Friday, July 23, 2004

Thoughts at Changi Airport

Thoughts at Changi Airport

I've always felt comfortable at airports and Changi Airport is probably the one I'm most familiar with. Changi airport is Singapore in miniature--the showcase of Singapore's kiasu-efficiency. Here everything is planned to the tiniest detail; nothing is ever left to chance. Service is quick, efficient and professional--none of that "rosak" or "tutup" treatment that we encounter way too often in Malaysia.

Security here is also the tightest among all the airports that I've visited in the region. Armed guards in military uniform guard the entrances. Bags are scanned before check-in and again before immigration and again before boarding. Even the metal buttons on my cargo pants seem to trigger their metal detectors.

But one shouldn't complain. With terrorism and crime rising everywhere in the region, who would mind that added sense of security? The Singapore government does all that is necessary to ensure that. There's nothing wrong in being kiasu when it comes to security.

Singapore is a social laboratory, tinkered and tuned to perfection by a paternalistic government. But are the people happy?

Yes, if we define happiness as the freedom to consume. And what a marvelous consumer society Singapore is! Wander through that catacomb of underground tunnels and walkways--one will be bombarded with half-naked images of sultry women adorned with the latest designer brands. Gaudy advertisement billboards flash, wipe and flicker across your vision wherever you go.

One can't help but feel like a laboratory rat being subjected to all sorts of experiments in consumer behaviour. They tease, tantalise and tempt your innermost longings. When you succumb to them, you are immediately dissolved into a string of statististics to be fed back into system to further enhance this perpectual cycle of consumption.

And wherever you go, you see these Singaporean laboratory rats: jostling into the underground trains, scurrying up and down escalators, moving and stopping in complete obedience to the rhythm of the traffic lights --these curious automatons drabbed in designer garb, ever-hurrying to their unreacheable destinations.

I have absolutely no idea where they are all heading, but I'm catching the next flight home. Happiness, wherever one might be, always seem to reside at our next destination.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

My Favourite "Hotel"

My Favourite "Hotel"

People like to say Singapore is soulless; I choose to see it as a five-star hotel. Who cares if a hotel is soulless? I want good quality, efficient and hassle-free service. One doesn't need to worry about a single thing: the plumbing works, the sheets are clean and soft and hotel staff is at your beck and call. Just dump your dirty clothes into the laundry basket and your shirts will be crisply pressed, arrayed neatly in your walk-in closet, when you come back from work at the end of the day.

Of course, at the end of your stay, the whole affair will burn a big hole in your pocket. But that's OK; you're on business, and as long as you can conduct your business without having to worry about anything else, you are happy. That's why all multi-nationals set up their regional offices here. It's a no-brainer.

I have been here in this hotel-country called Singapore for the last two days. For the past three weeks in Jakarta, I've thinking whether I should stop by in Singapore for a day or two to catch up with old friends--my SIA ticket allows me one stopover without additional charges. I thought, why not. I missed Singapore: I miss the clean boulevards, Borders bookstore, the super-efficient MRT service, the trendy crowd at Orchard Road and the tanned and sultry women that strut the sidewalks.

It has been one-and-a-half years since I last came here and what a joy it is to read a hardcopy of the Straits Times again--still the best quality newspaper in the region.

The other reason why I want to be here is to be able to complete writing the report for my Indonesian project. I reckoned that I needed another two or three days of relative isolation to think and write. What better place than this air-conditioned island?

I know too as a Maxis subscriber, I get free wireless Internet access from Starhub hotspots all over the island if I roam on their network. So I have been working for the past few days from the Coffee Bean outlets at Funan IT Centre, Wheelock's Place and now, Boat Quay. I noticed that I'm so productive working from these outdoor cafes that I think I'll consider coming here a lot more often to work.

I'll never call Singapore my home because I don't feel an affinity with its people. But I love this country--it is one gigantic hotel, and I am one happy guest.

Monday, July 19, 2004

My Daily Internet Fix

My Daily Internet Fix

These days, cafes with wireless Internet have become my office. As I'm on the road most of the time, I do a lot of my e-mail and work from these hotspots. Unfortunately wireless access in Jakarta and Bangkok is so expensive compared to KL.

The other day I was enquiring about the wireless access at Starbucks opposite Sarinah--they were selling prepaid access at 44,000 rupiah for one hour--that's around 20 ringgit! MacDonalds at Sarinah was offering free access for a while during the promotional period but now they are charging 50,000 rupiah for 2 hours of access. The rates in Bangkok are about the same.

Compare that with KL where Starbucks patrons get free wireless access from Time's Zone; Maxis Utopia charges only 5 ringgit for 1 whole day of access and Airzed subscribers pay only 29.99 ringgit for 1 month of unlimited access. (Compare all that with the average rate for Wifi access in US: 3.75 dollars per hour)

My hotel in Jakarta charges me a relatively cheap rate of 77,000 rupiah for a whole day of use. As a long-staying guest, I also get a 50% discount, which makes it quite a good deal. In general it is still difficult to get a midrange hotel with in-room broadband Internet access in Jakarta.

I think Malaysian surfers are very lucky indeed. Even our much-criticized Streamyx ADSL service is still extremely cheap compared to what PT Telkom here offers.

In Indonesia, the cheapest place to get Internet access are the humble Warnets (Warung Internet) which you can find almost anywhere across the country. Sometimes these are dinghy ramshackle places filled with loitering youths playing video games, but you can always rely on them to get your daily Internet fix.

When I was on the road in Yogjakarta, Solo and Semarang, I logged on everyday from these warnets, and didn't miss a single day of blogging. These days, my blogging is so intermittent due to my heavy work commitments. It'll be interesting to see how I fare the next couple of days, when I'm on the move again...

Sunday, July 18, 2004

This Disease called Loneliness

This Disease called Loneliness

I spared a couple of hours in between my work sessions to go for dinner with Marlyn at the new Hard Rock Cafe at the EX Plaza. This ridiculously named, spankingly new mall is the swankiest hangout in town now. It is located right in the heart of Jakarta, directly connected to Plaza Indonesia near Bunderan HI.

HRC is not my favourite place for a meal but it was Marlyn's idea and I thought it was probably a good opportunity for me to check out this new yuppie place. Marlyn didn't know I was in town until she sent an SMS to my Maxis number a couple of days ago, asking me when I'd be coming to Jakarta again. She was surprised to find out that I was already here.

So I caught up with her today for dinner and got the latest news about my other friends at the hotel. I found out that P. who was going steady with a friend of mine at one time is now hooked to another expatriate--a hotel guest--who in all probability is already married. Lonely women are often very vulnerable creatures and the slickest philanderers among men are usually the married ones.

Many young girls fall easy prey to married men out looking for some fun because they want to believe that the succesful-looking middle-aged man who bothers to ask them out is actually single and available. Sometimes I think loneliness is a disease that warrants as much attention as cancer or AIDS. So many people suffer from it and lives have been destroyed as a result. Strangely, women seem to be more susceptible to this disease than men.

Marlyn has better luck in her love life than P. She has a boyfriend who fetches her back from work; a homely guy who doesn't drink, smoke or go clubbing at night. Still she complains that he doesn't call her often enough...

Doesn't look like there's a cure for this disease called loneliness.