Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Didn't See that Coming

I visited Singapore in June 2015 and then moved here three months later. Yes it's hot and humid, clean and safe and you can get fined for a lot of things. But here are a few random things I noticed are very different from home. 

Coffee in baggies. It's a plastic baggie filled with creamed coffee with ice carried by a string and drunk through a straw. Actually everything comes in a bag here. I took my Lululemon shoppers with my to the store and asked to use my own bags. Unlike in Long Beach where plastic bags have been banned, plastic bags are everywhere here. I hope to see this change during my stay. 

Teens hanging out in the candy aisle. Teens behave here. You won't walk by a park and see them hanging out smoking cigarettes next to a graffitied wall while they carve their names into playground equipment. When I see teens they are usually hanging are drinking tea in a cafe, studying, or walking home from school in their uniforms. But the other day I went to two markets and saw teens hanging out, talking, and texting in the candy aisle. It's cute.

Bomb shelters. Each home is equipped with a Household Shelter (HS) just off the kitchen that is used as either a pantry or a sometimes maid's room because it also has a small 3/4 bathroom. This is on the other side of The Yard.

Indoor yards. We have an area of our high rise apartment called "The Yard" as it has a large window open to the outdoors to provide ventilation. It's off the kitchen separated by a glass door and has a laundry sink with cleaning supplies, trash shoot, washer/dryer, and a door that leads to the HS. This is where you set up your drying rack if you don't like your laundry on the balcony. 

Indonesia is a cesspool. When I used to think of Indonesia, I thought of Bali. I wasn't aware that "forest fires" in Indonesia in August and September would cause a thick haze in Singapore. The range of the Air Quality Index (AQI) is 0 - 300+. After harvesting the crops farmers burn the fields to clear and fertilize them, which makes Indonesia the 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet. Burning is illegal so they call it a "forest fire." The rate of deforestation in Indonesia has overtaken that of Brazil so Indonesia can sell photocopy paper pulp to China and Japan. Ever heard of PDF?

89 AQI 

Shoes off inside. You may be used to taking your shoes off or putting booties during realtor Open Houses in the states. We did this in Singapore while looking at apartments and I assumed it was the same thing. It's not. People don't wear shoes inside and most people have shoe racks outside their doors, or at least a pile of shoes. When your doorbell rings and it's mosquito inspectors, the gas man, or people in matching shirts, they are already taking theirs shoes off as they are waiting for you to answer the door.

A car to my immediate right as I step off the sidewalk. In Singapore the steering wheel is on the right side of the car and people drive on the left side of the road. Look right when you step off a curb, not left. Remember that.

Import prices. Singapore is a small island that imports everything, so prices on many things are higher. And it's the world's most expensive city. Clothing is 50% more expensive in Singapore than in NY. I expected this with regard to clothing and utilities, but I am still surprised by prices of certain things. My dog's super premium dog food costs $150 SGD for a 30 lb bag, the same bag Amazon sells for $44.89 ($63.00 SGD equivalent). So it's more than double. I saw these little cake sprinkle things at Cold Storage for $18 SGD.

Bakeries everywhere. I take the MRT to Holland Village to grocery shop and the station smells like fresh bread because there is a bakery inside. Singapore is a foodie city and there are bakeries everywhere. The baked goods smell amazing, look fresh, and are very reasonable. I have been here 3 weeks and have only tried some fresh breads, but I am dying to try some of the Nutella-filled waffles I see. The bakeries here sell a fair amount savory pastries--rolls with sausages, pizza-like rolls, and pasties--whereas bakeries in the states seem mostly focused on desserts.

