Sunday, 25 March 2012

Following the Rules

When we told people we were moving to Singapore, one of the first things we heard as jokes from friends was "don't take any chewing gum......".   The fact is, a total ban on the import and / or sale of chewing gum was enacted in Singapore in 1992, apparently an attempt to reduce maintenance and cleaning costs throughout the city.  Since being here, I've realized that the "gum law" is just one of many seemingly crazy and overboard laws in Singapore.   Don't worry Mom and Dad - I know this because there are signs everywhere.....I haven't been arrested.......yet.

In addition to the gum laws, it's also illegal to bungee jump, walk around your own home nude, or smoke in public places.   You definitely are not permitted to do all three at the same time - but that's just common sense........  Ouch!

My personal are not permitted to pee in a public elevator, and you can be fined if you use a public toilet, but don't flush it.  I'm not quite sure who "polices" these last two, but whatever.

While most of these laws are things you don't need to worry about, it is evident everywhere you go just how serious Singapore is about its laws.  For example, before you even get off the plane in Singapore, the front of your immigration card informs you, in big, bold letters, "IMPORT OF DRUGS IS PUNISHABLE BY DEATH."

As bizarre as some of the lesser laws are, what I've found most unique are the hefty fines for what would seem to be relatively minor infractions.   But, hey, with a population of about 4 Million, it is one of the safest and cleanest cities in the world, so maybe they're on to something.

For this week's update, I thought I would share some of my favorite signs from around town, hoping to give you some idea of what I'm talking about.  And for anyone who decides to visit us, these are some things "not to do" unless you're looking for a really expensive vacation.

The first set of signs below are pretty typical.  The littering sign and the grouping of four on the right are seen pretty much everywhere, in partcular in and around the MRT (subway) stations.  There are also television campaigns that highlight the importance of not littering.  One of my favorites of these commercials is one where a family talks about how proud they are of their son, his education, his girlfriend, etc. - then they break down in tears as he walks out of the house in a litter clean-up addition to fines, if you are caught littering 3 times, you must works for several weekends cleaning litter throughout the country.

The one in the middle makes me laugh.  The fact that I've seen this sign in more than one location is humorous to me. How often do you need to be reminded not to go to the bathroom on the side of a building or in a stairwell or elevator?  Truth is, I think this sign is a form of entrapment, because every time I see it, I'm reminded that I have to go.......

Here are two more than make me laugh when I see them.  The first I see every day on the bus.  The first 3 symbols from left to right are pretty your bus fare, don't smoke, and don't vandalize the bus.  The fourth is the one that makes me laugh.  I'll admit, there have been multiple times I've sprinted to catch a bus in the sweltering heat and humidity, only to have the door shut and the bus pull away seconds before I get frustrating as this is however, I've yet to "assault the bus captain"? 

The last one is common when you head north in Singapore, towards the military base and some of the protected, "natural" areas.  These signs are reminiscent of what I would expect to see around Area 51.  This one is relatively plain, but I've seen others where the figure on the right appears to be fleeing while the soldier shoots him in the back!  Like I said, they take the law very seriously over here.

In addition to these, there are traffic and directional signs literally everywhere.  In my opinion, it's difficult to get lost in the city due to all the signage.  For example, bus and MRT stations are clearly marked, with signs that point out the distance and direction to the nearest one - sometimes up to 500 meters away.

Now, if they would only post signs to clarify what kind of meat is hanging in the store window at the local Hawker Center I'd be set.  Until then, I'll keep eating whatever it is because it tastes good!  Speaking of which, for my next update, I'll venture into the some local wet markets and hawker centers (food courts).....and show you the fish mongers, butchers, and local food available all over the city.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Around Town - March 17

St. Patrick's day has a different feel around Singapore - though there are plenty of Irish bars dotted around the island where the holiday is clearly celebrated.  I did my part and enjoyed a Guinness with my dinner, but after several hours of running required errands (still getting the house organized) I wasn't quite up for a late night by myself, surrounded by college age Irishmen who had started "celebrating" before noon.....I guess I really am getting old!

I did have an enjoyable day, however, relaxing by the pool in the afternoon, picking up some things I needed for the house, and checking out the shopping / restaurant / bar area around Orchard Road.

