Sunday, November 22, 2009

31 MORE things that are Different

1) Drinks sometimes come in plastic baggies- like a Ziploc bag full of juice, with a straw in it. If drinks come in plastic cups, you're often given a small plastic bag with a handle, in which to carry your plastic cup, or you get a kind of plastic sling for your drink, like this:

2) No free refills at restaurants!

3) Magazines, like movies and the internet and books and TV, etc., are also censored. Racy magazines like Playboy and Playgirl are banned. Cosmopolitan was previously banned, but the ban was lifted a couple of years ago. Now it can be sold, but it's sealed in a plastic bag with a sticker on the front that says "Unsuitable for the Young".

4) Eggs come in so many different varieties- duck eggs, chicken eggs, quail eggs, and a bunch that I don't even recognize. The eggs are on the shelf at the store, and they aren't labeled. I buy the package with the picture of a chicken on it and hope for the best. Also, eggs aren't washed before they're packaged, so you often find feathers and matter on the eggs. And they come in packs of 10 instead of a dozen. I just figured that out like two days ago.

5) Public holidays are quite different. American holidays that I had come to take for granted like the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Veteran's Day, President's Day, Columbus Day, etc., are, of course, not acknowledged here. Completely different holidays that I'm unfamiliar with are celebrated- Hari Raya, Deepavali, Vesak Day, and Chinese New Year are a few. And of course there's some overlap with both the U.S. and Singapore celebrating Easter, Christmas, and New Year's. Below are some of the crazy decorations on Orchard Road.
6) The Internet is censored. I'm not sure about the details of this- it's hard to know what's blocked when you can't see it. I know that porn is blocked because porn is illegal in Singapore, and I believe that the "f word" might also be censored. And we don't get hulu or pandora!

7) People here live longer. Singapore has the 4th highest life expectancy in the world, with people living to be 82 years old on average. I suppose it's not too surprising when you consider that Singaporeans basically live in a giant sauna, eat tons of rice and vegetables and very little red meat, and walk everywhere they go. The average U.S. life expectancy is around 78 years (ranked 50th in the world).

8) The obesity rates are way lower in Singapore. The U.S. ranks 1st in the world for obesity, with over 30% of the population fitting into the obese category, which doesn't even include those who are considered overweight but not obese. I couldn't find any rating for Singapore, but it's not in the top 30 countries, so its obesity rate is lower than 9%. Hmmm...lower obesity rates and longer life expectancies- who knew?!

9) Atheism doesn't seem to be as stigmatized in Singapore as it is in the U.S.- it's the 3rd most popular "religious affiliation," ranking above Christianity. It's often referred to as "free-thinking" rather than atheist, and is an option when you fill out forms that ask for your religion.

10) When you turn on a light, it flickers on and off like you're in a horror movie before it actually comes on and stays on. I think it has something to do with the type of lightbulb used here.Bold

11) Instead of getting mice in your apartment, you get geckos!12) There are no screens on the windows.

13) Movies and TV shows here always have subtitles. If a show is in English it will have Chinese subtitles, if it's in Chinese it will have English subtitles. Things get really interesting if a show is in another language like Malay, because then there are subtitles in two languages on the screen, and the screen can get a little cluttered.

14) There's no hot water in the kitchen or bathroom sinks of the apartments. Really there's no hot water anywhere except the showers, which have their own water heaters attached to the wall. So, if you want to wash your dishes with hot water, you have to boil it. When Bryan asked a Singaporean friend at work if he boiled water to wash his dishes, he'd never heard of such a thing. We've been doing it the S'porean way and just using soap.

15) As I mentioned in the previous entry, we have a lot of American chains here. However, the foods they serve aren't always the same. For example, McDonald's serves seaweed shaker fries- regular french fries covered in flakes of seasoned seaweed. Starbucks serves something called jelly coffee, which basically looks like iced coffee with a blob of grape jelly in the bottom.

16) The drinking age is 18 instead of 21.

17) Movie ratings are different here, and for some movies you have to be 21. As a result, I often get asked how old I am when we go to the movies.

18) Homosexuality is illegal in Singapore, and is punishable by imprisonment.

19) There is no Daylight Savings Time in Singapore, so for part of the year my friends and family in Ohio are 12 hours behind, and the rest of the year they're 13 hours behind.