Red and white man-pointing-machine-gun-at-another-man signage. There are protected places in Singapore which may conservation areas, i.e., nature preserves, military bases and the areas immediately surrounding them, or consulate grounds. Sometimes you see the sign on a chain link fence with barbed wire. Other times you see only a sign in a hedge or on the other side of the sidewalk guardrail. However the sign is presented, it means that lethal force can be used if you decide to trespass. #notworthit

Durians are more hated that the gum you usually hear about. My first visit to Singapore I saw what looked like renderings of medieval flails crossed out and wondered why a fruit was banned with the same gusto as cigarettes and flammable goods. The durian is popular in Southeast Asia, has a spiny shell and a smell that is described as rotten onions or raw sewage. Even the dictionary function on Google describes the smell as "fetid."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mother Tongues

My first two weeks in Singapore were centered around updating people at home about my arrival (and more importantly my dog's), finding something to eat, and getting around the city. Singapore English is the main language in Singapore though the Singapore Government also recognizes Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil, which is why many safety signs around the city are in four languages.

Here are some words and phrases I have learned, and I'll likely be adding corrections and additions to these as I learn more.

Singapore MRT Map

Singlish: Colloquial Singaporean English based upon English but simplified

Aircon: Air conditioner. Pretty obvious but that's what they say.

Chope: A term for reserving a seat by placing a packet of tissues on a table, most likely at a hawker center. Note that I said "seat" and not an entire table. 

Hawker: Food courts where locals eat lunch that serve Asian fast-food type dishes. When you eat at a hawker center you have to take your own napkins or paper towels as they're not supplied. 

Can/Cannot: This is a local way of answering a question. I asked "Aunty, can I break off bananas?" at the market, wondering if I must buy the bunch or only what I needed. The answer was "Can," so I broke off four bananas. If that were not possible Aunty would have said, "Cannot. Bunch is $2.00." 

On/Off: On and off are used as verbs as in "You must 'on' the lights" instead of "You must turn on the lights." Ask "Can on the aircon?" See how simple that is?

Aunty/Uncle: It's a sign of respect to refer to a shop owner, taxi drivers, or hocker vender as aunty and uncle when they are a generation older than me. I am told that I should address my same generation Big Brother and Big Sister, but I am still trying that out. I think "Boss" is also used within a generation. I am told this is more of an Asian custom than something particular to Singapore. 

Handphone: That's your mobile. On business cards it's HP.

Top Up: To add additional fair to something such as your mobile plan or MRT pass.

PAX: Person, as in "we paid about $40/PAX." It's origin comes from paying passengers but it means people, persons, or occupants.

EZ-Link: Permanent residents can get a monthly or weekly Season Pass with a photo ID for unlimited travel public transport, i.e., MRT and buses). There are sometimes associated promotions with merchants. I bought a 3 day Tourist Pass. Once that expired I kept the card and just kept topping up. 

NETs: A secure e-payment system tied to your bank that can be used for cabs, in markets, for airline transactions--just about anything. 

FairPrice: Supermarket chain in Singapore and the largest in the country. There generally seems to be one at every MRT stop. FairPrice carries local brands. Prices are reasonable and produce, eggs, and local foods are inexpensive. 

Cold Storage: Supermarket chain in Singapore and Malaysia that caters to the expat community, Australia in particular. Much of the food is imported and specialty items, which can be expensive, so if you're dying for a particular brand of cookies (or biscuits) from this is likely where you'll find it. 

Trolley: What you'll need for shopping at the local markets if you're not driving, i.e., a basket on wheels. I used to see these at the farmers markets in Los Angeles.

Keep in mind that in 1819 the British came to the Singapore to set up a port and colony so Singapore English follows British English to a certain extent. Google spell check has been reminding me that I am misspelling "specialize" with a "z" instead of an "s." You have probably already heard elevators being called lifts, a trunk of a car referred to as "the boot," and of course " a cuppa." If not, you have been missing out on some good British Netflix series!

Monday, September 21, 2015

There's an App for That ... in Singapore

Now that I have sold my cars, deleted my traffic apps, and moved to Singapore, besides using Google Maps there are apps I depend upon daily:

WhatsApp Chat

Texting: Download WhatsApp to your handphone for free SMS texting. With 800 million users it's likely your contacts are already using the app. 