Since I've shared some pictures around the SAP office and some samples of food around town, I figured I would now share some shots from one of my new favorite areas in town.  It's called Emerald Hill, and though it's in the heart of the busy Orchard shopping district, it's just far enough removed from busy Orchard Road that you can avoid the traffic, throngs of people, and overall "hussle and bussle" of Singapore.

First, let me describe Orchard Road and the surrounding shopping district.  Basically, think of an ultra-modern King of Prussia Mall - then multiply the number of stores by 20, add every high end brand name retailer you can think of (inclusive of a storefront offering only Steinway Pianos for example) and change the location from Route 202 in the Philadelphia suburbs to the middle of Manhattan.  Oh, and think of the temperature being 90 degrees when you're outside the mall and about 60 when you're inside.  That's basically what Orchard Road is like. 

Now, with that as the backdrop, you'll get a sense of why I enjoy the quiet, more secluded courtyards of Emerald Hill so much.  There are probably 8-10 restaurants located in the Emerald Hill area, each in what was originally a private residence built in the 1920's.  Nearly all have outdoor, open air seating which is suprisingly comfortable due to the shade and fans.  There are a few residences in the area, a little bit further removed from Orchard Road, and they are among the most exclusive in Singapore. 

Wealth is very apparent, with a Mercedes or BMW - and in more cases than seemingly possible - a Ferrari or Lamborghini parked in the tiny driveway.  Orchard Road is just a few steps away, but the area is relatively quiet and secluded from the traffic and noise. 

Like most other places in Singapore, it's also very green, which is probably why I like it so much, and it's considerably cooler just a few steps off of the main road, away from the crowds and traffic.

It still feels like Asia, but there is a distinct, western feel to Emerald Hill, most likely because the crowd tends to be a more evenly distrubuted mix of Europeans and locals then what you find in the malls and food courts on Orchard Road.

There is a great mix of food to choose from - everything from western bar food to more local, Thai and Malay options.  I've only eaten at a couple places (the Alley Bar and Number 5) - but so far the food is very good.  Another places that always draws my attention, though I haven't yet stopped in, is enticingly named:  Ice Cold Beer - which in Singapore is really quite difficult to pass up in the heat and humidity.  I'm fairly sure I'll be stopping there next weekend to see if they offer anything other than their namesake.  Likewise, for anyone who visits us, this area is on the list of places we'll visit for dinner and a break from shopping.

Finally, I have to share a photo of the parking lot of a restaurant / bar called KPO - so named because it's located directly next to the Killiney Post Office.  This is where I stopped and had dinner on Saturday evening and enjoyed my Guinness to celebrate St. Patty's Day.  For some reason, I don't think these belong to the guys who deliver the mail in Singapore.  It's just one of many signs of the wealth that exists in Singapore. 

That's all for now - I'm headed for an afternoon swim and then out for dinner later this evening.  I hope everyone is well back in the US and I'll share more soon.


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Looking Back on Week 1 - Ahead to Week 2

It's Monday, and I can't believe I overslept and missed the live NCAA Selection Sunday show!  I guess this is evidence that I'm finally on a "normal" sleep schedule and have become accustomed to the time difference here in Singapore.

This weekend was a little rough - now a little more settled, I didn't have the distractions of work or the requirement to go shopping for food, cleaning supplies, etc. for the house.  I have to admit I was pretty homesick and wanted to talk to Jennifer, the kids, and Mom and Dad any chance I got.

I met a few more people at the pool this weekend and that really helped me.  Almost everyone I've met is from New Zealand or Australia, with a few Swiss, Dutch, and one American mixed in.  I'm amazed that there are so few Americans in our neighborhood, but not upset about it.  The families I've met so far have all been extremely friendly and I'm really looking forward to Jennifer and the kids getting here so I can make introductions.  I know once we're all here, we'll have lots of new friends to visit with by the pool and around town.  There are kids EVERYWHERE and Sophia and Cooper will be in heaven with all the kids to play with.

As much as I hate when people post on facebook or twitter about what they eat each day - one thing that is absolutely true about Singapore is that the country's two favorite pastimes are shopping and eating.  The later is pretty much all I did this weekend.