20) More lingo. Smoked gouda, my favorite cheese, is called "Dutch smoked cheese" here, which took me awhile to figure out; baby strollers are "prams"; vacation is "holiday"; and soda, is, under no circumstances, called "pop", so "pop machine" is also not used.21) Although Singapore has conquered a lot of the diseases, such as malaria, that plague tropical areas, dengue fever is still a problem. Dengue is a nasty, mosquito-borne disease that makes some foreigners (*ahem*) a little wary of mosquitoes.

22) The government is dead serious about drugs (the penalty for drug smuggling is death), so people here generally just avoid them all together. On American college campuses, casual use of marijuana and other people's prescribed drugs (e.g. Ritalin, Adderall) is pretty common, but that is certainly not the case here. I talked to a couple of college students about this, and they responded with shock when I said that I knew people who had done drugs, saying that they had never seen or heard of such behavior here in Singapore.

23) Every stray cat that I have seen has been missing the tip of one of its ears, and most of them have short tails. It appears that the ears have been clipped, not injured in a fight. In the picture below, you can see that the tip of the cat's left ear is missing (Update 2/22: Bryan and I found out that strays are caught and spayed or neutered, and then their ear is clipped to indicate that they've already had the procedure done. It's all done to control the stray cat population. Mystery solved! Still not sure about those short tails, though.)
24) There's something here called VCD. It's like a DVD, but requires a different type of player- a VCD player.  VCDs (Video CDs) are cheaper than DVDs.

25) Singapore is small, so you can travel to pretty much anywhere in the entire country in less than two hours. It's strange after living in the U.S., which now seems impossibly large in comparison.

26) Although S'poreans speak English, they don't use the same slang as we do in the U.S. So sometimes common American expressions aren't understood by people in Singapore- e.g. Singaporeans get confused if you refer to someone falling down as a "wipeout" or say that someone doesn't "have their shit together". The other day I spent about five minutes trying to explain what makes someone a "redneck". It was a lot harder than I thought, and I eventually resorted to bad, old Jeff Foxworthy jokes ("It's like someone who puts their living room couch out on their front porch, or goes to WalMart in their bathrobe" which then led to "What's WalMart?")

27) We've noticed a big difference in the Singaporean concept of customer service and what we're used to as Americans. Here in S'pore, when you eat at a restaurant, food often comes out whenever it's ready, so rather than everyone being served at once, you get food in phases. As a result, if you wait for everyone else to get their food, yours might be cold by the time you get around to eating it. Once you have your food, you can't rely on anyone coming back to ask you how things are. And if you need something, you can pretty much count on not being able to get your server's attention- the waiters and waitresses here seem to have an uncanny ability to never, ever make eye contact. And at the grocery store, lines pile up as the checkout girls take their sweet time, chatting with one another and ringing up items at a tortoise-like pace. And when you finally get to the front off the line, you inevitably have to watch them do something annoyingly careless, like toss a can of soup into your bag right on top of your bananas.

28) When people get sick here, they wear surgical masks in order to prevent the spread of germs.

29) As I mentioned before, cars are pretty expensive, and so are a definite luxury. Another interesting difference is that there are virtually no SUVs. The island is small and streets are crowded as it is, so driving a big, unwieldy SUV here would probably be pretty tricky. It's nice to see normal-sized cars and not unnecessarily large, gas-guzzling SUVs everywhere I go.

30) Singaporean government is set up in an interesting way, with both a prime minister and a president. It is my understanding that the prime minister is the true head of the government while the president's role is more ceremonial in nature.

31) We get American TV shows, but we get them a season behind. So, the shows that are new this season will get to us next year, and the shows that are coming out on DVD back in the US are just airing on TV here.  So, no, I have not yet seen Glee.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Orchard Road

