Wednesday, September 20, 2006

After an all too brief 3-day stay in Hong Kong I was off to Singapore to see my roommate of two years, Reshad. I never know what to expect from this kid, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when, after greeting me at baggage claim, his next words were, “Dave, my football team is short a goalkeeper Today, do you think you can fill in? I brought you shorts, we’re going straight to the pitch.” Despite the unexpected jumpstart to my Singapore experience, I had a great time in the city and had some much needed time to relax a bit.

During my first few days in the city-state, I found myself drawing comparisons between Singapore and South Florida. Between the tropical climate, wide, palm tree lined streets and general sense of newness pervading the city, I half expected to see lines spilling onto the streets outside of early-bird special diners and discount movie houses. In reality, this comparison was ill fated, as the city is, not surprisingly, far more dynamic than Ft. Lauderdale. Orchard Road, the main shopping area in the City’s heart, which teemed with multi-racial hordes of well dressed teens and twenty-somethings, and the city’s downtown skyline confirmed my stateside Singaporean friends’ claims of living in a legitimate International city. The city’s clean, orderly reputation certainly proved true as well. Street cleaning crews abounded and a complex network of speed-regulating cameras and tolls on downtown streets were surprisingly effective at preventing congestion.

Just as I was getting used to the smooth efficiency of Singapore, I left with Reshad and his family for a three-day trip to Bangkok. After adapting to life in notoriously chaotic Beijing, I didn’t expect to blink an eye at Thailand’s population size, cleanliness or traffic problems. But I did. Bangkok honestly makes Beijing look like Singapore. The amount of effort required to move from one point to another was unlike anything I’ve seen before. One’s options are to A) take a cab and be taken advantage of, B) take a “tuk-tuk” or motor tricycle and be taken advantage of, or C) walk and be subject to the less than ideal street conditions and “lady bar” hawkers on every corner. We eventually settled on the Skytrain as our preferred method of transportation, and set out to see the city’s notable sites. The food was great, especially the seafood and pad thai (the latter of which became a part of every meal) and there were great deals on clothes everywhere. By the time we left for Singapore, I had started to see a bit of order amidst the city’s craziness, but it still appeared to be a far cry from any Asian city I had previously visited.

Back in Singapore, I was lucky enough to spend a good amount of time hanging out with Reshad’s family and friends. As I’ve written before, visiting tourist sites and the like can be very interesting, but I’d much rather get a local perspective on an area from those who know it best. Whatever I missed by not visiting the Merlion statue-fountain and the Night Safari was more than made up for by the hours I spent trying to pick up some Singlish from Reshad’s hilarious friends during late-night food runs (as it turns out, oyster-omelet is particularly amazing after a night of clubbing).

So that about wraps my end-of-summer trip south. I’m back in China at Nankai University in Tianjin with the Carleton in Tianjin Seminar, and I’ll get the blog (and my photos) caught up once I get my internet connection established here. I have some interesting stories to tell from the steppe in Inner Mongolia, hopefully they'll be up in a few days. I want to sincerely thank everyone I stayed with during my trip, Claire, Lena and Reshad, and their families for so kindly putting me up and showing me around their cities. I certainly couldn’t have gotten to know each place’s authentic character in three weeks without the aid of their endless energy and generosity.

More to come on Inner Mongolia soon!