Singapore Healthcare and Marilyn Monroe

Let me start by saying this is not actually an explanation of the Singapore healthcare system. You can find tons of information online at the Ministry of Health (MOH) (http://www.moh.gov.sg/content/moh_web/home/our_healthcare_system.html)  or a number of other locations. This is a few of my thoughts and observations that I find interesting about Singapore healthcare in general.

It’s important and cost less here than in the U.S. If you do not know, healthcare in the US is almost 19% of the country’s GDP therefore it is a huge burden and it is not changing soon. Singapore healthcare costs significantly less and is about 4% of the GDP here. We use an expatriate physician from the U.S. East Coast but he has been here for well over a decade (maybe two) and is settled in.  There is a difference between Western and Eastern medicine and how you can talk to your doctor, therefore we (me!) chose Western.

It is much easier to see a physician here. I have made new consult appointments in as little as 2 days prior without a problem. Many work Saturday mornings, since the work week here is M-F and ½ Saturday (44 worked hours until overtime!). Our Cigna expat insurance covers the majority of fees.

Prescriptions are an interesting thing here. To date, any medicine prescribed by the doctor has been handed out in the office during the same appointment. It seems they keep on-hand the frequent medicines they prescribe. The fees are low – about $25 most times – and this has to be one of the best parts of the physician visit. There is no trip to the local pharmacy for the majority of your prescription needs.  No laziness to delay you getting your medicine from a local Watson’s (cool huh? I own a chain of drugstores in Asia apparently).

Lift Your Skirt 1Lift Your Skirt 2Public health. Singapore is not shy when it comes to voicing public health concerns and putting them out for the public to be made aware. When walking to the nearby MRT station, I was passing a billboard of three Asian women dressed like Marilyn Monroe in the white dress with their skirts being lifted up by a breeze. “That is an interesting ad”, I thought. On closer inspection, it is healthcare message aimed at women to remind them to schedule Pap smears for the early detection of Cervical Cancer.

Although not a government-sponsored advertisement, another one that caught my eye was the recent pamphlet in one of the local women’s magazines my wife is fond of. The cover of the pamphlet mentions “The convenient and discreet treatment of vaginal yeast infection a.k.a. Thrush” Interesting. It must be a serious concern over here. Or because the pamphlet is sponsored by Bayer drugs for their Canesten drug, maybe it is just a new level of marketing evolved from the old one page ad seen only in a few magazines.

One thing I do know is we do not see drug commercials on TV here. That is a relief.

Hospitals are interesting or maybe I am just spoiled having worked for a Newport Beach California hospital for four years before moving here. In Newport Beach, none of the rooms were shared, all had a TV and, the hospital is air-conditioned. Of course, we were in a climate that changed and temperature regulation was more difficult. Here in Singapore, the climate is pretty much 85 degrees with 80%+ humidity on average, all day, every day, all year long.  This does allow for some creative architecture in Singapore. In California, we used to talk about things such as open lobby designs we knew would be somewhat difficult given the actual winter weather in Southern California. No, I know it does not snow like the East Coast but you still could not have this open lobby design where air conditioning and heat are needed at different times during the year.

hospitaloutdoorlobby2

Some of the newer designs here in Singapore are very much like a resort in Bali or Hawaii. Recently a friend from the old hospital was in town and wanted to see one of the newest Singapore hospitals.  Through some friends, we arranged for an insiders tour. Since we had both worked with the construction teams, our interest was the design and the patient flow.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived was the lobby. It was outdoors! The main reception area and information booth was like walking into a Hawaiian or Balinese resort. The area was covered to protect from the rain but the seating and desks were outside. Luckily there is a breeze most times.

Take the Stairs

As you wander through the lobby, you may notice some life-sized yet flat people plastered on the wall next to the stairs. I like the posters telling people to take the stairs versus the elevator when at all possible. It is a light-hearted poster instead of the ones you see reminding you to always wash your hands or die of infection!  Of course it is important to wash or gel but I like the take the stairs reminder.

Lean Project Summary Card

There were a number of interesting things during the tour. One was the education area for the nursing and hospital staff that was full of Toyota Lean training and examples. My previous three years in the States were all focused on Lean in my hospital and I thought it was great to see it. This local hospital was so much ahead of what we had ever done as far as training and the posting of projects. They had a wall that had holders containing large sheets of all the past projects you could pull out and review. If I were still trying to implement Lean, it would have been something I ‘copied’ to use at home!

The next thing interesting was the ‘wards’. In the US we typical call them units or floors but the idea is the same. A certain area may focus on cardiac care while another looks after cancer patients, etc. There are two types of wards/rooms here. One is the “I have good insurance, therefore I’d like privacy and air-con please“(air-conditioning for those of you not using the local dialect). The second type is really just the opposite. If your insurance or your funds from your mandatory health-savings account (one nice thing about government policies here) are not enough, you will be in the shared room with about 7 other beds and patients. Several ceiling fans overhead circulate the air from the nearby no-glass windows. Yes, these rooms are open to the air, shared by a number of other sick people, and there is never any air-con. It is all a breeze. I am sure there are many thoughts around this but I do know the amount of clean, fresh air circulating here is likely better than the re-circulated air-con air you usually get indoors even when it runs through the huge filters hospitals use as part of their HVAC system. Think of the cost savings for these buildings that have no constant air conditioning! No filter changes! Lower electricity cost!

Hospital Suite 2

The final thing I’ll mention seen during the multi-stop tour was the Chairman’s suite. This was a patient room with state-of-the-art controls accessed from a screen next to the patient’s bed. There was a full sitting room with a big screen TV and small table. It was larger than most hotel rooms I have stayed in and bigger than any private hospital room I had seen previously. I believe this modern Singaporean hospital has two such rooms. I understand as new hospitals are built there are at least a few of these in each now to attract those wealthy families who want the best treatment and privacy available.

Hospital Suite Patient Controls

 

Singapore healthcare is quote good and I have been pleased with the physicians we have worked with in the 11 months we have been living here. Statistics will show it is better, and less expensive, for almost all treatments when compared to the United States. I don’t know that it will last. Just like the U.S., I am starting to see more and more news items about the aging population and the lack of sufficient retirement funds or healthcare savings to get them through the golden years.  For Singaporeans, the majority of their wealth is tied up in their home. Many have retirement funds of approximately $100,000. This does not bode well when the expected number of years left to live after retirement is at least 20. Time will tell but both Singapore, the U.S., and most major nations are now starting to see this burden of elderly healthcare hitting their systems. Add in the growing obesity problem, I am sure the 24/7 McDonalds delivery doesn’t help, and the next 5-10 years will be very, very interesting.

Best of luck Singapore. I am rooting for you!

Just in case – here was my previous ocean view……  tower-and-pavilion

More photos from our tours…

Our Culinary Adventure in Tokyo, Japan – Part II

I am sure I left off with something about food. That did seem to be our focus on this trip. The next day involved more hunting for food and finding a few places by accident. We decided to head towards the Roppongi district with the intent of going up to the top of one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo at Mori Tower (http://www.roppongihills.com/en/) for the Tokyo City View. On the way, we passed the U.S. Embassy, compared to all the other ones we passed they take their security very seriously, and walked through a deserted office building where we stumbled upon a Katsu place. We love this type of breaded dish, especially if it includes Japanese curry, and this was a good place to store up extra carbs. It wasn’t the best but it was quiet and a good price. Plus it was one of the few places with a window display of fake food that always helps ordering when the menus are in Japanese! I think its great someone made a whole business out of all the different kind of fake food items.