Taxi: I didn't take taxis in Los Angeles so I can only compare this app to uber. GrabTaxi works a bit like uber in the sense that you input your location and destination, book a taxi, see its ETA. For every ride I have booked I have paid cash as requested in the app, but you do have the option to pay with NETs. You will receive promotions via email for discounts on future rides that must be used within a time period. 

Food: Instead of Yelp, is much more widely used in Singapore. Whereas Yelp is strictly about user-generated content and reviews, HGW is more like a blog with articles, promotions, and a lot of "top 5"or "top 10" lists, but just like Yelp you can read restaurant and hawker center reviews, search by location, type of food, price range.

MRT: SG MRT (map of MRT/SRT) and NextRide, a routing app that allows you to chose your route and transportation method. Google Maps will usually provide a bus route as buses get you closest to your destination. I prefer MRT as it's not affected by road traffic, it's faster than the bus, and I don't at all mind walking. Plus I love trains. 

Shopping: You will shop at Ikea even if you never really liked Ikea. In Los Angeles I shopped at Ikea when my husband and I moved in together 20 years ago and I think I've been back 3 times. Until now. There is no Target, Restoration Hardware, in Singapore so if you want to buy toilet brushes, towels, and a dresser you will probably go to Ikea because the dresser only needs to last a matter of months or a few years and you probably didn't ship a toilet brush. Ikea has several apps to plan a shopping list, virtually plan your living room, and of course view the catalogue. Also their muesli is pretty good. 

Meetup: My first week in Singapore I spent visiting my dog in quarantine. My second week I spent grocery shopping and meeting the gas man and cable man to set up services. So by week three I was ready to grab a coffee with a friend, only I don't have any here. So I applied (many groups are closed and you must be approved after completing a profile) to a few groups and found some meetups they hosted. The first one was a 6km walk with about 25 women along one of the rivers.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Singapore is not China

Most Americans I know unless their family is from the region visit Asia for business. Here are seven reasons why you should vacation in Singapore. Note that Singapore is not China. 

1. Getting around is easy

The same things you do at home with a smartphone--using an app to call a taxi or uber, locating a shopping mall with Google maps, finding pho with the highest reviews--work just as well in Singapore. Everything is in English, the taxis are relatively cheap, and cell phone reception is excellent. Just call it a handphone.

If you want to take public transportation you won’t find a more modern, clean, and easy to navigate system anywhere. Purchase a 1, 2, or 3 day tourist pass for unlimited travel on Singapore's public buses and MRT trains. I bought a 3 day pass my second day in Singapore and used it to travel across the country--40 km round trip--to visit my dog in quarantine. Buying and using the pass is easy because clear signage explains everything. Once you're on the MRT you watch the route in progress from an overhead map or listen for them over the intercom. Buses have overhead marquees that display the next stop. 

Tourist Pass

2. Friendly and Helpful Locals

Singapore taxi drives are amazing. I have taken a dozen cabs during my visit and each taxi driver speaks English and carries a healthy amount of cheerful pride about Singapore and its culture. A cab driver taking me to my new apartment shared with me that the people of Singapore are taught in schools to offer help to people when needed for the good of the country, not for compensation. I have found this to be true on buses finding my route, in line at the grocery store fumbling for correct change in SGD, and learning the nuances of hawker centers

3. No Fewer Worries

Visit a busy shopping mall, the metro, or hawker center to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Unlike other busy such as New York, Rome, or Barcelona where you must be constantly vigilant about pickpocketscrime rates in Singapore are some of the lowest in the world. My husband left his phone on the metro during his initial visit, which was returned to him within ten minutes as he was completing a lost item report. But it's not perfect. While in Ikea during a public holiday I did hear an announcement to "mind your personal belongings" because the store was so crowded.

