Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011

ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR WATSON (& CRICK): We walked around Marina Bay, a saunter, actually, which took a little less than an hour. We crossed over the water at the casino using a double-helix bridge (above). It's quite a walkway and provides a great panorama of the city.

YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SENSE OF HUMOR IN SINGAPORE: Along the walk, Sandy spotted an advertising banner fluttering in the breeze (a persistent puff, actually). The banner (shown above and at right) features a catchline of "Go Topless". Perhaps it's one of the last commands you would expect to read in a place like Singapore. The small-print reveals, of course, that this is a play on words. The banner reveals (on its barely readable bottom) that this is for "a new top-less bar at the rooftop of the Waterboat House." It means, of course, that there's no roof, and the moon and skyline are visible to patrons, who appear to be fully clothed.
This means that it's remotely possible for a Singapore newspaper to use a headline like the one the New York Post used in 1983--one that's recognized as one of the great English-language headlines of all time: "Headless Body In Topless Bar" (right). Incidentally, we're about ten days short of the ONE YEAR anniversary of the rejection of parole for the man behind that killer of a headline. He was denied parole in early 2010. The Post's story of that denial included a copy of that front page headline (right). His next parole hearing is in December 2011. The Straits Times here has also had some good headlines. I liked the one from last Dec. 20: "I wouldn't have accepted kidney if I knew it was from my wife's lover." Here's the original story on that one, from Dec. 18. The follow-up, which had the headline to which I refer, apparently isn't available online.

AN ORCHARD OF TREES: We went to the great shopping mecca on Orchard Road in the early afternoon. The place bristles with upscale stores (e.g., Louis Vuitton, a two-story Cartier, 22 shopping centers). With the Valentine's Day holiday approaching, some store windows featured some amazingly provocative items, such as a blow-up "John" doll, something for which I refuse to Google. One store was the House of Condom--in Lucky Plaza. Really. This is all distracting me from what I really wanted to point out. For me, who's usually totally unaware of surrounding plant life, the most amazing aspect of the street is the bountiful trees arching overhead. Evidently these are Angsana trees, which arrived here in the early 1800s. They are native to the Malaysian peninsula. More on them here. I understand that there was talk of cutting them down around 2005 for the sake of the shopping. Glad they withheld the ax. A downside: the trees are sometimes brittle. The branches tend to break off easily in storms. The BMWs and Audis on Orchard Street are vulnerable.

NOTE: Food will likely have a major role in the coming months in Singapore. Ann Niederpruem sent Sandy this link to an NPR interview with an author of a memoir linking food and Singapore called A Tiger in the Kitchen.

Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

AN INSIDER'S LOOK: Then Sandy and I spent most of the day with Keith Teo, who is above, at right, with Sandy and me. He presented a seminar on "Living and Working in Singapore." He presented a wealth of information about the people and places in Singapore and Southeast Asia. We heard about meanings of names in Chinese, Malay, Indian and Singapore cultures. He covered the history of Singapore and social protocols and taboos. He also went over a geographical overview of the area. He also told us of the one-size fit all term Singaporeans have had for years for Westerners (because we all really do kind of look alike). The term is ANG MO and is translated "red hair". The term is part of a Singapore based blog. That term is also preserved in a place name in the middle of the island nation: Ang Mo Kio. That Wikipedia entry raises questions about the name and its origin.

SO, YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE? For lunch, we went to the House of Sundanese Food. Sandy and I were surprised when we got there. The schedule had a typo for the restaurant's name, calling it the "House of Sudanese Food". Our thoughts were on Khartoum when we headed there. However, this menu had nothing to do with east Africa. Rather, the missing "n" meant the menu sprang from people based in an area of west Java in Indonesia. No problem with the switch.
One thing we ordered: Ikan Nila Goreng. It's the Sundanese "DANCING FISH" (right). It's deep fried and presented in a vertical position, unlike the flat presentation that we're used to. It looks like it has just swum through the vat of boiling oils. It's OK to eat the bones, but we avoided that. We also had some Rendang Daging Sunda, a bowl of gravy lathered in a very spicy sauce. And we had Ayam Bumbu Rujak, a chicken dish with a tasty sauce, and Kangkong Cha, a pile of mixed vegetables simmering in a gravy made of coconut mile and lemak.
All was very tasty.

