Friday, December 18, 2009


After being back in South Florida for a couple of weeks, I have a pretty good idea of how things will shape up in the next 10-15 years.

SUVs as we know them will no longer be the monsters of the road. They will be the midgets of the road. Most people will drive around in customized buses outfitted with the following devices:

- Large flat screen TV – not for viewing when they are stopped or for the kids in the back, but for the driver, while he is driving.

- Gaming consoles – you can’t have a TV without games! For use as above. Now you can pretend to drive a car in a video game while you actually drive a real bus on the road!

- Internet access – because you need to be connected 24/7.

- Refrigerator – people gotta eat. Constantly.

- Microwave – see above.

- Roof rack – not for luggage (there are closets in the bus) or bicycles, but for scooters and power chairs, all paid for by Medicaid!

How are you going to park these behemoths at the mall? Why, in the parking lot, of course. There will be about 20 rows of parking for vehicles with handicapped decals, another row or two for people with strollers, and a couple of rows in the back for those who are still able to walk unassisted.

And what will people do to keep from dying of boredom as they walk or roll from their bus to the mall? You might think that watching out for buses driven by gaming snackers would be enough. But most people will be engaged on their hand-held devices, continuing their games, talking to loved ones on their videophone, doing their online social networking, or editing their TV show.

Yes, in a few years Facebook will not be enough, and everyone will have their own TV show. Of course they will have to watch their friends’ shows too.

You’re probably thinking, how will people have time for all of this? Won’t they have to work? In a word, no. They will all have advertising revenues streaming in from their TV shows, which will supplement their government stipends they started receiving after everyone realized the government could just print money forever.

Yes, a few people will still work. Doctors. Lawyers. Software developers. Legions of government employees. But most people will have realized there is no need to work, or to do anything productive. Let those suckers in China work!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hot Wheels

I just got back from a weekend road trip across the state. After many hours of driving I noticed that the new Ford Mustang is hot. They are all over the roads and prominently displayed in front of dealerships. And they come in bright yellow and orange, with racing stripes—color schemes not seen in decades. As Christmas approaches, a glance through the toy catalogs shows that the new Mustang is the most popular model for remote controlled cars—there is even a pink pedaled version for Barbie fans.

Not to be outdone, Chevy has reintroduced the Mustang’s traditional rival, the Camaro. The new Camaro is also available in the same bright colors and stripes.

It is heartening to see Ford and Chevy finally making cars that Americans want to buy. It makes me think these companies might have a chance of surviving these tough economic times.

But here’s the thing: the new Mustangs and Camaros look a lot like the old Mustangs and Camaros of the 1960s, when they were first built. It seems to be part of a larger nostalgia craze. And that’s what’s so troubling. People often reach back to the past when the future holds little hope.

So why does the future appear bleak? Well, aside from the poor economy and political disenchantment, I think it is because America has no big dreams.

In the past Americans looked forward to material comfort. But now we have all the cars, washing machines, TVs, and computer devices we need. We used to have great wars to win. No one cares about our current military adventures, which involve no sacrifice for most people and no life-or-death outcome for the country. We will fight as long as the politicians want us to fight, and we will leave when we are finished, or when we decide to quit, and life will go on just the same. We used to dream of going to the moon. Been there, done that.

So what great dreams wait for us at the cutting edge? Let’s see, there’s stem cell research and life sciences. But some people find all that to be against God’s will, so we’ll just let other countries be the pioneers. And there is solar and alternative energy. But hey, there’s plenty of oil left, we just have to drill for it or fight for it. So we’ll just let other countries take the lead there.

So what’s left? Well, for all those boomers who drooled over Mustangs and Camaros in the 1960s but were too young to drive, here’s your chance to relive your childhood dream. It’s probably the only big dream you have left.

Coming soon: predictions for the future.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Back in Miami

I arrived in the US with the wife and kid for our annual pilgrimage. As no airplane ever made has the fuel capacity for such a long trip we had to stop in Tokyo and Houston. Narita airport is the same as always—white-gloved security personnel, clean restrooms, and glassed-in designated smoking areas filled with Japanese men barely visible through the haze. Looking into one of them reminds me of looking at a fishbowl in desperate need of a change of water.

The Houston airport was another story. With Christmas approaching, there was a small stage with a karaoke machine where travelers could sing Christmas carols with a country and western twang. Most of the singing was done by airport personnel, who were apparently unaware of what all the travelers knew: that singing should be left to the professionals.

But the most painful part of the Houston stopover was seeing Sarah Palin’s book prominently displayed in front of every bookshop and newsstand. As a writer, I can’t tell you how much that hurt. But Houstonians sure do love their guns, Bibles, and oil wells, so I can see the connection. On the plus side, I doubt they are avid readers.