On Saturday, I met a new friend on Singapore's east coast - an area very different from the central part of the island where I live.  Her name is Mia, and she's been in Singapore about 6 years, by way of Hong Kong and California.  She is the friend of a co-worker back in Pennsylvania and it's been very nice to have an "instant friend" to show me the ropes of Singapore.  She was nice enough to invite me to dinner (pizza) and to meet a few more of her friends.  The highlight of the night was the ride home....sitting in the front seat of a british racing green mini-cooper, driving on the opposite side of the road - Let's just say it was quite an experience!

On Sunday, I decided to relax and didn't make it to the golf course.  I checked out a few local restaurants in the area called Dempsey Hill.  (This is the area with the giant fish I mentioned in my first post.)  There are so many places to choose from, but I'm on a mission to try them all.

Jennifer and I ate at Jumbo Seafood when we visited in January - so that one is checked off the list.  We enjoyed this GIANT Chilli Crab during that visit along with some fried rice and some kind of egg coated prawns (I think) - and of course, a pitcher of Tiger Beer.....Singapore's finest.

This weekend I tried two additional places in Dempsey, both times ordering breakfast or brunch food - even though it wasn't really breakfast time.  I'd like to blame this on me catching up with the time change, but really it was just a matter of what looked good on the menu.

The first place I checked out is called "Roadhouse", which doesn't sound all that appetizing really, but it was good.  There's not much of a view offered, but the menu is full of "american style" diner food, with a uniquely Asian touch. 

It's precisely what I was looking for and though I was dissapointed that Bloody Mary's were not available, the Eggs Benedict gave the "Big Daddy" at Buckley's Tavern a run for it's money......and that's saying something.  This place will be on the list to return with Jennifer and the kids as well because they have a pretty good selection and the prices aren't as astronomical as other places in the area.  My meal was only $40 for breakfast.....

I also checked out a place called "Red Dot Brewhouse".  This was a recommendation from my boss, who knows the owner.  It's one of a few micro-breweries I've found on the island, each of them swearing it is the original micro-brewery of Singapore.   Each of them are different with different styles of beer, so who really cares who was first??  I was there for a late lunch and ordered the brunch menu.  I was able to eat a little of everything, including what might be the best French Toast on the planet....go figure, I found it in Singapore.   Red Dot also had a very nice atmosphere and we'll being going there again for sure.  The entire place is open air, no doors, no walls - and the patio has a small kiddie pool for children to cool down, as well as weekend cooking classes for the kids on Sundays. 

However, the best part of this place is the Monster Green Lager.  It's not the best beer I've ever had, but it's green, so its perfect for St. Patrick's day....and is contains Spirulina - which is said to provide 10x the beta carotene of a carrot.    Why eat vegetables (Jennifer) when you can get your daily allowance in a green beer??

After eating all day, I wrapped up the weekend with a quiet night at home.  My TV is finally hooked up, so I've been enjoying the few channels of government approved American sit-coms and a multitude of Discovery and Science Channel shows available.  Sophia will love it!  The slingbox is also working pretty well, so I'm looking forward to recording and watching NCAA games over the next few weeks.

More posts later this week.....I hope you're enjoying them.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Taking Care of Business

Taking Care of Business

It's now Friday - the end of my first complete week in Singapore, and the end of a first full week of work at SAP APJ.  With all the exciting things to do and discover during my first week here, it's been too easy to forget I'm actually here to do a job!

With that in mind, I thought it was appropriate to share some photos of the place where I spend more time than anywhere else - the SAP Singapore office at 30 Pasir Panjang Road.

(SAP is located in the building to the left)
 The office is part of the Mapletree Business City, a corporate center in the southern part of Singapore -near the HarbourFront Precinct and just a few minutes from the Central Business District and the recreation and leisure resort of Sentosa.

It's only a 20 minute commute from our home near Holland Village and is easily accessible by both bus and train service.  Once at the office, I'm surrounded by a ton of convenient amenities such as laundry services, a fitness center, restaurants, bars, etc.    It makes me laugh that my lunch options include a local hawker center / food court for chicken rice or fish head curry, the SAP cafeteria for a mix of soup and sandwiches - or I can eat a little more familiar and go to Subway for a cold cut-trio or Philly cheese steak or the local English Pub for fish and chips.  There's a little bit of everything within a 2 minute walk from my desk.