PROPERLY DOCUMENTED: We showed up at the Ministry of Manpower again, this time to pick up my laminated Dependant's Pass. The head shot on one side is passable, only a little mug-shottish. The reverse has my thumb print. When the man took my print earlier in the week, the impression was very weak. He simply added some skin moisturizer to the tip of the thumb. That raised the edges, whorls and swoops. The clerk told me that air conditioning often dries out the skin, making it tougher to grab a print. It evidently worked like a charm. With this, I probably don't need to carry the passport around. Not sure if I'll be able to keep it as a souvenir.
For a bureaucratic office, the place has a great view. From the fourth floor, people waiting for the wheels to turn can enjoy a great panorama that sweeps from the new casino on the left to the house of parliament on the right. The river lies below. For incoming workers, it gives a very nice first impression. Wish all government offices were so well appointed.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011

The Americans Are Coming! The Americans Are Coming! Armed with a letter of introduction from a club with a reciprocating relationship, Sandy and I took a taxi to Claymore Hill Road (off the famous Orchard Road) and secured a four-month membership at The American Club of Singapore. I don't know how many of the 80,000 Americans who are said to be living in Singapore are members of the club, but it's big enough to handle a large number of them. Our first official act was to talk with a travel planner about some vacation ideas and.... buy a cup of coffee. Then we had lunch in the Eagle's Nest restaurant. In keeping with the setting, the menu had plenty of U.S.-related dishes: Buffalo Wings, Idaho Potato Skins and New England Clam Chowder, U.S. Sirloin Steak, Chicken Maryland, California Salad and Philly Steak Sandwich. They were tempting, but the menu had plenty of non-U.S. items (e.g., Cuban Sandwich and a long list of Asian dishes). I opted for an unAmerican-sounding Maharajah Salad (chicken tikka with mint yogurt dressing on greens, carrot, mango, pear, dates and onions). Very good.

Ye Sheng On the Go: After we returned to Battery Road, I walked over to the Cold Storage market at 18 Cross Street. I stocked up, having to buy a jute bag in addition to the food so I could lug it the 12 minute or so walk home. Spent S$52.94. Highlights included some yogurt, Coke Light, oranges, mueslix, Scottish cheddar and grapes. I also got some lime juice. It might become a regular feature. I also noticed that the store sold some on-the-go yu sheng salad ingredients (right). Pre-chopped/pre-shredded, ready for an easy-to-prepare New Year’s meal. I didn't buy it. We don't have long enough chopsticks to properly toss the stuff.
Another Metric Moment: I headed to the gym again. This is Groundhog Day Exercise Program...keep doing it until you get it right. With the metric system in mind, I walked up to a treadmill. Wanting to walk at a four-mile-an-hour pace (while listening to an audiobook of some of W. Somerset Maugham's South Sea tales), I boldly punched in 6.4 in the SPEED category. After nearly flipping off the back of the machine, I realized that this one was calibrated on the feet/miles scale.

Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011

Seoul-ed-Out Fenway Park: Woke up today and popped on a television channel from Korea. The language was not familiar. The image was shockingly familiar. The television screen flashed a baseball video game, complete with announcers, who tracked the balls, strikes, hits etc. of two young Korean control-clickers who were playing the game. The game was taking place at Fenway Park, with the Bob’s furniture advertisement clearly visible on the Green Monster. The commentary was quite well informed—as the announcers discussed (in English, obviously) the intricacies of playing the sometimes-strange ricochets off the wall. Imagine, here I am watching in Singapore a broadcast of a virtual game set in Boston and played by two Koreans, with two English-speaking announcers. The real-virtual tug is at hand. And this comes a day after a report in the Mail about preferences for real-world or virtual world.

Happy New Year!

Hop to it! At lunch, we had a wonderful New Year’s meal at the Palm Beach seafood restaurant at One Fullerton. The place specializes in chili crab, which was part of today’s feast with Sandy and her colleagues from the Cambridge Associates office. The meal itself was part of the ongoing Chinese New Year celebration. One memorable part was the large yu sheng, which we tossed with extra-long chopsticks. Unfortunately, we were the first table doing the tossing. I think we were a bit restrained. (The photos above show the yu shung before, left, and after, right.) After we had finished, some other tables erupted with chants and tossing. We were probably a little too low in our tosses and a little too reserved in our chanting. Even so, the mix of fish (salmon), shredded vegetables, seeds, honey and other condiments tasted great.
It was, in fact, a pretty messy lunch. Credit the chili crab for that. The meat was tasty, but a bit flaky. It seemed to break apart too easily. Still, a memorable meal. The lime juice was an added treat. So, too, were the desserts, shaped like bunnies (see below), in honor of the Year of the Rabbit.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sandy and I met for lunch and continued our exploration of food in Singapore, some well-trodden turf. Alvin directed us to a small “shop house” place (among many on North Canal Street). I think it was called Muhammed King's Prata, but I can't remember the names of the dishes. But for $14.60, we had two Coke Lights and a delightful selection of what the store labeled Muslim food. Great lamb; tasty spinach; delightful hot and spicy tofu and some rice. Quite a bit, actually.
When Sandy went back to work, I walked over river along Bridge Street to the Funan Digital Life Mall, in the pursuit of a printer (or at least measuring spoons or plastic wall hooks). One of the upper floors was stunning. There had to be six or eight camera stores and another six or eight computer stores. Total saturation. It wasn’t all that crowded, but I think the mall is a real magnet on weekends. I took note that there’s a KFC and a Pizza Hut in the complex.

