28 February 2009

End of 100 Days

Thanks to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s hard times/drastic action during his 1st administration in 1933, the media and political pundits have since measured a president’s agenda during a 100-day period beginning on inauguration day and ending 30 April. I do not have a nation shaping agenda for the next three years while living in Singapore, but I do have a plan to learn and experience as much as I can about the city-state. In this spirit, I am celebrating the end of my first 100-day learning curve.

1. Where does Singapore get nearly 70% of its water?
a. Recycled rainwater
b. Imported Malaysian water
c. Treated Straits of Singapore water
d. Controlled reservoir water

2. Match the maximum strokes to the offence which caning is available.
a. Drug Trafficking
b. Murder and attempted murder
c. Vandalism (graffiti and defacing public property)

3. In Singapore prostitution is legal. How does the government regulate it?
a. Register all prostitutes and have them attend routine health screenings
b. Designate red-light areas
c. Record clubs and brothels
d. All the above

4. True or False. Last year the government created Speakers’ Corner, a designated area where people can gather and speak freely. All speakers must first register with the police and a group of 5 or more people is against the law.

5. Prime Minister Lee recently said, “Their leaders are picking up points here and there” about how to “run a tight ship, honest and effective.” Which one of the following explains the quote?
a. Countries such as USA, UK, and Iceland want to learn how Singapore has kept the economy of the tiny nation strong since the birth of the nation.
b. Countries such as Syria, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern States want to learn how to keep a country safe from terrorist activity.
c. Countries such as China, Russia, and the Gulf States want to learn how Singapore has kept its ruling party and people in place since the birth of the nation.

This is not my blue print on how I will spend my term here in Singapore. I have no desire to discover all these quiz facts first-hand. Although I hope to find out about the water recycling treatment, I hope to not discover the caning treatment!

answers: 1 b ; 2a-15 2b-24 2c-6 ; 3 d ; 4 true ; 5 c

19 February 2009

Oscar Night & Day

The mirror above the sink in the upstairs bathroom at 51 South Stanwood Road has seen a lot of action. With five Acton kids sharing the bathroom from pre-K-12 and a year or two after college, I'm sure I’m not the only one who pretended to be a spokesman in a commercial pitching products, rehearsed a school speech and answered “where will you be in five years?” My personal favorite bathroom performance was accepting an Academy Award. With one towel wrapped around my head as an up-do and another wrapped as a strapless gown, I’d accept my Oral-B Oscar by first thanking the Academy. I always thanked the Academy before thanking one-by-one my brothers, sisters, and pets. I’d thank others depending on the year, but I always ended my speech by thanking my fans.

This explains why I like watching the Academy Awards ceremony. I like to listen to the acceptance speeches. While the red carpet preshow has become a robotic luxury goods infomercial and Botox spanking machine and the actual program a dull and lifeless show of one-liners, the acceptance speeches have remained real human emotion. Once they announce the winner’s name, genuine shock or joy, surprise or arrogance is on display for the world to see. They might gather their composure on the way to the stage and give a memorable speech (Frances McDormand), or a self-important speech (Julia Roberts) or, they do not collect themselves at all and give a speech worthy of a Raspberry Award (Halle Berry).

While I settle down for a few hours of Hollywood speak, I eat and drink something special. The night only comes once a year, so I always throw a one-woman party. This year I will watch the Academy Awards as I always do, but instead of tuning into them live on Sunday night, I will watch them live Monday morning. Singapore is 13 hours ahead EST. The time difference changes everything. I’ll have to alter my usual drinks, food, and games. What will replace champagne, pâté, shrimp, and chocolates? Coffee, quiche, bacon, and a breadbasket? Taking a sip of champagne every time someone thanks the Academy or when the camera focuses on Jack Nicholson are fun games when facing sleep after the broadcast, but it is quite another when preparing to face a full day.

I turned to the media outlets for a possible party plan. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, and the like describe their ideas for a winning evening Oscar party, but never for morning ones. Therefore, special for this year’s celebration only, I present The BBC, Brunch for the British Contenders. Since I hope it will be a “Slumdog Millionaire” sweep and a Kate Winslet first my theme is British based.