At long last we made it to Miami. During the taxi ride out of the airport I noticed that the expressways are still in their usual state of perpetual construction. And why not? Large public works projects are an ideal source of graft, and Miami politicians are the most greedy and corrupt on the planet. However, I won’t make the mistake of calling them whores. The last time I did that I had to apologize. To the whores.

A trip to Dadeland Mall gave a good picture of the local inhabitants. The plastic surgeons continue to do a booming business, as one is hard pressed to find a woman whose bust has not been surgically augmented. There seems to be a pervasive sense of self-absorption.

Even the men are caught up in it, and in themselves. There is a shop called The Art of Shaving, which sells high-end shaving stuff. You can also get a shave there for $35. I don’t think I spend $35 a year on shaving cream, razor blades, and cologne, and I am a fairly well-groomed guy. Maybe the attraction of the $35 shave lies in the fact that the chair is right in the front window! It must be appealing for some guys to know people are thinking, “Hey, who’s the big shot who can afford to drop north of one grand a month to be shaved in public?” Of course, other people are thinking, “Hey, who’s the self-absorbed asshole who feels the need to have people see him getting a $35 shave?”

Obesity continues to run (or shuffle along, wheezing) amok. The mall has lots of stuffed chairs scattered around for people to rest their weary bones and gargantuan frames. (You won’t find these chairs in Singapore malls, until they find a way to charge you for sitting.) I even saw a TV commercial for The Scooter Store. Imagine a store that sells only electric scooters to propel people through the mall and around their homes! And at the risk of offending a few disabled folks who truly need these vehicles, I suspect most of the people who buy these things just need to eat much less and exercise now and then. But why bother, when you can get a machine to lug your fat ass around? [Cue the music: “In the year 2525….”]

So after a few days, here is my one sentence impression of Miami. A bunch of overweight people driving massive SUVs to the mall, with phones clamped to the sides of their heads.

This is a view of Miami I don’t get in Singapore. It explains a lot. No wonder Palin is topping the charts.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Maid in the Shade

We’re getting ready for a new addition to our household. No, the missus isn’t expecting. But with Cherisse beginning primary school in January (which is half day, rather than full day like her pre-school) we will need someone at home to look after her. So we’re getting a domestic helper, commonly called a maid.

The maid agents in Singapore really know their stuff. They have data sheets on all the candidates. Most of the comments look suspiciously similar, often identical. They all love children, they all cook fried rice and their native dishes and are willing to learn Chinese and Western recipes, etc. There is even a photo, so the ma’am can decide whether to risk frightening her children or losing her husband. In fact, there is nearly everything you could ever want to know about the gal, and a good bit that you might not.

For example, the maid’s religion is noted. You can’t have some other God being worshipped in your home, could you? Some employers don’t want their maid praying five times a day—they’re paying her to work work work! And the maid’s skin tone is also indicated—either fair, tan, or dark. I have no idea why this should matter, but apparently plenty of Singaporeans are concerned about this or it wouldn’t be included on the form. If I were a maid I would resent this mightily. (You might sense that I resent this even though I am not a maid.)

But on the positive side, it’s better for your employer to be aware of your skin tone before you take out a four-figure loan to make the trip, so as to avoid being sent back for being the wrong color.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Branding Mania

It's no secret that Singaporeans are brand crazy. But the government is also big on branding. The Singapore Tourism Board just unveiled their new mascot for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. It is a Teletubby-looking creature with a durian spiked head and a red outfit depicting a merlion. I always thought a mascot should be naturally self explanatory rather than contrived, but perhaps they should be congratulated for their restraint in not having the legend "Singapore Mascot" emblazoned on the figure.

I'm not sure why Singapore needs a mascot for their country pavilion at the Expo. I can see where the host would have one, but imagine a separate mascot for every exhibiting country running around the grounds!

According to the Straits Times, the Singapore Pavilion also has a logo of its own! I would think a sign reading "Singapore Pavilion" with the Singapore flag would be good enough to identify it.

The Land Transport Authority recently began using a set of five musical notes in conjunction with its traffic updates on the radio. Why do they need those annoying tones? To distinguish them from other transport agencies or traffic update providers? Just keeping the traffic flowing smoothly is enough, as far as I'm concerned.

Usually I try to mute the radio before the traffic report's sponsor, King Koil mattresses, plays it's own tone. Doi-oi-oi-oi-oi-oi-oing! This is the most annoying sound I have ever heard, and I respond to it like a dog responds to a vacuum cleaner. I will have to start listening to CDs in the car instead of the radio. Even if it means driving right into a traffic jam.

