Friday, August 13, 2010

Singapore – One Man’s Opinion

I waited until I departed Singaporean waters to file this dispatch. I have few kind things to say about it. Here are the few kind things now:

1. It’s clean

2. It’s safe

3. The Indian food is fantastic

4. Clarke Quay is a smashing hit

Having said that, unless one needs their boat repaired or conducts business in the Asian financial sector – I see no reason to go there. “Clean and safe” is tantamount to living in a coffin. I didn’t sign up for “clean and safe”. Give me weird and risky.

“Statistical Snapshot” or “Old Money vs. The New Rich”

Now pay attention, this says a lot: It’s a city, it’s an island, and it’s a nation. Singapore, or Singapura - English translation: Lion City – 42% of the population is comprised of foreigners. They are an international shipping hub at the bottle neck of the Malacca Strait (Stamford Raffles had foresight). They’ve only been independent from Malaysia since 1965 . . . and they are rich . . .

Show me the Money!

Wealth is relative. Are you rich or are you poor? It depends on who you are standing next to. Singapore is surrounded on all sides by poverty stricken Southeast Asia. There is a water spectacle in the heart of the city, and it’s called the “Fountain of Wealth”. It trumpets its title of “World’s Largest Fountain”. Singapore is proud of its economic status amongst the poor nations of Asia and it has no problem rubbing their noses in it. No one likes a show off.


I haven’t lived in the first world for almost 5 years but Singapore qualifies in every way. It has infrastructure, real roads, mass transit, and sadly, very little corruption. The problem with the first world is that it’s not economically feasible to bribe officials. I miss that. Here’s my story:

In Bali when I had a traffic infraction and the cop would pull me over - I would bribe him the equivalent of $5. It happened more than once. In the States that would have cost me a day in traffic school, $200, and maybe points off my license with an increase in my insurance costs. Sometimes corruption can be a good thing.

Apparently when you sail into Singapore and try to fly out the rules for the captain are different than the rules for the crew. Megan glided right through immigration while I was yanked to the side. I had to take a taxi to the immigration pier and was then told by the official that I needed to go back to the boat and get my crew list. I had 40 minutes before my flight lifted off. No problem. I know how to handle this. I pulled out my wad of money and turned on the charm. That got me nowhere. Then I peeled off a stack of bills and turned into the Ugly American. “I’m going to be on that plane. Let’s settle this now.” Nope. Not a chance. I’m lucky I didn’t end up in the brig. At that point I realized that I need to stop criticizing corruption and just admit that it works for the rich. Their wealth has greatly eliminated corruption. I suppose you can put that in the “good column”.

They may be rich but . . .

. . . Rest easy, they’ll never rule the world. There is a lubrication of commerce that the western world has realized that the Asian sector hasn’t even recognized yet. I must have called at least 30 businesses while I was there and not one of them answered with the name of the company, just “hello”. If you ask for someone and they aren’t there – their colleague will tell you to call back. Can you imagine that happening in the Western world? You would be fired immediately. The West is very adept at removing friction from business. Even as advanced as these Singaporeans are, they just haven’t figured out how to eliminate the hassle. I purchased thousands of dollars in new batteries and they wouldn’t take my credit card over the phone. The sales rep actually drove to the marina to pick me up and drive me to his office. It took them 5 seconds to swipe the card and we were back in the car and returning to the marina. I also found it easier to buy other items in the States and Australia, have them flown in, pay duty, and they were still cheaper and faster than buying the same items locally. Not to mention the customer service I received abroad vs. the comedy worthy exchanges I experienced with the Chinese overlords of Singapore, lah (they end every sentence with “lah”. Don’t ask).

Singlish

Just because you know the phonetic letters doesn’t mean you speak English. I was listening to a Singaporean slaughter English and I thought, “Listen to what you are doing to my language.” Then I realized it wasn’t my language. My sentiment must be what a BBC Englishman feels when listening to an American or an Australian speak English. I now recognize that and here’s my public apology: “Sorry”. When I speak English to a non-native speaker, I slow down and I over enunciate. They won’t. The Singaporeans think they speak English. They don’t. They speak a hybrid pigeon English buttered with a thick coat of strong Mandarin inflection. It’s made even more frustrating by the speed at which they rattle it off their tongue. They either refuse to speak slower or can’t. I thought the Melanesian’s (Fiji not included) were handicapping their children by teaching them pigeon instead of proper English and it holds true for Singapore as well.

Clark Quay

I never professed to be a civil engineer but as far as city planning goes, I think Singapore might have one of the best planned spaces in any metropolitan area when it comes to the example of Clark Quay. I thought I should put this paragraph at this juncture since I’m about to have my passport revoked for being an intolerant ugly American. I may not like Singapore but I do recognize something worth emulating when I see it. Sure, it’s soulless and much too expensive but they’ve earned their kudos for building the perfect wallet drainer.

“Why So Long In Singapore Bob”?

One year ago I met a man on the dock at Bali Marina. His name is Gordon and he owns a gorgeous sailboat named Seacomber. He asked me if I would look after her while he was away. That lasted 4 months. He asked if I would help him sail her to Singapore for a refit. Yes again. During our trip north he asked if I would consider overseeing the refit. He more than doubled my pay and I agreed. Shortly after, he asked if I would consider moving aboard permanently as captain.

After much thought, I agreed.

Barraveigh is now for sale and I will continue around the world on the sailing vessel Seacomber. The details will be in the next dispatch. . .

Stay tuned,

Captain Bobby

I would like to dedicate this dispatch to 2 people and a dog who made my time in Singapore bearable. Hock Keng - "CAN", Megan - My lovely Megan, and the Iggy dog - he and a cold beer at the end of the day made all the work worth it. His owners are pretty cool too.