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First day in Singapore

I'm now competent at getting around in Singapore, have a grown-up email address (percival@location -- previously only my father has one of those!), and have my employment pass.

Getting the MRT (their version of skytrain, which is Vancouver's mostly-above-ground subway) was ok. I made trips to a few electronic ticket booths before finding out that I was to buy the EZ pass (prepaid debit card system for transit) at the counter.

I then might have committed my first cultural blunder. There was an escalator that was crowded, and stairs that were unused. I assumed that everybody was being lazy and went up the stairs, but when I was almost at the top I noticed an "exit" sign. There wasn't a "do not enter" sign at the bottom (I think -- I'll have to check on my way home). And I haven't noticed any distinction (other than running escalators) in other stations. I felt a bit conspicuous, though.

Got to NUS, but couldn't reach my supervisor's office -- it was behind a keycarded area. I hung out in front of the door for a few minutes, trying to see if I could send him an email (I couldn't), and a girl (or woman) came along. I asked her to knock on his door, but she just let me into the area and I made my way to his office and met him.

He was suprised to see me so early; he'd told me that I should be well-rested for my first day in Singapore and we didn't have to meet until 11 or so, but since I woke up early I figured there was no point not going. We then chatted a bit and then saw the HR person for advice on which formalities should be done next. Unfortunately the answer was "get the employment pass", so I headed off downtown to visit the Ministry Of Manpower. And yes, they do actually abbreviate it as MOM.

When I arrived and got my ticket, they were processing number 265. I was 404. That's not quite as bad as it sounds, though -- in the first 10 minutes, they handled 25 numbers. Later on I estimated that they'd done 60-70 in half an hour.

What is as bad as it sounds is that after receiving my documents, they took them off to be processed. Come back in 3 hours. I wondered whether to transit back to NUS, but it was two MRT lines and a bus ride, so I opted to wander around in downtown Singapore.

Ravenous for food, I started looking for some. I ended up in the food court in the main mall in Chinatown, whereupon I... well, I'm sure you can all guess. I left as soon as possible and wandered in the direction that seemed most likely to get me Western food.

Yes, I know that I'll be unable to survive in Singapore if I don't try other foods, and yes, I should have done more preparing. I was actually intending to suggest Asian take-out whenever my friends got together to watch anime, but that hasn't happened sinnce... I don't know. September? July?

Anyway, there's a time to try new food, and a time to stick with what you know. On a day like today, you stick with what you know.

After about 30 minutes of walking in the insane heat and sun, I saw a 7-11. I considered going there and getting whatever they had (warmed-up hot dog, maybe? I don't know what they have in 7-11s here), but it was on the other side of a major street and there weren't any cross-walks around. So I kept on walking, and saw a KFC in the distance.

Just as I was about to enter the KFC, I noticed a sign for Subway on a bus stop. It was pointing towards the building, and I then noticed a mall entrance beside the KFC. Inside the "electric town" mall, I found the subway. Which was good, because I had been seriously considering asking somebody for directions. Now, that might not sound so terrible, but I'd have asked for "Western food", not just "food". I don't know quite where that ranks in the list of stupid American tricks, but it's got to be in there somewhere.

On way back from that mall, I noticed other Subway store and Western food that I'd missed -- mere meters away from the MRT station I left. I spent a good deal of time walking through that mall ("Central mall"), which seemed to be aimed at tourists.

At MOM again, I was 470 and they were processing 380. I waited for another 60 minutes in the queue. I don't know why we couldn't pay when we drop off our passports and whatnot. The pickup would take a minute! Come to think of it, even though we had to pay, I still don't know why it took some people longer than a minute. I mean, I handed over my ticket number, my old ticket number, and S$100 in cash. The clerk gave me back S$50 and told me it was only S$30, fetched my bundle, and gave me another S$20. Literally over in 60 seconds!

It was 4:40pm at that time, and I'm still jetlagged, so I went straight home. I've got the wireless working now (the magic words were "wep_key0", which do not appear anywhere in the man page for wpa_supplicant. Looking up help online for how to connect to the internet is one of the most frustrating things. Especially in this case, where I knew it would take at most 3 minutes... oh well. Got it working now.

