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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.

 

Melbourne

Singapore is the closest I’ve ever lived to Australia. And it’s a good thing we’re here since a few good friends moved to Melbourne about 3 years ago. That and well, who doesn’t love Melbourne?

left bank

The left bank.

southgate

Blue sky day.

public transport

Public transport.

graffitti

Street art outside tapas restaurant.

Sunshine, good food, art. But let’s be honest what it was really all about. Getting these two their presents.

presents.

presents.

The simple and versatile ribbon on string wins the day.

ribbon

Ribbon on string.

The haze is back in Singapore and no one is happy about it. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) put up these bus stop ads to remind us why. What a great way to inspire us to check the ingredients in the products and foods we buy and purchase less palm oil.

Image

Check out my original post about the haze here: https://texasonthames.com/2013/06/18/the-sky-is-burning/

You may remember that last year I was a little clueless when it came to Chinese New Year. I ended up ringing in the year of the snake with a last minute trip to Kuala Lumpur. My friend, Giselle, was barely more than a stranger to me at the time yet invited me along with her and her husband anyway.

Doesn’t that seem the nature of life here in Singapore? You meet someone and a week later you are hauling your bag on to a bus and settling down next to them for an adventure. Sometimes you part ways at the end and keep in touch as a formality on Facebook. In other cases, as is the case of Giselle, I was happy to make a friend to keep.

Our agenda was relaxed with a few things in mind, including Thean Hou Temple in its full New Year glory.

Thean Hou Temple

Thean Hou Temple

Thean Hou Temple

Heh, this sign made me laugh. By the end of day 1 we had made a game out of trying to get a taxi that would use it’s meter. We took turns approaching taxis and the one who got a driver that would use the meter won the round. Generally one out of every 4 taxi drivers would oblige.

taxi

Giselle studied art, so a trip to the Islamic Arts Museum was in order. The architecture of the building was a highlight.

Islamic Arts Museum

Onto the charming and chaotic Batu caves!

Batu Caves

atbatucaves

inbatucaves

And of course, a trip to KL would not be complete without a view of the Petronas Towers.

petronastowers

Although there are quite a few sights to see in KL, one draw of the city is their affordable 4 and 5 star hotels. Might as well spend some time enjoying the facilities and take things slow. My travelling companions booked early and were able to get a deal at a top hotel. I, on the other hand, was last minute and had to go a bit more budget. With a pool like this, I didn’t feel a bit bad about the extra money saved.

Hotel

Impiana KLCC rooftop pool

2014 introduces the year of the horse. Once again, I found myself without plans. This time due to tentative work-related commitments. While husband and myself contemplated last minute bookings, we opted in the end for a staycation spent with new and old friends in similar situations. Sometimes its just nice to not rush around.

One thing remains the same between CNY of the snake and the horse: so.many.mandarins.

Sign of the times

I was in the US recently taking on some new work. Two things really struck me about being back in the US. The first was ERMAHGAWD, WINTER. Apparently I forgot what that felt like. The second thing was how the political atmosphere had changed. Marriage equality, healthcare, guns. It’s all happening. I submit this picture I took while entering the office as evidence.

Dear America, don't bring your guns to work

Dear America, don’t bring your guns to work

So strange to see these signs around, and even stranger that other people didn’t think they were strange. Or maybe 3+ years abroad has made me the strange one. Now there’s a philosophical question for you.

Gillman Barracks

I had heard there was an art scene in Singapore, but I had yet to run into it and hence, yet to believe it.

I was relieved to know that I was wrong. There is more-than-just-relevant art in Singapore and it doesn’t take much scratching below the surface to find it. In fact, I saw it Friday night at the Gillman Barracks.

I was tempted to check out the series of art galleries when I heard one was housing Ai Wei Wei’s first solo exhibition in Southeast Asia. Husband and I went to his sunflower seeds exhibition at the Tate Modern  in January 2011 and I was curious to find out what else this famous Chinese contemporary artist and dissident had up his sleeve.

His piece at Michael Janssen gallery focused on the ongoing tainted milk formula problems in his home country. I could feel his disappointment, the frustration associated with wanting your country to be more, to be better than it is. I think we all have those moments, but compound that with 81 days spent in jail held by your own government without any official charges being filed and you either come out with your soul crushed or more vigor than ever.

What I found profoundly different from his sunflower seed installation at Tate Modern was how accessible his work felt in Singapore. The sunflower seeds at the Tate were designed to be interactive, but ultimately had to be placed off limits due to safety issues. The dust created from walking on the seeds was creating a health hazard. But here were the milk canisters. Right there. I could have kicked them if I wanted to. (I didn’t)

Ai Wei Wei's Baby Formula at the Michael Janssen gallery

Ai Wei Wei’s Baby Formula at the Michael Janssen gallery

We moved on to check out some of the other galleries. As a part of the Gillman Barracks first anniversary, the galleries were open late. We weren’t sure which one to check out next, so we followed the path of free wine.

Andy sips wine and contemplates art at the Gillman Barrack galleries

Andy sips wine and contemplates art at the Gillman Barrack galleries

More

Anthropos: Navigating Human Depth in Thai and Singapore Contemporary Art Curated by Loredana Pazzini-Paraccian

Anthropos at Sundaram Tagore Gallery Singapore

The studios began to close, but we were lucky to stumble upon a small street party where up and coming Singaporean musician Charlie Lim was performing solo.

Charlie Lim at the Gillman Barrack's 1st anniversary party

Charlie Lim at the Gillman Barrack’s 1st anniversary party

Gillman Barracks street party

Gillman Barracks street party

We contemplated food at the Naked Finn, but the lines encouraged us to go elsewhere. The food looked fantastic, so it will be something to look forward to on our next visit.

Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit continues until October 6, 2013 at the Micheal Janssen Gallery,

address: 9 Lock Road, #02-21, Singapore 108937

opening hours:
Tue to Sat 12pm-7pm

Sun 12pm-6pm
Closed on Mondays & Public holidays

Apropos of Bukowski

Hi. Been busy.

Please enjoy this Charles Bukowski poem I recently discovered and love.

I hope you enjoy the space.

xx

no help for that / Charles Bukowski

there is a place in the heart that

 will never be filled

a space

and even during the

 best moments

 and

 the greatest

 times

we will know it

we will know it

 more than

 ever

there is a place in the heart that

 will never be filled

and

we will wait

 and

 wait

in that

 space.

~ You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense, 1986