Not for dining - near the Hard Rock

When finished, we walked through Roppongi and passed the Hard Rock Café on one of the side streets. No reason to stop here. I did that my first time when the Americans I was with didn’t want to venture out for local food at night (goofballs!).  It still is very touristy but the small club on the 2nd floor of the next building had a sign that caught our attention. Maybe it was a different kind of hot spot but not at 2:00 in the afternoon when we ventured by. Hmmm. Maybe later?

We eventually got to the Mori Tower – mainly by keeping it in sight because of its height versus actually knowing how to get there. Like most high rises, the top floor inside allows a 360 degree view of the city but the best part is the extra bit of Yen that allows you to go up and walk around the perimeter of the roof! Of course you can’t picnic on the helipad but the view up here is fantastic and there are no windows to get in the way of your camera. It can get very windy therefore they make you bag up any articles such as hats, small clothing, etc. The wait was 10-15 minutes this day and that seemed very short considering the amount of people and the fact this is listed as one of the top things to do in Tokyo.

Tokyo skyline wide-view

After the tower tour, we found an outdoor café at the Grand Hyatt next door. This meant a quick afternoon snack of cheese and beer. Ahhh. As we headed back to the hotel for a break, I happened to take a snapshot of local male fashion – you can see the colorful choices in the gallery at the end. It appears I am behind the times in my style and color choices with my Levis and t-shirts. Actually Levis are very big in Asia, and much more expensive, therefore maybe I wasn’t as out of fashion as I thought.

Time to head to dinner and one of the few places we planned in advance. Well partly in advance since we made the reservation about 2 hours before showing up on a Friday night! One of our favorite meals we miss is Shabu Shabu. It is cooking thinly sliced pieces of meat in boiling water. You also cook cabbage, noodles, tofu, mushrooms, etc. Back home, we knew of a great, popular place in Costa Mesa. Even more missed, once they opened the Japanese supermarket near our house, we could buy all the ingredients and make Shabu Shabu at home. It’s affordable and healthy. Good stuff!

The place we decided to try in Tokyo, Shabu-Zen (http://www.shabuzen.jp,- Japanese page only but it looks good! | 3-16-33 Roppongi Minato-ku Aoba Roppongi Bldg B1, Phone 03 3585 5600) is highly recommended albeit hard to find. It is located in the basement of a small building and you need to be able to read the characters on the outside sign to realize you are in the right place. It is below a large sports bar and the Hobgoblin bar if you can find those. My other hint is it is about 2-3 blocks from the Audi dealer. There are several other locations but this seems to be the most popular. Shabu ShabuThe staff confirmed Lady Gaga ate here several times during her tour week a while back. We were very lucky when we were escorted into a private room! Most of the tables are in a communal setting but our first night (yes we went twice) we had our own room. The first waitress came in and upon realizing we spoke English, sent in a young Japanese girl who was bilingual. We pigged out. 2 bottles of cold Sake, six plates of meat (it is all you can eat for 600 Yen more!), and 2 trays of vegetables were very filling. No dessert here but none needed. We did have some hot tea since only liquid would fit in any of the vacant space left in our stomachs. If it weren’t for the fact we were on the basement level, we would have rolled out of there. As it was, we staggered around town for a bit. This place is also in the Roppongi area therefore we wandered around the crowds and did a bit of tourist kitsch shopping.

The next day was much of the same. Wander here and there but this time we went to Ginza to do some shopping. One of the very large department stores was having a going out of business sale. We took a peek and somehow ended up in the art gallery section on one of the top floors. We spent some time, some Yen, and brought back one piece of Japanese modern art. The artist is Takashi Murakami and he is extremely well known in Asia and for those who are collectors of Louis Vuitton purses, apparently. (http://www.takashimurakami.com). Our piece has a different feel than many of his well-known designs but there is still playfulness if you know where to look.

Lunch today was a basement restaurant in one of the food alleys we ventured into. Fried oysters, a small salad, and some draft Sapporo was enough to get us through the next phase of shopping – the large multi-level toy store. Not sure how we ended up here but we successfully made it out of there with only 2 puzzles and an assortment of gifts we’ll be sending to our family. I hope they can translate the Japanese instructions on some of the packages because I can’t! At least they’ll be conversation starters sitting on the coffee table unopened I guess. Good luck!

Time for dinner and guess where dinner was? You bet – back to Shabu-Zen. This time we were at one of the normal tables. I think we were aiming to break our previous night’s record but we only went through 6 plates of meat – the same – but this time one extra plate of veggies. Maybe it helped we only had one beer each? Again we were so full we had to roll up the steps. Even remembering how stuffed I was, writing about it makes me hungry and I just ate dinner tonight too!

After dinner, we hopped in a taxi to venture towards the Kabukicho red-light district (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabukich?,_Tokyo). We like to see all the highly rated tourist destinations! Not. Of course it is not only a red-light district as there is the usual shopping, cinemas, and loads of people walking around at night.  Our first stop out of the cab happened to be a Japanese chain store Muji (http://www.muji.com) that we visit in Singapore too. I guess there is something different about shopping locally though since we spent time and Yen here too! It is actually a great store – sort of a combination of the Gap and a Travel Store for those U.S. folks.  They have a good assortment of ‘stuff’ you can use for travel or at home. There is nothing I like more that adding ‘stuff’ to my inventory. One of these days I’ll write about the electronic ‘stuff’ I continue to accumulate. I think those gadgets replicate on their own.

Short Time Hotel - Tokyo red-light districtWalking a few blocks off the main stretch took us into the red light district. Yes, apparently Tokyo also has a red light district of hostess clubs and love hotels. The signs make it obvious but the lack of Gaijins was also obvious that this may not be a place for us to wander too long. A little Internet research showed the high-end places don’t exactly reach out to invite you in when you are a foreigner. The ones that tend to solicit you are the low-end bars that we don’t expect to visit in any country! This might explain why the high-end places had big men in dark suits at the doors. Yes, the rumors of Yakuza doormen seems to be true. Doesn’t seem the friendliest place to hangout therefore we high-tailed it. The interesting part is on the way out of dodge, we passed the hourly-rate love hotels. These are not your local Motel-6. The signs outside not only show the price but also list many of the room amenities including Jacuzzi tubs, roman looking room designs, high-end TVs and stereos. The building designs and neon lighting were enough neon to make Las Vegas jealous. This was a side neither of us had seen on past visits to Tokyo.  Been there. Time to move on.

Foreigners welcome side street barWe continued to work our way out of the adult maze by following a quiet park path back towards the main intersection. As we did, we noticed a small set of alleys that had very small bars. 8-10 people seemed to be the maximum you can fit into these places. We walked over to the alleys discovering a hodge-podge of bars stacked up to three levels high on either side of a few narrow alleys. I would not want to be in one during an earthquake here but we saw one that said “foriegners welcome” (sic) and decided to give it a try.

The first challenge was this 2nd level bar had some very steep stairs. Not the kind of steps you want to try after you’ve spent any amount of time enjoying the libations the bar has to offer. This was at 9:30 PM on a Saturday night therefore we were able to get two of the 8 seats at the bar. This bar seemed about 15 feet wide and maybe twice as long. It really was like a stackable shipping container converted into a small bar. There were two bartenders and three other patrons. And that made it 80% full! The bartender spoke enough English that we spoke about the bar, Japanese history, and then some Chinese history which, not being the flattering kind from him, convinced us it was time to pay for our drinks and mosey on out. I am still not entirely Interior of a typical side street barclear on the purchase choices here but one option appears to be all-you-can-drink for a set fee. We chose pay-as-you-go which also includes a service fee. While talking to him, it turned out he was the owner at 35 years old and a huge fan of Queen. There were several shelves of rock concert DVDs and he was proud to play one of Mercury’s last concerts while we were there. He even taught us a new game of luck. A small box has a row of numbers 1 to 9 and you roll the dice hoping to get one or more of the of the numbers by either a single die or a combination. If you can flip up all the numbers, you win! You lose when there you roll and there is no number you can flip up. We came close a few times but no such luck. We are actively looking for the same game to buy here in Singapore though if you happen to see it.

