Our filming complete in Bangkok, we flew to Singapore. The thing is, once you get to this part of the world, 14 hours’ flight time from Los Angeles, everything else is just a hop — Taipei, Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila, Madras, Kuala Lampur, Vientiene (the capital of Laos! Why doesn’t anyone remember Laos?), Singapore. With another week, I could have seen it all. (Or, like the CEO of a small cellular phone company I met on the flight back, you could spend an entire month in New Delhi, racking up a $1,000-a-day phone and fax bill, negotiating a contract to provide cellular phone service.) But I didn’t have another week; I had to be back in Spokane five days after I left Los Angeles. I was taking the Instant in-depth tour.
Singapore is extraordinary. Think Pasadena, but with scores of magnificent skyscrapers, all seemingly built in the last three years. This little city-state, at the tip of Malaysia, has 2.3 million people (and a government policy encouraging childbirth to reach its goal of 4 million). There were more supertankers milling around its magnificent harbor than — well, it looked like some sort of naval armada.
Normally, I try to spend at least 24 hours in any new country I am studying in depth, but Singapore being a very small place, and I having a flight to catch in the morning, had to settle for 17. The drive in from the modern, pleasant airport, with its stunning mini-aquaria, almost makes you forget what you’re told as you land — that anyone entering Singapore with drugs to sell will be put to death (regardless of nationality, and after just a few days — these courts are not clogged). It’s as if you were driving the entire way through a botanical garden, or at least an arboretum, with not so much as a single billboard. Yes, to your right, there is an endless procession of condo high-rises. But they are almost uniformly handsome and clean. No traffic. No graffiti. No pollution.
Not being much for themes like “strict” or “severe,” I was looking for reasons to dislike Singapore. The one I heard over and over from friends of mine who knew it well was, simply: it’s boring! But you can hardly beat the way it looks or the view from your hotel room. Our Indian restaurant overlooking the water, nestled amongst the skyscrapers of downtown Singapore, was excellent.
And then, walking back to the hotel, we passed Raffles, one of the most famous hotels in the world, named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who acquired Singapore for the British East India Company in 1819. Home of the Singapore sling (a drink, given the faster pace of life, now pre-mixed and simply poured from a container at the bar), Raffles Hotel was initially surrounded by jungle. Today by tall buildings. We had our drink, listened to good live jazz. Back to the hotel, e-mail, check my answering machine halfway around the world (crystal clear connection, because all that really has to happen when I punch in the right series of numbers is for the signal to go through the maze of wires at the hotel through the underground conduits in Singapore to a switching station and up via some sort of microwave maybe through clouds and maybe raindrops and wind to a satellite which beams it to another satellite and then another perhaps, which beams it down someplace over the U.S. and then across a lot of phone wires to South Florida, and then to the local switching station, to the box on the pole out back of my house, over the wire that runs through that tree I need to trim, in the hole they drilled in the concrete, around above the door molding, and so forth, to the Panasonic answering machine on my desk, which clicks on and tells me I’m not home) and then to sleep and Spokane via a change of planes in Tokyo (Japan! an hour in Japan! enjoyed it, felt there was more to see) and Seattle. Downtown Spokane has a really nice riverfront park, and a waterfall that was raging to beat the band, what with all the snow this winter.
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