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Ms Illusion (or should I call her Ms Singapore since she’s so clued in??) tipped me off to Soi 60. For the past few weeks they’ve been running a stellar ladies night featuring free drinks for women from 6:30 til 9. Seems the ladies of Singapore might be a little too thirsty as the previously no obligation free drinks is now 50% off drinks from 6-9. Oh well, it was good while it lasted. The food and atmosphere is pretty decent too. Shanna definitely enjoyed it!

Shanna enjoying cocktails and food at Soi 60

Shanna enjoying cocktails and food at Soi 60

Soi Social  is running every Wednesday until Christmas at Soi 60 at 60 Robertson Quay, #01-04 Quayside

A few weeks ago Gillman Barracks celebrated their second anniversary with late night art openings, food, libations and music. I enjoyed my time at their first anniversary party so decided it would be worth a second go around. My friend, Radha, was keen as well so we met there and moved from gallery to gallery following the path of free wine.

Gillman Barracks Second Anniversary Party

Gillman Barracks Second Anniversary Party

Along the path of free wine at Gillman Barracks

Along the path of free wine at Gillman Barracks

When we arrived at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery we were really stoked to have stumbled across 38 large-scale prints of Annie Liebovitz‘s portrait photography. (editor’s note: exhibit closed as of 9 Oct 2014) .I had heard that she had an exhibition at the ArtScience Museum but had not yet made my way there so this was a great treat. Radha was equally as excited.

Sundaram GAGd Gallery

Sundaram Tagore Gallery

Whoopi Goldberg photo by Annie Liebovitz

Whoopi Goldberg portrait by Annie Liebovitz

The next holiday weekend, Hari Raya Haji, I was planning to treat myself to the beach. That is, until I saw the haze had crept in. Left suddenly with no plans I got out my trusty Google Machine aka computer and started scouring for events around town. Voila! The ArtScience Museum was having a free day in honor of the holiday. I texted Radha and we made plans once again to meet. (editor’s note: exhibit closed as of 19 Oct 2014)

True as promised, the ArtScience Museum was free to all that would brave the haze to get there. We perused the exhibition that featured both professional and personal photos, although Annie was very clearly portrayed as someone who did not have boundaries between the two. The story of her life and career was on display, including moments with her partner (referred to in the exhibit as “long-time friend”) Susan Sontag and Annie’s often clearly annoyed parents.

Quite chuffed with our luck, we ended our afternoon with a pizza at Pizzeria Mozza in Marina Bay Sands. Not cheap, but necessary. Especially after viewing the line at Din Tai Fung.

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, because you may be a procrastinator like me and just realized that you have the day off work tomorrow for Deepavali. If so, you are in luck. The ArtScience Museum is hosting another free day. Although the Annie Liebovitz exhibit is now closed, Flux Realities: A Showcase of Chinese Contemporary Photography is still on display and offers 60 photographs by 7 different Chinese photographers ranging from landscape to fantasy. It’s definitely worth a look. Did I mention it’s free?

The ArtScience museum is open daily from 10:00am until 7:00pm, including public holidays. Last admission is at 6:00pm.

My first experience in an office in Asia was as a freelance science writer. I negotiated some desk space alongside regular freelance work and subsequently came into the office in the central business district (CBD) two to three times a week. It was nice to have coworkers again and gain some insight to working environments in Singapore. It was even nicer to have the flexibility to come in or work from home as it suited my productivity.

But enough reminiscing about flexible schedules.

There were other things I gained from that experience aside from the obvious paycheck and magazine bylines. Like a friend or two, an understanding of the motorcycle parking availability in the CBD, my first tastes of mooncake, and a better understanding of the range of acceptable officewear in Asia.

A week or two into the gig I did a double-take when I saw a girl wearing  an off the shoulder sequined dress. Was she going straight out night clubbing after work or did she stay out so late she had to come straight to work?

