Long Read: Income Inequality in Singapore

Introduction
For people who’ve read my other blog posts, this one might taste a bit dry, but I’ve mentioned Singapore’s high income inequality in a previous post, and it’s about time I address it (let alone wealth inequality, which is an even greater, but harder to discuss, issue). It’s a frequently-brought-up issue among news sites and locals in discussion forums alike, and unlike in a proper research paper, I’ll cite sources informally and also leave out sources for points that are easy to verify with Google. It’s more of an informal thought-spilling than anything, however, so I encourage the reader to do their own research if they’re interested, because I’ll simplistically gloss over a lot of the issues I bring up. I’ll also bring up news articles and local opinion over government statistics, since in many cases, statistics either aren’t available or government statements border on propagandic. For example, Singapore has no government-established poverty line, and no released governmental statistics on the total homeless population. Furthermore, Kishore Mahbubani, a former UN diplomat for Singapore and the current dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, infamously stated in 2001 that in Singapore, “poverty has been eradicated.”

The Definition of Poverty
Of course, that previous statement is just as easy to take out of context as it is to recognize how extreme it sounds. The sort of poverty the media likes to show the world, with skeletal children living on dirt floors, is probably as rare in Singapore as it is in the US, but both countries still have a major poverty problem, in which the elderly work far past their time to retire, children are malnourished though not starving, and workers survive day-to-day with no disposable income. To give Mahbubani the benefit of the doubt, I believe he was referring to the former picture of poverty, of third-world poverty; for the sake of this post, I count the definition of “poverty” as more resembling the latter description.

Reasons for Income Inequality
There are a plethora of reasons why Singapore has one of the highest Gini coefficients of any developed country–or, in other words, the index that measures income distribution and inequality in a country. (It’s an imperfect measurement; it ignores the total wealth of a country, income distribution considering the different stages of life of the population, and is relative rather than absolute.) That being said, I’ll summarize some of them below, and hopefully give a somewhat-accurate picture of the socio-economic situation in Singapore:

1. “More than 37 percent of the 5.2 million people living in Singapore are foreigners, many of whom have taken up citizenship and employment in the city-state in recent years” [1].
This serves to widen Singapore’s inequality gap in two major ways: by bringing in the super-rich, and by bringing in the poor.
a. In addition to other policies that the Singaporean government has consciously managed in order to attract businesspeople, Singapore has no capital gains tax, which allow investors to do business freely without worrying about excessive taxation. As a result, Singapore has more millionaires per capita than any other place in the world, and the endless lists of high-end fashion brands available in Singapore’s ubiquitous shopping malls (and not just the famous ones along Orchard Road) cater Singapore itself to the high-end consumer. This lack of taxation, though, means a lack of money that could be going to support social policies that could improve Singapore. Even with the super-rich removed, Singapore imports and accommodates a lot of highly-talented workers that it doesn’t have the local training to produce, which skews the median income per capita upwards [2].
When trying to look up statistics for Singapore’s median (not mean) household income, I found sources citing it as high as SGD$7,800/month (a statistic which may exclude the non-working/those working part-time jobs/those who make under $20k/year), but governmental sources cite a much more conservative $3,200-$3,700/month per full-time worker (not household, though), and BBC cites the average salary (not even median, but average) as USD$31,000/year per worker, the lowest among similar developed countries in their case study [3]. Since Singapore has a lot of foreign workers, I found it frustrating that most of the more-casual sources merely stated “median salary,” without indicating if it was for residents only or all workers. Singapore is also consistently named as one of the costliest cities in the world to live in (for both locals and expats), so income needed to support a relatively comfortable standard of living must be higher as well.
b. Inversely, Singapore’s lax immigration policies bring in cheap labor from poorer countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, who earn more in Singapore than they would in their home countries–despite the fact that Singapore has no minimum wage. This influx has led to there being enough female domestic workers–many of whom are maids–for 1 in every 5 households in Singapore [4]. In Hong Kong and in Singapore, even middle-class families can afford live-in maids, because labor is so cheap, but those same families can’t even afford a house, because real estate is so costly.
Furthermore, while I can’t cite a source for this, many of the cleaners I see around NUS canteens and Singapore hawker centres–public food courts where your reusable plates and utensils are left on the table without a tip or taken to a station to be washed–are elderly.

