19
May
2013

Cultural Awareness (or: How I Learned to Understand Chinese Traffic)

Americans make jokes about Chinese drivers*.  I never knew if an American joking about a Chinese driver was an astute observer or a racist. It can be tough to tell these things apart with racial, national, or cultural generalizations. But I admit in California I surely saw my saw my share of strange behaviors initiated by Chinese drivers: stopping on highway on-ramps, backing up on the highway to turn off an an exit that was accidentally passed, etc.  As a open-minded Californian I resisted the urge to associate these behaviors with any race or culture.  And then I visited China.

Chinese Traffic JamWhen I moved to Singapore I found myself visiting China for business regularly.  As others that have done the same will testify, the roads there are absolutely fucking insane.  In Shanghai I saw a woman slam on her brakes while in the fast lane of a highway. Her tires locked up, smoke billowing out from under the car, the vehicle leaning forward and sliding slightly on the friction of melted rubber, all so she use an exit she was passing. After stopping she gingerly turned the car 90 degrees to the side and idled across the highway through honking 100 KPH traffic.

Taxi drivers entering roads in China usually do not even look to their sides before doing so.  They act on the faith that another driver that might hit them will raise alarm by honking to call attention to the extreme danger they are about to put themselves in.  God knows what happens when horns fail.

But it was in Singapore that I noticed an even stranger phenomenon.  {Read More}

08
Dec
2012

Singapore Retrospective

I am two days into my new adventure in Hong Kong. I have mixed emotions about this move. Certainly this city has a lot of promise. But I had hit a comfortable spot in Singapore. Great apartment, good work, wonderful girlfriend, so-so social life. Then all of the sudden I am in Hong Kong looking at apartments literally half the size of my Singapore place. And I know no one here. This may be tough.

These initial challenges have given me time to reflect on Singapore and its characteristics, whether charming or annoying. Here is what is top of mind:

  1. The service in Singapore sucks.  I remember my first night in town asking the staff at Fraser Suites what I should do with my toiletries, since there was zero shelf space in the bathroom.  It contained only a shower, a pedestal sink, and a toilet (with a round top).  I rhetorically asked, “should I put my toothbrush on the floor?”  They shrugged and said “yes”.  This I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-your-happiness attitude pervades the Singapore service industry.
  2. The girls in Singapore are beautiful and the weather drives them to dress in ways too provocative to easily describe.  In my last couple weeks I saw one girl wearing a translucent dress and another wearing shorts no thicker than a belt.  Both the bottom and top of her ass were visible.
  3. The legends of Singapore safety are 100% true.  Anywhere on the island at any time of the day you can relax.  Taxi drivers and restaurant staff will never intentionally rip you off.  In fact, they will go to great lengths to return money and goods incorrectly left with them.
  4. Singapore is boring.  People told me that when I arrived but its newness entertained me for about 18 months.  If I did not travel constantly I might have exhausted the scene in half a year.  In 48 hours I have stumbled on more stuff in Hong Kong than in 30 months in Singapore.
  5. I love gum and missed it in Singapore.  I’ve been on a frenzy of gum chewing that will square off my jaw like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s before the new year.
  6. I love the heat and loved Singapore’s weather.  Sure, you cannot walk a block in a suit without sweating through it.  But if you can just come to terms with a sweaty brow then every day of your life you can wear sandals and a t-shirt and feel relaxing warmth that demands the company of a cool beverage.
  7. The Singapore Changi airport is the most efficient, convenient airport in the world.  I have heard Hong Kong’s airport is nice, too.  But it is further from Hong Kong island than Changi is from the CBD.

More to come as I recall it.

16
May
2012

Good Service, Bad Service

A common topic of discussion on which I have written before is the strange and disappointing nature of customer service in Singapore.  Examples abound.  But let me just give one mini-example to set the stage.

To get a Singapore driver’s license I had to register for classes online.  The webpage registration failed.  But not before the charges were deducted from my checking account.  When I called the support number they told me I would have to go to the main office to ask for a refund.  The office is 30 minutes away by cab and much longer by public transportation.  I do not have a car (as my pursuit of a license makes obvious).

Despite my requests, my pleas, and ultimately my screaming, they had no better way for me to get my money back.  They said there was not even a phone at the office that could help with a refund.  They screw up, I lose 90 minutes of my work day.  End of story.

