Last Stop SE Asia - Singapore

Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
Trip End May 10, 2005

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Thursday, March 3, 2005

We went from the cacophony of Bangkok to the calm of Singapore in just over two hours on the plane. Our friends, Irwan and Ria, met us at the airport and whisked us off to their house. It has been wonderful to be pampered the last five days!

I met Irwan at swimming lessons at the U of S, probably around 1979 or 1980 and we remained in touch. This is the third time I've visited him. The first visit was 20 years ago; Martin I was also visited them when we were in Bali in 1999.

Both Irwan and Ria are Indonesian. Irwan grew up on the west coast of Sumatra and is of Chinese descent. Ria is Malay and her family came from Sumatra, but she grew up south of Jakarta. Both Irwan and Ria speak Indonesian, which is based on the Malay language.

Ria spent three years in Gainsville, Florida from age 10 to 13 while her father was teaching/researching in veterinary medicine at the university. Her fluency in English is indicative that she spent a significant amount of time in North America as a child. Some of her favourite TV programs were my favourites as well: Bewitched, The Beverley Hillbillies, Bugs Bunny. Those three years must have had a huge impact on her life.

Irwan is an engineer and works for Conoco-Phillips, an American oil company. He and Ria have been in Singapore now for three and one-half years while Irwan's been involved in a project to build a ship for processing oil. The project will soon be finished. They are both hoping that there will be another project in Singapore that he can join so they can remain here. If that is not possible, they will look at other options that the company provides, including moving back to Jakarta.

They both love it here. Singapore or "Lion City" is quiet for a city of 4 million (the public transport is excellent so many people opt not to have cars) and it is very clean. You can drink the water out of the tap. There are strict emissions controls and littering laws. You cannot buy chewing gum in Singapore. After contending with the less-than-wonderful toilets in the rest of Asia, Singaporian public washrooms are heaven (and always have toilet paper!). Ria does not drive, but appreciates that she can walk anywhere here safely. (That is not the case in Jakarta.)

As foreigners, they also receive many of the perks that come with being an expatriate working for Conoco. Irwan has a membership in the very prestigious British Club where they can dine, swim, play tennis, borrow books or access many other services. Conoco has leased a very nice SUV and a beautiful house for them that would be unaffordable otherwise. Having a house, rather than an apartment, enables them to have pets. They have six cats, two dogs and another three dogs in Jakarta. (All of them, except one dog, were strays or abandoned/abused animals that they rescued.) Like many middle class people here, they have a maid. Her name is Yati and they brought her from Jakarta. Besides cleaning, doing laundry and other chores, her main responsibility is to look after the animals.

We also have noticed the abundance of wildlife and greenery. On a walk through the MacRitchie Reservoir Park, we saw more wildlife than we've seen in all of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia: birds, monkeys, turtles, fish, butterflies, squirrels, snakes, iguanas . . . . We also visited other green spaces in the city: the botanical gardens, Mt. Faber and Sentosa Island.

There are also an abundance of shopping malls! Ria tells me that the favourite pastimes of Singaporians are shopping and eating and we have done plenty of both (well, window-shopping and eating) since we've been here.

Singapore has not always been such an immaculate oasis (and sometimes it seems somewhat downright artificial and antiseptic). There was a campaign that began in 1977 to clean up the riverfront because it had become so polluted. The consequence, however, was that it drove out the sampan owners, the small vendors and the fishers from the harbour - and destroyed a lot of the character of the city. So, while the cleanliness and order are nice, it seems as though much of the "soul" of the city has been stripped away. It is a completely different place than it was 30 years ago.

We have had a lot of fun with Irwan and Ria. They both have wonderful senses of humour and love to tease and joke. As a child, Ria had a pet chicken that one day appeared on the dinner table as dinner. She has not eaten chicken since. Irwan told us that he would give us a Mercedes if we could make Ria eat chicken because he likes it. Martin got quite a kick of kidding Ria about chicken and how he was going to get her to eat it.

Another joke we shared pertained to durian, a tasty, but very stinky fruit, very popular with Sinaporians. MacDonalds even sells durian milkshakes! Ria bought some pieces of durian for Martin to try (since he's never had it before) and carried it around most of one day while we went shopping. (I kept wondering why there was this strange and less than pleasant odour everywhere we went.) Once we got back to their house, we finally had the taste test. To me, it smelled like a combination of very strong garlic and stinky socks - and it almost tasted as bad since it was overripe. We laughed ourselves silly! It is wonderful to be spend time with such good friends!
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