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Oliver and company at Eyes to the Front threw a pretty badass (and free) party at Sofitel So Singapore last Saturday. The boutique hotel pool setting with DJ tables and skyscrapers  made for good ambience and great eye candy.

DJ Victoria

DJ Victoria

As the crowd got rowdier and drunker, my sober self was ready to move on. I even texted a friend to meet up at a different location for some grub, despite the Sofitel having delicous looking bbq available for purchase.

Then Jeck Hyde came on the decks, and well I had to text my friend “Sorry, music got really good. Can’t leave.” All of a sudden the crowd seemed friendlier.

Jeck Hyde

Jeck Hyde

Sober as I was (and I may have been the only one), I was on my feet and dancing. The icing on the cake was the National Day practice going on overhead featuring formation flying and then this lovely scene:

eyes to the front fireworksMore things are on the schedule for Eyes to the Front and it’s collection of artists. Check out their Facebook page to see what’s next.

One thing about having interior designer friends is you get a totally different perspective on building design and public spaces.

For instance, I had long ago succumbed to the fact that establishments in Singapore don’t always have their own bathroom. You have to leave the premises to find a shared bathroom used by the building. While I find it a little off putting but just one of those quirks about living in Singapore, my interior designer friend was highly annoyed.

“How can an establishment this big NOT have a toilet?” moaned Lee.

“I don’t know, but speaking of, can you tell me where the toilet is?” I answered.

She pointed me out the building and around the corner. While there, I snapped a photo of this.

Clean Bathroom CampaignI sent the photo to my friend in the US who has spent some time in Singapore and also finds these campaigns fascinating. As I have mentioned before, the number of campaigns in this country is staggering.

“Hrm… is that really a problem?” she asked.

“I guess so,” I answered. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be a campaign for it.”

I shared the conversation with Lee and the other folks at the table and received back a unified “Yes, yes, YES. It is DEFINITELY a problem.”

“There you go,” I answered.

Here in Singapore, sometimes the loos are completely spotless, like at Changi Airport or the Zoo. At other times, not so much. It really shows you what an effort is put into keeping the clean ones clean. The next time I use the facilities at Changi Airport and am asked to rate my experience, I am giving the attendant full marks. It’s not an easy job to keep the loos clean, and often a thankless one.

xenu_scientology

Back in March I watched HBO’s much talked about documentary, Going Clear, which had me thinking about my own run in with Scientology over 15 years ago.

In 1999, my high school best friend and I packed up her car and drove off for the dorm rooms of the University of Texas. After unloading her car with the meager two boxes of possessions each that since then have morphed into full houses, we decided to take a stroll down The Drag.

The Drag is an Austin, Texas institution – a segment of Guadalupe Street that lines the edge of campus. It is home to MSG laden cafes, book stores, coffee houses, gimmicky shops and an eclectic mix of homeless kids, many with similarly eclectic dogs.

This is when we stumbled on the exact thing my mother feared we would find, well one of the many exact things my mother feared we would find. The Church of Scientology.

We were greeted by two employees of the center offering us stress tests on the sidewalk outside. Sure, we were game. We didn’t know what Scientology or stress tests were but we had 20 minutes to kill. We gripped onto the e-meters and prepared ourselves for a wild ride.

The questions ranged from the benign (name and age) to invasive (any past drug use and general fears). The two test administrators shared knowing glances at our answers. I sat in wonder as to whether anyone was ever going to explain to me what the heck Scientology was.

“If you could change something or improve something what would that be?” asked my test administrator.

I thought for a few seconds before coming up with something that I felt was an acceptable answer. “I wish that I was better at interacting with strangers. I wish I could talk and really connect easily with people,” I said.

The two administrators invited us inside for more info. BFF and I exchanged looks and shrugged. I still didn’t know what Scientology was and there didn’t seem any harm in going inside the building.

Once inside, my administrator began his sales pitch. “Hey. Hey. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just…. talk to anybody?”

“Yes,” I answered. “That’s what I told you outside.”

“But… but… wouldn’t it be cool if you could.. you know. Talk to ANYONE?”

I looked over at BFF to see if her test administrator was any sharper than the one I was paired up with. My guy had one sales tactic and he was going for it.

He then showed me some basic printed information on courses that I could sign up and take through the organization, all of which would devour the $200 of waitressing cash I had in my pocket. The $200 needed to last me a few weeks, minimum. That is, if I wanted to eat.

“Um,” I said. “Isn’t there a cheaper way to just find out what Scientology is? Or maybe you could just tell me.”

Defeated, he pointed at a collection of Dianetic books written by L Ron Hubbard on display. “Oh cool,” I responded. “I can have one of those?”

“Those are actually for sell,” he answered.

“Hrm,” I said. “Maybe I’ll check one out from the library. Do they have them there?”

The man shrugged as he stood up and tucked in his chair.