After leaving the bar, it was time for the taxi back to the hotel, fast packing, and sleep. They next day we used the car service back to the airport and thus ended our journey to Tokyo. The nice thing about Singapore Airlines is they let us check-in the large painting for free! It actually helped that our overall suitcase weight was under the limit and the painting was light but still I appreciate the no cost shipping. We had a great time in Tokyo and I can’t believe how much we wandered each day. Now it is a few weeks later and we are trying to find a good Singapore Shabu Shabu place! I hope we don’t have to wait until our next trip to Japan or wait until a trip back to the U.S. for our next meal.

Our Culinary Adventure in Tokyo, Japan – Part I

May 1st was Labour Day here in Singapore which means no labor, i.e. a day off! We take advantage of any time off therefore we took off the rest of the week and headed to Tokyo, Japan. This was my 2nd time there, the 1st being over 20 years ago. It was YAW’s second time although her first trip several years ago was solely business which meant no touristy stuff. We decided to hop on a Tuesday night Singapore Airline’s red-eye and arrive at Narita airport early Wednesday morning. Although the immigration line was a bit slow, getting through the airport was a breeze. Based on some pre-trip research, I paid for a car-service, Tokyo Airporter (http://www.tokyoairporter.com ).  The cost was 56,000 Yen round-trip (SGD$681 or USD$550) but considering taxis can cost close to $300 USD each way, it was well worth it. Plus, having a driver right there at the exit with our name was very handy. It is an hour into Tokyo in no traffic and up to two on a normal day – ideal nap time after the flight. Luckily unknown to us it was Golden Week in Japan. This is a weeklong holiday and there was little traffic. The weather was in the 60s F most days and that was great after 9 months of 88-90 degrees each day.

We arrived at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu at 10am. The hotel is in the heart of the government offices and part of the business district.  It is located above a subway station on the Ginza line (http://www.capitolhoteltokyu.com/en/index.html). The fact the hotel was so close to the subway was great!

Capitol Hotel Tokyu LobbyWhen we checked in, they told us we could not have a room until 3pm. This was my only disappointment with the hotel. I expected at least a “come back around noon or 1pm and we’ll see if we have a room” but that was not an option. We dropped off our luggage and ate at the hotel restaurant. I have to say the French toast was great but YAW’s ‘local’ Japanese breakfast wasn’t very good. We wandered off and headed towards the Emperor’s Palace grounds, which is about a 15-minute walk. As we were walking, I was wondering why so many policemen were in the neighborhood. We found out the Prime Minister’s residence is a block from the hotel and we were walking right by! This explained the large group of protestors a few days later.

 

Capitol Hotel Tokyu Bathroom

We eventually ended up in a nearby business district that had an indoor mall with a level full of restaurants. Our first local meal was a really good tempura bar. You sit down and order tempura piece by piece or a small set meal. They cook it right in front of you and it was really good. Although they had an English menu, that seemed to be the extent of English but our smattering of Japanese was enough. I probably should not say “Okane ga arimasen” as much as I like to! After eating, we wandered around the mall and then eventually made it back to the hotel to check-in and clean up. The room was very nice and very modern. The bathroom was great and the tub and shower had much more pressure than home. Plus, I did not have to turn on the wall switch and wait for 15 minutes for the hot water to heat up like  Singapore. I have to say it was the quietest hotel I have ever stayed in. It is very much a business hotel and this meant it was not very busy this week. At night, we never heard another guest and could not hear any traffic. Living in a high-rise, I think I am so used to some traffic or equipment noise that this seemed like resting in the middle of a remote mountain.

For dinner, we decided to walk to streets near the hotel. There were hundreds of eating options. Many multi-story buildings have a restaurant or two on each floor and it can be a challenge to pick! Because YAW reads and speaks Mandarin, it makes it easier when she can pick out words on the signboards. We ended up in a small basement restaurant that specialized in grilled beef. We were the first customers for dinner, which always seems a little strange, but it actually became busy while we were there. We picked a set meal that serves different cuts of Kobe beef (12,000 Yen each or $120 USD).

Tokyo Kobe beefI may not be showing all the photos but we had cuts from the inside of the thigh, butt, back, core thigh, shoulder, tenderloin, sirloin, etc. The chef cooked the meat for us at our table since we were the first ones in and he could explain the cuts. He said the reason the meat is so marbled, other than feeding the cows beer, is the massage the cows receive each day. Some of the cuts were exceptional – the best I have had. They literally melt in your mouth. Our favorites in order from the best were the tenderloin, back, shoulder, and sirloin. The set meal comes with grilled vegetables and after the meats, a serving of shabu-shabu with more meat. We were so full! The multiple mugs of Kirin draft beer probably didn’t help. Draft Kirin is the way to go! It tasted so good with the dishes.

Since our main goal was local Japanese food each day, we continued our culinary adventure the next day for lunch at a basement sushi restaurant, also a few blocks from the hotel and in the same area as dinner. I like sushi but admittedly eat only a few things. This time I had a set meal that included some items I actually tried, some for the first time. The one I struggled with was strings of “jelly”, which is what YAW thought it was, but then I noticed the small eyes. I did eat some of the little fish but trying to eat the whole group in a seaweed roll was out. Our total for the two set meals was  $45 USD including two bottles of Sake! This was a great deal for fresh sushi and drinks. Again, just point to the items you want since this is not a big tourist hangout and there are no signs in English.

Meiji Shrine

With fresh, albeit dead, fish in our bellies, we hopped the subway to Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine. The shrine is in a large park and it takes a while to walk to the actual shrine.  This is a big tourist spot and although it is worth visiting, we did a quick wander and then wandered right off!  We walked out the opposite side of the park to the north and eventually made our way back to Harajuku. On the way, we stopped off at The Deck Coffee and Pie. It’s a small café hooked to a retail shop. They have a selection of a few fresh meat and fruit pies. No, they are not meat and fruit mixed; yes they are separate pies! The apple pie was good (I don’t pass up desserts/sweets too often) although I would have preferred a crispier crust.

Once back in Harajuku, we found the street where the teens tend to shop. We hit up one of the small tourist shops to pick up local fun stuff.  They even had Pez candy dispensers! Eventually we made it to Shibuya with the high-priced stores such as Ralph Lauren, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. It was not our destination but the day was nice and we just kept walking here and there. There are quite a few small streets and local shops in between the two extremes that are worth checking out if you walk the neighborhood. We rested for a bit, i.e. toilet, at the Omotesando mall. Because I had to take a work call while sitting there, YAW roamed around.

When she came back, she took me up to look at the top-level restaurant named Omotesando Ukai-tei. (http://www.ukai.co.jp). It has a very unusual design as a merchant house from the late 1800s. I did some quick research on Trip Advisor, which seems to be the Asia go-to review site, and found it came very highly rated. Since we were walk-ins, we made a reservation for an early dinner at 5:30 PM (it was 4:30 pm when we walked in!).  We went shopping to waste the hour, walking south on another street full of great local stores. Eventually we made it to dinner.