4. Asia 101

The only other city in Asia I have visited besides Singapore is Tokyo. And though Tokyo is a fascinating and wonderful place, it is very different from American and European cities, mostly because everything is in Japanese. My friends tell me that Taipei and Seoul are equally foreign as everything is in Chinese and Korean respectively. Singapore is an excellent introduction to Asia because of its diversity. You can acclimate to Asian culture while still reading and speaking English. 

5. Stopover to Australia or Bali

Has your dream been to spend two weeks in Australia touring the country, first seeing Sydney’s opera house, then diving at the great barrier reef, and finally seeing ‘roos and koalas in the bush? Spend two or three days in Singapore on your way down under and acclimate to the time change. Singapore is a small country, which means you can see a lot in two or three days. From Singapore, a flight to Bali is just under 3 hours, less than 8 hours to Brisbane or Sydney, and less than 5 hours to Perth. Try the vegetarian vegan and vegetarian Indian meals on Singapore Air. Good stuff!

6. Foodie’s Paradise

Singapore is located on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia, between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and became an independent republic from Malaysia in 1965. Ethnically Singapore is comprised of roughly 75% Chinese, 13% Maylay, 9% Indian--the remaining roughly 3% is made up of Eurasians plus everyone else. Singapore is currently the world's second-busiest port in terms of total shipping tonnage. It's physical location and the diverse culture of its people make for some exciting local dishes at reasonable prices and fine dining

7. Modern City Full of Discoveries

A luxury shopping center that houses Dior, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Tiffany & Co., has a walkway to the Orchard MRT. Every brand you know and some you don't are located around the Orchard and Somerset MRT stations. Walking down Orchard Road on a Friday night has the energy of walking around Time Square but with the sophisticated stores of Beverly Hills, housed within the modern architecture of the fancy end of The Strip in Las Vegas, with a Hawaiian climate. 

Enjoy your time at Changi Airport. I was thrilled by the cleanest bathrooms I have ever seen on my first visit, but there is more to enjoy including shopping, spas, a slide, and a butterfly garden.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How Not to Die: Tips for Generation X

After my swim across the bay I ride my bike to my neighbors' who invited me for pizza and we talk about this year's El Niño and our hopes that it will end the worst drought in 500 or 1200 years (depending upon what you're reading). The warmer Pacific has dumped thousands of little orange tuna crabs onto beaches in San Diego and Orange County, and sea hares--purple slugs that look like small human hearts--onto beaches in San Francisco. We talk about the tuna crab I saw swimming backwards across the top of the water, looking up at me with bulging and friendly black eyes as I crouched down on the dock and laid on my belly to stick my arm in the water up to my elbow, testing if it was warm enough to swim. We talk about the seal that popped up eight feet in front of me last summer, its big, brown eyes looking into mine. They show me drone footage of great white sharks swimming in Huntington Beach just eight miles south of where I swim every afternoon. But as a swimmer in Los Angeles County my odds of dying this way are low, one shark attack for every 738 million beach visits. There is no real need to worry about dying this way. So I've compiled a list of things you too can stop worrying about.

Stop Worrying About ...

Thigh Gap, Thinspiration, and Anything Anorexia-Related. Do women speak out against anorexia because they're envious of skinny women? I think so. On Facebook women rail against the evils of thinspiration, thigh gap worship, and the belly button challenge. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says that 5 - 20% of individuals struggling with anorexia will die and that it has one of the highest death rates of any mental health condition. I don't believe NEDA because on another page it says that death rates vary considerably between studies, which may be due to length of follow-up, inability to find people years later, or other reasons. So they're not really sure. You know who is sure about anorexia death rates? The CDC. You can look at CDC tables and see that anorexia isn't there because nobody is dying from it, at least not in numbers significant enough to be on the radar of the CDC

Americans are not dying from anorexia, just the opposite. The top 5 causes of death in the U.S. (with the exception of accidents) are directly caused by unhealthy diet, obesity, lack of exercise, and smoking (though cancer is also attributed to gene mutations, hormones, radiation, and viruses). So worry about eating healthy and getting enough exercise and show anorexics some respect. The 60 - 70% of Americans who are overweight could use some pro 
ana tips.