I turned to BFF who was already collecting her things.

“So did you ever figure out what Scientology is?” I asked once we were outside the building.

“Nope,” she replied.

“Me neither,” I answered.

I’m not sure where we went from there. If I had to guess, I would say it was somewhere with a 99 cent menu so that we could spend 1/200th of my hard earned cash on a burrito or hamburger and ponder what it meant to be rejected by the Church of Scientology.

Obviously they were much less interested in recruiting BFF and I than Cruise or Travolta. I don’t know whether to be grateful or offended! I’ll say neither and go with amused.

A post-dinner cruise through Chinatown had myself and a few friends stumble on this site.

20150208_193749

“Huh,” we thought. “Is this legit?” Stephanie immediately chucked the boxes out of the way and sat down for a try.

20150208_193818

Unfortunately, the massage chair didn’t work. Massage chair uncle in his most stylish tee came out to troubleshoot the situation.

20150208_193855

Ahhhhhhhh. There we go.

20150208_193906

A few minutes later we were on our way having made a few new friends in this ambiguous shopfront.

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I love everyday life in Singapore Chinatown.

Lizards in the toaster.

Pale tails tripping fuses.

Electroshock therapy divine.

 

Lizards in the toaster.

It’s morning and my coffee is lonely

But these little guys have a new home.

 

Lizards in the toaster.

How much for a new toaster online?

The shops on Orchard are crowded.

 

Lizards in the toaster

They hide so snugly in crevices.

Sigh, I’ve given up my taste for toast.

 

Bastille in Singapore

Bastille

Bastille played the Hard Rock Coliseum Friday, January 9 on Sentosa in Singapore to a room full of dancing cell phones and a unicorn.

Shanghai In Photos

My first trip to China was a long weekend in Shanghai last year. I found myself intrigued by Shanghai’s style and culture.

I started my time in Shanghai with a walk down the Bund, the colonial riverside of Old Shanghai lined by historical buildings on the west and the Huangpu and financial district on the east. In the morning, the air was clear but by 4 pm, the haze had rolled in and the buildings weren’t very visible. Luckily, I had a chance to snap these shots in the morning.

Along the Bund.

Along the Bund.

Still along the Bund.

Along the Bund.

Worker

A Chinese worker has a smoke break near the Bund.

In China, red symbolizes prosperity and joy while white symbolizes death and mourning so it’s only fitting that a Chinese bride should wear red. This bride and groom were having their wedding portraits done along the Bund.

Bride

Bride

The riverfront walkway along the Bund underwent a major reconstruction in March 2010. The benefits are clear.

The Bund

Along the Bund.

the bund

Along the Bund.

I took a similar photo of a bull at Wall Street in NYC a few years ago.

Capitalism

A Nod to Capitalism

Continuing my walk, I ran into these fun guys dishing up some street snacks.

Durian

Weird fruit

I stumbled into People’s Park and found a man practicing his Mandarin characters.

People's Park

People’s Park

It took me a while to figure out what was going on with the hordes of people below. Eventually I came to the conclusion I was at a marriage market. Every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m parents of unmarried adults gather to try and play matchmaker. The gender gap in China has widened to make finding a suitable bride more and more difficult for Chinese men. This market has been ongoing since 2004.

Marriage Fair

Marriage Fair

All this walking was making me hungry so I made my way to Jiajiatangbao (90 Huanghe Lu) for xiaolongbao. I arrived just in time to miss the long queue and sat across from a sweet local couple who gave me tips on the art of eating the dumplings without spilling out the precious juices or burning my mouth.

Dumplings

Dumplings

There are plenty of temples in Shanghai. This is Jing’an Temple just north of Jing’an Park.

temple

Jing’an Temple

temple

Jing’an Temple

temple

Jing’an Temple

museum

Pretty.

After the temple, we settled down into the lovely grass at Jing’an Park where we were promptly booted out by these officers. They were very strict about the “No sitting or standing on grass” policy. A shame, really. The grass was so nice and well cared for. I challenge you to resist temptation to sit on it.

Park police

The Law

We topped the evening off with cocktails and jazz, which is apparently live and well in Shanghai.

Jazz

Jazz

Until next time, Shanghai!

Editors note: Visas to China are required for many countries and can be expensive, particularly for Americans. If you plan on staying 72 hours or less, you may qualify for the 72-hour Transit Visa Exemption Program. Keep that in mind when booking tickets for a quick weekend and you could save yourself a few hundred dollars.

Aw, shucks.

badge_Singapore The wonderful people at Internations got in contact with me a few weeks ago to let me know that they would like to feature Texas On Thames as a Singapore Recommended Expat Blog. If you aren’t familiar with them, they are a global organization that hosts tons of great events to help expats connect with one another. I am super honored to be interviewed and listed among such talented Singapore writers. Here’s a link to my interview, go have a look and tell me what you think. 🙂

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.