Photo - not mine

Photo – not mine

I mentioned the wardrobe choice of my colleague to a fellow expat friend.  She told me that some of the girls in her office dressed like that too.

So I asked my friend Andy, who spent several years living in Beijing and he confirmed this as norm. “It happens a lot in China. The women sometimes wear nightclub type clothing to office jobs. It’s not always seen as weird or unprofessional.”

I smirked obnoxiously as I relayed the story to a friend living in the US. “I wouldn’t meet my coworkers and clients dressed like I was headed to a party,” I claimed.

“Are you kidding??” she replied. “It’s brilliant! You wouldn’t need two sets of clothing! Instead of a work wardrobe and a party wardrobe, you’d just have one wardrobe. You wouldn’t even have to stop at home and change clothes after work. This is genius.”

And you know what? She’s right. How could I be so silly to assume that in the west we’re the only ones doing it right? Don’t get me wrong, I’ll stick with multiple wardrobes because that’s my culture, it’s the system I’m invested in and that’s what I’m comfortable with. However, the next time I see a girl in an off the shoulder disco number I’ll hold the snark, tell her she looks nice and pass her my slice of mooncake. Because honestly, mooncake’s not really my thing either.

Singapore low crime rateAround the six month mark of living in Singapore, a friend of a friend was DJ’ing at a local restaurant/bar. I decided to attend and subsequently ended up dancing at some point in the night. Having moved to Singapore from London, and hearing many a tale of purse snatchings in Blighty, I felt most comfortable wedging my small purse in my arm as I busted a move.

The friendly Singaporean girls in the group started to giggle and asked me if I wanted to put my purse down with theirs- across the dance floor, unattended at a table.

“No, thank you,” I replied.

Confused they asked again, explaining to me “It’s Singapore. No one is going to steal your stuff.”

And while I knew this mostly to be true, I just couldn’t let go of the purse. It felt more comfortable to know where it was and to feel its presence than to set it down even if I was assured 99% of its safety.

Singapore’s low crime rate, its safety, is one thing that surprises travelers and divides expats.

My friend Magalie was making a round-the-world trip. She was staying in hostels alone and taking rides by herself in taxis. The second she got to Singapore, she finally felt like she could let her hair down. She knew she wouldn’t likely be taken advantage of if walking home tipsy from a bar or in a cab across town.

If you ask an expat if they like Singapore, they will likely fall into one of two camps: 1.) “yes, it’s so safe and clean here” or 2.) “its ok…. its just that sometimes its so clean and safe that it feels sterile.” It can really make one think. What does it say about our old and new cultures when sometimes we miss the grimey-ness and petty theft associated with home? Perhaps it’s as simple as yearning for the raw creativity that comes with a little graffiti and dirt.

We take advantage of the low crime rate and even complain about sterility, but perhaps this is a white washed view. Sure Singapore’s crime rate has fallen to a 30 year low, but I still wouldn’t leave my cash card in my motorbike while I pop into the shop, or my wallet as a seat holder at the hawker market, or for that matter my purse unattended at a table across the room.

Afterall, as the Singapore government will tell you, low crime doesn’t mean no crime. And the old habits of hanging on to your purse? They certainly die hard.

I recently upgraded from a 200 cc scooter to a meatier properly geared 400 cc motorbike. It’s the kind I can’t really wear a skirt in, where I have to change into my “office shoes” once I arrive at work. It’s been a lifestyle change.

The first week or two I rode it like a granny. My muscles were sore from gripping the bike in an unconscious and unnecessary attempt to hold steady and suppress that initial fear associated with change.

My reasons for upgrading were both practical and logical. My license covers all motorbikes and I have rode motorbikes of this category, just not for a while and not in Singapore. I wasn’t upgrading in an attempt to gain more power or speed, it was because my scooter had one too many trips to Jalan Bukit Merah Lane 1 for repairs and husband was upgrading his motorbike. This left a spare bike in our driveway at the same time that I had a need for a new mode of transport. I also have visions of motorbiking trips to Malaysia and the likes, and am not quite sure how well a busted old scooter would fit into those holiday plans. So it’s time to get comfortable on a more powerful bike.