The office itself is modern, comfortable, and full of distractions to break up the workday including a pool table, foosball table, and two giant TV's set up with Wii and PS3.  In addition, there are a number of comfortable meeting spaces for business discussions - or just to sit and relax.  The only downside to this office is that it's 90 degrees outside and about 60 degrees inside.  Here are a few pictures:

I've got a lot to learn about the nuances of business in Asia, so I better get back to work now, but I'll do my best to check back in with another update at the end of the weekend.  Hopefully I'll have some more interesting photos from the golf course to share!

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Arrival

Hello everyone,
In this country of beautiful weather, great food, and never ending shopping – the only thing that’s been hard to come by is SLEEP!  To pass the time, I’ve decided to write down my experiences in Singapore, hopefully every Sunday evening, and share them with anyone who cares to hear about them.  

After just about 72 hours in Singapore, I’ve actually accomplished a lot, including securing our new apartment, doing some shopping, figuring out the transportation system, and getting to know the neighbors and neighborhood.

The experience of moving in was quite interesting and I keep finding nuances in our apartment very different from the US.  First, the “takeover” appointment included myself,  two representatives from my realtor, one representative from my relocation company, three representatives from the property management company, two maintenance workers, a man from the gas company, and a very patient man from StarHub (Singapore’s version of Comcast)  This cable guy is by far the most bizarre since he actually waited for ME vs. the other way around!  (think about trying to schedule a Comcast appointment by comparison)  The meeting included a complete tour / inspection / owner’s manual review to ensure I was satisfied with everything.  About 100 pictures were taken of minor defects like scratched tile, marks on mirrors, etc. – to ensure I’m not charged for these minor damages when we leave.  (Jennifer – make sure Jessie and Charlie know I will leave them here if they decide to chew on the walls!)  Yet to be finalized are all of our new curtains, blinds, etc. – as I can’t possibly make those decisions without Jennifer.

After all sign-offs were complete and cable service was installed, I started to get settled.  With furniture delivery a few hours away, I spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the property, inside and out.  A few things I found interesting. 
  1. There’s a remote control for everything.  Every room has at least 2 remote controls hung on the wall, plus multiple light switches – these operate ceiling fans, AC units, and lighting.  Amazingly, I’ve used the AC very little.  Our unit is very bright, but we are positioned in such a way that at no time of the day do we get direct sunlight blasting through our windows.  Our neighborhood is also off the main roadways a bit and has a lot of green space – based on conversations with others who lived elsewhere in Singapore, our area is much cooler on average than most other areas due to the location, low-rise structures, and green space.  All good as far as I’m concerned.
  2. There’s a key for everything.  I need a janitor’s key ring to keep track of all the keys for each bedroom, mailbox, front door, back door, etc.  In a country with little, to no crime, I find this amusing that there are so many locks!
  3.  Each bathroom and kitchen has its own hot water unit.  Pretty smart actually – you simply flip a switch about two minutes before getting in the shower to ensure there’s enough hot water and to avoid heating a large hot water heater all day.
  4. The community grounds are beautiful.  You’ve all likely seen the pictures of the pool, etc – but the rest of the ground are very nice.  Every morning, a crew of about eight are outside sweeping, pruning, and cleaning.  It reminds me of every resort hotel I’ve ever stayed at both by appearance and the never ending attention to maintenance of the grounds.
  5. SNAKES – no I haven’t seen any, but have been told the ground floor units occasionally find one laying on the back porch.  Once again, when this topic came up in conversation I expected people to tell me it never happens….but no, the responses simply confirmed they are alive and well. 

Transportation:   I wouldn’t say I’m an expert yet – but with my iPhone in hand, it’s pretty hard not to be.  The basic “map” app provides everything you need to get around town, including directions to the nearest bus or MRT stop, and specifics on which bus or train to take once you get there.  Seriously, it couldn’t be any easier, unless you take a taxi.  Taxis can be pre-ordered via another iPhone app or by flagging one down – which is just as easy.  The buses and trains are key, however, since the taxis pretty much become extinct during rain storms.  Odd.  I picked up my SMRT card yesterday, which is essentially a debit card you swipe when you get on or off the train or bus.  Really easy, and about 30% cheaper per ride than paying with cash.  Tomorrow morning’s my first real test as I take two buses to get to the office.

