Saturday, December 26, 2009

Global Warming??

Is this evidence of global warming--  snow in Singapore?

Not exactly.

As I described in my blog entry in November, Elaine's step-father Ron collapsed the day before my arrival in Singapore, and a week after Elaine had arrived.  We are currently in Boise (arrived 12-19) on a family-emergency leave and will be here through mid January.  Our friends Keith and Candy have kindly agreed to house us during our stay.  Because of HP's corporate shut-down policy Elaine does not work for the two weeks of the holidays, and will work remotely (from Boise- seems strange to describe it that way) for the following weeks.
Ron's diagnosis is a high-level Glioma brain tumor.  Ron received surgery and has stabilized, and has been moved to a care center in Boise.  It is unlikely he will be able to leave this facility.  Our visit has allowed us to visit Ron and provide some support and comfort for Barbara during this difficult time.  Elaine's brother Robert has come to visit from Bend, Oregon, and her brother John will be visiting in January.
The visit is bitter sweet.  It is wonderful to be in Boise during Christmas, and to visit with friends and family that we have said our farewells to only a few weeks earlier.  This was certainly unexpected.  However, it is sad to see Ron in his diminished state of health and mental awareness, and realize our time with him is short.  We are grateful for the opportunity to share this precious time with Ron.

The weather in Boise has been fabulous for those of us that actually enjoy colder temperatures--  a white snow blanket covered the Boise foothills, highlighted by bright blue skies.  Extreme cold temperatures (below 0F) hit Boise in the week prior to our visit, which wouldn't have been so good.

Christmas in Singapore would have been a new and unique experience, but deficient without any family or friends with whom to share it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shopping Extravaganza: Promotions,Bundles, and Cirque du Soleil

Shopping in Singapore is quite the experience.  It is apparently the national pastime, which is still a puzzle.  Professional salaries, and salaries in general are lower here than in the US, the rate of savings is higher, the cost of living is the third highest in the world (most everything here is more expensive than what we are used to).  Yet there are stores and shopping malls everywhere, and they are all packed with shoppers.  How do they stay in business?  Of course it is holiday time, so any conclusions and judgment should be tempered by seasonal considerations.  I'll check back with you in late January for an updated report.
Shopping malls are more than just a place to purchase goods.  They are a destination, a place for entertainment, a place to take the family.  Each mall seems to try to out-do the others in order to attract shoppers.  I like them, and suspect this is a major draw for others, because they are air conditioned, and a good refuge from the heat and humidity outdoors.  (Have I mentioned it gets very hot here?)  They are also generally very noisy.

To bring in shoppers the malls will often host entertainment events.  This past weekend we were touring the shops and malls along Orchard Blvd.  This is the POSH area of Singapore, and major center for high-end shopping-- Prada, Gucci, Armani, etc.  All of the Italians are here, and many of the Swiss--  Rolex, Tag Heuer, etc.  We wandered into one of the many malls along here called Orchard Central, for no particular reason.  (As an aside, this mall happens to have an interesting attraction of an indoor climbing wall.)  Although it was adjacent to our former service apartment, we had not spent much time in it-- I think I went in once.  There was a crowd gathering and a small stage set up in the "pavillion" of the mall (most malls, including this one are open to all floors in the center, and the area is used for special events or promotions).  We discovered that a show was about to begin.  The show turned out to be a version of Cirque du Soleil, and we were treated to 30 minutes of AMAZING choreographed gymnastics.
There was a large hula-hoop like device, that a gymnist used to do some stunts, rolling around on it.  (Doesn't he get dizzy?)

No-- not one of the Chippendales.  This was an amazing act, where this buff gymnist performed, using the hoop device.

Then three men came out with what looked like plastic pipes, bundled together.  This turned out to be a springy version of a balance beam.  Two of the men held the ends of the pipes on their shoulders, and the third proceeded to perform flips and such on the flexible beam--  much like a 4" wide trampoline.
The next act was classic Cirque du Soleil-- an aerial gymnastics/ballet routine on rope-like curtains with a man and woman gymnists.  They performed the act blindfolded!