And to think I pay a car radio tax of about $27 a year for this!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Standing Room Only

Boarded a brand spanking new train on the MRT the other day and noticed that (lucky me!) no one was sitting at the pair of seats in the corner of the carriage, so I went for it. When I got there the mystery was made clear – there were no corner seats! They could not have been torn out, because such vandalism does not occur on these trains. A glimpse at the floor revealed that seats had never been installed there. There was enough open floor space in that car to play a soccer match, if not for the 800 or so people standing shoulder to shoulder. The trend of less seating and more standing continues. By not putting in those two seats they are probably able to cram another four or five people into the car. I’m just waiting for them to figure out how to put in overhead racks to get a few more people in there. If they ever come up with a way to get people up overhead without them falling on the standing room crowd I’m sure they will do it.

While I’m on the subject of standing around, I have long noticed that few public spaces have seating. You might find a few benches in some malls, but not much. The lobbies of office buildings are often barren. I guess they’ve figured out that people don’t spend money when they’re sitting, so the message is to keep walking and buy something.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Talk at Kinokuniya Saturday 31 October

I look forward to meeting some folks and selling some books this Saturday at Kinokuniya at Ngee Ann City, Orchard Road between 2.00 and 3.00pm.
I will also discuss some of my wild and wonderful Singapore adventures, and perhaps even venture a few observations and opinions while trying to stay within the OB markers. Any questions from the public will also be entertained (within reason!).
So come on by, you'll have plenty of time to get into your Halloween costume afterwards.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Uncle! Now Tighten Your Belt!

After living here for ten years, I am reminded that I still have much to learn about Singapore. The headline in today's paper mentions a proposal to end the "widespread practice of cutting the pay of workers when they turn 60." The law allows a cut of up to 10%, and usually employers go to the max.

I had never heard of this practice until now. It seems positively barbaric, especially in a society that otherwise reveres the elderly. I wonder if those over 60 will have their pay raised to what it was when they were 59 years and 364 days old? Will they also get a lump sum to offset their previously reduced earnings?

No doubt the practice will end very soon. One thing I have learned is that when the government proposes something, it usually happens very quickly. I remember a similar headline soon after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, where the government told banks to "do the right thing." Banks immediately began throwing money at almost anyone who claimed to have been misled, and even billionaires were crying that they had been duped.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Paella Singaporeana

I had a hankering for paella, so we found a "Spanish" restaurant on the river. I can tell it was a Spanish restaurant because the name sounded Spanish and the menu was written in Spanish, with English subtitles. But the cooks didn't look Spanish. Nor did the paella, for that matter. There was orange colored rice in a pan with seafood, but no lobster, the chorizo (sausage) tasted strongly of chili powder, and there were triangles of ham arranged like the topping of a Hawaiian pizza. It tasted OK, but not great. Then again, I haven't had paella for a couple of years. At any rate, it wasn't authentic.

The sangria tasted like red wine mixed with Sprite, with no fruit to be seen. It was refreshing, and Cherisse liked it, too.

To add to the latin atmosphere, three amigos performed Spanish standards. One of the guitar players looked vaguely Mexican, but he and his fellow were Malaysian, while the third was from the Philippines.

I should have known better than to expect anything authentic before sitting down in a restaurant on the Singapore River. I have been to several of these riverside restaurants over the years, dishing out all types of cuisine, and have yet to find a really good one. Most are decent, but not great. These places are touristy and are really just selling ambiance rather than good food. If you define "ambiance" as "sweating in the equatorial night while gazing at the water and colored lights."

Well, I'll be in Miami soon and will be buried up to my cabeza in Spanish menus. No doubt I'll find a good paella. No sweat!

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Brisk Walking Initiative

After a week of race-induced traffic delays (how's that for an oxymoron?) I was glad to read in the newspaper today that the government has just announced a new brisk walking campaign. I must confess that I have often been frustrated by slow moving mobs in malls, MRT stations, and other public places, and have been stumped as to how to make the pace less glacial. Great news, the government is on it.

However, I'm not sure how they are going to do it. It seems that they are encouraging the spread of brisk walking clubs whereby hundreds of people would walk briskly in groups as a form of exercise. The campaign kick-off allegedly attracted 10,000 people. I'm wondering just how briskly a mob of walkers can move--rather slowly, I suspect. Which will only make the problem worse, as I will now have mobs of brisk walkers in my path wherever I go!