A Taxi Driver Gives A Tip: I took a taxi back to Sail. It cost S$4.80 (no tipping). Lugging the printer through the MRT was not appealing, and the taxi really wasn’t that much more. The driver cheerily griped about the Esplanade theater complex, pointing out that it cost S$500 million in “the people’s money”. He didn‘t think the public was getting its money’s worth. I have no opinion on this. But I've heard from residents a couple things about taxi drivers here. (I think there are 20,000 roaming the streets here.) One, they like to complain about the government but will support the government in every election. Two, many are retired police officers, and this gives law enforcement more eyes on the street and gives the officers a nice supplement to their pension. The driver still had money on his mind as we approached the Sail, he said it was the most expensive place to live in Singapore. He might be right. He was nothing if not direct. With a smile.

More Metric Madness: I worked out pretty hard after this, 35 minutes on the bicycle, another 35 minutes on the elliptical. About four others were in the room. I used this as an opportunity to crunch my metric numbers. I think it goes like this:
15-minute mile--6.4 km per hour.
12-minute mile--8.0 km per hour.
11-minute mile--8.8 km per hour.
10-minute mile--9.7 km per hour.
9-minute mile--10.8 km per hour.
8-minute mile--12.0 km per hour (never gonna happen).

Monday, Feb. 7, 2011

A Super Pre-Dawn Search: We awoke early, not knowing if or how we would see the Super Bowl, which had a 7:30 a.m. (approximately) kickoff. A Google/Bling search indicated there might be a showing at a bar called Brewerkz near Clark Quay. We took a taxi at 6:45 to the area, which was deserted and dark. We walked past numerous dark and empty bars and shop houses. We were about to give up when we looked across the river and noticed a large bar with lights and people. Had to be the place. We scuttled over the Read Bridge and, behold, there we found the bar, filled to bursting with football (American) fans. All tables were reserved. But we asked anyway and, evidently, someone had just cancelled. So, Sandy and I got a seat right in front of a TV. We sent a message to Cambridge employee Sarah Boggs who had mentioned last night that she was hoping to find a place to watch the game. She hustled over. (That's Sarah and Sandy and me, at right.) We stayed until about 8:45 (halftime) and enjoyed a full breakfast while watching the Packers build their lead.
One drawback: The telecast featured NO advertisements, however. (We didn't see that spectacular laugh-out-loud Darth Vader commercial until Tuesday night.) We had to leave to meet with an American expat Holly Smith who gave us a driving tour of the city.
The tour was great. Not enough time or space here to get into it, but it really helped us get oriented. We found out the results of the game while getting a tour of the American Club of Singapore. That place had the game showing in three rooms.
Later in the day, we went to the Ministry of Manpower for our working permit. Well, I use the word "working" advisedly (for me, anyway). Sandy gets the work permit. I get something called a "dependant's pass." I'm the lucky one!

Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011

A Fine, Fineless, Day: Sandy and I spent Sunday morning quietly. Much of Singapore appears to be shut down because of the New Year's celebration. We bought passes and took our first ride on the Singapore rapid transit system (MRT). We went from nearby Raffles Place to a busy Douby Ghaut station where we changed lines to go out to Hougang. An earnest fellow-rider stayed on the line two extra stops so she could get out and give Sandy some advice about foot care. She thought she spotted a problem. We don't really think there is one, but we did note the woman's earnestness. A bit much, but in keeping with ongoing efforts, I guess, along the "see it, say it" lines. It took a little while, but we found Alvin Tay's building and we joined him, his wife, Stella, and son, Joshua, for a New Year's get-together at 3 p.m. We were the first to arrive. Within about a half hour 15 or so other Cambridge Associates employees showed up. The trip back on the MRT was crisp and quick. This will be a great way to get around. Just follow the rules, which are clearly presented in posters in the station (see photo). I don't think the MRT ever has to worry about either Sandy or me carrying one of those durian fruits on one of the trains, or anywhere for that matter. We are told that lots of durians are sold in Singapore's red-light district (yes, I hear there is one--in Geylang). This "king of fruit" is reputed to enhance, er, performance.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