Chef at Ukai Tei

The setup is a half-circle counter where you have your own chef. We ordered a set meal that included the wine sampler for each dish. This meal included top quality steak, a prawn appetizer, cold pea soup, garlic rice, and dessert. The meat was great! Has your mom ever told you to chew your steak 50 times to help your digestion? You won’t get anywhere close to 50 chews here. Maybe not even 20 with this really tender steak. It was another great meal! The restaurant is famous for serving abalone. We aren’t sure if it was alive or dead but watching it squirm in the half-shell when the chef first puts it on the grill right in front of the couple next to us was very strange indeed. The chef grills it for a few minutes then covers it under a mountain of salt to cook.

Dessert

After the meal, you are escorted to a sitting room that has a nice view of the city. You can select one dessert from a small list of about 5. I had the caramel pudding, a 38-year old recipe. Very similar to Flan. Of course the second phase is when the trolley rolls by loaded with mini-desserts – small pastries, chocolate covered almonds, flavored marshmallows, cookies, etc. I don’t think the waiter realized I was serious when I said I’d like one of each. I toned it down a bit and had one of each from only half the cart. YAW tried the other half and that way we covered all the items! We work well as a team. One of the desserts was a pastry with fresh California blueberries. The waiter said the Japanese diners love CA blueberries. Now at least I know why those small containers in the store cost at least $12 SGD. Too popular!

That’s the end of Part 1 because we are only to Thursday night! I don’t want to show all the food on one page. Part 2 we’ll cover our favorite 2-night-in-a-row stop for Shabu Shabu where Lady Gaga has spent a night or two indulging. In between the meals, there are vending machines everywhere therefore there is no lack of drinks and snacks! Want fries with that?

Want fries with that

 

Our Part 1 Image Gallery!

 

 

 

 

 

Singapore Taxis – Rented or Owned?

I am far behind where I should be on my updates. There is so much to do and I hate when work gets in the way. I am pretty sure I have not yet covered the trips to Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Phuket! Yes, I have some stories to tell. No, I will never divulge them all here. On an anonymous site maybe but not this one! I can tell you Phuket is crazy land. I thought Las Vegas in its heyday was obnoxious but it comes nowhere close to some of the bars and clubs on the Thai island of Phuket. Plus, I have to tell you how the one weekend we go to meet some friends in Bangkok, it is the night before an election which means no alcohol is allowed to be served after 6 PM Saturday night! Yes, of course there are workarounds…

I’ve also had some very short visits from friends in the US (Thank you!) and currently am in the middle of a week with the in-laws – this includes 2 parents, 1 sister, and 1 niece on my wife’s side. Quite a full house!  With them all here, we have finally done a few Singapore tourist things but it mainly involves picking the best buffet, Satay night at La Pau Sat, a great Chicken & Rice place, and so on.  So much food, so little time.

But today I want to talk a bit about Taxis here. I have posted in the past a few of my run-ins, such as the blind taxi driver, and may have mentioned getting a taxi at shift change seems to be easier for us than other because of where we live. While the in-laws are in town, we’ve had discussions about the cheap price of taxis and if they were owned or rented by the driver. I did not know – until today.

On the ride home from on of my long-distance customers, which means a 25 minute taxi ride from the east end of the country/island/city-state, I had a longer talk with the driver. He lived in San Diego for a number of years and that helped kick-start the discussions. Therefore I had a few questions that I now have answers too.

Comfort Cab is one of the largest taxi companies here in Singapore. The interesting thing is the total numbers of cabs varies depending on which driver you ask. Today, he said Comfort alone has a fleet of 25,000. I have heard overall there are up to 70,000 cabs here. I think that is an exaggeration by any count because I cannot find even one cab when it is really raining, which is of course quite often.

A teacher’s favorite source of accurate information, Wikipedia, says the total of all cab companies is about 25,000 with Comfort having 11,000 of these. They are by far the largest fleet no matter who you ask or which site you peruse. You will see their blue Hyundai’s everywhere. Some of my questions have always been around the owner/renter policy and here is my summation for Comfort Cab.

The cab rental is $108 Singapore Dollars per day (24 hours). This means if the driver is busy, anything over the $108 is profit. For a majority of drivers, they share their cab – one day shift and one night shift. This means the cost each is only $54 for the day person, which of course increases his profit margin. Most of my 25-30 minute rides are $20 to $25 and our short rides, less than 10 minutes, are $5-$10. In theory, this means an 8-hour day, assuming mostly busy, is close to $400. However, busy time is really in the morning, lunch, and as people leave work at night. I have seen a lot of empty cabs at non-peak times. Most cabs, by the way, have a green colored sign on the roof if they are available!

Therefore I figure it could be about $300 per day after rental and gas. My driver said even between the two-sharing system, he only fills the tank once per day. A benefit of a small island with a lot of small hops. I am not sure this math is accurate, however, since that would equate to about $90,000 per year.  Taxi drivers must be Singaporean citizens. Considering the 2012 median gross monthly income from full-time employed residents is $3,000, or $36,000 per year (according to MOM – Ministry of Manpower), this is where I debate the actual math for the taxis.

I think the topic of renting cabs and the profit margins is an interesting bit of trivia. When I asked similar questions a few days ago, I also learned the drivers take their cabs home at the end of the shift. Therefore, you want to share with someone who lives very close by for when you have to pick up your cab in the morning. By sharing, it reduces the parking lot fees (car park is the term here). These are typically by the hour. I am sure there is a big difference between hourly rates for 12 hours of parking versus 6!

No matter the sharing concept, you can easily tell who takes pride in their cabs. Some are much cleaner than others but overall have no fear, most are still very clean compared to a number of other Southeast Asian countries.

Kelvin and the Elevators

It has now been seven months since our move to Singapore. I’d say we have finally settled in. I judge this by the fact the majority of restaurants where we eat are within a 5-minute walk of our apartment. Thousands upon thousands of good restaurants are spread across this city-state. We hear about them from new friends (mainly coworkers here), the Time-Out magazine, and many of the travel magazines we pick up when we venture out to the huge newsstand at Holland Village. All the restaurants reviewed or suggested look good but we seem to stay within our perimeter. Maybe it is age (not), maybe it is workload, and maybe it is California lazy. However, I am not complaining because we have quite a few favorites nearby. I have mentioned on numerous occasions how much we love The Cut (The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands).  We also get salads at the local salad shops and seemingly complete a weekly trip to Din Tai Fung in the basement mall next to our building (Marina Bay Link Mall). I actually think by now the Din Tai staff would greet us as locals at least but nope, we are still just another couple with the Ang Mo husband.

Speaking of me, since we moved here I have wondered if I really know my name. As you can see when I post anything, it is Kevin. That is K   E   V   I   N. However I have discovered my name is not very common here, duh, or it is harder to pronounce. I know when I was learning Japanese, I was Kebin because they do not use the ‘v’.

What is common is Kelvin. Add the L and that is what 90% of people will say back to me the first time I introduce myself. By now I joke you can call me either name and I will respond. At the gym, one instructor did it so often that when we had the marathon Christmas fund-raiser workout, I decorated my t-shirt with the phrase “Kevin, not Kelvin”. After I explained it to the rest of the staff and of course took a picture with the instructor who made the mistake, it did wonders. (She is great by the way – all in jest!) The gym not only remembers me as the goofy guy (is that good?) but now they correctly say Kevin with a smile.