This is not what I had in mind at all. I was hoping they would distribute cattle prods (low voltage, of course) so we fast walkers could encourage the slower ones to get a move on. As they say in exercise circles, "No pain, no gain!"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

F1 Bottlenecks

The Singapore Formula One race is on. For the last several days, traffic jams and detours have plagued us regular drivers as roads are closed and reconfigured to accommodate the race drivers. It has been a huge inconvenience and waste of time for me and many others. Last year's race is said to have generated nearly $170 million in revenue. Divide that by the five million souls in Singapore, and it works out to about $35 per head. We have three heads in our family. I'm looking forward to receiving my check for $105, although it won't adequately compensate me for my trouble. Now that I think about it, I'm still waiting for last year's check.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mooncake Madness

We took a short hike along the new nature trail off Dairy Farm Road the other day. As we were starting out, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was heading back. After we passed, Cherisse shouted "Was that really the Prime Minister?" PM Lee heard it, turned around and waved to her. The squeaky wheel always gets the grease.

The ashes from the seventh month hungry ghost celebrations have been swept away, which portends the coming of the mooncake festival. So we went to Takashimaya Shopping Center for our annual mooncake walk. The main atrium is crammed full of booths representing the various mooncake purveyors, who ply the masses with samples. These samples are barely big enough to be run through with a toothpick, but after you stop at several dozen booths you get quite full. By that time I am no longer in the mood to buy any, but tradition dictates that I buy a box for my mother-in-law, plus we need some at home in case any visitors drop by, so we leave with a few boxes.

When I first tried mooncakes 12 years ago there were basically two kinds: red bean and lotus paste. Over the years hundreds of new varieties have come along. The high point in the evolution of these treats occurred several years ago, when Haagen Dazs introduced mooncakes made from ice cream. Very good, but not really mooncakes. This year's batch features many exotic combinations, such as champagne and truffles. My favorite so far this year: The Fullerton Hotel's Chocolate and Bailey's Irish Cream Snowskin mooncake.

The price of mooncakes has risen steadily over the years. For my money, I'd rather buy some rich chocolate cake and top it with Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Not very traditional, but that is what I call dessert.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rolling along

Kudos to the Singapore government. They have finally done something about transporting foreign workers. For decades the country has benefited from the contributions of foreign workers, who build homes, roads, MRT lines, buildings, and do all kinds of manual labor for a few dollars a day. Clearly, they are a big reason for the country’s prosperity. It would be very expensive to hire Singaporeans to do this work.

Typically, the workers are ferried between their homes (dormitories at best, metal shipping containers at worst) to their job sites by lorry. For my American readers, a lorry is like a pickup truck. The workers are packed onto the bed of these trucks and chauffeured about in grand style. When it rains, they huddle under a plastic tarp. If the lorry is involved in an accident, they are often thrown out and injured or killed. Fortunately, they are easily and cheaply replaced.

Now the government has decided that they deserve better, so they have mandated new regulations requiring a railing around the sides of the truck bed, and a metal canopy to protect the workers from the elements. What a great reform this is! Of course, it is being phased in gradually, to ease the financial burden on their employers.

A couple of years ago a student died after being thrown from his school bus, and the government mandated seat belts for school buses. Hey, here’s an idea: Why not require employers to use buses with seat belts for foreign workers? That would cost money. But these workers are paid so little, surely employers could spend a bit to treat them like human beings. But that would cost money!

The other day Cherisse and I took a bus. As we climbed aboard we noticed that it was a brand spanking new, clean, modern bus. Then I noticed that it had fewer seats than the older buses, but it had plenty of room to stand, and lots of hand grips hanging from above. In that regard it was a lot like the new carriages on the MRT. Why don’t they just do away with seats altogether so they can cram more people inside? Still, it beats sitting on the back of a lorry like cargo. Even with railings and a canopy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sushi at City Vibe

Went out for cheap sushi with the wife and kid Friday night, which is always a risky venture. Cheap sushi, that is. There are actually a few places that do pretty good 99 cents a plate sushi, but not all are created equal.

We had a flyer from this place in City Vibe and decided to try it. City Vibe sounds like a buzzing entertainment district, or at least a mid- to upscale mall like VivoCity and Velocity. In fact, it is just a slightly renovated and quite ordinary neighborhood mall trying to use a new name to lure in people who would ordinarily be wary of such places. A quick trip to the toilet (the quicker the better, believe you me) proved that the facility was well below par. Any mall trying to pass for upscale should at least have clean toilets.

The sushi joint was busy, but there was never more than three parties waiting to be seated, and for most of the time we were there (about 1½ hours) there was no queue at all. And clearly they were shorthanded on bus staff and sushi makers. Bus staff should not be a problem when there is no queue, but a shortage of sushi makers could be. And that conveyor belt looked like a ghost town. When there was sushi on it it was mostly egg or tuna salad in a bean curd wrapper. Aside from a few pieces of unagi (eel), we did not see a single piece of fish roll by until a solitary salmon specimen bade us farewell.

