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....