Monday, December 29, 2008

A smooth life

Life in Singapore is highly driven by technology. If you live in a condo, you have a key to your apartment with a magnetic strip, which you need to swipe when you enter, the gates, enter the building, and even to access your floor in the elevator. If you have a visitor, the visitor needs to call you from the intercom. Once you have seen the face of the person visiting you, or maybe even spoken to him on the intercom, all you need to do is just push two buttons, one to release the main entrance and the other for him to access the lift. Now thats a very interesting way of doing things. It improves levels of security, and negates the need for a security person at your lobby. But recently, my intercom stopped working, and when the Starhub guy came to change my set top box, he could neither hear, no see me through the intercom. The machine did not release either the gate of the elevator. I dashed off to the lobby, not to miss him, and luckily he was waiting.

Lets take a look at the way we travel. You go to an MRT station, and check out the numerous automated ticket vending machines at the station. The machines give you detailed instructions on how to obtain a ticket. Let's say you are a visitor to Singapore, and need to travel only a short distance. You punch in an amount of SGD 5 in the machine and get a travel card. You swipe this card to enter the platform, take the escalators to go upto your train and when you have completed your journey and swiped the card again to exit at your destianation, the requisite amount of your travel is deducted from your card. You need not worry about what the charges are upto a certain point, or about how to pay for the same. The card has memory chip in it, which records your travel, so in case you do not swipe your card properly at a certain point, your card will not be allowed access at another point. You will then need to approach customer service, who will track the data recorded on your card, and deduct the appropriate amount of your travel. Thats not all, the same card can also be used in the buses. In fact, the level of automation is so high, that there is no need for either bus conductors or ticket checkers. All the roads have very prominent road signs. So, there is absolutely no possibility of getting lost in this city. Unlike in India, you will never feel the need to ask the bus conductor to let you know when you have reached your destination. Or ask whether this bus goes to a certain location. The index available at the bus stop and the maps at the MRT stations will give you all the information you need. I love the levels of automation here, the ease with which services are made available. I wonder, if my father will feel the same, when he visits Singapore. He is an old man with a bad knee, bad eyesight and hard of hearing. Being a newcomer, he may feel lost and overawed to be able to notice the instructions on the wall. He would definitely seek a helping hand through his travels and travails in this city.

Singapore is a land of immigrants, mostly seekers of occupation. It's a small city with a sparse population. Manual labour is extremely expensive, since its not easily available, and automation surely does help remove the need for manual labour in quite a few places. Unlike India, which needs a traffic cop at every other crossroad, I am yet to see a traffic policeman here. The streets are monitored by camera's all over the city, and both pedestrians and cars, strictly follow the traffic lights meant for each. If it is possible to do away with the need for law-enforcers, then why do we need so many of them in India? Is it because labour is cheap, or population is huge and job-creation a necessity, is technology unaffordable, or are we just plain disrespectful of the rules?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Being Indian in Little India

Little India was like being back home. What with people walking mindlessly on the streets. My friend almost drove into an elderly couple, standing on the street. Back in India, you would blame the driver, and expect her to swirl around the couple, but how do u do that in a city where streets are meant for cars and pavements for pedestrians. In a disciplined city like Singapore people do not get on to the streets unless the traffic lights say so. This is what makes a smooth drive possible and cars zip here at speeds of 80 - 100/kph. At those speeds, it is not easy to stop your car for anybody standing right in the middle of the road.

In Singapore when you want to cross a street, you should press the push button for pedestrains and wait for the pedestrain light to turn green. This makes it easy both for the drivers and the pedestrians. You do not show your hand to a car speeding at you and expect it to be chivalrous to you. It helps to show a little discipline yourself.

But Little India is truly Indian, it even stinks. If you are a train traveller in Mumbai and pass the Mahim creek everyday, you will never be homesick in Little India. People walk all over the streets, and cars drive all around you. There's cans, food and liquid littered all over the streets. And this may be the only place in Singapore that has garbage cans overflowing on the streets. The people here were mostly tourists, but see the same tourists on Orchard Road, and they behave differently. They walk in a row, stay on the pavement, do not litter the streets, and wait for the traffic lights. I wonder why.

But here's the best part. If you are a vegeterian and lost in Singapore, Little India is the place for you. A meal at Sarvana's cost me around $6.50. Though the meal was of a very low quality, a half-hearted sambhar with sticky low quality rice. But it was a proper Indian vegeterian meal after a long time and I gorged to my heart's conent. I've been told that Komala Vilas serves a good Indian meal.