They do allow you to order from the waiters, but our order took over 40 minutes to arrive. Shorthanded or not, how long does it take to slap a piece of fish on a rice ball?

On the positive side, we did not get sick. And we learned that we should stick to our usual 99 cent sushi place, which is pretty good, despite its location in the Inland Revenue building. That building always gives me the creeps, but at least the toilets are clean.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Going Mad

I was watching TV the other night and “Armageddon” was on for what seemed like the fourth time in the last year. Liv Tyler is cute, but she’s not that cute. Then there was “The Price is Right,” which not even Drew Carey can save, the PM’s National Day message in three languages, each with its own time slot, and “Don’t Forget the Lyrics,” which blurs the distinction between the casting couch and the psychiatrist’s couch. Where do they find these people? TV-land is truly a wasteland. And that’s just the ang moh channel.

The Chinese channel is even worse. The opening titles of their serial dramas feature a montage of one second clips drawn from virtually every scene in the entire series. Each clip depicts someone slapping, punching, strangling, or otherwise committing an act of violence upon the person of another. Cherisse loves it, much like I used to enjoy watching “The Three Stooges” as a kid.

One American show which I have heard about but not seen is “Mad Men,” which seems like a more sophisticated version of “Bewitched.” (Back in the 60s all the men were in advertising.) A throwback to a less enlightened but more elegant age. I hope the local media will pony up the dough to buy it.
Until then, I found a website that lets you cast yourself in Mad Men style. Here I am. You get to choose your hair, features, clothes, etc. That’s scotch, by the way. I was clearly born a generation too late.
I have too much time on my hands now. I’d better get back to work.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

National Day weekend

On Saturday morning we joined the extended family in three cars for a weekend jaunt to Malaysia. It took a relatively short two hours to clear the checkpoints in both countries, only because a lot of people left town on Friday.

I won't mention the name of resort, in case we ever go back, though I hope we don't. We stayed in a four bedroom, four bath bungalow, so it wasn't too crowded. The golf course looked pretty nice, and had monitor lizards (two-foot-long dinosaurs) lazing about. We had one of the worst buffet lunches ever, then we bowled a game and went for a swim. For dinner we had BBQ on the patio--chicken wings, fish, squid, hot dogs without buns or ketchup, plus rice and bee hoon (stir fried vernicelli noodles)--in short, the usual Singaporean BBQ. The kids ran amok until the wee hours, most of the adults played cards, and I read Lewis Black (funny guy, check him out on YouTube).

On Sunday the bowling alley was booked so we hit the driving range. Between that and the previous day's bowling I became painfully aware of all kinds of muscles I didn't even know I had. Lunch was the same lousy buffet. We left early and had an easy time getting back, because most Singaporean holidaymakers were staying until Monday.

We got home early in the evening, in time to watch part of the National Day Parade on TV. We tuned in and after a few seconds of festivities, they cut to a newscaster announcing that a bomb had been found in one of the neighborhoods. After a few seconds I decided it was a bogus anti-terror exercise, when they cut to a live action shot of underwater divers dismantling a mine and emergency vehicles arriving at the stadium. But I'll bet a lot of people thought it was real. Fortunately, there were no reports of people jumping from the roofs of their HDB flats. Coming a day after a major regional terrorist leader was reportedly killed in a shootout with Indonesian police, the gag was in extremely poor taste. Even my wife, normally a stalwart government supporter, was put off. Showing off your anti-terror readiness is one thing, but didn't they learn anything from "War of the Worlds"?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

2009 National Day Parade song

With Singapore's National Day (August 9th) just days away, people are busy with their final preparations. The parade participants are fine tuning their routines, the parachuters are practicing their jumps, and everyone who does not have a ticket to the parade is planning their weekend in Malaysia.

Every year a new theme song is written for the National Day Parade. Kids learn to sing it in school, and videos of it are shown on TV.

There has been a lot of debate about this year's song entitled "What Do You See" by local rock band Electrico. Some people (me included) feel the song is a breath of fresh air. But most of the press has been negative, because it is supposedly not that easy to sing. The song is slow enough, and the lyrics patriotic enough, but it is not as simplistic and repetitive as most years' songs.

The real criticism is it is not that easy to sing by aunties and uncles, young children, the middle-aged, and people in government--in other words, the mass market. Young adults who are fluent in English have no problem with it. Why does it have to be singable? Why can't it just be listenable? Do they all have to sound the same?