Bryan and I stayed on Orchard Road for a couple of weeks when we first arrived in Singapore, but we didn't take many pictures because we only had my damaged camera. Orchard Road is always a little overwhelming- it's like a sprawling cathedral of consumerism, jammed with designer stores (Cartier, Dolce & Gabana, Calvin Klein, Armani) and tons of people. We headed back over to Orchard today to do some shopping and to hit up the biggest bookstore in Singapore- Kinokuniya, a Japanese chain. We got a chance to take a few photos this time around. Below is Wheelock Place (the conical building). Wheelock Place has a Borders that is far inferior to the bigger and more awesome Kinokuniya. This crazy, modern building is ION Orchard. At night, the whole front of the building lights up in all different colors. Part of the building is a huge screen that has commercials and movie previews playing on it all day. And the oval portal-looking thing on the ground is the entrance to the Orchard MRT station, which is located in ION. Bryan's in the picture too- it's like Where's Waldo.
This is Ngee Ann City, which is a little obscured by the tents set up in front of it (there was some sort of charity fundraiser going on). Ngee Ann City is the home of Kinokuniya, and the Cold Storage in Ngee Ann City is the only grocery store that I have found in Singapore that carries Morningstar Farms (fake meat) products. Our grocery shopping here in Singapore is a little like a never-ending scavenger hunt.Orchard was different this time around- the entire area has been decked out in tons and tons of big, elaborate Christmas decorations. It seemed strange to see Christmas trees and palm trees side-by-side, and people wearing flip-flops and sundresses walking past snowmen and reindeer.Orchard was VERY crowded today- a Saturday, and fast approaching the holiday season. Lines were long and the MRT was so packed that we ended up taking a taxi home. Below is a glimpse of the masses on Orchard. In the top picture you can also see humongous ornaments hanging from all the trees lining the street. Below that is the enormous Christmas tree that you could walk into, in front of ION. Next to the tree is a sculpture that's always there...I think it's either an avocado or a pear, but I'm not 100% sure. And the bottom picture is Bryan posing with some more of the decorations on the street.The following pictures are just a few of the many pictures I took of the impressive tree inside the entrance of Ngee Ann City. You can get an idea of how large it is by looking at the background and seeing four levels of the mall. Bryan's making a frowny face because I kept saying things like "Oh your eyes were closed in that one," "Oops, you can see a reflection on your glasses," "WAIT! One more!" hahaha. He looks a little happier in the bottom picture of the two of us.So that's Christmas on Orchard Road! Despite the brightly shining sun, the people running around in sandals, and the fact that Christmas is over a month away, Orchard Road is proudly sporting snowflakes and pine trees!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Around Town

We've been living in Singapore for about four months now. It's hard to believe; the time is really flying by. In the time that we've been here, we've had the opportunity to see a lot of what Singapore has to offer. Not everything gets its own blog post, so here are some of the tidbits that I haven't included yet. To the left is a trippy Dali sculpture that's located downtown on the riverfront. I thought it was an unusual choice for typically straight-laced Singapore, but I guess maybe everyone can appreciate Dali. This piece is part of a collection of sculptures scattered around the riverfront area, including a scary, freakishly muscular songbird. The sculpture below is located in the same area. It's a little hard to tell what's going on in the picture, but the bronze figures are little boys, and they're pushing each other over a ledge. The falling boys are suspended in mid-air over the water below. And that's me in the picture, pushing on the statues that are still on the sidewalk : ) This statue's located in between the Fullerton Hotel and the Asian Civilisations Museum.
More sculptures- some super colorful shoppers on Orchard Road. It's fun to stand here and watch the statues for a few minutes, because pretty much every teenage girl that walks by goes up to the statues and strikes a pose while making her friend/boyfriend take a picture.Here's another fun picture- the back of a row of buildings- it looks like Air-con Alley. Because most places don't have central air, a lot of buildings have a number of bulky air-conditioners mounted on the back. Watch out, though- they're always dripping lukewarm ooze that gives you the vague, uncomfortable feeling that they're peeing on you.These twin pagodas are located at Chinese Garden. Bryan and I laid in the grass and read here for a while (actually, I read and Bryan fell asleep), but it made a beautiful backdrop for a relaxing afternoon.
And that's all for now! More pictures are forthcoming- I took a hiatus for awhile because I was super sick (maybe the regular flu, maybe H1N1, who knows?!), and Bryan and I have been laying low while I recovered. Now I'm getting better, and we're planning a trip to Malaysia, so I'll be posting more often in the near future.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Clarke Quay

A couple of weekends ago we went to Clarke Quay to go to a brewery called Brewerkz. The atmosphere of Clarke Quay is interesting- it was pretty lively on a Saturday night, with a good showing of Westerners. The decorations out on the street reminded me of something you might see in an amusement park...or a Dr. Seuss book. There were big, tall, strangely shaped umbrellas that had lights projected on them. The lights changed colors, from blue to yellow to red, purple, green, orange, and back again. You can see the giant umbrella things in the photo below. The bridge across the river also had lights projected on it.
Brewerkz was located in a string of buildings called Riverside Point. The brewery was large, and the atmosphere was a lot like that of a big American bar that serves food- maybe someplace like Dave & Buster's, but without the video games. The food was fantastic- definitely the most convincing American fare I've had in a while. I haven't eaten mashed potatoes in three months, so the white cheddar mashed potatoes definitely hit the spot. And it was nice to have vegetarian options that didn't include rice! The beer was super tasty as well. We ordered a couple of samplers- I especially liked the cherry fruit brew, and Bryan and I both enjoyed the refreshing rye beer.