{Read More}

04
May
2012

Buying a Phone in Singapore

I love the Samsung Galaxy Note I purchased a few weeks ago.  It was not an easy product to buy.  Despite its general “First Worldness”, there are a whole bunch of things that Singapore has not yet figured out.  You cannot use any ATMs in Singapore except for the one that issued your ATM card.  Taxis are unavailable in the rain.  Customer service is frequently bad.  And its not so easy to buy a phone.

{Read More}

02
May
2012

Cebu Pacific Air: Worst Airline Ever

Yesterday I returned home from a blissful five days in Boracay in the Philippines.  The trip was perfect, bookended a painful travel experience on Cebu Pacific Air.  A few years ago I lost my patience with the crap to which budget airlines subject us. I am now prepared and financially comfortable with parting with S$50 for a better experience.  But in this case the travel reservations were made by my girlfriend’s friend.  So, I summarily lost my right to bitch.  Nonetheless, here I am.

{Read More}

22
Nov
2011

Weird Creatures In My Home

In the past two weeks I found two strange creatures in my apartment.  One I carried in from the grocery store, although it traveled all the way from New Zealand.  And the other is a native of Singapore that let itself in during the night.  Take a look at these pictures.

{Read More}

20
Oct
2011

Indirect Language in Asia

In May of 2010, my first week in Singapore, my manager PB* gave me a friendly warning about communication in Asia.  ”Be indirect,” he said.  I have been pondering that thought and occasionally writing about it for a year and a half.  A couple weeks ago PB sat down with me to discuss a variety of aspects of my first Asian tour.  He again kindly and firmly repeating his warning: be indirect.

We all have good days and bad days with email.  In the same week my boss gave me this friendly nudge, a colleague of mine complemented my patient and kind emails.  PB has much more experience in Asian business than this colleague and I put together.  But I could not figure out how one person could think I was writing well while the more Asian-savvy PB saw room for improvement. So I started to mull over what I might be missing.

On this week’s plane flight to Sydney I developed a lead in this mystery. I heard a common flight warning and connected a strange characteristic of Singaporean English with PB’s advice.  I had been laughing to myself about this weird facet of the local English.  But now I realize it is likely deliberate and not something to laugh at.

{Read More}

02
Aug
2011

Forfeiting US Citizenship

Yesterday I spent an hour at the US Embassy here in Singapore.  I am requesting their help replacing a lost social security card.  Where mine went in the decades that have passed since I last saw it I do not know.  But I need a replacement for some tax documents.  While I was in the embassy, I overheard a man forfeiting his US Citizenship.  I was fascinated.

The embassy here is a strange looking fortress on a hill.  Its intimidating design reminds the viewer of medieval castles.  Among Singapore’s shiny adolescent buildings it is completely out of place.  The building’s exterior properly advertises the security throughout.  Doors that seem to carry man-crushing mass swing slowly open for visitors.  Multi-inch, bulletproof glass separates the staff from visitors.  That glass was responsible for me overhearing the conversation I am about to relate.

{Read More}

02
Jul
2011

Communication in Asia

A Facebook friend recommended to me Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, a book I finished on a flight to Korea last week.  This is the second of Gladwell’s books I have read and I enjoyed it just as much as the first, The Tipping Point.  One part of Outliers, a discussion on Asian communication, seems to offer a piece in the puzzle I am trying to solve on how to be successful in Asia.

Western communication has what linguists call a “transmitter orientation”–that is, it is considered the responsibility of the speaker to communicate ideas clearly and unambiguously…But Korea, like many Asian countries, is receiver oriented.  It is up to the listener to make sense of what is being said. [Emphasis from Gladwell.]

{Read More}

12
Jun
2011

2011 Singapore Elections: Results and Aftermath

To briefly review, on 7 May Singaporeans chose their members of parliament (MPs) in the country’s 16th parliamentary elections. Because of the ruling party’s control of media, districting, and district consolidation into GRCs, the People’s Action Party (PAP) had maintained 100% of the 87 seats in parliament in every election from 1968 to 1989. The PAP earned 66% of the popular vote in the previous election which allowed it to carry 82 seats into the 2011 election. Under these conditions of incredible dominance, and frequent taxi driver grumbling, Singaporeans went to the polls in early May.

{Read More}