Most past NDP songs have been so lame and annoying that after hearing it a few times I want to smash my head against the wall. I like WDYS. Unfortunately, I haven't heard it too many times. Maybe it's just me, and SORRI has not done a comprehensive study, but it seems to me that WDYS has not received as much play as past years' songs. I also have the feeling that a couple of evergreen songs from the past have been getting more play than this year's official song. Are the powers that be trying to send a message?

I'm betting that next year's official song will reflect a return to tradition--and be lamer than ever. My head hurts just thinking about it.

Happy National Day! (We'll be in Malaysia.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Party ideas for kids

Last night we went to a birthday party for the neighbor's kid, who turned six. They had some great Indian food, a magic show, and a balloon sculptor. The kids all had a great time. After cutting the cake they had some more entertainment--dancing girls. We have another neighbor who owns a nightclub called Moshi Moshi Bollywood--an Indian style karaoke bar. They had a couple of their dancers join the celebration. I've seen these girls perform at the club, and while there is no nudity, it is probably the wildest dancing you will see in Singapore.

The first dancer's costume had more material on her boots (which came to just below her knees) than on the rest of her costume combined. The second one had a traditional Indian dance costume, much like a belly dancer's.

I enjoyed the dancing, and I wasn't the only one. Several of the aunties were recording it on their phone's video cameras, though I'm not sure why they would want to.

I have only the vaguest recollection of my sixth birthday party. I remember we played pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs. I'm pretty sure there were no dancing girls!

We were thinking of getting a magician for Cherisse's sixth birthday, but now I'm having other ideas....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

40th Anniversary of lunar landing

It's been 40 years since man first set foot on the moon. I remember well asking my mom to wake me at about 10pm so I could watch it on TV. Not leaving anything to chance, I slept on the floor of my bedroom with my head in the hallway lest she forget. Truly the greatest voyage ever.

Next time anyone complains about the sorry state of American technology, crappy cars, etc., just remind him of July 20, 1969. People talk about China and India sending men to the moon--which would be great--but it fails to impress me because, if it happens, it will be about 50 years late. How much technology has been developed in that time? During the Age of Apollo there were no personal computers, mobile phones, or internet, and we had only three channels on TV. It's a lot harder going to the moon with only transistor radios. By the time the second place finishers reach the moon we could be on Mars. Assuming we have any money left.

Speaking of moonshots and pissing money away, Ion Orchard, Singapore's new super high end luxury mall has just opened. The big news is not the super high end luxury shops there, but the VIP restrooms (or toilets, as they are known here). According to the Straits Times, these johns boast chandeliers, black and gold wallpaper, marble flooring, and toilets with lids that open automatically when someone approaches and close afterwards. God forbid some tai tai should chip a nail while lifting the lid!

Unfortunately, most of us will never get to use these fancy crappers because they are solely for VIP guests. The concierge will escort the VIP to the locked holy of holies and open the facility. I wonder if the concierge will wait until the VIP is finished and help "clean up" afterwards? I also wonder how they will determine who qualifies as a VIP? Imagine the scene when someone who feels deserving of this honor is told he or she does not make the cut! How will they keep the VIPs happy and keep out the riff-raff at the same time? They are just begging for trouble!

For the peasants and common folk, there are public johns that are also said to be quite posh. They no doubt even have soap and hand towels. But almost every men's toilet I've been in here--even in most fine hotels--has urine on the floor. Which is not at all pleasant, even on marble flooring under the glow of chandeliers.

One more thing. Among the super high end luxury shops is a Chinese sportswear brand selling mostly badminton apparel! I had to read that paragraph three times, because I couldn't believe my eyes. Most badminton players here are school children, who don't have that kind of budget. And the handful of pros have team uniforms, or perhaps endorsement deals. Who the heck is going to drop big bucks on badminton togs? Time will tell, and probably soon.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Just one lemon

I've had a hard time buying a lemon at the super-gigantic-mega-hypermarket. They only sell them in threes, and when I go to buy a lemon I only want one. I'm not the type you see in home decor magazines, with a huge plate of lemons sitting on the table, like someone who lives in a house that looks so pristine it's uninhabited is about to make five gallons of lemonade. I usually buy one lemon and a couple of cans of garbanzo beans when I want to make hummus, and I don't really need extra lemons rotting in the bottom of the fruit drawer in my fridge. Anyway, the cashier always tells me I need to buy three, we call the manager, and after some debate I walk out with my orphan lemon. It's gotten to the point where, to save time, I tell the cashier to call the manager before we begin our routine.

