Monthly Archives: September 2008

Final Thoughts on Singapore

Posted by on September 17, 2008

Singapore Riverfront

Singapore Riverfront

Before I move much further on in my trip, I should adhere to my “one country away” rule and give my final thoughts on Singapore.

Singapore is the second country in which I have previously spent time prior to the start of my trip (the other being Taiwan). After my first trip to Singapore in 1999, I became fascinated with the country. I read up on the history of Singapore, I read at least two books on Lee Kuan Yew, and always sort of paid extra attention when something about Singapore came up on the news. I was fascinated by the size of Singapore, coupled with the fact that Singapore has basically gone from a third world country to a first world county (and one of the richest at that), in the span of a generation. Having visited Penang which, along with Singapore, was one of the British straights colonies, I am even more impressed with what Singapore has done.

Chinatown, Singapore

Chinatown, Singapore

If the nations of the world were a high school class, Singapore is the kid who studies hard, follows all the rules, gets straight A’s, gets into a very good college, gets a very good job, then wakes up one day when he’s in his 40s and says “where the hell did my life go?” This time I came away with less than I did my first time. Singapore works and works well in one sense, but in another, it seems to be lacking something.

Several times while I was roaming around Singapore, I would find myself in some sort of mall or shopping center and wind up in another completely different mall or shopping center. At time, in certain parts of the city, the entire thing seems like a giant mall. By any international standard, and certainly by regional standards, Singapore is a clean, wealthy, safe, and very green country. The problems of Singapore are the problems of prosperity. (which in the big scheme of things, are good problems to have).

I was able to talk with many Singaporeans during my stay.
One of the things I came away with was how Singapore, while a country, is run almost like a corporation. Unlike many countries in the region, Singapore has very low rates of corruption. In fact, it is the least corrupt country on Earth. They do this by paying civil servants very high wages comparable to that in the private sector, and there is often a lot of shuffling between the two. There is also a lot of targeted investment in certain industries. The current big push is in biotechnology.

Sir Stamford Raffels

Sir Stamford Raffels

One problem Singapore has is creativity. It isn’t a very open country. By this, I don’t mean to imply it is closed in a Cuba or North Korea sense. There is no police state or gestapo. The lack of openness comes from conformity and an unwillingness to stick out. Singapore might be the only modern developed country I’ve visited where I didn’t see any kids with freaky hair hanging out in a public area. The openness which lets crazies do crazy things is the same thing which lets companies like Google develop. This is a problem which Singapore is going to have to deal with in the 21st Century, and it will be very challenging for them, because you can’t “plan” for creativity. It will mean letting go of some control, and that is always hard for governments to do.

One way they have addressed the issue of creativity is funding science. My friend Dave, who I stayed with in Singapore, is a professor at the National University of Singapore. NUS has quickly become the best university in SE Asia, and next to Tokyo University, probably the best in all of Asia. Just walking around the campus, you could tell that Singapore is serious about funding science. In addition to the NUS, there are also several technology centers located around the country.

I still like Singapore, but I didn’t come away this time with the same sort of awe as I did before. My guess is that is mostly a function of having seen a lot more of the world since then. If you were visiting SE Asia, I’d strongly consider going to Singapore for a few days. It isn’t a big country, so you can easily explore the highlights in a few days. If nothing else, Singapore is a great model for how clean and green a major city can be.

Bangkok, Oriental City

Posted by on September 14, 2008

I’ve been here for 24 hours now, so I’ve managed to get a flavor for the place.

I think I’ve developed a bit of a blasie attitude about going to new places. I’ve been traveling so long that I’m no longer surprised by new things any more. I think Bangkok might have jolted me out of that a bit.

The first thing I normally do when I arrive somewhere new is take a shower and go outside and walk around (assuming it isn’t dark). With in five minutes of walking out of the door of my room, I saw a guy with an elephant on the sidewalk. This is certainly not Kansas.

I’m in a pretty nice area on Sukhumvit Road. There are nice, high rise hotels not far from me and a high end mall a few blocks away. Yet every single block has massage parlors (probably because its a tourist area) and people selling stuff on the sidewalk. Bangkok is probably the best city for street food I’ve encountered on my trip, surpassing Seoul. I had two skewers of chicken hearts and gizzards for under $0.50 from a street vendor last night.

Bangkok is significantly more developed than anything I saw in Phuket. Maybe slightly less developed than Kuala Lumpur, but not by a lot. The internet here is fast and free, and there are tons of eating options within easy walking distance. The western population here is probably the largest I’ve seen in Asia, save for perhaps Hong Kong.

I have a bunch of things I’d like to do before I leave here, including going to a Muay Thai boxing match, and meeting up with some local bloggers. I’ve been getting a lot of suggestions from readers, and I am investigating all of them. Some of them however *ahem* I don’t think I’ll be pursuing.

HKT to BKK

Posted by on September 12, 2008

The ankle is feeling better and I’m off to Bangkok in a few hours. It should be a big change from Phuket. I really have no desire to see many of the islands in the area around here, which is what most of the backpackers usually do. It has been raining (which sort of ruins a beach experience) and I’ve been to more islands than I can remember since I’ve started my trip. Other than slightly different erosional features in limestone, it doesn’t really interest me.

The Bloggers Choice Award, that I’ve had a link to on my site for months now, is nearing its final stage in 2008 voting. If you haven’t yet, take a few seconds to toss a vote my way. I’m currently #1, but the voting has been very close and the guy in #2 just gets the customers from his hostel to vote for him, not real readers of his website, so I’m going to have to work just a bit harder. I got a little under 300 votes right now, and I have almost 700 RSS readers, so if everyone who reads were to vote, I’d have this in the bag. So, just like in Old Chicago, vote early and often.

There is also another award I got nominated for, and you can see a link on the right hand side for that as well. DivineCaroline.com is a women’s lifestyle site, but I guess they found some love in their heart for a guy like me. I just got nominated, but I’m climbing the charts quickly, and the gap can be closed quickly with some help. It does require registration to vote, but it only take a few seconds. I’d appreciate any support.

While I’m on the subject of contests, as you all know I take a lot of photos. The ones I put on for my daily photo vary in quality. Some are artistic, some are just interesting snapshots. I keep getting requests, and people keep suggesting I enter various photography contests. I have no problem doing something like that, but I really have no idea what photos I should enter. I have a bunch I like, but I really don’t know which are the ones that would do well. Has anyone had any experience with photo contests? Are there certain ones that are worth entering? I’d appreciate any feedback you have.

One final issue while I’m doing housekeeping…If you haven’t noticed, I’m now using a third party system for my comments: Disqus (pronounced “discuss”). It should look and feel just like the comments always have, except now you can reply directly to a previous comment, and you can follow comment across other blogs which also use Disqus. I’ve been running it a few days now and no one has noticed. You don’t have to do a thing, but if you comment on other sites, then you get some benefit to claiming your email so you can comment across other sites. Its very slick.