Monday, November 28, 2005

Straddling the Equator

As I write this, I'm sitting in an air conditioned room on the 16th floor (Privilege Club) of the Orchard Parade Hotel. Don't feel too envious though, I didn't choose to be here (local company rep. Did the booking) and aside from the free drinks in the evening (of which I do not partake) and the free breakfast in the morning (which isn't that great) there isn't that much of an advantage to being here. The private lounge on the top floor is rather nice though.

What really gets me is that I must pay extra for internet access, and it isn't even that fast either. That alone gives your average holiday inn a leg up in my book. I can't even say that I care much for all the ornamentation in the room either. When you're only staying in a place for a few days, it doesn't make a bit of difference if the desktop is real oak or just printed.

Things I have noticed about Singapore:

Every country has some kind of national pass-time. Here, it's shopping. My hotel is on Orchard Avenue which is absolutely lined with shops that are almost identical to any you will find in an upscale neighborhood in America. The prices are at least the same as what you might see in America, in many cases higher. That doesn't seem to stop people from shopping. The streets here are as crowded as Las Vegas here. Walking could be a real competitive sport here, because going "upstream" requires a lot of dodging and weaving or just pushing through people. I'm a pretty big (tall) guy here, and yet walking a straight line on any sidewalk requires bracing one's shoulder against the oncoming traffic.

You can shop for electronics here, but if you pay the sticker price you are getting ripped off. You pretty much have to ask what the price is, say "I'll take it for ___" and then walk away unless you get a counter-offer.

Cars are incredibly expensive here. Not because of the car itself, but because of the licensing. It costs some 60k per year to license a car. Naturally only the rich actually drive cars here, so lots of people are left to find other modes of transportation. The rail and bus systems are very good, and the taxi's are EVERYWHERE!!! At times, you can't wave at someone on the street without flagging one down.

This place is clean, almost unbelievably so. The only exception is Little India. Even that is not dirty so much as un-tidy.

The British split this place up into various communities during the colonial days. They seemed to think that people could not get along. The result is a Chinatown, Little India, and Malaysian region with very different cultural flavors. And of course, on top of it all is the very western looking capitalist segment which seems to control most of the island.

In any American factory, if you say "Finish this slogan '_______ first!'" then the answer would be "Safety." But I just walked into a factory here and one of the first things I saw was "Quality is our first priority." Not to say that there aren't safety measures, it's just clear, from the people and the mottos, that safety takes a back seat to quality and production.

There's a significant division in the labor force here. In the factory where I've been working you have the basic floor workers who are mostly foreign, don't speak much, if any, English and wear blue work shirts all day. The management employees are more likely to speak English, and are easily identified by their white shirts. (some of these have come from the ranks of the floor workers, and they can still hold their own, turning wrenches and running the machines) And then the office staff dresses as casually or formally as they like and sits in the air-con rooms most of the day.

I must admit, I'd prefer the rural atmosphere of Ballarat to this. It seems to be busy here at all hours where in Ballarat I could take a 10PM stroll and just see a few people still in the cafes and shops and some store-keepers locking up. It was quite pleasant really. This is just too busy for my tastes. Good news is, it looks like I'll be back in Ballarat sometime next year (early next year if my guess is right.)

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