On my penultimate (love that word) plus one encounter, the produce manager explained that the terminals were programmed to only accept lemons in threes, but after arranging a special dispensation told me he would give feedback to the top brass. They didn't get the message, or chose not to implement it, because the next time I went there we replayed the whole sorry scene. However, the manager made a special label with a bar code for single lemons and told me that from then on each cashier would have one in her little book of price labels that she scans.

Finally, I got that craving for hummus again, grabbed my two cans of garbanzos and a lemon, and girded myself for battle. Predictably, the cashier started in on her you-have-to-buy-three-lemons spiel. I told her to check her little book, and bingo! I got my lemon without the intervention of top management. Who says you can't fight city hall? I've got my own special label!

But another battle looms. Bing cherries are in season. They sure are tempting, but I quickly lose my appetite. The cherries are loose, and a swarm of kiasu shoppers are fingering and examining each one, making sure that they choose only the BEST from this mass of nearly identical little orbs. They spend an inordinate amount of time doing this. These cherry bins could be the main launching pad for an H1N1 outbreak, but they don't care. So long as they get the best cherries, they'll take the risk.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


In my last post I made a joke in poor taste. I compared Miami politicians with prostitutes. It is grossly unfair to make such generalizations and comparisons which portray an entire group in a negative light. Therefore, I offer my sincerest apologies to any prostitutes I may have offended with this insensitive remark.

Marina Barrage

Went to the Marina Barrage with the extended family Saturday night. This is a recently completed dam that separates most of the harbor from the sea. Over time, the water within will gradually become diluted until it is essentially a reservoir of drinkable water.

There are a few restaurants on site, with a grassy park on the roof. I suspect no one goes there during the day due to the intense heat, but at night there is a cool breeze and people hang out. Mostly young couples on cheap dates (nothing is cheaper than free) and some kite aficionados. These kites are high tech, with blinking lights. They look like UFOs.

There is also a great view of the Singapore skyline. Always a few new office towers going up, but most noticeable now is the casinos, I mean, "Integrated Resorts." A couple of years ago the projects were just being put up for tender, and now they're almost done.

In fact, it's amazing how fast things get built around here. In my old stomping grounds of Miami there are major expressways and airport projects that have been under construction for years and appear to be comatose, with no sign of completion. My guess is the local politicians are trying to figure out more ways for themselves and their cronies to gorge at the public trough. Kind of like when you're at a buffet and you've stuffed yourself, so you wait a while and then go back for more because it's there, so why not take it?

Which reminds me of a political joke: What's the difference between a Miami politician and a prostitute? Answer: The politician wears a suit. Alternative answer: The prostitute is more forthcoming about what she is going to do to you.

Which reminds me of another political joke: Sarah Palin. Good strategy, resigning--can you imagine how many blunders she would have made between now and 2012? For someone with such a modest track record, she doesn't seem too eager to build one up. Now she can snipe from the sidelines without getting dirty. My sources tell me she was last seen having lunch with Dan Quayle.

Now I've got myself all riled up, so I'd better stop for now.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Any news besides MJ?

I'm wondering whether there is anything important going on in the world, because all I see on TV is news about Michael Jackson. Not so much about his death--which is news--but about his life. All of the media outlets have been gleefully putting out everything they have about the guy, and there is no sign that it will stop. At least not until something really big happens.

And what's with all the interviews with the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson? I don't recall either of them being MJ's personal spiritual guide. They'd run over a bunch of old ladies to grab the spotlight.

I never cared for Michael's fashion sense, but his moonwalk was impressive. Personally, I never became much of a dancer because life played a curious trick on me. While growing up I would watch enviously as my parents got all dolled up for a night at the ritzy Miami Beach nightclubs. There was the Fountainbleau, the Eden Roc, the Castaways, and the jewel in the crown: the Playboy Club, where the waitresses wore those outrageously sexy bunny costumes. Mom and dad were having cocktails and listening to Frank Sinatra, and the babysitter was putting me to bed at 8:00. Throughout my youth I waited for the time when I would be old enough to make that scene. Finally I was old enough to get into clubs and enjoy that glamorous lifestyle and what did I get? Disco! As Dean Martin would have said, “ain’t that a kick in the head.”

So I never did amount to much on the dance floor, and just managed a few basic moves to get by. My entire generation acquired the same modest level of skill. Most of the guys I know would dance at clubs to meet girls, dance with them during courtship to keep them, dance with them at their wedding to keep up appearances, and never dance with them again. For some reason their wives often resent this. My wife does, and has told me many times that she was wooed under false pretenses. Nonsense! It’s the most natural thing in the world. Throughout the animal kingdom birds, beasts, insects, and fish perform similar mating dances to impress the females of their species. But you never see them going to animal discos afterwards.

