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11.7.13

Sing-A-Poor

Doa-Doa Perjalanan - Traveler's Prayer
SINGAPORE -- As you may have guessed by now, your intrepid reporter has trekked across the Java Sea to land on yet another island, though one considerably smaller than the one on which he dwells.

Lion Air provided the transportation, which was unremarkable (something most air travelers want) except for the amusing game of runway hopscotch at touchdown.  Fortunately, Lion provides for just such occasions by placing prayer books for six different faiths in the seat-back pocket.  I read all of them, being one who dislikes flying commercial, since I'm not the one making life and death decisions, especially when it comes to my own life and death.

Once inside the terminal at Changi Airport, you quickly realize that if there is any place on Earth you have to be Snowdened (c), this is it!  Cactus and butterfly gardens, shops and amusements, piano players at sundown, sleeping lounges, digital theaters, free internet, even a hotel inside the customs zone.  It's a place one could live for a while and not get bored.

Changi is, however, HUGE.  You will get some serious exercise dashing around that place.  Keep in mind that Singapore is not only a major Asian hub, but also every flight in or out is an international flight...there are no domestic destinations.

Once freed of Changi's charms, you break out into the blazing daylight to try and get a taxi.  I say try because, as I've noted before, Singapore is the only place in the world where the taxi drivers tell you where they are going, and with a bit of luck, it's close to where you want to go.

Me: "How much is it, sir?"
Driver: "Let's call it $20."
Me: "Let's call it whatever the meter says."  It was turned so only he could see it.
Driver: "$15.80."
Me: "Let's call it $16, then, shall we?"
Driver: (Mandarin cuss words)

I alight (it's a former British colony after all) on the sidewalk.  One thing I will grant Singapore, as much as I hate the place, is that it has wide, clean sidewalks, many with overhangs for shade.  It's a radical difference from Indonesia, where if there are sidewalks, they are covered with warung and kaki lima (tobacconists and makeshift eateries).

I'm on a visa run, which for those in the audience who are transnationalists know, is the bane of every foreign domiciliary outside the US, where immigration control is little more than a bad joke.  I've arrived at my agent's office building.

We all use agents around here.  If I were to try this myself, it would cost me $75 and two or three days in Singapore.  An agent can get it done in a day for $230 (Sing dollars, by the way).  I show up, fork over the passport, entry card, telex (authorizing my visa), a photo and a pile of cash.  I spend the next seven hours wandering the streets of Singapore, and POOF, I can go home with my shiny new permit to live in the country where I have a family and property.  Of course, that doesn't give me the work visa.  That's a whole different process that begins tomorrow when I'm back home.

Singapore has a number of benefits.  The mass transit is, in a word, amazing.  In another word, it's cheap, too.  All the way across the island is less than three Singbux.

In addition to the aforementioned sidewalks, it's also very clean, organized and runs like clockwork.  On top of that, this being the first day of Ramadhan, there are lines out the doors of the restaurants, whereas at home, the FPI is waiting to pounce on and trash any establishment that caters to non-Moslems (i.e., those of us who continue to eat during the fasting month).

On the bad side, Singapore taught me...at long last...the real definition of fascism.  You see, the definition of fascism is not the lost of freedom, but the commoditizing of it.  You can have all the freedom you want, as long as you have the money to pay for it.  For instance, you can have a car here as long as you buy the license to buy the car.  The license costs about the same as the car.  You can have a fully detached house as long as you buy the license to buy the house.  You are perfectly free in Singapore, as long as you got the Beeg Bux.  Same in all the other fascist countries.

Speaking of money, Singaporean money is a bitch.  It's made of plastic, so it is smooth as a baby's bottom.  While this may seem like a cool idea - the bills don't get wadded up and you can wash it and disinfect it if you want - it is impossible to fold and even harder to keep a grasp on.  If you have several bills in your hand and a stiff wind comes along, it slips right through your fingers.  I suppose that's the idea.  The fascists don't want you hanging on to your cash.  It slows the economy.  It's all about velocity.