To add injury to insult, or vice versa, I was working with someone recently who asked for my middle name. When I asked why, they said a bad past experience with someone named Kevin now provided negative connotations to any new business relationship with said name. Okay – you can call me Art, I said. I have one close friend who does it therefore I will likely respond to that too. I did not ask for details as to why Kevin was such a negative experience for them. I figure everyone has something in their past they try to avoid. It is just weird for me to type Art instead of Kevin when I sign the emails for this one peer. It really is amazing how often this continues – the Kelvin vs. Kevin war. Hopefully I’ll still respond when my wife calls me by my correct name. If not, at least I’ll have an excuse as to why I did not listen this time!

Have I mentioned we live in a high-rise? Not a good segue but I’ve got nothing. If you move to Singapore, you will most likely live in a high-rise apartment. This is especially true for Western expats unless you are the ones who get the $15,000 monthly housing allowance which means you’ll live in a colonial with your 1-16 helpers and 2 cars. We are not in that bracket but we do live in one of the most modern high-rises in the Central Business District. Our apartment is on the market for $4+ million. I know I have mentioned it before and for that much money, I’d expect the interior construction to be a bit sounder! I also expect that being on the 31st floor of a 62-story building, it will not be very often that I have to walk up the stairs to get to my apartment. After all, there are 4 high-speed lifts (elevators but lifts is 3 less syllables) that whisk me away to my floor in 25 seconds if no. Before it sounds like I am way lazy, it is not true but you do get used to the convenience.  It is such a difference to be on the 31st floor and then occasionally have the discussions with my wife about buying a 1-story house when we go home to the States so that we won’t have stairs as we plan ahead, way ahead, for retirement. “Where’s my cane?”

This week, like most weeks (after week after week), it was raining fairly hard in the afternoon. I came back from some type of errand this week to find the lift lobby was flooded with about 1” of water. The maintenance crew was busily using the wet-vacs but whatever caused this flood had already had its way with the elevator system too. All 4 lifts were out of service. So that’s why the main lobby had so many people sitting around! Unlike me, apparently they did not relish the adventure of hiking up the stairs to their respective floors. More lazy Californians I would think (and if you are Californian, please realize that is said in jest!).  There are no mountains around here therefore this is good training for that dream trip to Everest base-camp.

I had no such qualms about the stairs but I have to admit, it might have helped that I was in shorts, sneakers, and a t-shirt. I was not dressed for a customer meeting nor was I carrying my 14-pound brick.  Thus I headed smartly up the stairs. I counted 20 steps per floor. After my 31st floor summit, I had done 620 steps! I was a little winded and my back was sweaty which is typical for exerting any tiny bit in Singapore, but overall it felt good. I was glad we’ve been going to the gym and taking the class with 10 of the 60 minutes devoted to squats and lunges. I am not glad during the actual class but it did help with this adventure.

That is my update for this week. It went by very fast since we came back from Sydney on Tuesday, spent time with U.S. friends staying with us Wednesday and Thursday, met another friend from my old job (Newport Beach) on Saturday for breakfast, and yet another friend from Texas for breakfast today and tonight for dinner. This is the most social we have been since we moved. The benefit, besides getting to share a bunch of stories in person, is we now have a nice wine collection consisting of some good California and Australia varieties. All in all, this was a good week. I hope you have enjoyed yours as well.

 

Christmas Trip: Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa Maldives

Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa Maldives

It has been way too long since I have written any updates, let alone talk about our Christmas trip to the Maldives! I figure if we’re going to spend the same amount of money as a new Kia (U.S. prices of course) to go on a 6-day trip, then I better write about it to get my money’s worth! Plus, how else will I show some of the cools pictures. Time to get back on board.

This ‘review’ gives the resort  4.5 out of 5 stars for our one-week stay. For those who wonder where we went, the Republic of the Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean comprised of 26 atolls approximately 250 miles southwest of India. The 1,100+ islands are spread over 35,000 square miles. The average ground level is less than 5 feet above sea level. No risk of altitude sickness here! Dhivehi is the official language and Islam is the official religion.

CentaraResort

http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/cirm/cirm_default.asp

We stayed for 6 days at the Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa in the Maldives. We picked Christmas week, a Sunday to Saturday trip. This is an all-inclusive resort and like most in the area, it is on its own island. This is the wow factor! The hotel has 112 suites and villas and you can walk the circumference in about 15 minutes. The majority of rooms are villas constructed out over the reef. The island is in the South Ari Atoll, which is a 45-minute seaplane ride from Male proper. Although we really only saw the sun the last day, the weather temp was ideal for wandering every day and night around what little land there is. It was perfect for relaxing. There is one main pool, one pool at the private club, a lot of beach, and a whole lot of warm ocean

TheLongWalk

All-inclusive means we often ate at the main buffet style restaurant, which actually has a Japanese grill that is included free for one night. There is a Thai restaurant and an Italian/Seafood place. The restaurants, other than the buffet, have set menus that are 2-3 courses depending on your all-inclusive package choice. We usually ate lunch at the Italian place and breakfast was always the buffet. They have the typical standards which include pancakes for me! This is a very popular destination for Asian ‘snowbirds’ and the meals have specialties for their palate as well. Christmas-eve buffet was an extra charge but they had a great selection and I am never one to pass up 2-3 stops at the dessert table. Some of the staff were even caroling during dinner. We spoke to one of the bartenders the day before and he commented how many weeks he and his peers had spent learning the Christmas carols. They did well!

Buffet2

Because we paid extra to be part of the Island Club, with top shelf free flow alcohol at any restaurant or bar (it was a HOLIDAY!), we could also eat at the Island Club restaurant which had 4-course set meals and a more private atmosphere. The trick was to look at the menu the day before and see which place you preferred. For dinner, it was recommended reservations be made the day before. For the first 4 days, the resort guests were less than 60% of the capacity which meant we rarely ran into anyone and never had issues at mealtime. It became a little more crowded as the after Christmas but ready for New Years guest arrived. The overall food for the week was not the best of our various resort stays but relatively good with a wide selection. Each night the buffet was a different theme. We ate at the Thai place one dinner and the Island Club most nights. The quality of the food is one of the two reasons I can’t give a full 5 stars to the resort.

Buffet

 

TheDeck1

Our room was five stars. We had an overwater villa facing the sunset. The first and last night were the only two sunsets we saw however. The other nights were overcast but still warm. Based on our wandering around, we had one of the best room locations at the entire resort. Looking at the picture from the air, we were in the middle of the right hand side overwater villas near the long walkway down the center (Outside edge of the upside down C). The interior reminded me of a room I would expect in the U.S. Northeastern seaboard. It was a very nautical décor with small lighthouses and other sea or fishing artifacts. Warm wood floors, white walls and blue and white striped curtains. The room was huge and had a great cathedral ceiling. The bathroom was as big as our master bedroom in Singapore! There was a separate bathtub with a view straight through the bedroom out through the double doors over the deck to the ocean. The free mini-bar was handy in the afternoon for cleansing the palate after swallowing some salt water. There was even a reading nook which was very useful. After all, there is only so much snorkeling, eating, and walking circles around an island you can do each day. Reading or relaxing is the norm.

 

Our Deck I have always wanted to stay in an over the sea villa and YAW let me pick this trip! Being from California, I expected my goal would be reach in Fiji or Tahiti but since the Maldives is only a 4.5 hour flight from Singapore, who am I to pass this one up. The outside deck was my favorite part of  this hotel.  The deck has two levels near the water and a sun-deck above. The sun-deck provided nice shade for lower main deck. You actually don’t ever need the sun deck since the second lower deck is exposed to the elements with two comfy lounge chairs. There was a small set of wooden stairs that led directly into the ocean. I used those steps at least twice a day to go snorkeling. While in the water, YAW would throw breadcrumbs and I was quickly surrounded by hungry fish. Luckily the small reef sharks don’t seem to like bread. The first day I ventured out, I saw something strange sticking up from the muck. As I swam to investigate, I discovered an umbrella stuck tip down in the sand! Needless to say that allowed for some amusing pictures in the middle of the ocean. Doesn’t it look like there is nothing anywhere near me? Scary! I hope I can follow the bread crumbs home. Not likely, dang fish.

