Sanitary Singapore

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Singapore is sanitary. And civilized. And Sticky, and well, damn expensive. Nothing much in the way of character here, it has all been built and rebuilt to Eisnerian specifications.
There is no crime. Not hard to belive, as the simplest of offenses, such as jaywalking or littering carry a fine of 500 to 2500 singapore dollars, and perhaps a little of the old "bamboo massage" as well. They hang almost anyone who is caught with drugs, as do most southeast asian countries. Matter of fact, it is big news here (Australia)that four
young people are now being sentenced. One, a girl, accepted 20 years in Indonesia as a plea deal, rather than face the firing squad. Another two young men got life sentences, and a fourth is scheduled to be shot. Apparently these kids didn't get the memo. They are all under 25, and should have known better, as this sort of thing happens a few times a year. They don't fuck around at all. In singapore, a young Aussie was hanged by the neck until he was dead just about 5 months ago. Perhaps some of them are framed, that is not unknown, but the majority probably are lured in at the prospect of easy money, which, when you are caught is neither easy nor money. A life sentence in an Indonesian prison or a Singaporean Noose could pretty much ruin your holiday .
Every time this happens (it would seem quite a bit to Aussies), there is a public outcry, the diplomats and politicians in both countries try to negotiate, and somehow the poor bastards are killed anyway. Let that be a warning to anyone who travels here and has a fleeting thought of carrying a package over the border. Thailand and Malaysia are no better.
Fortunately, I am not all that much into drugs anymore, and I guess as I age, I look a little more like a responsible adult (not to say that I am, god forbid), and so the temptation to do dumbass things like being a drug mule doesn't cross my mind, and the opportunity is presented less and less often. One of the advantages of forming "smile lines" and losing a bit of hair on the top, but, come to think of it, even 20 years ago I wasn't that stupid. Crazy, maybe, but much too paranoid to try anything like that.

Singapore itself is like a futuristic world. Everything is in it's place, labelled, and directed. One good example is the underground system, the smoothest and cleanest I have seen anywhere so far.
The trains must run on some sort of electromagnetic cushion--no rails could be that smooth. One stands on the platform in the shiny station, maps and lit signs are everywhere, telling you when the next train is due, where the destination is, how long it takes to get there. Your computerized card has a deposit of 1.00, refundable at any ticket machine, and travel is done on the honor system, you tell the friendly computer your destination, and it automatically calculates your fare based on the distance.
Of course, this leaves it totally open to cheating, as one could just punch in the nearest station, get the cheapest price, and then go as far as one wanted. But the well-adjusted drones of the tiny city-state of Singapore don't even think that way. We barbarian westerners do, but as we don't like to be hit by a big sumo-looking guy with a thick cane, it would seem that most don't cheat. Also the prohibitive cost and tight-assed society of the place keeps out the riffraff.

The tube also has a spokesperson, or, rather, a spokes-machine. Softly admonishing everyone to "mind the gap," "stay clear of the doors," and "think happy thoughts," the electronic brains of the outfit seem a bit like a female HAL, and one wonders when the day will come when it senses a malfunction in the sattelite antenna, requests a human to spacewalk and fix it, and when requested to open the airlock door will reply: "I'm afraid I can't do that. . Dave." My God, it's full of stars.
A HAL 9000 has never made a mistake. I kept waiting for the damned thing to break into a verse of "Daisy," and if that ever happened, you can bet I'd be taking the bus around town from there on out, and probably just take a bus all the way to Siberia.
When the government takes on a nanny role, this is what will happen. Welcome to the future. Watch carefully, as in the Western world, particularly in certain countries, it seems more and more that the governments strive to do that--with total control there are no surprises. Don't worry, it's for your own safety. You will be happier. Dave?, what are you doing, Dave. . .
Personally, I like surprises. What a dull world without them.

Not that I am condemning the Singaporeans, a nicer and more well-adjusted people can not be found anywhere. A more tourist- and business-friendly place does not exist. They actually do walk down the street smiling and singing. I guess it works for them, so what the hell. Just don't hit an off note in that song, it's a $25 fine. And stay clear of the doors. . .