As a young looking 30 something blonde chick that bucks the general Singapore biking demographic, the bike tends to attract a lot of attention, and with this attention comes some frequently asked questions that range all the way from obnoxious to genuine. I’ve decided to highlight the most common ones here.

 

Not very useful motorbiking FAQs and frequent comments

 

Q: Is that your bike?

A: yes.

 

Q: Is that really your bike, as in you ride it everyday?

A: yes.

 

Q: Why do you ride a motorbike?

A: Because I need to get to my job where there is no adequate access to public transport as well as other places.

 

Q: Why don’t you buy a car?

A: Because they are prohibitively expensive in Singapore. Besides, motorbikes are fun.

 

Q: Wow, you must love all the attention you get on this bike.

A: No, actually I don’t. It makes me uncomfortable when people stare and ask silly questions or make rude comments.

 

Q: Does the blonde hair get you more attention on the bike?

A: No, I always wear a helmet which keeps me safe and ensures that no one sees what my head looks like.

 

Q: I would never ride a motorbike they are unsafe.

A: OK, you don’t have to.

 

Useful motorbiking FAQs:

 

Q: How much does a motorbike cost in Singapore?

A: The cost of the bike varies. My old scooter was purchased for 2000 SGD inclusive of 3 years left on the COE (certificate of entitlement). You can go on up from there. A new scooter costs around 10k. Insurance varies, but can run about $200 a year. Petrol for the scooter was $12-$15 a tank and would last me a week. Petrol for the 400cc bike runs about $20-$25 for a week.

 

Q: How does the COE work for a motorbike?

A: The COE for a motorbike is similar to a COE for a car. It’s a  way for the Singapore government to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and it creates some revenue. With a car or motorbike, you basically end up paying for the vehicle twice because the COE costs about as much as the vehicle to begin with. COEs typically last ten years. At the end of your vehicle’s COE, you may renew it, but this is not usually done as it is not seen as cost effective to pay for a full COE on a ten year old vehicle. This is why most vehicles in Singapore are not older than ten years.

 

Q: How do you get a license to ride a motorbike in Singapore?

A: You may either convert an existing motorbike license or take the course while in Singapore. The official rules for converting a motorbike license are that you should have obtained the motorcycle endorsement a minimum of one year prior to it’s conversion. Also, you will be given a limited category of bike based on what you rode previously. You may be asked to show proof via past insurance documents, photos etc of your previous bikes. There are three locations where you can go to convert your license. You will have to take a written test to do the conversion. There’s a several month waiting list for spots to take the test so best not to delay.

If you did not have your license prior to your move to Singapore, there is a tiered and lengthy  (not to mention expensive) process for obtaining one. You basically must enroll in a driving school. It will take a minimum of six months to complete all the assignments and tests required just to drive a scooter. If you wish to ride something with more horsepower, you must continue to train with a school to achieve a higher category endorsement.

I’m just going to throw this out there – in Singapore the process takes a minimum of six months to be legal on a scooter alone. In Europe or America, the process takes 2 days and there are no restrictions. Let me repeat- 2 days of training, no restrictions. So if you think you may ever move to Singapore and are interested in riding a motorbike, get your license a year before you think that move to Singapore will take place. Or heck, just get your license anyway. It’s a life skill, people.

 

Q: How/where do you park?

Depends where you are. Parking for bikes is much cheaper than for cars. (ERP fees are cheaper too.) Some parking garages do not allow motorbikes, but in some areas there are extra parking only available for bikes. I think that it’s size makes it easier to stash away, but as I said, it depends on your situation.

 

Q: I hate motorbikes, they are always zooming around my car and riding the white line. Do you do that?