Umbrella

The entire island is surrounded by a coral reef and the underwater scenery, even close to the villas, was great. I was disappointed in how gray the coral was – seems resort by products are damaging the coral in the area I venture to guess. I expected bright vibrant colors. Yet it was still well worth the swim. When I swam out a few hundred feet from our villa, I came to the edge of the reef surrounding the island. You quickly realize the ocean drops away at least several hundred feet. I could not see the bottom.  It was very cool but a little intimidating. Strange to suddenly come to an edge and wonder if you continue, will you make it back?

Reef and Shark

Up close, I saw reef sharks, manta rays, stingrays, colorful fish, funny slugs, and giant clams. At least I justified my Xmas present, an Olympus Tough TG-1 underwater and shockproof camera (Thanks Honey!). It took great shots and I used it everyday. One day I took a long boat ride out to look at whale sharks. I only saw one but at one point I was within 20 feet of it while taking a video of it swimming by. There were 8-10 boats and over  50 people dropping in the water at different points trying to follow this one shark. Comical in a way but it was crazy. I heard there are other areas where groups of 15-20 sharks can be found and that would have been a lot easier. Not sure the hour-long boat ride each way in crappy weather was worth the trip. It was very choppy out and a little choppy heading back. I did a lot of standing into the wind taking deep breaths. At the resort there is a full dive center if you need more adventure. They even have a shipwreck close to the island.

Whale Shark

When it is time for the extra level of stress relief, there is a small spa at the resort. Our package included a 30-minute spa session each day per person. I think we only used it 3x each but I do remember the coffee body scrub. It felt like being rubbed by rough wet sandpaper but it smelled good. The spa is small and there are no after treatment facilities like a steam room or dry sauna.

Time for the second reason I can’t give 5 stars. Our room attendant was great. Within two days he realized we ate breakfast at 7AM and dinner around 7PM. This meant our room was always tidied up when we came back from either meal. He was the only staff I hunted down before we left to tip. The team at the Island Club was also very nice and talked to us, specifically more to YAW who spent a lot of time at the smaller pool there during the day while I was snorkeling around. The morning buffet wait staff was nice too. We often came in when they first opened for breakfast since we decided there was no real reason to get adjusted to the time zone difference from Singapore.

Where I was surprised with the majority of staff was the lack of smiles or even a nod while passing by. Some might say good morning or hello but rarely with a smile that made you feel welcomed. We believe, after some research, this is just the culture in a country that has only been inundated with these types of resorts for the last few decades. However, it is their country and culture and we are the visitors – I respect that.  Although I don’t expect everyone to love us visiting, when I stay at a 5-start resort I do expect that the HR team has done a little extra prepping the staff. When we compare it to places in Bali or Hawaii where the staff greeted us by name within a few days, this is why I give it a 4.5 star rating. I know we won’t return to this resort.  This is in large part because of the staff and well quite honestly it would be too far from the U.S. once we go home!

There were a few other little things that we did not expect. I knew we had to take a seaplane but did not expect it to stop at another resort first and then land at our resort where the seaplane dock is free floating. While rocking on the dock, you wait for a boat to come and take you to the island. The day we landed, it was a little rougher and that wasn’t the best experience but we got through it. Next time though, we will pick a resort with one less transfer point, i.e. a seaplane dock linked to the island. The view from the air is very nice as you pass a number of islands with resorts. The schedule for the seaplanes means you will spend a few or several hours waiting at the airport before and after your resort stay. We landed on Sunday at 11:00 AM but did not leave for the resort by seaplane until after 2 PM. We did have a short chat with the Australian Minister for Tourism who was on the plane with her family. On the way back after our stay, we had a long wait too but at least had access to the nice airport lounge.

AirTaxi

 

We think this will be our one and only trip to the Maldives. Although the islands are beautiful, I like the more tropical and Polynesian feel of Hawaii and the like. Therefore I guess Southern Philippines, Fiji, or Micronesia is still on the To Do list! We realized 6 days are 2 days too long for us to spend on an island. We can relax like the best of them but it actually gets a little slow. The good news is that means cheaper trips to these exotics destinations in the future.

Next up: Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, and Shanghai (no, not all at once!).

Reef1Reef3Reef4 Reef5Under Our Stairs

 

Casino Night at Marina Bay Sands and Refueling 2600 Calories

While The Wife is away, the husband will play…slots. I’ll get to that in a minute. YAW is home for a week spending mandatory time with her folks and not so mandatory time at South Coast Plaza and her favorite eateries. I get pictures. I can’t complain about my wife getting to buy things at U.S. prices. It is much cheaper than here on the little red dot. Of course I had my own items that I purchased and shipped to her parents. I don’t think my new Crazy Shirts are too hard to bring back. This also includes the new 7lb carry-on suitcase she’ll need to bring stuff back in and that we will use for the upcoming trip I have previewed.

Today our gym, Pure Fitness where they provide the all-black uniforms, had a fundraiser for a children’s organization. Two teams, of 22 people each, paid a small fee to have the pleasure of attending five 30-minute fitness classes with a 15-minute break in between each.  At total of 3.5 hours of fitness fun (pain, sweat, swearing, trying to find a corner to crawl into). It was the male instructors against the female instructors. You can continue to wonder which team I was on. Spinning, Weights, Spinning, Suspension fitness (TRX), and Kickboxing. I won’t regale you with the gory details of how often I changed my t-shirts (remember they provide free t-shirts in the gym!) or how much pain I may be in on Sunday morning.  It was fun although I was acutely aware I could have ended up on a stretcher at any time.

I did wear my handy Timex Ironman heart monitor. According to it, I burned 2590 calories today and hit a high of 102% of my suggested maximum heart rate. If you know I am slender to begin with, this meant I had to replenish said calories. While The Wife is away, I’ll have steak! Yes, I went to our local haunt The Cut at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. When you know the bartenders by name, it is easier to enjoy a solo meal. This one included tempura appetizer (free!), salad, steak, creamed spinach, baked Alaska, pretzel bread, and 2 dark beers (they are really good for men’s heart health).  I think I have done the appropriate calorie load. Funny that the price was almost the same as when there are 2 of us. Hmm.

Before heading over to The Cut in the torrential downpour, I remembered I had yet to walk into the Casino at Marina Bay Sands Hotel during our 5 months of living here. Therefore I actually put on pants, versus shorts, figuring I might as well take a stroll inside. First of all it’s not Vegas. It is one giant 4-story atrium room with slots, card games, some electronic tables, no one yelling “yeah” and…smokers. A lot of smokers. There are a number of places you can no longer smoke in Singapore but the casino is not one of them.  There is no designated smoking area. The entire casino is open for your smoking pleasure. It was Saturday night around 8 PM and there were a lot of people. Many walking with cigarettes dangling in their hands; ashes dropping to the ground while they looked for their next big ‘win’. I was right about the pants requirement but turns out I could have worn an old t-shirt.