I woke around 1 pm after a few hours sleep, and decided to go over to "little India" by HAL train, hopefully to find a masala dosa, or some such thing. There were some Indian people, and even vegetables sold on the streets, but the streets (all 2 of them) were clean, the sidewalks were clear, and in the middle of "little India" there was an immense building, with markets and restaurants on the first floor, and the second, retail goods.
I cut through the market stalls, the familiar smell of freshly-butchered mutton filling the air, and found a row of restaurants. All Chinese. Across the way were the "indian" places, but all they seemed to serve was rice biryani, which, in this place just translates to Asian-style fried rice. A bit of a disappointment, but the prices were good and cheap, and I sat with an old chinese man who smiled as I refused fork and spoon, opting for the traditional option of chopsticks and soup spoon. We ate in silence, occasionally glancing at the other, and I rolled up my sleeve to show him my tatooed kanji of "Tao." He chuckled, said "Tao. . good. . ." and as I finished eating first, I "wai-ed*" him and walked upstairs to check out the cheap goods, not buying.

Back underground with HAL, I checked the map of the subway to see what looked interesting. Apparently the chinatown has been recently remodeled, and I saw some of it in the morning walking in, but it didn't have the nice stinky dirty character of other chinatowns, so I figured I had seen enough of the disnified version. Harbor point sounded vaguely interesting, so off it was.
Getting off there was basically stepping into a shopping mall. In fact, anywhere in Singapore is like stepping into a shopping mall. They tell me that Singaporeans favorite hobby, apart from behaving themselves, is, you guessed it, shopping. And they do it in such a way that would put American malls to shame. The displays and signs are everywhere, and tastefully done in most cases. There are no garish signs saying: SALE! or "Clearance!" or other such gimmicks that american megastores use to try to make you feel like you are getting a good deal on an already inflated price. No, the shops for the most part, are high-class down here, the civilized and fashion conscious Singaporeans gobbling up goods alongside the moneyed westerners who can afford an $8 cup of coffee when travelling far from home. I actually had a small cup for 2.50, the cheapest they had, and my eyes popped out of my head when I read the menu placard--I won't even mention the outrageous prices on food, but I will give this one telling detail: there was a cup of coffee--that's right one cup of coffee for the price of $32.50!
I don't care if they grew the beans right on the spot and it was served by Juan Valdez himself, burro in tow, there ain't no cuppa joe that is worth that. None. Oh, Cap-
italism. . .how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. . .Well, offhand, I can't think of any, but I know there must be something. .

From the end of the line, Harbor point, one can take a cable car high above the city and the canal to Sentosa Island, a famous tourist spot at the south tip, complete with beaches, exhibits of "restored" (which means fake) tribal artifacts, an orchid garden, a fountain that dances to music, and many other "attractions," all of which are perfectly groomed and maintained. Oh, and don't forget the 30 meter statue of a "mer-lion." I don't know if this is an ancient tribal myth, or someone's idea of a sick joke--Lion on the top, fish on the bottom.
For only 13.50 in singapore dollars, I could catch the cable car out there round trip, and that even included park admission. What they don't tell you is that although you can see the tribal village (restyled in life-size concrete) and the musical fountain (from the side), things like the Mer-Lion had additional admission. 8 bucks to walk up inside the merlion. Some things are just not worth it.
The cable car goes maybe a couple of hundred feet above the canal and city, and offers, I would say, the best views of Singapore you will get anywhere. As the country/city is so small, you can pretty much, on a clear day, see all the way to Malaysia.
Sentosa Island itself is quite pleasant, and good views are offered from the top of the hill there, and the grounds are quite well kept and designed. A good place for a long walk.
Around the island I went, coming to the south side, which is a surreal combination of luxury hotels on the hill with luxury beach below, and offshore oil refineries coloring every sunset a beautiful industrial red.
Between the refineries and sentosa's beaches (which are remarkably clean, even the water), lie perhaps the busiest shipping lanes in the world. One can see all manner of huge ships plying these waters, from gigantic supertankers to huge container ships, and some ships that were just supercantankerous. Hell, you can watch all this from the beach during a game of volleyball. Surreal enough to put Hieronymous Bosch to shame.
One collision, one oil spill, and the whole thing would be spoiled, perhaps forever. One could take comfort, however, that the helmsman of the offending cantankerous vessel would be lashed at least 100 times by that big sumo-looking guy, who of course enjoys his work very much.

A quick stop on the Orchard road, another shopping paradise, and a couple of kilometers to the Newton food court for some budget fare, and it was off to sleep. My flight to sydney was at 9:30 in the morning, and as is my wont, I had to get there early. . .
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