Someone Shooting You. 
My husband asked me where I stood on gun control.

"I don't care." I said.

"You don't care?" he said. And then he was quiet.

"It's a divisive issue and a waste of time because people aren't dying from guns. Adults die from being fat and inactive and children die from accidents. I am more concerned about labeling GMO food and keeping our water supply clean ... or actually having water in California. So guns, who cares?" 

Statistically the person most likely to kill you, is you. People ages 35 - 50 (Generation X) are more likely to die from suicide than homicide. Men do it with guns and women do it with poison. The fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. is accidents or unintentional injuries--poisoning, traffic, and falls. Poisoning is synonymous with accidental overdoses, usually from opiates. In 2013 drug poisoning death rates among Generation X were 21.9 in people ages 25 - 44 and 27.5 ages 45 - 54. The medicine cabinet is a dangerous place, especially for women, so worry about locking your medicine cabinet, not your neighbors' unlocked guns.

Poison is the mostly likely cause of death for ages 25 - 44.

Random Acts of Violence. While travelling to Asia in June, specifically Singapore and Tokyo, I was amazed at the train manners. On the metro in Los Angeles people eat takeout despite the threat of fines, spit on the floor, yell profanities into their cell phones, and spread their arms and legs to take up multiple seats. In Tokyo and Singapore people are respectful of themselves, the facilities, and each other. People limit themselves to a single seat, quietly text or read, and offer priority seats to the elderly and women with small children. (Though public transportation is used by a different socio-economic class in Los Angeles than in Asia.) When I returned home, I googled "violence in the US" to determine why Americans are so violent. I learned that Americans aren't violent--loud, rude, and obese maybe, but not violent. According to World Health Rankings the U.S. is #92 in violence as measured in death rates per 100,000 people out of 192 countries. Wikipedia ranks the U.S. at 109 out of 218 countries, so it's the middle of the pack. You can stop worrying about random violence because you can't do anything about it.

But worrying isn't all bad, it may actually be a sign of intelligence. So I've also compiled a list of things you can worry about.

Do Worry About ...

Cigarettes. Smoke causes COPD, so why not trade in your cigarettes for pot (in states where pot is legal)? Realize I'm not speaking from experience on this topic as my profession requires drug tests and both my granddads died of lung cancer; illicit drugs and tobacco are not my thing. Plus I am moving to Singapore and the penalty for drugs is death. So there's that. At least find a safer alternative to cigarettes, like swimming at the beach in Southern California during El Niño when adolescent great white sharks are just off the coast.

Your parents crossing the street. More than 9,000 older pedestrian fall-related injuries each year involve a curb, i.e., an older adult tripping on a curb. Pedestrians ages 65 and older accounted for 20% of all pedestrian deaths in 2012. Your parents are especially in danger if they live in Florida--Orlando was the most dangerous area to walk in 2014, followed by the Tampa-St.Petersburg, Jacksonville, and Miami. 

Your parents or children falling in Vermont. Vermont is the state with the most deaths from falling, 17.2 deaths. Falling is the 8th leading cause of death for all ages in Vermont. For the life of me I cannot figure this one out. Do people fall because of snow? Because they're drunk? If it's booze or snow why aren't people falling as much in North Dakota.

Your teenagers driving, especially in Montana. Montana has the highest teen death rate in the U.S., killing 82 teens, mostly from motor vehicle deaths and suicide. Montana also has the highest motor vehicle death rate for all ages. Rural roads are more deadly than city and suburban roads because rural drivers are more likely to be older, more likely to be drinking, and less likely to wear seat belts. Something to remember if you're moving to the country to keep your teen safe. 

Hopefully you are not crossing the street, smoking, burning a candle or eating anything--especially something fattening--on which you can choke while reading this post.