The people are nice enough, but it's the kind of nice you would get if you lived somewhere where they throw you in jail for being unhappy.  You know the kind of smile folks give where the mouth does all the right moves, but the eyes refuse to join in the fun and games?  It's that kind of nice.

Singapore has all the vices for those stricken with them.  There's casinos, but if you are a citizen, you must pay 100 Singbux to get in.  Foreigners are free.  There's a whole section of town devoted to whorehouses, and you can find women from all over the world there.  Doesn't matter the country, you can find at least a dozen representatives from the Social Club there.

Booze is cheap and beer makers compete to see who can make the brew with the highest alcohol content.  The winner so far is one with 9% squeege.  That's a hefty beer, bro.  But I guess if you live in a fascist regime, it helps to be drunk a lot so's you don't really notice the right good a$$ pounding you're getting every day.

One can't escape the feeling of being cattle here.  People all seem to move in lock step.  They all wear Dior and Giordano.  They all reek of the latest designer pheromones.  The laws cover everything down to your bathroom habits - I kid not.  1000 Singbux if you don't flush a public toilet.  Makes you wonder if someone runs in after you leave to check, perhaps even measure.

Singapore is very sterile.  The longer I'm here, the more I feel my testosterone leaching away.  It's kind of like kryptonite to Superman.  Imagine an entire country full of Michael J. Foxes in The Secret of my Success.  Scary really.

I have received one good inspiration since coming here this time.  I am now determined to learn Mandarin.  That will be the international language of the coming century, replacing English in board rooms all over the world.  English may remain as the primary language of the plebes and proles, but if you want to enter the heady realm of corporate globalism, Mandarin is where it's at.  It's a stiff barrier to entry, which makes it perfect as a means of separating the executives from the wannabies.    If you want to be one of the privileged boot-lickers, I highly recommend Malay.

So, tonight I'll return home after a 21-hour ordeal.  Tomorrow, I'll give my passport to the agent who will initiate the IMTA (work permit) process.  In a couple of days, I'll have to go to immigration to give yet another set of electronic fingerprints, yet another digital signature, and yet another photo (they already have half a kajillion on file).

By the way, you may have read in the past week or so about the smoke from fires in Indonesia choking Malaysia and Singapore.  Singapore had near-fatal levels for a day or two.  Both countries complained loudly and bitterly about Indonesian farmers slashing and burning their fields.  Global press reports made Indonesia out to be the bad guys - international polluters.

What the stories didn't tell you is that the farms that were being slashed and burned were owned by Malay and Singaporean corporate palm oil interests.  Ain't fascism grand?  You slash and burn countries for profit and then blame them on the global stage for polluting your air.

A word to Singaporean corporate plantation owners - F%$K YOU!

So, now you have a little insight into transnationalist living.  It's all kinda wild and wooly.  There are competing business, lifestyle and religious interests all trying to claw over the other to get on top, because only on top can you buy more freedom.

Tote Board at Changi Airport
I'd give you more tastes of the Far Side, but I've got to catch the 2120 back to Jakarta after I hit the duty free and buy a jug of reasonably-priced hooch to tide me over the fasting month.

One last bit of news...when I do these day-trip things, I only carry a satchel, what the fags call a man-purse.  I've been back and forth to Singapore six times with my satchel, which I haven't really added or subtracted from in all that time.  Tonight, the security witch in Singapore confiscated an X-acto knife I've had in the bag for years across half a dozen countries and two continents.  Forgot I even had the thing.  Couldn't do much more than carve my initials in the seat-back with it.  Even made me sign a confiscation report, which I refused to do.

Agent: Would you sign here, sir?
Me: Why?
Agent: (pause) I need your signature.
Me: For what?
Agent: It's an acknowledgement.
Me: You're stealing my property and you want me to agree to it?
Agent: We have to confiscate your knife.
Me: Confiscation is theft with legal authority.
Agent: Please sign here.
Me: No.
Agent: I...er...this...
Me: Thank you for stealing my property.

Probably all because I always put "TEXAS" in the area where it asks for nationality.  They hate when I do that.