A: No, and the motorbikes that zip around me scare the bejesus out of me too. I encourage safe driving from every vehicle on the road. I do indulge in the white line at stoplights and very slow traffic- one of the perks to being a small footprint!

 

Q: How do other drivers receive you on the road?

A: It’s a mixed bag. Some are very kind and some are pure assholes.

The best advice I was given was “drive like a car and they’ll treat you like a car.” If you are zooming around traffic or hugging the side of the lane, they’ll assume you don’t need much space and come into your lane. If you stand your ground and ride in the center of the lane, they’ll mostly respect your space. Notice the word mostly.

The other trick is to not let them intimidate you into riding in a way you don’t feel comfortable. I find many drivers in Singapore are impatient with an inclination toward the horn. That shouldn’t translate to modification of my behavior, despite what a rushed driver might feel.

While I’ve seen motorcyclist take unnecessary risks, I’ve also seen car drivers make moves that put motorcyclists in danger. Witnessing this behavior makes me even more firm in my decision to stand my ground. While an accident for a car might mean car repair, an accident to me could mean losing a limb or disfigurement. It’s fine if they don’t care about my life, but I do, and I won’t be bullied.

 

Q: Is riding a motorbike hard?

A: Any new skill is difficult at first. For instance, you didn’t wake up one day knowing how to drive a car or even how to walk. Scooters are actually quite simple as you don’t have to change gears as you ride and they are generally light weight, so they are a good place to start.

 

Q: What do you do when it rains?

A: I get wet.

But seriously, I have some rain gear to wear. If it’s not too rainy or I have my raingear, I only get a little wet. If I forget my rain gear, I get very wet!

 

Q: Do you like riding?

A: Yes! Now that I’m a rider, I wouldn’t give it up. I really do enjoy riding my bike!

Hey remember when people use to go to coffee shops to hang out and chat? I know you do, the TV show Friends was based entirely on this premise. Apparently I missed the memo when this all changed. I was in the US with my father in law about a year ago and looking for somewhere to kill an hour or two before his flight. We stopped into an old favorite coffee shop of mine and promptly found glaring eyes from the freelancers who had made the establishment their office for the day when we opened our mouths to converse.

Oops.

Perhaps this is why coffee shops have become so ubiquitous. With more people working remotely, the need for alternative work places is high.

In Singapore, the everywhere-ness of coffee is no different with these “third spaces” used for everything from alternative offices to short meeting spaces. And like most things in Singapore, you also get the east vs west mix. Options for your coffee range from 8 SGD venti Starbuck drinks to the more traditional $1.50 kopi from your favorite stall.

I’m not sure how many kopi stalls and shops there are in Singapore but in case you were wondering how many Starbucks there are in Singapore, the answer is 100. Give or take any that have open/shut in the past month or two.

How do I know this? Well I stopped in one the other day and saw this sign advertising daily celebrations at their 100th location at Fullerton Water Boat House.

100th Starbucks Celebration Invite

100th Starbucks Celebration Invite

Although I know how ubiquitous Starbucks is, I still found it a shock to have so many on an island that runs about 25km (15 mi) running north-south and 48.2km (30 mi) running east-west, or 716 sq km (that’s 276 sq mi).

And while this isn’t more Starbucks than the company’s hometown of Seattle (142) or the most Starbuck ridden city Seoul (284), Singapore is still a country with a Starbucks every 7.1 km (2.7 sq mi). Seems a bit excessive, but then again, if the market can bare it, who am I to speculate?

Add in dots for Uncle Kopi, independent coffee shops and the rest, and you’ve got one highly caffeinated city-state.

This poem was featured at the start of the 2007 movie, Into the Wild  and was published in The Gold Cell ten years prior. This is one of those poems that for me never gets old, despite its melancholy and resignation, or perhaps enhanced by it.

I hope you enjoy it too. xx


 

I Go Back to May 1937

Sharon Olds

 

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it–she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

 

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