OK-- not the aerial act.  I was only able to take these two pictures.  However, you can see the tower and rope-like sheets hanging from the tower that was used for the aerial act.
The final act was performed by two men and a woman on  a trampoline, next to a wall with some varied height platform areas in it.  (Sorry, no pictures of this).  The gymnists proceeded to do flips, wall walks, and synchronised routines on the trampoline, and on and off of the stages.  No spotters, no nets for any of this.  (From my perspective, there also was an escalator that seemed dangerously close to the trampoline--  no mis-haps while we were watching).
The show was free-- anywhere else we would have needed to buy tickets.  What a treat!
 Promotions and Bundles
Another popular scheme here for drawing customers are promotions.  We would call these sales, or specials.  However, they seem to be a daily thing, and they are everywhere and for anything.  Again, perhaps an artifact of the holiday season.  Promotions come in many forms--  a reduced price for limited time, a free "gift" when you purchase an item, or a set of raffle tickets (depending upon the dollar amount spent) giving you the chance to win a car, a cruise, or a holiday stay somewhere.  I purchased an iron, and lucky me-- received not one but two T-shirts, each with a euro 1 cent coin in the package.  (Why euro?-- the iron was a European brand).  Elaine has acquired two Christmas coffee mugs because of our copious shopping spree.  And we acquired a "free" network router (which we didn't need)when we signed up for our broad-band service.  Promotional items such as this often require a separate trip to somewhere else (e.g. a warehouse) for redemption-- I needed to go to a different shopping mall after a particular date to receive our router.
Bundles are also big.  Instead of buying the Brand X tea kettle, you can buy Brand Y's tea kettle, which is bundled together with their toaster, for the same or a slightly higher price.  Of course Brand Y is a lesser quality than Brand X, and you really didn't need the toaster-- but hey, who can pass up a nearly free toaster?

Of course having promotions, bundles, and events requires getting the word out.  There are newspaper ads, people wearing advertising T shirts, and flyers handed out at MRT stations, escalators, and on the street.  Also a variant of the old-fashioned sandwich boards...

21st Century sandwich board advertisement--  walking along Orchard Road.

Another common activity, particularly in the tourist areas is touting.  Shop and restaurant employees lurk outside the entrances of their establishments and attempt to lure prospective customers, typically with promises of free this or that, or special prices. ("Promotions").  We went to one restaurant where we were promised free drinks with our dinner.  Oddly enough the drinks showed up on the bill, which then required some effort to get corrected. The barage of touts from the touters can be very fatiguing when there is a large density of shops or restaurants along path of travel, and you are seeking a relaxing evening out.  (Some malls and places forbid "touting") 

I am not  a big shopper, but perhaps I will become one while we are here (Jim-- realistically, you will need a job first).  Ironically there are public service ads in the MRT stations about the ill effects of gambling addiction on families and people.  Are shopping the promotions another form of addiction?

Singapore Flyer

One of the key tourist attractions in Singapore is the Singapore Flyer.  This gigantic ferris wheel (described as an "observation wheel")  is currently the largest in the world, with a height of 541 feet (165 m).  Other similar wheels are the Eye on London (443 ft) and the Star of Nanchang (525 ft).  The wheel itself is 492 ft in diameter, with 28 capsules that each can hold 28 passengers.  Thankfully they are air conditioned too.
Last weekend Elaine's former manager was in town, so we struck out to see the town, and took a ride on The Flyer.  The Flyer provides spectacular views of the city and beyond, provided you are not acrophobic and can manage to have your eyes open.  The ride lasts one full rotation, which takes 30 minutes.  Other options for rides include a champagne flight, a dinner flight (2 full rotations), or special group outings.  In my opinion it is worth the visit.  Although we took our flight in the day time, I hope to return for an evening flight to enjoy the lights of the city.

