Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Main Drag in Singapore

I spent one evening walking what appeared to be the main commercial street in that part of Singapore. Lots of lights, traffic, people, shopping centres, glitzy stores, and attractions. Once again, I was impressed with how clean everything was.

I was also struck by the number of people that smoked! Of course, since smoking was forbidden indoors, the smokers all went to stand outside or sit on benches by the sidewalks. In that case, I guess it’s no wonder that I saw so many. However, once done, they carefully deposited their butts in garbage receptacles that were specially designed for butts as well as regular trash.

I saw at least one garbage truck making its rounds down the main drag. And there were also a number of trash collectors on three-wheeled motorcycles making sure that garbage cans where emptied regularly and the streets were clean. And this is at night, not just during the day!

Many of the stores sported high-end brand names like Armani, Gucci, Dior, Rolex, Louis Vuitton, and more. I was content to just look in from the outside and window-shop.

However, I did go into a place that I’d never heard of before, but that had some really unique and colourful women’s clothing and accessories, thinking I might find something for Kathy. One look at the prices, however, and I quickly realized that I was way out of my league! A colourful handbag cost $126 Singapore dollars ($100 CAD)! But eye-candy was free, so I at least enjoyed that :)

A number of sculptures adorned the sidewalks. People took each other’s photographs in front of them. I didn’t have anyone with me to take a picture of, so I just took photos of a couple of the sculptures :)

In front of one commercial centre, arcs of water shot out of holes in the marble slabs making up the steps from the sidewalk to the building, with the water landing exactly in corresponding holes at the other ends of the arcs. I’m not sure how they did it, but the streams of water appeared to be lit from within in a variety of colours. I tried for some time to get a picture at the exact moment that the water shot out of the holes and finally managed to do it.

On the way back, I stopped at an outdoor fast-food market to grab something to eat. Everything looked so good that I had a hard time choosing! I finally ordered a chicken curry soup and something cold to drink, sat down at one of the numerous little metal tables, and watched the fascinating world go by while I ate my supper.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lost in Singapore

Although it would have been much more fun with Kathy along to share the experience, I really enjoyed my time in Singapore. After a day of mostly sitting at meetings, I looked forward to a chance to get out, stretch my legs, and explore the city. So after changing from go-to-meeting clothes into more comfortable jeans, a t-shirt, and running shoes, I’d strap on my camera, ride the elevator to ground level, walk through the front doors of the hotel, and hit the streets.

Despite the many interesting sights, I was hesitant to pull out my camera. Years of restraint in Burkina, where people don’t like you randomly taking their picture, had made me cautious. But much to my surprise, I soon saw people taking pictures all over the place, especially with their cell phones! I wonder how many times my face showed up on Singaporean Facebook pages or albums? In any case, it didn’t take me long to throw restraint to the winds and snap merrily away like everyone else.

The main rule to survival in Singapore, I discovered, is remembering which way to look before crossing the street! Traffic moves on the opposite side of the road from what I’m used to. If you’re not from the UK, you’ll find yourself looking left for oncoming traffic instead of right and either getting honked at or doing last-minute sprints for your life to get out of the way of a bus bearing down on you from behind! But apart from that, Singapore is known as one of the safest cities in the world. And one of the cleanest! True, this is because the penalties for crime or littering are pretty severe, but I was pretty impressed nonetheless.

Despite the amount of construction going on in the city both day and night (there were cranes almost anywhere you looked, and I saw construction crews pouring cement at night in the glare of powerful lamps), there was a nice mix of urban space, gardens, and green space. In fact, Singapore is known as The Garden City.

The first night I went out, I got lost. However, I continued to wander the streets in hopes of finding my way back to the hotel, knowing that if worst came to worst I could always flag down a taxi to take me home. They were everywhere.