What I don't have working is email. After trying to send email a few times from both NUS and my apartment, I realized that my computer was still set up to use shaw's smtp server. No wonder it was dying! However, I haven't found any info about smtp servers here yet.

Singapore room

Room description without pictures. Pictures are not a priority and will happen later.

First impression: sweet mao this is huge!

At the door, I paused to take my shoes off, but the manager told me not to bother. That surprised me -- I thought all Asian cultures were very down on shoes inside -- but she's the boss.

My personal room is bigger than my old bedroom at home. It's over twice as big as my room in Victoria. This really surprises me -- I've heard so much about the density of cities in Asia, and I read somewhere that Singapore was either the densest (sp) or second-densest country in the world. But I guess that once you start going vertical in a big way, you get a lot of "extra" space. My room is on the 8th floor of 15, by the way.

In some ways the room (not just my bedroom, but also the dining area and living area) are too big. They look quite sparse. Sounds seem to echo a lot and I felt like I was being really noisy when I was moving around at 2am, but apparently it didn't wake up anybody.

Went to sleep at about 3am, woke up at 7am. That's 3pm in the afternoon by Vancouver time, which seems reasonable as a continuation of my 26-hour sleep cycle.

I think the room is facing east. There was certainly a lot of sun. Remember that Singapore is basically on the equator, so sunrise/sunset is pretty stable at 7am/7pm. There's a lot of traffic on the street outside -- maybe a bit more than Canada Way (at home). Maybe the idea of being up at 9am every day will be easy!

Looking out the window, I was struck by the first time I wanted to use the term "riot of colours". The railing on my private balcony is light blue -- I hadn't noticed that at night. There's massive amounts of green on the sides of the road and surrounding the lake. I've commented in the past that my (old) area in Victoria makes Vancouver look pathetic; this place gives Victoria a run for its money. There's areas of bright red bricks on the road. Admittedly the lake isn't a nice brilliant blue. I think I'd rather swim in Burnaby Lake than this one.

Now for the comparison with my parents:

  • Bringing sheets: Dad was half-right. The mattress has a sheet (ground sheet? bed sheet? What are they called?), but no upper sheet. I got a blanket (as expected), but I'm not certain if I'd use it. When I arrived at the room, I was going to take off another mark from Dad on this one since I wouldn't need a sheet, but it felt too weird to try to go to sleep without any cover. I didn't think about what "30 degrees C" meant. Remember those days in the summer where you feel overdressed while naked? It's like that here all the time.
  • Pillow: Mom was wrong, I got a pillow.
  • Slippers: Dad was right, those were extremely useful on the flight, and I think I'll wear them around the apartment.
  • Kimono (or whatever the male equivalent is, if that's the female one): my parents were right; my lack of one is distressing. Oh yeah, if anybody has suggestions for what type of Asian light wear I should get, please let me know. As you can tell, I don't know the basics of what the clothing is called or what gender they're for.
  • Sweaters: Mom was wrong; I don't need any sweaters. The air-conditioned areas are still 21 - 23 C, which is emminently T-shirt conditions.

In summary, the room is much nicer than I expected.

Traveling to Singapore

Ok, I'm here now.

The first flight was very nice. It was a Boeing 777-300, and it had LCD displays on the back of every seat, and power sockets on most seats (including mine -- I chose my seat for that reason). This means that I can use my laptop for the 13-hour 45-minute flight. :)

I've decided to do this blog post piecemeal; I'm writing stuff as it occurs to me. That's easier than trying to remember everything at the end. I'll probably be switching between present and past tense, though. It's currently one hour into the flight.

At 4 hours, I'm listening to current French pop songs. It seems that as long as I can't understand the lyrics, I enjoy popular music a lot more. (yes, I can speak French, but picking out lyrics in the middle of a song is beyond me, especially when I'm deliberately not trying to listen.)