Pimm's Cup: One slice of orange, lemon, apple, cucumber, sprig of mint 2 parts lemonade and 1 part Pimm's

Common English Breakfast: Sausage, bacon, fried eggs (in the bacon pan, of course), baked beans, cooked mushrooms and tomatoes, and fried bread

Game: Take an extra sip every time someone thanks the writers or when the camera focuses on Michael Sheen

Party Favor: Before or after a Brit victory, pop open a Christmas crackers as if it’s a swag bag

The Academy Awards acceptance speeches are the central reason why I celebrate. It is interesting for me to watch and listen to the winners because it gives a sense of who they are and what/who they value. I understand and expect all speeches to being with thanking The Academy no matter how cliché it sounds. It is also equally important to thank the writers straight away because that is where the motion picture begins. One can argue that the life of the movie begins at conception, but I believe that it begins with the birth of the script. Where would the industry be without the script to inspire the director, producer(s) and costume designer, musician, lighting engineer and, at the end of the evolution, the moviegoers!?

So, Kate Winslet and Danny Boyle, I’m counting on you both to give the speech I’d give today in front of my bathroom mirror in #02-02 Draycott 8. Don’t gush, Kate, you’re an actor, act composed! You’ve had plenty of practice this awards season to say something brilliant about The Academy and the writers of the scripts(s). As for you Danny Boy, don’t forget to thank the moviegoers around the world. True, they may not have a lot to do with making a movie, but they certainly have a lot to do with box office receipts! Please make your speeches my reward.

10 February 2009

Your Money or Your Lifestyle

The cures for the ailing global economy are as abundant as the number of economists in the world. While financial professionals think globally, we all have to live the crisis locally. In Singapore, the government’s recovery plan recommends citizens to save money. Those in charge believe that the 4 million populous (1 million of which are expats) cannot spend their way out of the economic slump. They think that the domestic buying power is not large enough to lift the economy and offset falling exports. Therefore, the nation is to be prudent and not live lavishly. Among other things the government suggests, each person should take shorter showers, eat more vegetables, and keep from buying high-end mobile phones.

As my sister Valerie says, “I ain’t no math whiz. I’m a cheese whiz.” I am in no position to make any predictions of what saving money rather than spending money will do to the country’s economy. Singapore’s trade and industry are things I know nothing, but after two months I do know one thing: shopping is the unofficial national pastime.

The pledge of the people is a promise to shop and spend. The average cost of a compact car is S$80,000, but fees, taxes, and a Certificate of Entitlement drive the costs well into S$100,000. In a country 3x the size of Washington D.C. there are anywhere from 185 -250 multilevel malls. I cannot find an official count, but on Orchard Road, a 3-mile district of premier retailers similar to NYC’s Fifth Avenue, I counted 28 malls. Each retail centre has several floors full of shops, spas, and restaurants. On the corner of the main intersection of Orchard Road and Scotts Road, a new shopping mall will open for business in 2010.

Off Orchard Road, a “lifestyle” residential tower is under construction. Developers, Hayden Properties, are creating the world’s largest apartment building with connected car porches. The Hamilton Scotts will have an elevator that lifts the car up to the unit. As part of the design, the parked cars next to each condominium form a column along the building. From the street people will be able to see a car column behind a panel of glass. The 54 units are roughly 2,700 sq ft each and cost over S$4,000 sq. ft. Move in date is 2011.

The spending continues. In 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lifted a decade’s old ban on gambling and gave approval to build two casinos. At that time he said, “We want Singapore to have that x-factor.” He felt the country was at risk of becoming a “backwater”. One casino, owned by a Malaysian company, will be part of the resort island, Sentosa where Universal Studios is building a theme park. Rides roll in 2012. Until then, you can place your bets at The Sands casino this July.

According to the Singapore Tourism Board, 2008 saw good returns. Even though Singapore welcomed only 10.1 million visitors, a small decline of 1.6% from 2007, it did post record-breaking receipts of S$14.8 billion (9.8 billion U.S.), an increase of 4.8%. Room revenue in hotels booked S$2.1 billion (1.4 billion U.S.), a 12.1% growth over last year.

Perhaps the government expects visitors and tourists to spend Singapore out of a slump. If The Singapore Flyer is any indication, then that plan might fall flat. Opened last year and billed as a world-class visitor attraction, the tallest Ferris wheel in the world has 28 cars with 360° views of the city. Each car holds 32 people. On 23 December 2008, 173 passengers on the Flyer were trapped for six hours as a result from an electrical fire - giving a new meaning to the phrase money trap. The owners are not only under government investigation, but they owe tens of thousands of dollars in back rent. It reopened last month on the 25th. Attendance is down even though they dropped the admission to S$30 per person.

Until the spending freeze ends, it looks as if it is up to the tourists to keep Singapore’s economy spinning. I can see the slogan now: Singapore: You Cane Bet on It!