That's all I have on MJ. I hope something BIG happens soon so I can get some fresh grist for the mill.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book is available

Getting Into Singapore is starting to appear on the shelves in bookstores throughout Singapore. It is also available in most ebook formats at for only US$3.99.

My first book, Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?: Lessons in Effective Communication, is also on sale in ebook form at for the same price.

While I'm old school in that I like books made of paper and ink, there is something to be said for ebooks. They are cheaper, more portable, and save space as well as trees. They are the wave of the future.

I promise my next post will be more interesting!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bizarre TV Commercials

Watching TV is such a passive experience that most people don’t even notice the junk that is flashed into their heads. A couple of TV commercials aired recently illustrate the point.

The first one is for Nutella, a chocolate and hazelnut spread that is delicious on crepes or croissants. In the ad a mother and teacher (Australian, judging by the accent) praises this sugary treat. She even goes so far as to call it “energy for learning.” Now the stuff is tasty, but I wouldn’t want to face a classroom full of kids hopped up on it at 8.30 in the morning. It’s a great example of spin, but has the company no shame?

Another ad features a Singaporean auntie who used to love eating out with her friends. At least she did until denture problems made her reluctant to join them, and they stopped calling her. Fortunately, she found a new denture adhesive that works wonders! Her confidence is back, and she and her old friends are once again storming the buffets like a plague of locusts. What kinds of friends are these? Have they nothing in common other than eating? Is food the sole basis of their so-called friendship? How sad. What’s even sadder is that many Singaporeans can probably relate to her plight (and I don’t mean denture problems.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In the Eye of the Beholder

I was blessed with a rare visit from an American relative in the form of my cousin Hana, a college student in Boston. I’d like to say she came all the way to Singapore to visit, but I can’t. She went to China as part of her course of study in international affairs, and made a side trip for a few days.

We visited the Singapore Art Museum to get a little culture, and I got more than I bargained for. I had an epiphany, and I am now looking into a career change. Specifically, the creative spirit within me is busting out, and I plan to become an artist.

Would you believe I was so inspired by the beautiful expressions of imagination and skillful renderings that I decided to devote my talents to similar expressions? No? I didn’t think so. In fact, I was just amazed by what passes for art these days, and I decided I could do it at least as well.

One piece was a series of 12 square cards arranged in a sequence, each one a darker shade of pink than the last. I could do that.

Then there was a group of television monitors playing videos of “performance art.” One screen showed a man taking off his pants. I do that every day. More than once, if I’m lucky! Another showed a man taking a swig from a bottle of water and forcefully spitting it out. I could do that.

There was also a Michael Jackson style jacket suspended from the ceiling by strings, as though an invisible Michael Jackson was getting ready to “Beat It.” I could do that, too.

Then there was a cardboard box from an overnight delivery company that had been shaped into a crude house. In the “front yard” was a bunch of nail clippers, files, and other manicure tools. Wait a minute; that sounds bad. It was an arrangement of nail care implements. If you describe it the right way someone might actually pay money for it.

When my daughter builds a house of blocks and leaves her toys scattered around I used to think she was just making a mess and refusing to clean it up. Now I know better—I have a budding Duchamp on my hands. I had better stop giving her time out for that, lest I squelch her artistic genius.

My favorite—meaning the one that made me laugh the hardest—was a collection of old fashioned, lacy infant clothing, each suspended from the ceiling by strings, as though they were being worn by infant ghosts.

I got the feeling that some art class assignment was to create a piece of art by suspending objects from the ceiling with string, and the ones that didn’t pass somehow ended up at the museum.

I hate to sound so negative, but most of us artists are of a critical turn, and quite opinionated as well. So, in the interests of equal time, let me say that there were a few nice paintings, sculptures, and ceramic pieces.

There is also a Glass Hall with fantastic, colored glass bowls. I’m not so sure I could do that. These babies were not suspended from strings, but they were mounted high on the walls. Some genius decided that this room would be a great place for young schoolchildren on field trips to play, and the kids were throwing objects all over the place. So if you appreciate glass, you should definitely check it out. But hurry!

In the meantime, I will contemplate my first masterpiece. I’ll get started as soon as I find a large spool of string.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Countdown to launch

In a few days Getting Into Singapore, the book, will be out--just in time for the World Book Fair 2009 at Suntec City Exhibition Center. The cover looks fantastic! It was designed by Miel, the Straits Times illustrator, and his iconic style will be instantly recognizable by all Singaporeans. I will drop by the Fair to autograph copies of the book and meet with fans. Or anyone else who happens to be around. Hope to see you there.