Unfortunately all is not sweets and roses on this flight. The LCD is nice, but a number of features -- include the "Map" menu -- are not functioning. The error message is polite, but I wanted to see where we were on the map, how far we'd travelled to date, etc.

7 hours now. I don't feel too bad, which is good 'cause it's only half over. The thin slippers that Dad brought back from Japan (they was an omake for some first-class train tickets) help a lot. They're coming around with hot beverages, which will be followed by dinner. There's still one more meal coming; 2 hours before the end, they give out hot noodles. I've never been on a flight with three meals and six or seven drinks before... but then again, I've never been on a 13.75 hour flight. I was surprised by the amount of localization. Hot drinks include green tea, and the standard chicken hot lunch meal came with chopsticks. I'm not surprised because this doesn't make sense; I'm just surprised that the business is flexible enough to have different meals on different international flights.

I underestimated the amount of suckage involved in working on an airplane -- and the amount that I normally fidget. It's not unusual for me to have a foot on my desk, for example. Not in the classic "fat cat" pose, though. My laptop is on the desk like normal, and I kind-of slouch sideways. With one leg contorted around. Anyway, as of 12 hours, I've gotten about 5 hours of work done. Spent 5 hours watching movies/TV shows and/or eating, and about 2 hours of snoozing.

Hong Kong airport wasn't fun, since the first flight was delayed and they had poor signage. Seriously, who names the international tranfer flight check-in area "W1"? Also, either Air Canada shouldn't have printed my second boarding pass, or the security guard should have accepted it and not made me jog off to get a new one printed. I entered the security line-up at the time I was supposed to be at the gate for boarding. But after a bit more jogging, I arrived on the second plane.

The second flight was uninteresting in terms of airplane model (IIRC it was a 777), food, entertainment, lack of sights (pitch black and me not near a window anyway). I dozed for a bit.

Singapore airport was a model of efficiency; within 20 minutes of stepping out of the airplane, I was stepping out of the airport. The customs girl was very nice and smiled at me as I stuttered through my explanation of my job (she had previously asked when I was starting my studies, since I look so much like a student). She waved away my attempt to show her my exiting flight (you're required to show proof of the next destination if they ask).

The baggage carousel was actually the most nerve-wracking part. In the future, I think I might get some yellow paint and draw a huge happy face on the suitcase or something... there were just too many black suitcases.

Of course, the airport experience might be quite different if I hadn't arrived at midnight with nothing else arriving. Then again, my supervisor (the one here, not my old supevisor) says that he's travelled in over 40 countries, and the Singapore airport is the best.

Taxi ride was ok. A woman on the flight in said that it would be "really really expensive... like S$30" and tried to think of other ways I could get to my apartment, but in the end agreed that since the MRT was closed and there probably wasn't a direct bus, it wasn't worth it. The taxi ended up being S$40.20, but the driver gave me S$10 back when I handed him a S$50 and waved off my apologies for not having any coins. I figured that S$40 wasn't bad for a 35-minute drive mostly exceeding 100km/h. I definitely couldn't get a deal like that in Vancouver!

Impressions of the city at night: looked like any metropolist in North America. There's a huge port, lots of construction, big skyscrapers.

First impression upon stepping out of the taxi: sweet mao it's hot. And it's past midnight!

There wasn't anybody around when I arrived at my apartment, but the security was very nice and friendly, and called up the manager. She came down after five minutes, and was very friendly and got me checked in. I got the info for wireless, but my computer wasn't set up to deal with their particular encryption scheme (WEP), so I'm still just typing this and will send tomorrow from the university.

Arrival at room, 1:30am. I spent an hour writing blog posts, emails, and attempting to get the wireless working.

Overall impression: Singaporeans are extremely nice and helpful. The manager didn't show any signs of minding being woken up at 1am (she thought I was arriving tomorrow), the security guy didn't give me any glares for not knowing what I was doing, the only reactions to my braid (that I detected) was occasional mild curiosity, and the customs agent didn't transform into a tentacle monster and rip apart my paperwork and suitcases.