I'm really not suffering from jet-lag, although I can tell I'm not quite 100%. I find myself taking things in more with an slack-jawed interest than with a sharp curiosity. Still, I'm amazed that my plan of keeping myself up on the airplane so that I could just crash right when I got here worked in resetting my clock. Besides nodding off around 10 pm, I'm feeling quite normal.
This morning we decided that it would be fun to go to the zoo. Charles stayed home to work, while Dani and I took James and his friends Adi & Mira over by taxi.
Taxi's are extremely common in Singapore, and fairly inexpensive. The drivers seem to be mostly Chinese nationals, although it's not uncommon that you hear them listening to 70's American easy-listening rock hits. The roads, like England, are right-hand drive, and the lane markers really appear to be vague ideas rather than firm suggestions. Still, every driver I've had has been a careful and considerate driver. Singapore is huge on consideration--a road sign on the beautiful tree-lined freeway we took to zoo said "SPEED KILLS: It's never just about you."
The taxi's are all these funny, boxy Toyotas, although you will occasionally see a London cab. They all have LED readouts on the top which tell you their status. They are everywhere in the city, and most times there is no problem waiting to get one, provided you stand on queue in proper order with everyone else and not try to cut. The driver's are forbidden from pulling over on busy commercial streets near the taxi queues, and the fines are large for them. If you're feeling stranded, you can call ahead and hire a cab, but there is a surcharge. If you're driving in a cab on the highway and the driver is brazen enough to speed, a chirping alarm informs you.
The zoo is a large natural-habitat environment, like the Woodland Park Zoo is transforming itself into. It's lush with vegetation, and little monkeys run around unbridled. We wandered through the exhibits, often grouped by region. The animals looked extremely healthy and happy. Highlights would probably include the white tigers and the Elephants, which the kids got to feed with tiny bananas.
We strolled around for a few hours and then sat down in the food court for lunch, just in time as a torrential downpour came through. We ran over to a tram station, readying ourself to pay the fare to get back to the front gate, but it turns out that that they waived the fee because of the weather, and were giving everybody free rides.
The queue for a taxi was very long, and there were very few cabs to be had, so we hired one by calling ahead of time, and within 30 seconds it was there waiting for us. We climbed in, much to the chagrin of everybody in line (but, they could have hired one too--if they had paid the surcharge).
We rode home past the impressive satellite dishes for SingTel, and had a cup of tea and played a game of Scrabble.
For dinner we decided to head over to Little India. What a place--it was jam-packed with Indian men hanging out and chattering. Deepevali is happening--the Indian festival of lights. It's the largest of Indian festivals, celebrating Lord Krishna vanquishing the demon Naraka, and the lights celebrate and demonstrate the power of good over evil. The men were everywhere--in outdoor beer gardens, restaurants ("World Famous Fish-head soup!" said one sign). We walked through a market and ended up at a place called Komala Vilas vegetarian restaurant. It was amazing--lots of curries, pastries, breads and veggies. The place was packed. The food came quickly, served with cheap silverware doled out in mystefying numbers that had no relation to either the food we were eating or the people at the table, and no napkins (which, I take it, is common in Singapore). Luckily, they provide sinks for washing up right there in the eating area for you. Dani reminded us to eat with our right hand--traditionally in India the right is used for eating, and the left for taking care of ones business.
After dinner (which made me, once again, lament the lack of really good Indian food in Seattle) Charles and James headed home while Dani and I wandered some more. She bought some henna templates, for their intricate patterns, and some large mandala stickers. CD stores had a deal--4 discs for $10 (about $6.00 US), so we told the shop steward to pick out his four favorites for us, and we brought them home. I'm listening to one right now, and it's tremendous, although to emulate the Little India I'll have to turn the stereo up so loud that it blows the speakers, and then fill the room with smells of curry, incense, perfumes, as well as the occasional sharp, odd smell that assualts the senses.
We rode the MRT home. I've never been on such a clean, well organized and efficient train system. They had signs up promoting courtesy--they have "courtesy officers" on the trains, and if they catch you being kind to someone, they will reward you.
It's hard to describe how well designed this place is. Almost everything is made with an eye to the fact that humans will be using it. It's as if they allowed the designers and engineers plenty of time to plan out what the real results of real people using the systems will be. I'm sure they'll be more on that as I go--but it's very impressive, from the pedestrian crossings that tell you how many seconds until the light changes, to the very understandable signage, the design office here must be very respected and powerful.
Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: October 24, 2004 01:36 AM