February 4-5, 2011

FRIDAY, FEB. 4, 2011

On the Ground: We landed about 5:45 a.m. Singapore time. The 18-hour flight from Newark was actually quite "routine." The plane was quite empty (about 60 percent full), so the service was great. The driver was a bit stunned by the amount of luggage we had. (That's a post-flight Sandy at right with some of the luggage.) But we squeezed it into his Mercedes and flashed to the west, toward the city. We arrived at the Sail@Marina Bay. The sales manager, Gibson Ho, met us. By 7:15 a.m. we were in our apartment on the 44th floor of Tower 2 (on 6 Marina Boulevard). It’s quite a place, overlooking part of one of the great container-shipping depots in the world. A massive NYK Line (Nippon Yusen Kaisha) freighter lumbered away from the dock as we were settling in.

Three-of-a-Kind:With a craned neck we can see the three-towered Marina Bay Sands Casino, and it is, indeed, impressive. Also impressive is the utter LACK OF NEON on the building. It’s a very un-Vegas look. After Sandy rested a bit (trying to shed a cold she has had from way back in our U.S. days), we walked over to the casino area, attracted by the view of the three towers from the apartment (right). The shopping center takes upscale to some new heights. I was happy to see a Mont Blanc store, where I can reload on some ink. I was also happy to see a skating rink. Not sure if it can be properly called an “ice” skating rink. I saw no shavings scraped by blades from the surface.
We entered the hotel attached to the casino and bought tickets (S$20) to get up to the 57th floor. This brought us to the remarkable diving-board structure that sits atop the thre towers and cantilevers out over the lip of one. The view is spectacular. On the ocean-side we faced a wide panorama of shipping vessels at anchor. It looked like an invasion force. On the city-side we looked out over the marina and the staggering buildings of Singapore, stretching into the distance.

Are Cannonballs Allowed? One of the features on the top is a very long infinity pool, which appears to spill over into the bay far below (see photo at right). Quite a terrific sight. It’s only available for hotel guests, and they, of course, are subject to the gawking of the elevator riders, of which there were many. Some smaller pools are available for elevator riders to frolic in. One was filled by a tall man wearing only his underwear. The nearly-naked bather was beaming for a photograph, taken by a woman who was overdressed (with a veil). Together they balanced out quite nicely.
Sandy and I had a Coke Light and Tiger beer at the top. Three young-ish men sat with us, all working together to sell their company’s properties or shares in them (e.g., a room in a hotel in Germany, a spot on the shore in Spain) to the allegedly cash-flush Singaporeans. One (originally from Nutley N.J.) said he read that more than half of all Singaporeans have more than $1 million in liquid assets available to them, and are, therefore, perfect candidates for such international moving and shaking. If true, this puts the Millionaire Next Door concept to another level. Maybe the Millionaire Serving You Food or the Millionaire Busing Your Table or the Millionaire Sweeping Your Street? Worth looking into.

SATURDAY, FEB. 5, 2011

Just Lion Around: For breakfast, we found a place called Swiss Bake in the underground mall. Very tasty eggs and coffee. That revived us. Or maybe it was the non-stop Bee Gees playlist ("Stayin' Alive" etc.) wafting through the restaurant. After that, we began walking around the city, making use of the handy underground (and air conditioned) walkway that connects the Marina Bay Link Mall with the MRT's Raffles Station. It's the route Sandy will have to take to work.
After we emerged at Raffles, we walked up the river, crossed over Elgin Bridge and headed back toward the Asian Civilizations Museum. Many of the restaurants and stores were closed for Chinese New Year. There was activity at the front door of the museum. Drawn by some steady thrumming and drumming, we spotted some performers doing a lion dance for the new year.
Metric moment: Hopped on the elliptical on the 8th floor. It asked my weight. I punched in 195. The machine balked, telling me its upper limit was 160. I thought, “If I weighed that, I wouldn’t be on the elliptical. That makes no sense.” Then I noticed the “kg” next to the 160. A quick glance back at junior high school science classes reminded me that there are 2.2 pounds in each kilogram. Therefore, the upper limit for the machine was somewhat north of 350 pounds. I was safe. So I had to divide my 195 by 2.2 and punched in 90-something. The machine accepted me. I started pedaling.