Week 6: Safety 1st

Singapore is a little slice of heaven on earth for those of us with - well, not a clinically diagnosed case of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), to be sure, but with - let's call it a serious case of appropriately vigilant preoccupation with health and safety. Here, one with issues like mine can actually relax - just a little bit.

For example, contrary to my own gripping fears, the residents of this far-eastern country live in the heart of a potential bird flu extravaganza (round two of the pandemic duo that led off with SARS a few short years ago), yet they have no worries, because the government is hyper-diligent in it's monitoring of all avian forms. In fact, there is a bird zoo fairly close to our house, the Jurong Bird Park, that is still open, despite the obvious danger that would seem to lurk inside its walls. Instead of closing down until the danger passes, though, they simply have a "bird flu update" on their web site with assurances that the zoo is taking a variety of precautionary measures to ensure the safety of its visitors and employees, including "sentinel chickens that are strategically placed around the park to monitor for and detect the presence of any diseases." They also have disinfectant mats at the entrance to all exhibits, presumably to keep the humans from infecting the birds. I took the boys this week, and the place was packed.

The government also closely monitors the mosquito population to prevent the outbreak and spread of Dengue Fever. I have recently learned that officials make unannounced residential inspections to look for standing water. Should you be unlucky enough to be found with an overflowing flower pot after one of the daily rain showers, you will be treated to a hefty fine, and probably a scolding as well.

In an effort to keep our own home as clean and healthy as the rest of the country, we bought a new vacuum cleaner this weekend, as our fancy one from Texas can filter out dust mites and other pathogens with a state-of-the-art HEPA filtration system, but it can't handle 220 volts (the piece of crap). One of the main selling points advertised for the vacuum we bought is that it is "more hygienic" than its competitors. And hygiene is very important in Singapore, despite the curious absence of toilet paper (and even the requisite holders) in many public bathrooms.

Clearly, the residents of the land of the black spitting cobra are serious about health, safety, and sanitation. Yet there is a very troubling anomaly that I see every day: no one uses a car seat of any sort for their children, whether they are infants, toddlers, or pre-schoolers. Very few children, regardless of their age, are buckled into the car by any means. I can't tell you how many mothers I have seen holding their babies in the front passenger seat of cars that I am confident are equipped with airbags. There is a fine of $120 for adults who do not wear a seat belt, regardless of the car type, and for those who fail to properly restrain children in personal vehicles; but there is no car seat requirement at all for taxis. We have hailed many a cab since we arrived here, and with one exception (that still gives me the creeps), we have brought along booster seats for the boys every time. And almost every time, the driver reminds me, in a very friendly manner, that I don't need to bring the seats. And I inform him, in an equally friendly manner, that I do.

Perhaps if everyone drove around the country in a peaceful state of bliss, yielding and merging in accordance with all traffic laws, I might not be so horrified; but the reality is that the drivers here are maniacal. I spend most of my time in taxis looking at the boys, to avoid seeing the collision that is surely on the horizon. Motorcycles dart in and out of traffic, without the bother of lane restrictions, often brushing by the side mirrors of the cars that they pass. People honk their horns vehemently with little provocation (they call it "horning" here, which makes me chuckle in a Beavis and Butthead kind of way), and they use their vehicles to move down the road like a bully would use his arms to push through a crowd. It is crazy. I need to look up the local vehicular accident statistics and see if there is any clue to this apparent disregard for child safety.

In other, less dramatic, news, we almost have finished unpacking, sorting through, and putting away everything that we brought from Round Rock. We have the extraneous matter lumped in a big pile for charity, and the things that we want to keep, but can't use here, are in another pile that we probably will have to store off-site - mostly wall-hanging items that can't be used because of the local construction (the bathroom walls are made of marble) and electrical appliances that can't handle the extra voltage. Although all of the non-bathroom walls are made of cement, since sheet rock apparently tends to mildew in the ridiculously high humidity levels we have this close to the equator, we still were able to hang most of our pictures, candle holders, etc., thanks to the services of two handymen sent by the relocation company. They mounted and hung everything we set out in just over two hours. I can't even imagine how long it would have taken me, even if I did have masonry drill bits. So, now that I can see pictures of my children on the walls, as well as the giant Texas star that now hangs in the entryway, it is starting to feel more like home.

And, the boys started school this week. Each morning, I walk them down the sidewalk behind our neighborhood, past four security guards, two traffic guards, and two "gurkhas" armed with AK-47s, to their little pre-K classroom at the furthest end of the campus. Their new teacher, Ms. Karen, and her aide, Ms. Salina, have been a wonderful force of welcome and acceptance to the boys (and me). The first day, as they wandered about the room admiring the colorful decorations, they asked Ms. Karen, "where is our work?" She told them that school in Singapore is very different from Montessori school, and that the first order of business every day here is to play. Needless to say, they have adapted to their new learning environment quite well. I have been enjoying my free mornings. :)

I hope all is well with all of you. Write and let us know how things are going on your continent. Right now, I am headed downstairs to wash some dishes, so I'll leave you with a little poem regarding the lack of beloved kitchen appliances in our new home:

A dishwasher is such precious loot
And a garbage disposal to boot.
But behold Singapore
Where we have them no more
And to mourn o'er their loss is quite moot

Take care,
Shannon et al.

Cameron & Alec


pink dolphin


Cameron feeding the lorikeets


fuzzy picture, but you get the point...



Alec feeding the lorikeets




snowy owl

Cameron and a starfish


giant grouper


Alec and a stingray