The Flyer

The Flyers

More Flyers-- Elaine w/ Karen

The Flyer is located in the Marina Bay area of Singapore.  This is the Floating Platform, a multi-purpose event center,and (obviously) soccer field.  The twisty looking thing in the foreground is a walkway bridge, under construction.  We wondered how many soccer balls go swimming...

Marina Bay

Aquatic activities going on in Marina Bay.  The small boat at the top is a Dragon Boat, similar to the polynesian outriggers.  There are clubs in Singapore that race these boats.

Malaysia in the distance

Thursday, December 10, 2009

P.P.P.P.P.P. {You guess the acronym}

With any move, even with the best of planning and organization, there are bound to be surprises, and some disappointments.  Although we are still some way away from being 100% settled and moved in, we have already had some of these.  Given that we had to plan for:
  1. Items going into storage in Boise and unavailable for two years.
  2. Items graciously taken in by friends and neighbors because they couldn't be stored or shipped, or we may need access to them.
  3. Items going with us immediately in luggage to Singapore.
  4. Items being shipped air freight (about 5 day delivery) to Singapore.
  5. Items shipped by boat to Singapore (Up to 9 or 10 weeks).
There were bound to be some omissions, errors, and just bad decisions.  We also anticipate traveling to some other climates, aside from Singapore's, which may require something different in the way of clothing.  So this had to be taken into account as well.
We've been fortunate so far--  Elaine did a superb job in the planning and organization for household items, with some really excellent foresight on what we would need.  There have been a few strange surprises of things that ended up here, I suspect with some help from our movers.  I expect we will find more.
  • Elaine's back country ski boots.  No skis, poles or other ski gear-- just the boots.  (Can we use them as book-ends?)
  • Carbon water filters for a coffee maker that is in storage.
  • A butter dish for a refrigerator that we no longer own.  (Might be put to use)
  • A 120 volt appliance (HP Printer) that, despite best efforts of elimination, made the journey. (See The Smart Electric Grid).  As a post-mortem to that blog entry, a moment of silence for the power supply of that printer-- yes-- up in smoke.  Should have double-checked.  (Use it now as a desk "in" box?)
  • A press coffee pot, DOA (many pieces of glass and bent metal).
  • The lid to a small glass jar, also DOA.
  • Several articles of clothing that will have no purpose here (I was thinking travel--  remains to be seen if they do anything more than take up precious storage space)
  • We also broke one plate-- one of the good ones brought along, while the ones that are chipped were carefully selected to remain behind in storage.
All things considered, it's all been good.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Smart Electric Grid

For anyone that has traveled outside of the US, dealing with the variety of house voltages that are used around the world is nothing new.  Having been to Europe a couple of times, I've experienced some of the differences in electrical plugs and outlets in use.  However those were visits, and not moves, and perhaps this changes the level of the game (More stuff needing to be plugged in).  It seems to take quite a bit of hardware in order to get the juice out of the wall here in Singapore.  I've discovered that apparently a good part of the GDP of the country is generated by trade in electrical adapters, extension cords, and other paraphernalia necessary to connect to the electrical grid.  Here, nearly any hardware or electronics store carries a wide range of adapters and such.

As most of you know, the U.S. the standard house voltage is 115 volts, 60 Hertz (Hz), whereas here the house voltage standard is 240 volts, 50 Hz.  Thanks to advances of electrical engineering technology (switching power supplies) many appliances are now universal-- particularly small appliances with the external power supplies (e.g. phone chargers, etc).  With the proper adapters these can be safely used just about anywhere on the planet.  Not true for everything however--  bad things happen to those devices installed into an incompatible house voltage.

Prior to our move, I made a careful inventory of all electrical appliances and gadgets that we might consider taking along, noting the acceptable voltage and frequency ranges.  Almost everything with a motor in it needed to be left behind.  For those things making the journey I planned the purchase and use of adapters.  My surprise was discovering that after purchasing some appliances locally, they also required a type of adapter.  Those who have done a lot of traveling may have this knowledge-- I was clueless.