I spent about 10-15 minutes walking around and people watching. I could count the number of Caucasians on one foot. It is a majority of Asians, which makes perfect sense, and then a huge contingent of Indians. I personally don’t gamble or at least I should say my limit is about $300…total. Yet by the looks of these people, and the sheer numbers, I’d wager (okay that is gambling) there are a lot of people with the typical day job here, the ones in the $30K-40K range per year, hitting up the tables that have $30 minimum bets. It just seems fiscally unsound to me but if it gives them something to do on a rainy Saturday night, then have at it.

Of course I had to play something but I did not feel like hands of Blackjack for $30.  I usually break even but there was no excitement in this casino. It was surprisingly quiet. There might have been a cheaper table but it was not obvious. I did see the nickel slots and that is where I headed. If you have played slots in the past decade or so, you’ll realize a nickel slot machine is misleading. You’ll never win big with $0.05 per spin. You have to put 10 credits on each line and there are 5 lines. Do the math and suddenly every spin is $2.50 or even higher! I could not do the math fast enough but when I pressed the ‘max’ button, my credits dropped by ½ and my starting wager of $50.00 now was $25.00.

After I lowered my wager to less per line and fewer lines across, or something like that, I was only going through $0.25 to $0.50 per spin. Cool. Now I could play for 4 more minutes. When I was down to what I think was $0.40, I put in another $50. Why not? Now I can say I gambled with the rest of Singapore.

On about my 5th spin, I won some type of 10 free game spin where any win in those 10 games paid out 33 times. On the 8th of the 10, I won some number that converted to some other credit number that eventually equaled $200. I got my slip and walked away. I found the cashier, got my dough, found the checked bag place to pick up my umbrella, and scooted out! My gambling experience was 10 minutes in front of one slot machine but it was enough. I can use that extra $100 above my starting wager to buy about 6-7 beers here in Singapore. Yes, they are that expensive.

In one Saturday I managed to donate to charity, sweat out the last 10 years of toxin buildup, enjoy a US steak, and win a wee tad bit o’ money. The latter while inhaling some of that 2nd hand smoke I miss from the 1980s in the US. Have I ever mentioned the cigarette packets here have those pictures of people with very bad lung, throat, and mouth damage? It is on every packet and I think the price is $10-$11 per pack.  The purchase rate, even with those photos, has not decreased. I believe this summer the US Supreme Court shot down a possible rule that would allow the same type of warning picture on US cigarette packs. But at least there is no smoke smell on my clothes in the US casinos. That’s a plus!

If you venture at some point to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino, I wish you luck. I’ll guarantee you’ll walk out with something.

Blind Singapore Taxi Drivers

Taxis in Singapore are usually easy, sometimes friendly, and even inexpensive compared to many other large cities.  Tonight, the guy was a jerk and it was the first time I have experienced this in the 5 months we have lived here.  He was blind and deaf which are interesting physical traits for a taxi driver.  Let me tell a story…

The majority of the time once you hop in the cab, taxi drivers acknowledge where you are going and that’s it. There is not any idle chitchat in most cabs. When the meter starts, an automated voice reminds you to wear your seatbelt. When the ride ends, the same female voice tells you the fare and to have a nice day. With over 70,000 taxis in this City-State, which is one-third the size of Orange County in California or 3x the size of Washington D.C., that is quite a few mute taxi drivers.

But with over 2,000,000 people going to work each day, some days getting a cab can be a real challenge. This is true during rush hour and also depending on where you are, i.e. the suburbs, at the time. Luckly most take the MRT (subway) but now that we are in rainy season…

It is very hard to get a cab in the rain, like today. There are some tricks but I am not going to use this rant to explain them. I’ll write another post for that topic. I have had a half-dozen cab rides when the driver is very talkative, not mute. During the longer rides, I often ask a lot of questions about how to get a cab easier on the outskirts of town and how the taxi system works.

Usually when a cab is available, they have to take you wherever you want to go. Where this gets tricky is during shift change. In this case, they are actually not allowed to take fares but they do if the fare is going the same direction as they are at the end of the shift. They’ll ask you before they let you get in.

Tonight I was shopping for a specialized item at Sim Lim Square, near the Bugis MRT and about a 10-14 minute taxi ride from home (I was going to write ‘drive’ but I don’t want you to think we actually spent $160,000 getting a VW Jetta here, as one example). Sim Lim Square is the lower end techno-mall compared to Funan but the only one that sells the 2000-watt up-converter I need for my US Vitamix 5200 blender. After 5 months, I can finally make my own shakes and have the banana actually get mixed-in instead of the clumps I get from the locally purchased $60 blender. Since a new Vitamix is $1,000 Singapore dollars or higher, I figure the $220 for the power converter was worth the purchase.  Of course being an Ang Mo, they first told me it was $260 but I asked for the cash discount and got them down to $220. Still seems expensive but not that much more than the US prices after the conversion.

 

The Vitamix next to the power converter the size of a small toaster!

The Vitamix next to the power converter the size of a small toaster!

But the point of my rant was going outside to get a cab. The power converter weighs over 20 pounds and walking 4 blocks to the MRT and carrying it home did not seem like a fun option. I like working my biceps as much as the next guy but not for 30 minutes straight. As one taxi pulled up, showing available, I hopped in. The very elderly driver listened to me say my apartment location (we only have to say the name because we found out everyone in Singapore knows our building!) and then asked me to speak up. “I can’t hear,” he said. I spoke much louder and he said the same thing. This happened one more time. By now I figured he actually did not want to take me where I needed to go! This was a first. Most drivers are more than happy to go into the Central Business District (CBD) because there are always fares waiting to go from here to there or there to here. But instead of just telling me he did not want to go there, he was “deaf”.

Maybe he really was deaf but how can you pick up fares if you can’t hear? How do you know where to go? How do you know to move over for the rare police or fire engine siren? Seriously. But what sealed the deal was when I pulled out my house key (actually a proximity card) that has our building logo and name on it. “I can’t see,” he said. “I am old”.  If he had said I can’t read, that would be one thing. But he said I can’t see. Therefore I now have a blind and deaf taxi driver running around Singapore! Scary thought. By now I did not want to be in his taxi anyway – I value life.

I know Singapore needs a lot of taxis but I did not know blind drivers could take to the road. I guess Singapore is progressive when it comes to the physically challenged driver. Of course I mentioned I would report him, took a photo of the cab, and exited the vehicle.

The next cab took me without incident. Of course he was the majority that never spoke and was listening to American pop music. We notice that is a huge trend in most taxis. He did say thank you when I lef him keep more change than usual.

Now it is late and I don’t know that I’ll report the blind man tonight but I do know whom to call! And I have his plate.

 

Don't use this guy, he's blind!!

Don’t use this guy, he’s blind!!

 

 

The Buffet at the Fullerton Hotel – Thanksgiving it was not

We should have pictures of the Thanksgiving that wasn’t. After all, our friends aren’t holding back posting pictures on Facebook of the food they gorged on last week! What is amazing is the lack of photos showing the combination of Twinkies and cranberry sauce. After all, if the Twinkie ever goes away, why not enjoy it with a favorite Thanksgiving pairing, i.e. cranberries! It is healthier than the deep-fried version of the Twinkie at the Orange County Fair. I am going to miss the Fair in 2013. Too bad, so sad.

My wife was hoping for some traditional Thanksgiving fare but we knew it would not happen on the 4th Thursday in November. Her work schedule is just too chaotic. Some nights she can make the 6 PM workout class but others she gets home as I start to fall asleep. This makes planning meals during the week, especially a holiday not recognized anywhere other than the United States, a challenge. Luckily, she found a buffet-style Thanksgiving dinner at the famous Fullerton Hotel. Not only did we anticipate the hotel would have a great selection, but it is a 5-7 minute walk from our apartment. This means YAW could lay me on my side and roll me home! That’s the best! You can’t beat a buffet meal that concludes with a barrel roll home.

