Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This could happen only in Singapore

The latest obstacle on the road to becoming a more gracious society has appeared in the form of a durian tree in a HDB estate on Moulmein Road. The tree, which is on public land, produces about 100 durians a year, which the neighbors fight over. One Mr. Lim claims to own the tree and threatens or curses at anyone he suspects may be out to steal his fruit. He's an ugly person, says Madam Wee, who admits to hogging ten per cent of the tree's output all by herself.

Other residents reportedly queue up for a chance at the fruit. I wonder how that works - do they queue single file and wait for the next fruit to fall? Or do they all form a circle and pounce as soon as a durian drops? How long are these people willing to wait? Don't they queue enough at the bank, the ATM, the supermarket, the post office, the polyclinic, the taxi stand, the food court, etc.?

All we need now is for some daring and creative person to put a sticker on the trunk saying "My grandfather tree."

Friday, May 11, 2012

The new book is out!

Great Expatations, a collection of essays contributed by various expats in Singapore, has just been published by Marshall Cavendish. It should be available in a bookstore near you, maybe even at Popular, if they can shove their mountains of school assessments aside far enough to make room for an actual book!

I have two contributions in the collection: "Holiday Blues" and "A Home in the Heartlands?" There are also pieces by some of my friends and colleagues, including Heather Hansen, Nick French, Tremaine du Preez, Alison Lester, and Nishant Kasibhatla. Other contributors include Botak Jones and Courts' CEO Terry O'Connor.

Here is an excerpt from "A Home in the Heartlands?"

Condos are big sellers now. You will see enticing newspaper ads and TV commercials featuring attractive Caucasian, Eurasian, and Pan Asian people who do not live anywhere in this country, lounging by the pool, enjoying a drink on the balcony with a stunning sea view, or sitting at the piano in their living room dressed like they’re ready to go to the casino in a James Bond movie. They are even wearing expensive shoes in their home! Based on these ads, you might run down to the show flat and see an exquisite architectural model made of cardboard with a few tiny luxury sports cars in the driveway.

This heavenly depiction of condo life is not just poetic (or advertising) license; it is a complete and utter fabrication! Once the condo is built, the actual sea view will look like a maritime parking lot for rusting cargo ships, though there might be some small patches of murky green water visible between the ships. They never show these old hulks in the renderings. A non-sea view will feature the next apartment block up close and personal. As you survey the other units you will not see anyone as gorgeous or as beautifully dressed as the people in the ads. What you will see is lots of your neighbors’ laundry hanging from windows and balconies.

For some reason the furniture and interiors of these dream homes are always snow white. This is not practical at all. During the Hungry Ghost Month and certain other festivals when incense and joss paper is burned smoke will come pouring into your home, covering the furniture in gray ash. The management of our condo has put a ring of metal canisters around the perimeter of the entire development for the joss burning faithful. I guarantee no property developer ever puts tiny canisters on their fancy cardboard models!

I'll bet you can't wait to see how this ends! Don't wait for the book to come to the library, go buy it!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Trapped in the lift at Orchard Central

A few days ago I had an early morning meeting with some colleagues at an Orchard Road coffee joint (as opposed to the Singaporean variety of coffee shop). I parked at Orchard Central. To get into the car park you have to ascend an interminable spiral that can cause permanent psychological trauma. It was not yet 8am so hardly any cars were there, but it still was a long way up before I could park.

I pressed for the lift and it opened. I got in and pressed the lobby. The lift went down, but it would not open. I fiddled with the buttons, but no luck. I pressed the alarm, and miraculously a voice responded. I explained my plight, and the voice said the door would not open until 8.05, about ten minutes. I really didn’t care to wait. If the door lets me in and takes me down it should then let me out. I decided to find a way out. The doors are made of some kind of Plexiglas that is virtually indestructible. (Don’t ask me how I know that!) Soon (but not soon enough!) the lift magically took me back up several stories higher than where I entered and the door opened. I got out and walked down many many many steps to freedom.

Not only is the parking garage there a disaster, the mall itself is extremely confusing and inhospitable. The only thing about it that works is the exit gate, which exacted a high price from me in monetary terms as well as psychic well-being. The only reason to go that waste of space is for Cold Stone, but you can get there from the street. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open that early.

Monday, February 27, 2012

New and improved hawker centres?

The main article in the Straits Times today bore the headline “Future hawker centres: keeping food cheap.” It discussed some recommendations of an 18-member panel for new hawker centres. Among the recommendations:

- Rooftop gardens and solar panels

- On site child care

- Table decals reminding patrons to return their trays (Train announcements don’t work, why should decals?)

- Street buskers

- Value meals

- Locksmiths, cobblers, and other household services

Next time a loan shark chains and padlocks your front gate just bring the whole thing down to the hawker centre and let the locksmith open it while you eat your noodles.

What’s missing? There was no recommendation to require that all dishware and utensils be washed in hot soapy water. I can’t believe not one of the 18 committee members thought of that!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jalan Besar tourist prison

Some shop houses along Jalan Besar have been propped up with support bars by the LTA to minimize damage from ongoing MRT construction in the area. The black-and-yellow striped bars look like barriers from a crime scene (which it is not) or a construction site (which it is, peripherally) and have been likened to a prison. The fear is visitors and tourists will be put off by it and assume it is not safe to go there.

The problem is not the bars themselves but the message they send: Danger - stay away. The solution is simple. Paint the bars in bright colors (lime green, bright orange, hot pink, etc.) and it will look artsy, even inviting. No one would associate that with a warning barrier.