Foot Reflexology

Another curiosity- the foot reflexology path in the courtyard of our apartment building. These footpaths are often located outside of HDB's, and there's also one at Bukit Timah, and another in the Botanic Garden. The idea is that if you walk on these paths barefoot, the smooth stones will apply pressure to points on your feet that correspond to areas within the body- vital organs, glands, muscles, etc. Walking the path and massages these areas and is supposed to prevent health problems by breaking down toxins in the body. Also, if you know enough about reflexology, in theory you could pinpoint the parts that hurt and use that information to take better care of yourself (e.g. if your heel is related to your stomach, and your heel hurts as you walk on the path, maybe you should avoid foods that are difficult to digest for awhile). I think the principles applied here are probably similar to the ones behind acupuncture, but I'm not positive. Strolling over stones does, of course, hurt a little bit, but it feels good in spots too, kind of like having a back massage when your muscles are already a little sore.

Neighborhood Temples

I don't know if I've mentioned the religious pluralism in our neighborhood, but it's pretty neat. If you look off our balcony, you can see a Hindu temple. If you look out our living room window, you can see a Chinese Buddhist temple. And across the street from our building is a huge Muslim mosque. I went on a walk the other day and snapped some photos of the two temples. I don't have any pictures of the mosque because I don't really know the rules for what to wear...or how to act. I figured maybe I should go home and Google "mosque etiquette" before trying to brave that one. For now, here's a photo I borrowed from The mosque was featured on the website for its innovative, modern design. The whole building is shiny silver with really bright colors across the front. The ceilings are really high and it looks like it's really spacious on the inside. Next, the Hindu temple. Hinduism is a fascinating religion to me, mostly because I identify with some of the principles- I practice yoga and I'm a vegetarian. And I think if there was a contest for coolest-looking religious buildings, Hindu temples would probably win. Plus, it seems as though there's a god or goddess for everything, and each one has more character than the last- I mean, who doesn't appreciate a god that looks like an elephant? Some shots of the outside of the temple:
The goddess featured over the entrance of the temple is Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom. She rides on a peacock to demonstrate that beauty and appearances should always be subordinate to wisdom. The temple has lots of brightly colored peacocks as decoration.This is one of the figures posted next to the entrance: We can often hear the music played during services from our apartment, and it's really lovely, but we still haven't been inside the temple- it seems that whenever it isn't locked it's very busy. However, I'm planning on going to yoga there this weekend- apparently they have free yoga classes every Sunday. It should be an adventure- yoga in a building with no air-conditioning...on the equator. Why not?

I went inside the Buddhist temple and took a look around. The lady working behind the desk was really friendly, and a little surprised when I told her that I lived across the street. Us Westerners aren't too common around here.

This is a traditional Chinese guardian lion at the entrance of the temple. Guardian lions are often depicted with a pearl in their mouths. The pearl (a large stone ball) can roll around in the mouth, but can't fall out. Usually the lions are in pairs, flanking either side of an entrance. I've seen these in a lot of places in Singapore, but they're especially common outside of Buddhist temples, as lions have special significance in Buddhism- the Buddha's teachings are sometimes referred to as the "lion's roar," and the lion stands for many of the same things that the Buddha himself does- strength, power, and royalty.The whole temple was brightly colored- all red and gold, and huge open doors let in a lot of natural light. Everything inside was so ornate- carvings and etchings in stone, elaborate statues and picture frames and altars. It was gorgeous- I can't believe it's across the street!The Buddha near the entrance, with offerings of tea, oranges, and flowers.My favorite part was the cat lounging around, looking like he owned the temple and everyone was leaving the offerings for him: Two of the altars out in the courtyard. The smell of burning incense wafting from the altars was really relaxing- combined with the adorable cat, beautiful decor, and the friendly people, the temple really was a welcoming place.