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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

This week, Beverly and I are traveling to Singapore on a house-hunting and exploratory trip.  During the week, I’m going to be documenting our trip in small bursts and stream-of-thought posts.   I’ll place these posts under the tag “house hunting” if you want the full digest.

The taxi queues are orderly affairs, designated places where folks queue up as a stream of taxis come for pick up.  There are a considerable number of things to know about cabs here, including “shift changes” when a driver is on his or her way home, they will often refuse fares too far out of their way.  This, along with the status of the cab (busy, on-call, hired or available) is displayed on the cab roof, a shift change will also declare the general area that the cab will service.

It’s different than the US, without a doubt, but it is far more British than Asian, and that is an apt way to describe the Lion City.

Singapore, like many former British colonies, embraces its heritage while celebrating its uniqueness and independence.  It is currently the country’s 50th birthday, separation from Malaysia coming two years after their joint independence from Britain in 1963.  It’s a young country, in many ways, a city filled with young businessmen & women, and a wavering identity from empire to empire, until the Brits took over in the 19th century.

This youth spawns a desire for order, a contrast from most Asian countries that seem to embrace the chaos of their sprawling population.  Singapore is a regimented country, where racial animosity is held in check by a system designed to be free from systemic prejudice1though probably biased none the less towards the wealthy.  Crime is incredibly low, due to harsh punishments and on going penalties for criminals.  It is an odd mix of what Americans would consider conservative & liberal policies.  The government’s priority has been to make the city as attractive as possible to business, but at the same time has a reputation as a “nanny state” with the government dictating much of culture & expression of free speech.

It works, however, in this small country.  I know that sounds strange to an American, who is raised with the notion that the Bill of Rights as sacred as the Ten Commandments, with the First Amendment being so crucial to our out-spoken way of life.  However, as our Cartus rep explained, freedom of speech isn’t quite as important to Singaporeans, because the system works; Singapore has so little in common with the various corrupt and dysfunctional governments neighboring that its people have little to complain about.

I’m told by Jeremy, our real estate agent, that the youth of the country have become a political force through the use of social media.  His tone was one of amusement but also that of fatherly pride.  The idea of childhood is ever-present within Singapore’s culture, as it is symbolic for this young country.  With the various political dramas going on in the US, it will be with great interest that I’ll watch how Singapore deals with these changing times.  That I can follow current affairs with any level of understanding is something that is a rare treat in Asia.

Speaking of taxi queues, we spend a decent amount of time in them the last two nights after dinner.  For a city of its size, there are not a lot of taxis, and the demand in the evening makes them both expensive (there is a 50% rate hike during peak hours) and rare.  Still, they are quite affordable, and the taxi queues were not a hardship in any way.

Dinner both nights were with other expats, first on Wednesday night with some of Bev’s coworkers at a local micro-brewery located on the 33rd floor of a downtown building.  I actually quite enjoyed their beer and found their food prices not totally unreasonable considering the location & quality.  It was still, I’m sure, an expensive night out, but we did not hold back on drinks or desert, either.  Thursday night was spent with a friend of one of Bev’s state-side coworkers, a long-time expat with a lot of travel experience.  Mark & his girlfriend Grace have both lived in town for years, marking them particularly knowledgable hosts for our night out.  Grace in particular was adept at navigating through some of the issues with our reservation at a famous hot pot restaurant, while Mark delivered the best advice I suspect I will ever receive about living in Asia; “Patience.”

While Wednesday was western European, Thursday’s hot pot was the real deal, a hot mess2literally of soup, food & spice.  Heat was liberal, both within the “spicy” soup which lived to its billing, and in the hand-crafted sauces each patron can assemble for themselves.  Drunk with anticipation of the various flavors, I concocted a sauce that set fire to my mouth and sent my taste buds running in completely contradictory directions.  I had to go back and spend a bit more time considering my options, and perhaps use a bit less Thai chili.


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