Recently one of YAW’s peers moved here from Kentucky for 6 months to help on her project. He brought his wife and 2 boys, 11 and 8. And another American from the tiny, small State of Texas was here for a few weeks. Therefore we thought it would be fun to go out as a group. We booked a table for all of the Americans. Please don’t be offended but I looked forward to similar accents at the dinner table! It is a homesick thing.

We arrived promptly at 7ish for the 7PM reservation. We saw the buffet but the items didn’t look very Thanksgiving-ish.  I was walking slowly by all of the food stations. I’m hungry. Although I saw a large table fully stocked with my favorite part of any meal – dessert – I did not see any pumpkin pie. I did not see any mashed potatoes, yams or even green beans. I can’t stand the latter; it really wasn’t a loss.

Once we sat down, my wife inquired about the lack of seemingly Thanksgiving type morsels. Well…they of course had a Thanksgiving buffet on Thursday! Not Saturday. What? First of all, dinnertime in Singapore is barely the same 4th Thursday in the US (well, it actually is just 13 hours ahead from EST) therefore why can’t they do it another day too? Really? “Oh, we have turkey,” said the waitress but I asked about Pumpkin Pie and there was none. I really, really like Pumpkin Pie. I would forgo all the other stuff and just eat at the Pumpkin Pie table if 1) it had been Thursday and 2) it existed.  There must be a pie store in Singapore that makes it. A new goal!

My poor wife. She was sure the website said the date for Saturday and I know she would not have booked the typical Saturday night buffet had she known. However, we had a group of 7 Americans talking about stuff, just general stuff, and it was good. When they started to talk about work, I ended that thread! I have attended enough work-related meals that I have met everyone on my wife’s project. I could even step in today, in any meeting, and talk intelligently about the ongoing project so that anyone would think I am just another US consultant! I have thought about it. “Yes, this is the scan factory and we feel it will be fully utilized within 2 weeks, processing 1,000 credit card applications per day.”

The Fullerton Hotel buffet did have quite a selection. It actually included really good turkey with cranberry sauce. Just a taste of Thanksgiving but it really was some of the tenderest turkey I have had. You can choose the $68 option that includes everything except the outside BBQ and Satay station. Or there is the $88 option that includes the BBQ and Satay (not really worth it) and all-you-can-drink Tiger beer or Singapore Slings. Which do you think I chose? Did you guess the endless Tiger beer? You betcha! (I had two – so stuffed).

There was a very good sushi station, a seafood station with crab legs and prawns, and a lot of different meats in local and regional styles. There was an Italian station and outside a satay grill and a BBQ grill with chicken, meat, lamb, etc. It wasn’t really that great for the BBQ items. The indoor items were all fairly good.

Of course there was the obligatory ice cream station with 4 different flavors and a dessert table with all kinds of goodies! I tried 80% of that table and was happy with most of it. We were stuffed. We were already on the dessert selections when the waitress came out and said the lobster would be out in a few minutes. What? Well it comes with a lobster half-tail for each of us! What? I just ate three chocolate brownies, tiramisu, some lemon cookies, chocolate-raspberry cake, vanilla ice cream, some type of berry cobbler, and you want me to eat lobster? That’s gross. I ate it. It was not very good actually – a little tough and not too flavorful. But that was independent of my dessert foray pre-lobster.

Now we were double-stuffed. We were like those double-stuffed baked potatoes they might have provided had this been Thanksgiving! Ha!

Two+ hours later, we split the bill and hobbled out. The really nice thing was when the manager heard about the mistiming of Thanksgiving and the website, we were only charged $68 each versus the $88. That was a very generous gesture. The Fullerton Hotel is a decent deal for the price and the selection is very good. Even if you just eat a couple of forkfuls of each item, you may not cover it all.

Although I have not tried it yet, and YAW has, supposedly the Hyatt buffet for about $130 with free-flowing champagne is much, much better. Hmm – when is that?

P.S. The funniest part of the evening was when the 8-year old mentioned he would do something “Gangnam style.” If you don’t know what that is, crawl out from under your rock and Google it. Watch the YouTube video! As we left the hotel, he even did the dance for us out front. It was so funny! When people walked by, they stopped and started laughing because even they knew what dance the little 8-year American kid was performing.

 

 

The end of the Ding Dong – The mental link between cake and the U.S. class-divide

Normally I like to write about the adventures in Singapore like maybe today’s venture to Funan, which was temporarily paused by the torrential 20-minute downpour that seems to occur every afternoon. Yes, we are in rainy season for the next 3-4 months. I have a really nice umbrella therefore I don’t mind! Plus, seeing lightning strikes occur near the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel reminds me how cool our view is during a major storm.

But what was most interesting to me this weekend was the demise of Hostess Brands. They make my favorite snack not sold here in Singapore: Ding Dongs.  Don’t start to snicker – I do mean the foil-wrapped chocolate cakes that parents all over the U.S. used to sneak in their kid’s lunch bags back before words like saturated fat, cholesterol, and obesity made everyone run for the hills or ban the 7-11 Big Gulp cup. They also make those really good small chocolate covered doughnuts that last forever not to mention the iconic Twinkie. The doughnuts got me through many a long work night.

Today I was checking out CNN and read the reader comments that followed the Hostess story. Over 8,600 comments so far.

(http://money.cnn.com/2012/11/16/news/companies/hostess-closing/index.html?hpt=us_c1)

A few made me laugh and a few reminded me of some conversations over here after the Presidential election last week. First, the fact that people actually spent time writing about the improper use of grammar or calling each other “asshats” made me laugh. At the same time, it made me cringe. Is this what our communication has come to? Do we use social media to come up with Zingers while wasting time writing about things not even related to the article? I wonder how many saw that of the 13,500 employees being laid off because of a union strike, the union in question represents only 5,000 of the overall employee base. I won’t venture a guess at how many scratched cars and egged homes are occurring in that part of the U.S.

What makes me sad though were the large number of comments back and forth blaming President Obama or Romney, or the vice-versa. I won’t get into a political discussion because frankly, I think we’re at that tipping point and someone else will write about it in some history book of the U.S. after its demise or takeover by zombies. No, its not that bad but when you read some of the comments, you’d think the U.S. is optimally set to soon follow the Roman Empire into the sunset.

If you have read this far, what is interesting and what this reminded me of was the reaction here in Singapore after the election. “Good, there will be little change in foreign policy” is pretty much what most would say. “Another election done” might be some others. Very basic and seemingly ambivalent. These are NOT the comments I would see on friend’s Facebook postings. No one here was going back and forth about the death of the US because the democrats are staying in power. Granted, they have their own politics to worry about and that makes sense.

But you know what else they ask? They want to know why the U.S. has such a class warfare system. I had to think or a bit. There are other countries where class warfare exists maybe in a caste system or maybe the urban versus rural populace. When I am asked that about my own country, I don’t have an answer. When did politics become so decisive that friends turn on each other while writing on a social media site that has become the way we now communicate! Yes, I use it too but sometimes I just feel it has even made us more disconnected. Will it change? Will the next generation realize they can’t move forward unless there is a way to really work together to move the entire country forward? Will they even be able to balance a checkbook or has interest in math, chemistry, and science gone down the test tubes.

Or will they still spend weeks being angry at something that is done, over, tallied. Will every four years be like this? I hope when we come back in a few years, things have gotten better.  I am just throwing my thoughts out there since that is what I like to do!