The Mustafa shopping centre was filled with all kinds of commodities, and this is the place to spot all your Indian brands, even readymade chapatis. Food is one craving that will definitely keep taking me back to Little India. Are you an Indian lost in Singapore? Come to Little India, and feel at home.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Christmas is in the air, the food, the clothes, malls, the houses, the offices. It's everywhere I go (remember Bill Nighy in 'Love is all around'?) Minutes from now, the bells will toll ringing in the festivities. Malls are out to woo the Christmas shoppers with discounts ranging from 5% to a whopping 70%. Forget recession, the spirit of Christmas abounds in the malls and at eateries. Though my estate agent says Xmas this year will be a quite affair with just some friends at home. No partying this year for her and her friends. The cabbie, too seems to be affected, "Everybody wants money, the wife wants money, the children want money. It's Christmas time" he said.
Christmas eve is the big day. Most organisations only work half-day on this day. Christmas for me will be spent house-hunting though. Like this broker, who is ready to take me for viewings even on Christmas Day. He says he will be working even on New Year's Day. That doesnt sound very different from my friend Jiksee back in Bombay. She says she will also be working this Christmas.
Money or no money, people dress rich in this city. Or at least they look rich. It's hard to come by people wearing old or faded clothes. Singaporeans dress mostly in cottons because of the hot weather. But these are mostly strappy cottons with very elegant designs. The one prominent colour that blinds me in this city is Black. Every second person on the streets is dressed in black. Excuse' moi, how about adding a little colour to our lives???
Do I think they speak heavily accented English? Well, the feeling is mutual. They think that Im the one speaking with a heavy accent. Me? the convent educated, Mumbai brat, speaks accented English??? Well I guess Im the foreigner here (ang-moh is local for foreigner)
Vegeterian is hard to find. Even the veg biryani comes with a sprinkling of dried shrimp. The vegeterian counter at Takashimaya Mall served me veg noodles with fish. Well, Im no sucker for Indian food, but I wouldnt mind some fried noodles with a little spinach or mushrooms. Newcomers to Singapore or the Far East for that matter, do remember to ask about the ingredients in your vegeterian dish. Well, I must say though, that people here look much more fit and healthier than I am. I guess it helps to not have rice as your main dish, but as an accompaniment. The average Singapore dweller is slim and trim. Look out of your window, at any time of the day or night, and you will find another fitness freak jogging away to glory. Makes me want to burn my fat too. Yes, I would call myself fat in this country.
Coming back to my house-hunting, rentals do not vary according to which part of the city you live in. All areas are posh and all areas are well-quipped and accessible too. Rentals vary according to your choice of no. of rooms, distance from the MRT/bus stop, and facilties such as gym, club house and security.

Travel is the loveliest part of living in Singapore. The MRT can zip across from one end of the city to another in less than an hour in one direction. Interchange stations allow you to change the directions without much ado. For example, the Dhoby Ghaut MRT is one level below the second basement of the Plaza Singapura Mall. Which the MRT drops you right into the basement of your shopping mall. Thats not all, you can even change to the North South Line or North East Line from the East West line, all below the basement of a mall. Absolutely, no need to go all the way to Dadar and then take the Central Line. It all happens under one shopping roof. One Ez-Link card gives me access to both the bus and the trains. The buses take you to all the nooks and corners of Singapore, all across the city. Travel was never such a joy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Welcome to Singapore

My first day in singapore and the air didnt feel alien at all. It was the same humid sulty weather of Bombay. The ride from the airport to the city was like a drive through Nariman Point with tall towers, though the roads were cleaner and much wider. Day one and I was stuffed with the delicious and sumptious meal of Singapore Airlines (I am a fan now). Hence dinner was at Starbucks, just a Bananarama muffin, spinach and cheese quiche, both of which were huge in quantity and a coffee.

Day two and I got onto the net looking for real estate brokers. Lunchtime and I was hungry. So I hit the roads and went walking around the place. We had landed up at friend's condo in River Valley Park. Cars went zipping past, though the streets were sparsely populated with very few pedestrians. People on the streets mostly wear shorts. The tinier the better. I felt overdressed with my denim pants. But they dress very elegant. Theres a lot of skin show, but done tastefully. People going to work wear the latest designs, and are always "in". Men have mostly spiked hair, gelled and in place, while women have silky smooth straightened hair, again gelled with not a strand jutting out. Footwear is always neat and attractive, and the elegance is maintained by one and all without exception.

Travel is mostly by the MRT trains or SBS buses. Both are airconditioned, smooth, comfortable and extremely convenient. Public transport is the way to go in Singapore. It is definitely a far cry from the much crowded trains in Bombay. People respect your space, and very rarely does a hand brush past you, even accidentally.

Sat night orchard road was all lit up for xmas.people singing and dancing on the streets. Playing music on exotic chinese instruments.Floats, tableaus, and people in crazy costumes right from Alexander's army to little Indian girls playing Dandiya on a tamilian song. Well, Christmas is a time for forgiveness I suppose. It was a carnival atmosphere and this is the weekend before Xmas. Im waiting to see the street on Xmas nite.
People thronged the malls for their xmas shopping. Long queues outside Gucci left me flummoxed.

Singapore is a foodie's haven. Though the vegeterian is left short of options. Vegeterian here, means vegetables with fish. Indian options are few and far.
The one place we all agreed upon was Spize The Makan Place at River Valley Road. The Nasi Goreng here was delicious, and we even found the perfect sambhar with the Veg Biryani here complete with appalams, the South Indian pappad. Another vegeterian speciality of Singapore is Prata, which is a very light, thin, flaky roti, served with all kinds of combos - cheese mushroom prata, garlic butter prata, even cinnamon honey prata. A regular meal with a fruit juice would cost you around 7 - 9 SGD

The Toast Box at Food Republic on Orchard Road, was quite interesting. They served traditional Hong Kong toast with a variety of beverages. The Otah Toast had an interesting spread on a thick toast, which went very well with the Tea, very similar to our chai.

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