Shopping:  There’s plenty of this and it’s actually pretty daunting because of the sheer volume and massiveness of the malls.   It’s a five minute bus ride in any direction from our apartment to a shopping mall.  Orchard Road has the most shopping close by and is likely where we will spend most of our shopping time (and money).  There’s everything including grocery stores, electronics stores, KFC, McDonalds, DIY stores and high end retailers like Prada, Armani, Louis Vuitton, etc.  The crazy thing is each mall covers between 5-7 stories and there are often multiples of the same brand stores in the same building.
My most interesting experience was buying a new TV.  I checked a number of places, including Carrefour – which is the equivalent of Walmart.  They have everything, but no one who works there knows anything- again, the equivalent of Walmart.   I wound up picking out a 40-inch Samsung LED at an Australian-based retailer called Harvey Norman – basically a Best Buy store. (Jennifer I didn’t spend too much) – but  the interesting part of the transaction was the conversation with “Michael” who was about 25 and lived in Singapore his whole life.  He asked how I liked Singapore, and went on to ask if I liked how safe it was…..”it must be different than the US, because you are safer and you don’t have to worry about people carrying guns”.  This is actually the second time I’ve heard this reference to pistol-toting Americans roaming the country and I find it very amusing.  He was shocked (and I think a little disappointed) when I told him that was not the case and that the movies tend to overplay this aspect of American life.

Neighbors / Neighborhood:  One thing I’ve really come to enjoy about living here is the neighborhood and people here.  Out our back windows we can see the pool and it’s obviously a central point of social life in the neighborhood.  Both Saturday and Sunday, it was full of kids (10-15 at a time) all playing together.  There are bikes and scooters everywhere and kids running throughout the neighborhood.  Cooper and Sophia are going to love it!   I’ve learned there are only about four American families in our community, but everyone else is European or Australian and nearly everyone speaks English.  Honestly, I think more people speak English here than in Kennett Square! 

I’ve met a few families, all of them very nice – but suspiciously, I’ve seen no cornhole play, yet.  I actually have to credit a 3 year old girl for helping me start meeting the neighbors.  After about 10 minutes at the pool, she swam by with her father and asked me “who’s daddy are you?”.  I spoke with her American mother and Swiss father for the next 30 minutes and was quickly introduced to a bunch of other people as they came to the pool.  I was very lucky to meet this American / Swiss family – as they have an 8 year old daughter who goes to the same school where Cooper and Sophia will go.  She’s the only child in the neighborhood who goes to that school (most of the others go to the other national schools – Australian, Swiss, etc.).  Ella was very excited to hear that she would soon have friends in the neighborhood who go to her school.  She talked about how much she loves the Zoo, so I’m sure she and Sophia will get along very well.  Both parents spoke very highly of the school and the teachers, making me feel very confident in our decision to send the kids to SAIS.

About a 10-minute walk from our front door is an area called Dempsey Hill.  This area is home to a giant, 10 year-old Asian Arapaima named Peng Peng (I mean GIANT – like eight feet long), a bunch of antique furniture shops, and more bars and restaurants than you can count.  Okay, maybe you could count them, but there are a lot.  There’s fine dining, casual dining, seafood, pub food, Japanese, Mexican – even a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.  In addition, there are three really great little deli / wine shops with all kinds of fresh meats, cheeses, breads, etc.  So far, it is my favorite place to just walk around and have dinner. 
About five minutes further away from Dempsey Hill is the Singapore Botanic Gardens   I’ve learned the gardens cover almost 200 acres and include ponds, the National Orchid Garden, and a ton of open space.  Every morning, this place is full of people exercising, doing Tai Chi – and my favorite, some bizarre Asian version of “line dancing” – I’d recommend seeing this spectacle just one notch below the Marina Bay Sands Observation deck.
So, that’s what’s been going on since Friday morning when I arrived.  In about three hours I’ll be heading to work – which hopefully will force me onto normal sleeping hours over here.