Here's how it works.  Thanks to the influences of the British, all electrical outlets (240 volt/50 Hz) look like this.  (Every socket has a switch by the way)

Most appliances have plugs that look like this.  (Three prongs, rectangular.  No problem-- works well with the sockets)

However, some appliances have plugs that look like this (Two prongs, each cylindrical)

Now if the two-prong plugs would fit and work in the electrical outlets in the house, no problem.  But they don't, at least not the ones in our apartment. (I have learned that there are "two-prong friendly" outlets.  I wonder how commonly available they are?)

Should you come to visit Singapore (or where ever else in the world this system is used), here's the secret.  You need one of these--  a two-prong adapter-thingy for a 3 prong 240 volt socket.  Note that this is pure plastic, no conductive metal anywhere.  I have yet to discover how these work, or why one should be needed.  But they do, and they are.

Perhaps the nations of the world attending the Copenhagen summit can start small by agreeing on a world standard for the electrical supply and its components, before moving on to the bigger problem of green house gases.  Think of all the plug adapters we wouldn't have to buy when we travel (or move).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Keeping your cool

Yesterday's temperature:  30C (82F).  Here's the forecast for the week (in F):
  Sunday:    82 / 76
  Monday:  86 / 76
  Tuesday:  87 / 76
  Wednesday:  87 / 76
  Thursday:  86 / 76
  Friday:  85 / 76
This apparently is pretty typical scenario for the year-- not much variation.
However the real story is the humidity.  Since the arrival and unpacking of our house goods, I now can track the humidity level at the apartment with our electronic weather station.  Today's humidity:  72%.  Yesterday it measured 81%.  This has a dramatic effect on the "effective" temperature.  Have I mentioned in any of my blog postings that it's hot here?  By the way, we are in monsoon season-- so its "cool" now, relative to coming months.

This has me particularly worried, as the trips I've made where I am outside for considerable periods of time result in a complete melt-down for me.  I don't do heat well.  I look and feel like a dish rag that has been rung out.  I become a little self conscious about my appearance-- I'm dripping wet, but oddly everyone else around me seems to be perspiring only modestly.

My sister Lois indicates that I will adjust to the humidity over time, and things will feel normal, but it can't happen soon enough.  Expeditions about town are best if kept short, and interspersed with frequent stops in shopping malls and/or MRT stations (if air conditioned).

This afternoon was a beautiful day-- it rained all afternoon, keeping things pretty comfortable.


The Chinese (Jurong) Gardens

With Elaine's work schedule, and our need to find and feather a permanent residence somewhere, we really haven't done much sight seeing.  With Anne and Wendell's arrival, we found a good reason to do some.  We headed up to northern Singapore on the MRT (subway) to visit the Chinese Gardens.  This is a beautiful park, that is directly adjacent to the subway station, and thus very easy to access.  There are various areas to the garden, including a Japanese bonsai garden, tea house, and The Garden of Abundance, an garden theme of the zodiac characters of the chinese calendar.  There is also a seven storey pagoda, which provided needed refuge from the rain when a sudden cloud burst occurred.
Although bonsai is the Japanese word for the miniature gardening technique, the Chinese actually practiced this style earlier.  Their word for it is penzai.
The gardens were beautiful.  The weather was--  steamy.  Perhaps one of the hottest days since my arrival.

7 Storey pagoda.  Nice breezes at the top, and a good shelter from the rain

The boat house-- from the top storey of the pagoda.

The Japanese Gardens-- Penzai or Bonsai Gardens

Year of the Snake

Year of the Monkey

Year of the Goat

The Big Move

Well, blog followers, you've probably wondered what has happened-- no postings in quite some time.

We've been a bit busy--  we moved out of our service apartment (hotel room with a kitchen) and into our permanent apartment.  Furthermore we've been entertaining guests-- our first guests in Singapore.  Our good friends Anne and Wendell stopped on their return trip to Boise, ID after trekking in Nepal for 6 weeks-- pulled up a planned lay-over in Singapore by a couple of days, which was great.  It was really wonderful to see some familiar faces.  They arrived just in time to assist us with the Big Move, which was extremely fortunate for us.
Another source of the blog silence has been some delays in getting telecom (broadband, telephone, cable TV)  established and set up at the apartment.

