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I spent 20 years punching a time clock... then decided there had to be another way. Right now I'm sitting in a comfortable chair on a beautiful beach. There's a sweet, soft breeze in the air. In front of me, on the clear blue water, a boat drifts by. Maybe I'll go snorkeling this afternoon, or work on my tan. This is my kind of tropical paradise... cheap and unspoiled!
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Singapore - Tao of Shopping!    

By Ken Silver About Asia
2335 Views | 0 Comments | 6/9/2013 3:59:08 PM

You’ve heard it’s hard to get admittance into Singapore?

The Immigration officer looked up from the pile of paperwork he’d already created with my fellow bus passengers from Malaysia…

“Occupation?” he asked wearily…

“I was the Roman centurion who pierced the side of our Lord Jesus as he hung on the cross on the Hill of Skulls. To earn redemption, I have wandered the Earth for two thousand years, seeking someone who laughs at my jokes”.

He shook his head. “No, not funny.” He considered a moment. “Unemployed mental patient, probably homicidal! Welcome to Singapore!

No, it’s not hard to get entry into Singapore. It is just awfully hard to comprehend such a mind boggling city and way of life.

What’s the positive side? Singapore is full of beautiful Chinese women and Asian women. It’s a truly aesthetically pleasing city, and as the cliché goes, frequently I marveled that this fresh air clean garden oasis city of the future was actually right in the middle of Southeast Asia. Everything works as it should; everything runs on time, being lost late at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood of this Asian city is absolutely no cause for concern.

Holy cow, everyone jogs and walks in the beautiful riverside parks late at night!
How do they do it?

Intense computer monitoring is partially how. Singaporean citizens are all but built from the DNA up, and non citizens are required to ID all of their transactions. The government knows what brands of cigarettes they smoke, and how often. Government Social Policy is manifested and controlling in every aspect of life – even ordinary cars are absurdly expensive, yet there are heavy surcharges for late night taxi use. Thus folk stay at home with their families.

Drug smuggling gets the death penalty, and by the way, they have the right to scientifically spectradopealope your urine at the border.

There is also an omnipresent public campaign to get everyone to be polite and kind. Yeah I know, talk about your long shots… But this is what Singapore is… the Brave New World of human and architectural engineering. Basically – can I say this? - they are trying to create polite Chinese, and to a decent extent they have succeeded. And yeah, I do appreciate it when a bus driver here stifles his impulse to tell me to shut up with the idiotic questions and instead pseudo politely answers them. I appreciate it even more when strangers go out of their way to show me the right train line.

Well, the government has taken that most fantastic of Asian legends – the taxi driver who throws his taxi meter! - and made it 100% reality. I’d call that water into wine. By the way, you call the cab drivers “Uncle”, and no offense, they are the goofiest assortment of characters I have ever seen. It seems they take up the job on the way down from losing a better job. More on that, later.

One of the reasons this works of course, is that there is plenty of money going around. That would probably account for the wonderful parks and the Noah’s Ark geodesic domes botanical gardens said to almost contain every plant and tree in the world. Except, of course, for the humble weed.

And therein lies the most frequent complaint about Singapore - there is a shopping mall sterility to it. There is alcohol, and there are escort services, but it is all really a kinder gentler shopping police state. Well, so is California. The difference is in California they fine you $500 for doing wrong while in Singapore they fine you $500 for causing an unauthorized ripple in the grid of social order. California pretends it wants to straighten out its wayward child, but Singapore has no need to pretend anything.

Or, as a foreign diplomat once said when expelled from Singapore “It’s all right, I’ve done my shopping.”

And that is the spooky part about Singapore. People really do exist to shop. I’m always perturbed, when, anywhere in the world, women speak of “Let’s go shopping” as if it were some kind of ancient tea ceremony or discipline. But that is totally what Singapore is about. The Tao, the Way of Shopping.

The downtown air conditioned Mecca of Orchard Road is the shopping mall temple where the richest natives and visitors do it. One Saturday afternoon, like Robin Hood, I disguised myself as a high heel and stiletto pumps shoe shiner, (Mr. Hunky Dory Esquire, formerly of Bored Debutante Services, Unlimited) and set about observing the massive crowds of shoppers. Truthfully, this is kind of a strange way to meet Chinese girls and, truthfully, it’s hard to be accurate while staring upward into the hot tropical sun from a kneeling position, but I noticed that Asian customs and Asian traditions seem to, these days, revolve around shopping bags and name brand purses. Didn’t take long for the happy giraffe who sells toys and Angelina Jolie purse ads to finish off centuries of long bearded gents sitting around in caves, did it?

The good thing though, is that everyone seemed happy. One with the Tao, one with their credit cards, one with their purchases. I saw a spoiled little brat being gifted her first LV purse by her mom, both having patiently queued up to be let in the door as two other wealthy shoppers were let out. All to the backdrop of official signs urging Singaporeans to bring a little kindness into each other’s day.
Of course, not all is golden in the golden city. The working folk complain about the cost of everything, the long hours to break even, the competition from skilled and unskilled foreign labor whom the bosses would hire in a minute if the current employees ever slacken their frantic pace, or dare to need some family time, or dare to grow older.

Should you visit Singapore? The city architecture is cyclopean, original, and downright otherworldly amazing. There are entertaining ethnic neighborhoods alongside the world class shopping mall districts. The downer is the hotel room, which will cost about $80 USA and be of poor value. You could always get a bed in a dorm. The upside is that you really can eat amazingly cheap - only a bit above Bangkok – at the many visually entertaining hawker markets. Great food and dishes you have never encountered before. There are cheap shops for everyday items.

But, visiting Singapore is like swimming in a mountain lake in summer; you do your best to keep in the warm cheap parts, but all too often you get the cold shock of a late night $30 taxi fare or a $6 coffee and an $8 ice cream. Still, I guess it’s worth it, if somebody else pays.

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