Eventually, I came to a river. Lights, walkways, shops, and inviting restaurants lined the riverside and the occasional boatload of tourists plied the waterway. A variety of bridges carried traffic or pedestrians from one side to the other, most lit up with lights of some kind. In the distance, some things with lights soared and dipped against the dark sky. As I got closer, they turned out to be kites with LED lights on them. Pretty cool idea!

At another place, I saw several white pylons sticking up into the sky. When I went to investigate, I arrived just in time to see a couple getting strapped into a round metal cage. Once the gate was closed, the long, elastic straps running from the sides of the cage up to the pylons began to tighten. More and more they stretched until they seemed about to break! Then the cage, which had been anchored to the ground, was released, sending it soaring high into the air like a stone from a slingshot! Kind of like reverse bungee jumping :) After bouncing up and down for a while, the cage was finally lowered to the ground again and the couple staggered out to the cheers of friends.

I finally did find my way back to the hotel. But not before walking for miles and miles, and getting blisters on my feet. I could hardly wait to go out again the following night!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Welcome Back

My apologies for the long silence. My time in Singapore was pretty busy except in the evenings when I took advantage of the time and place to stretch my legs and get some exercise after a day of sitting in meetings. And to explore the city to the point that I actually got blisters on my feet! So I didn’t have much time to write.

When I got back to Burkina, I learned that a member of my staff who had returned home to Canada suddenly to be at the side of a friend reported to be dying had herself succumbed to a severe case of cerebral malaria and was in intensive care and on life support in the hospital. It was seriously touch and go for a while. During the first 12 hours, the doctors were not convinced that she was even going to make it! I was kept busy not only trying to catch up on two weeks worth of backlog that I knew was going to occupy my first days back, but also keeping in touch with the family to get the latest updates, communicating the information to our personnel and others that needed or wanted to know, and mobilizing people to pray for her.

We’re thankful that our colleague survived those first difficult hours and days and is now out of intensive care and off life support. However, the road to recovery is likely to be a long one and we don’t expect her back here in Burkina anytime soon. This means finding people to take over the numerous responsibilities that she carried. Quickly. And bringing them up to speed without any procedure manuals to speak of. Also quickly. The term “baptism of fire” comes to mind...

I'd better go and find some pails.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Flight to Singapore

After my overnight in London, I boarded one of those huge, new Airbus 380 planes, the ones with the upper deck for First Class and Business Class passengers. The rest of us in Cattle Class were on the normal deck below. The plane holds nearly 500 passengers and was one of the nicest I’ve flown on. I was especially impressed with the fact that they had plenty of leg room, which is important for a long-legged fellow like me :) Nevertheless, I took several opportunities to walk around. Even with a comfortable seat and plenty of leg room, a 13-hour flight is a rather long time to sit in one place!

I had some reading to do for the meetings (a 105-page document!), but also managed to find time to watch several movies on the nice, big, individual screen they have built in to the back of the seat ahead of me.

We left London just after noon on Sunday, and arrived in Singapore just before 9 in the morning on Monday. Joining up with a colleague who was also going to the meetings, we hired a taxi and headed through the city to where we were staying at the YWCA. As in Britain, drivers in Singapore (a former British colony) have their steering wheels on the right hand side of the car and drive on the left side of the road. The taxi we were in had an unbelievable amount of stuff on, in, and around the dashboard!

We were looking forward to catching a quick nap at the Y (our bodies were telling us it was 2 a.m. by now), but unfortunately, our rooms were not yet ready. So we headed out in search of something to eat. On the way, I changed some Euros into Singapore dollars. Then we came across a Starbucks and our search for food was temporarily sidelined while we ingested sufficient caffeine to keep us awake for just a few more hours until our rooms were ready.

It took us a while, but we finally found a food court in one of the nearby, multi-level malls. Then it was back to the Y, get hooked up to the Internet, and check e-mails. I was really starting to have a hard time staying awake when we were finally told we could go to our rooms. It was only 2 p.m. local time, but after a few minutes of chatting with my roommate, I was out like a light.