But both seem to be somewhere in the middle.

It has been a beautiful day in Singapore. How do I know this? Because I am there!

On a spur of the moment, Piyawat and I decided to use airline milage for a free flight to Singapore to take advantage of a three-day weekend. We had originally planned to do this trip back in January, but just now found the time to do it.

We arrived earlier this evening and had a chance to walk around town a bit. We walked from our hotel on Bencoolen Street (near the foot of Orchard Road) to Boat Quay on the River and then through ChinaTown, stopping at Temple Street for some delicious Chinese street food and a Tiger Beer.

Our plan for tomorrow is to shop on Orchard Road. I haven't bought many clothes lately, so maybe tomorrow will be a good chance to update my wardrobe!

Shifting Perspectives

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After the visa fiascos of the past two days, I decided that since I was in Singapore, I might as well enjoy it. The rest of the day yesterday I did exactly that. I met up with my good friend Gary (who I knew from San Francisco) and hung out with him and some of his friends for the rest of the day.

I've been to Singapore a few times now and every time I visit I have a different impression of the small city-nation. The first time I visited was the first time I had ever been to Asia. A combination of jet lag and being in a new location made me think that Singapore was the most exotic place I had ever been. I marveled at all of the languages I heard, the Hindu and Buddhist and Christian temples that I saw, the new food that I ate.

The second time I visited Singapore, I had just spent time in Bangkok. All of a sudden this place seemed boring, quiet, structured, overbearing, repressed. There was nothing exciting or exotic compared to the chaos that is Bangkok.

My third visit (this one) comes after living in Thailand for two months. Now I see Singapore as a very clean, very nice, very relaxing place: most people speak English, public transportation is efficient, prices aren't too high, internet connections are fast, food is tasty, all the buildings are air conditioned, the streets are clean, there aren't any homeless people begging for change or asking me to buy something.

In other words, I've made three trips here and walked away with three different impressions. My mind wanders and spins as I think about my inability to find "truth". I want to be able to say "Singapore is ___." It doesn't matter what goes in the blank as long as something does. But the blank stays empty because it is dependent on my perspective and my perspective is always changing. In a safer, more controlled, more static time in America I could say with certainty, "Life is ___."

But now I can't. New experiences change me and challenge my perspective. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that the world in which I live is transforming and developing even as I try to understand what I am seeing.

Visa Troubles

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So far my trip has been fairly smooth and hassle free, at least from a bureaucratic standpoint (food posioning not included). I have stayed even-keeled and balanced and my emotions have mostly all been of the positive kind. This all changed this past week, however. Now that I am making life-changing decisions on jobs and housing, the stress level has risen dramatically and more negative emotions have broken the surface a few times.

My first episode happened as I was looking for apartments with Mag and our American friend Kary. I'll leave that story for another day.

I am living through the second episode now. My 90-day tourist visa expires tomorrow, so I am in Singapore trying to get an extension. Actually, I am trying to get a Non-Immigrant Visa so that I can start working on the 24th. I came here armed with my offer letter from he university and false hopes of it being a smooth process.

The trouble started in the Bangkok airport. Unknown to me, my 90-day visa was only good for "single entry". In other words, when I went to Angkor Wat in Cambodia 3 days after I arrived in Thailand, I used up / nullified my visa and was granted the normal 30-day tourist visa when I returned. So when I tried to leave yesterday, I was informed that I had overstayed that visa by 30 days and I had to pay a 200 baht (US$5) fine for every day. Doing the math I now owed Thailand $150 because I didn't read the fine print somewhere.

Don't forget that 6000 baht is a heck of a lot of money (especially when dinners can be had for under 100). Needless to say I was furious. It was all I could do to not throw an American temper tantrum. But I keep my cool and fumed to myself most of the 2 hour flight to Singapore. I finally calmed myself down by telling myself that it will be worth it once I get my proper visa. Fine. Lesson learned.

So I get to the Thai Consulate today and present my offer letter. "Sorry," they say. "The letter must be addressed to the Consulate, not to you. You can have them fax it to us today and we can get the visa to you tomorrow." Well, that's fine except that the university is on break this week and no one is in the office. That means that I will return to Thailand tomorrow empty-handed and be granted another 30-day tourist visa that prohibits employment. Next week I will have to try to straighten things out from there.

If I step back and view these struggles from an intellectual standpoint, I am learning that there is a big difference between Thai and American culture with regards to handling difficulties. The Thai way seems to be to say "no problem." If its a really big difficulty (in my mind) they say "small problem". Several times this week Mag has told me that I am being too emotional. My friends in Singapore tell me that I am too impatient. This strikes me as ironic since most Americans would say that I am not emotional enough. (One good friend in particular would get angry with me because he said that I *NEVER* show emotion!)

So let's look on the bright side of things. While I'm here I hope to visit some friends who I haven't seen since I was here last November. I think I will also make a trip to IKEA to see if there is anything I can pick up for my new apartment in Bangkok. I will also continue to try to see my world in a more balanced, less stressful, more Asian way.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Singapore category.

Shanghai is the previous category.

Taipei is the next category.

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