Note: Death rates are per 100,000 per year unless stated otherwise.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bangry? Solving Angry Boredom

Scientists don't define boredom as simply having nothing to do, but rather a lack of engagement, specifically "the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity." Boredom requires two conditions.
  • Mental energy that you would like to devote to something-- because without the energy you will feel only relaxation. 
  • Something, either a distraction or anxiety, preventing you from fully focusing your attention.
This means that boredom is not just about a lack of stimulation or restlessness. There must be a sense of being trapped as well as underlying anxiety as to how much longer the boring event will endure. This is what prevents immersion in the Girls episode on your iPad while waiting to board a flight. The helplessness we experience is because removing ourselves from the boring event is either rude, detrimental to our careers, counterproductive, or impossible. 

5 Types of Boredom

There are 5 Types of boredom differentiated by the level of mental arousal and the feeling about the state of boredom.

1. Indifferent: We appear relaxed and calm yet withdrawn, e.g., the moment just before your dad falls asleep in the LazyBoy.  

2. Apathetic: It looks a lot like helplessness, ennui with little arousal but a lot of aversion. Think bored housewife with grown kids who isn't interested in golf, cooking lessons, yoga, painting, language studies ... it's a path to depression.

3. Calibrating: Thoughts wander and we want do something different but not sure how, e.g., right now I want to go swimming, but that entails ten minutes of sunscreen application. 

4. Reactant: We are highly aroused and have a lot of negative emotions; we're restless and aggressive. People experiencing reactant boredom really want to leave their dull situations and flee from the people they blame for it and waste time thinking of situations they’d rather be in, e.g., I fantasize about hanging up on a telcon because the call leader is vamping and not following an agenda. Bangry, angry boredom.

5. Searching: We experience negative feelings and a creeping, disagreeable, restlessness and look for an escape by focusing on more interesting activities, i.e., the type of boredom that lights a fire under us to make lasting changes. 

Indifferent: Type 1 Boredom

Boredom Customized Just for You

Type 1 boredom is hardly worth solving as it's fleeting, nearly enjoyable, and non-destructive. Since it can take months or even years to find an escape from type 5 boredom, it's an easier and more effective path to work on types 2 - 4.

Type 2 boredom is learned helplessness; people blame their inability to pay attention on their circumstances, similar to when animals are beaten down repeatedly and stop trying to improve their condition. This type of boredom may require professional help because of its close relationship to mental illness.

Type 3 boredom often involves repetitive tasks such as calorie counting, housework, or completing reports. If these are boring you, try to accomplish them in a way that makes them more engaging. 
  • Gamify it. I use Calorie Count to log my food because I like seeing the analysis chart throughout the day and checking off my accomplishments like getting enough potassium or having a 500 calorie deficit. Checking a heart rate monitor on the treadmill can serve the same purpose.
  • Sexify it. My Clean House playlist includes hip hop music--the more explicit the better--to make Swiffering a little less boring. 
  • Fight boring with boring. Pilots sort receipts and updates expense reports while at cruising altitude. I read financial emails while waiting for people.
  • Embrace it. Sometimes mundane activities lead to creative thinking
Type 4 boredom where there is no escape--irrelevant meetings, conversations on repeat, traffic--is the type that can cause lasting damage because the frustration and resentment it causes can lead to hasty actions.

  • Determine which conversations you can halt when they begin repeating themselves--not the ones with your boss's boss, but maybe the ones with the butcher. Stop them if you've heard this one before.
  • If meetings are the source of your angry boredom (bangry?), you can either work to solve the meeting problem or accept it. Which option aligns better with your long term plans? 
Traffic? Having lived in Los Angeles for twenty years the best solution that I can offer is to change traffic from type 4 to type 1 boredom by lowering your level of arousal and redirecting engagement from the traffic to something else. Select a route and stick with it--relinquish the idea of saving an extra seven minutes by changing freeways and instead immerse yourself in audiobooks, in-depth interviews on satellite radio, or a Chill Out Lounge mix. But traffic is afterall one of the reasons I am moving from Los Angeles (see type #5).