There are still some things yet to be done.

Elaine, Anne, and Wendell at the Singapore Chinese Gardens

No-- this is not Singapore.  This is a picture (posted without permission) from A & W's trekking tour (Annapurna Loop) in Nepal.  You will need to visit with them for stories and some spectacular photos of their trip.  I'm posting this to think cool thoughts.

Our new apartment is in a complex called The Pearl.  (See Mount Faber Park and our possible new abode) All buildings have names here as well as block numbers, and perhaps a floor and apartment or space number as well.  This is a remarkable system.  Many of the taxi drivers seem to know all the buildings by name, which has me particularly impressed since I can't  remember people names, much less the name of buildings.  We initially intended to get moved in over the weekend, but ended up spending the weekend cleaning the apartment before we could move in.  (The clean-up done by the property manager was not particularly great).
Moving required transferring five suitcases and two dish-pack moving boxes (about a meter high with a 1/2 meter square base each.  Yes, we use meters here, not feet).  That's what we arrived in Singapore with.  But then there were some bags of groceries, bags with the new toaster, electric kettle, and a few other things we've already accumulated.  I arranged to have a mini-van (7 passenger) taxi pick us up and do the deed.  However there were four of us, and with the taxi was loaded to the roof it was necessary to get a second taxi.  We convoyed over, and voila--the whole thing was over in about 20 minutes!  Sadly, no more maid service.

Our apartment cleaning exercise uncovered one surprise about the apartment.  No hot water in the kitchen.  At first we thought something was wrong with the water heater, but upon determining a good supply in each of two bathrooms, I checked the sink plumbing-- both sides of the faucet (normally 1-hot, 1-cold) were connected together!  Furthermore, the "maid's" bathroom (approximately 3-feet square-- a small shower stall with a toilet and hand shower) is not plumbed for hot water either.  Elaine has conferred with some of her work mates, and we have learned that this is very common, when the apartment is structured for maid quarters.  Live and learn.
The lack of hot water in the kitchen is neither appealing nor convenient-- we have contacted the property manager, and are investigating the installation of a small point-of-service water heater.  This is also apparently a common retro-fit over here.

One of the salient features of our apartment is the Bomb Shelter.  One of the building code requirements for apartment/condos built between about 2001 and 2007 was the inclusion of a small fortified room, for civil defense. In 2008, the building code was changed, and now apartments/condos have this emergency shelter area located in the stair wells.  I was told that Singapore emulates many of the building codes of Switzerland (?), and this was one of their requirements.  The room is about 1.5m x 2m, with a steel door, and very robust hinges and lock-- looks like the door on a bank vault.  It would be just big enough to fit a twin size bed mattress, and doubles as the maid's quarters, if you have a maid (which we don't).  The existence of a bomb shelter in an apartment is a good indicator of the age of the building of any apartment you may be considering renting.  Our building was constructed in 2003.
I'm not sure who might be attacking Singapore, or what type of ordinance this shelter would protect us from, but I don't like the thought of being in a small enclosed room on the 8th floor of a concrete building during any type of emergency.
I could see this as the ideal time-out room for parents of particularly willful and misbehaving children.  (A modern day replacement of the dungeon).

On friday, Dec 4th, our shipment of house goods arrived and was moved into the apartment.  The movers arrived promptly at the appointed time, and it was a orchestrated team effort.  Boxes and items were brought up from the car park and handed into the apartment in fire brigade fashion.  Once placed in the rooms, the boxes were each opened, and the contents neatly arranged on the floor (we have few furniture items just yet). Even the bomb shelter contents were VERY neatly arranged.
I wonder if these guys can come to the states and straighten up my garage/workshop when I return?

Anne, Elaine, Jim, and Wendell celebrate Jim & Elaine's move to The Pearl