My lovely wife has allowed me to be the "Guest Host" for this week's update. Those of you used to her "entertaining", "interesting", "humorous", and/or "well written updates using proper grammatical rules" may be a bit disappointed in this week's content, but…uh, you know, well…that's…uh, the way it is.
Rather than update you on what has happened the past week, I want to share some of my observations about life in Singapore thus far - a sort of pros and cons list. I'll start with the pros:
- Public transportation. Singapore has this nailed. Whether it's by bus, taxi, or MRT (subway), public transportation in Singapore is cheap, efficient, clean, and easy. It costs me about $2.50 SGD (about $1.50 US) to get to and from work each day on the MRT. Commute time is about 40-45 minutes. If I want to take a cab, it costs about $13 SGD one way (about $7.20 US) for a 20-25 minute trip.
Please allow me my first digression. Overall, I/we have had very positive experiences, but we did have one interesting trip. We were returning from the local mall one evening after dinner and we "queued" at the taxi stand. After waiting for a few minutes, a cab pulled up and we all got in. As it pulled up, I thought it was moving extra slowly, but didn't think too much about it. Perhaps our driver was just being careful. The first Bennett family rule is "Safety First!" so it would be hypocritical to find fault with another individual who chooses to live his life by this same rule. As it turns out, he was being extra careful…because he could not see!!!!!!! I knew we were in trouble when he took off his extremely thick glasses, turned them upside down, put them back on, and then proceeded to drive. In other words, the ear pieces were facing up!!! I've worn glasses for nearly 20 years and this thought has never crossed my mind, ignoring the obvious fact that this likely cannot improve your vision. As you might imagine, this is not comforting. The other warning sign that we were in for an adventure was that as I was telling him where we lived, he interrupted me and said "I don't know where that is, you'll have to tell me." For reference purposes, we live about one mile from the mall and we live right by the American School, which is a significant Singaporean landmark. For further reference purposes, it is our understanding that to be a cabbie in Singapore you have to be from Singapore and this was an older gentleman (i.e., he should have known where the American School is). So, we buckled up, said a couple of silent prayers, and set off on our journey. I found myself thankful that Shannon makes us cart those damn booster seats around with us everywhere we go because I thought there was a good chance we might need them. Ten frightful minutes, countless traffic violations, and numerous unplanned lane changes later (those stripes on the road are more guidelines than lane demarcations, right?), we arrived safely at our home. To try to prevent others from having this same experience, I decided to call the cab company and let them know what happened. It was at that point that I realized the cab did not have a company phone number or a cab number on the side. Nice! Apparently, grandpa took his son's taxi out for a joy ride to drum up some extra coin for some herbal tea. But I digress…I want to be sure to point out this is by far the exception. For the most part, we have had very pleasant experiences and the cabbies are great.
- Cheap food. If you eat local food, it's extremely affordable. For example, when I eat out at work, if we go to a local food court, my meal including a coke and dessert typically costs about $6 SGD (~$3.60 US), and that typically includes $2 SGD for a beverage and dessert. You just can't beat that, although I would give my left leg at this point for a Jorge's #5 lunch special (cheese enchiladas w/ rice and beans)… ?
- Nice people. Everyone has been very nice to us. Even though we're in the <1% category (or "other" per one of Shannon's earlier updates), nobody treats us like an outsider. Everyone truly co-exists peacefully. It's very cool.
- Legalized prostitution. This is pretty self-explanatory. Please allow me my second digression. This fascinates me on many levels. There are some that probably think prostitution is immoral, it's a sin, and it's just plain wrong - end of story. There are others, like the Singaporean government, that take a more pragmatic view of the situation. The logic is that you're not going to stop prostitution, - isn't it credited w/ being the oldest profession in the world? - and in countries where it is illegal, law enforcement spends countless hours and dollars busting the prostitutes and the recipients of their services only to see said individuals released to then continue doing the same type of behavior. Meanwhile, by making it illegal, it encourages all types of other "immoral" behavior (drug use, unprotected sex), which can lead to increased crime and the spread of deadly STDs, not to mention diverting law enforcement from focusing on more important tasks. The argument continues that since you can't prevent it, you might as well regulate it and control it. By doing this, you cut down on the illegal activities traditionally associated with it and you help prevent the spread of STDs. Very logical. I'll simply say that I see merits in both arguments.
Interestingly, the same logic in favor of prostitution can be used for other topics as well, such as drugs. So, where do you draw the line? Singapore actually has a very effective way of handling drug use/dealers as well. If you do or sell drugs, you die. It's very simple and quite effective. Singapore is widely acknowledged as the safest city in the world and I'm guessing their policy on drugs has a lot to do with that. By the way, on a separate topic, Singapore is opening up its first gambling casino in 2009. I love this country.
What I don't like:
I have no doubt bored you to tears and if you made it this far, I thank you (both of you). Shannon will return to writing the updates in the future.
- Work. The job is fine, but it takes away from other leisure activities (see previous discussion). Plus, it's not enough that I show up everyday, I'm also expected to "contribute", "produce", "add value", and "follow the code of conduct." Speaking of this last bullet, it is apparently against the code of conduct to participate in legalized prostitution…at a company function. Fortunately, I found this little nugget in a footnote prior to our offsite so I was able to cancel my "surprise" for the team. DISCLAIMER: The previous paragraph was my feeble attempt at humor. I have never, nor do I intend to ever, participate in any form of prostitution. Additionally, I like my job and am grateful for the opportunity that my company has provided to me.
- Weather. I love the whole 75F - 90F thing everyday, but I'm not crazy about the 95% humidity everyday. By the time I get to the MRT station in the morning (a 10 minute walk), I've got my game on (i.e., I'm a little gamey). Fortunately, the AC on the train works very well so I'm able to cool down before I get to work. But, it makes it difficult to spend too much time outdoors on the weekends because you want to stop sweating at some point. This is probably the worst part, which, if that's the case, ain't too bad.
- Kiasu. This is a Singaporean word that means "fear of missing out" or "fear or failure." I'm totally onboard with the concept, particularly as it relates to education (Singapore has one of the most literate populations in the world because of its superb educational system). I'm just not crazy about the way kiasu manifests itself from time to time. The most notable example is boarding the MRT. There are 4.2M people on a tiny island and cars are very expensive, so most of those 4.2M people take the train on a regular basis. This means the train is frequently crowded. In and of itself, not a huge issue. The issue is that when the train stops and the doors open for boarding and unboarding, it looks like a rugby scrum. I don't play rugby and I'm not even sure I used the right term, but the point is, when those doors open it's go time! Even little aunties that are barely five feet tall and weigh <100 lbs. maneuver for optimal position. Why, you may ask, do people do this since you don't actually get anywhere faster?
The answer is kiasu. Specifically, they're all thinking "if I can just be the first one on, I might get the last remaining seat" (vs. having to stand), assuming a seat is even available, which it frequently is not!!! It's crazy. As a Southerner, I take pride in my manners, but my patience is running thin. I've already missed more than one shuttle bus b/c I let several people go ahead of me and my "competitive spirit" is starting to kick in. So, this is a struggle for me, but given my cheery disposition and ability to always look on the bright side of life and find that silver lining, however thin it might be, I'm sure I can conquer these feelings of frustration and accept life as it is presented to me. Either that, or I'm going to go postal and you'll all be reading about that nut job American that lost it on the subway and is now in prison for a very long time. Only time will tell...
(no pictures this week... my apologies)