2. Singapore has a limited welfare system and structural rather than absolute unemployment.
In Asian societies, there seems to be a culture of self-reliance (or family-reliance) when it comes to welfare. Elderly grandparents more commonly live with their sons and daughters, even if those children have their own families, rather than a nursing home. My parents, who immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong before I was born, have always spoken very highly of the way the United States takes care of its elderly and needy, with decent (again, their opinion) healthcare programs like Medicare and Medicaid–and I don’t even think they know about Canada. In Singapore, government handouts are “granted only sparingly,” with only 3,000 households qualifying for public assistance out of about a million [5]. That being said, there are healthcare and social security infrastructures in place; the average S’porean wage-earner (must) put 20% of their earnings into the CPF, or central protection fund, even though only 1 in 5 investors believe that the CPF will support them through retirement [6].
But Singapore’s unemployment rate in 2010, given its economic struggle during the Great Recession, was still only 4.1%, double what it normally is. Compare that to the United State’s 9.6% in 2010 (though again, that’s double what it was before). However, as mentioned earlier, Singapore’s influx of labor quantity depresses wages for all blue-collar workers. Despite being an expensive place to live in, Singapore offers “cheaper food, haircuts, taxis, and shop services than any other rich world city–only because the people at the bottom probably do not earn enough”[2]. The bottom 20% in Singapore earn $15,288 a year, compared to the United States’ $18,000 and Hong Kong’s (another country with a low Gini coefficient) $16,100 [7].

We have people who are poor, but what about the most destitute: the homeless?
Even though I joked about it in a previous post, it actually is illegal to sleep on the streets or beg here, which might explain why I see few beggars in touristy areas around compared to San Francisco or Bangkok. My light research found a lack of clear homelessness statistics. The Ministry of Community Development, Youth, and Sports assisted about 200-300 homeless people a year from 2008-2011, but this excludes the three homeless shelters and seventeen halfway houses in Singapore, let alone people who stay in hostels or couch-surf long-term. I’ll also cite an online commenter known as Arnold Chong: “The homeless will be removed and put in homeless shelters where they face severe restrictions on their freedom.
Many homeless thus move to Johor in Malaysia to rent cheaper accommodation there.
Others move in with their relatives and you can have as many as 20 people living in a small flat.
But if you do go to places like Geylang and Chinatown, you will find many homeless single man sleeping overnight on the streets.”
So it doesn’t seem too different from any other developed country – but they do seem more invisible here, somehow.

Conclusion & Summary
Singapore has a large Gini coefficient given its reputation as a wealthy and economically prosperous country, but that itself is not the problem–a high Gini coefficient does not necessarily correlate to income inequality, and Hong Kong has a higher one. The problem is that the giant inequality gap in Singapore is perpetuated by the government itself.

Quoted from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s 2nd Prime Minister ever and elder son of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew: “In fact, if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini coefficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off, because they will bring in business, bring in opportunities, open new doors and create new jobs, and I think that is the attitude with which we must approach this problem.

Also: “My belief has been that a minimum wage is not going to solve the problem. If it is modest, it won’t do harm, neither will it do a lot of good. If it is high, well, then it is going to cause costs to employers and it is going to cause unemployment to the low-wage workers. So you are not really solving his problem, you are just going to transfer it somewhere else.

Enjoy the Facebook backlash here. Actually, that topic would make for an interesting future blog post – how social media has weakened the social and political grip of the People’s Action Party, Singapore’s only ruling governmental party since its inception.

Add on the current environment of censorship for people speaking out about Singapore’s problems. The Newspaper Printing and Presses Act of 1974 ensures no newspaper can be published without a permit granted by the government, who essentially control The Straits Times, Singapore’s leading newspaper – multiple sources can be found re: Singaporean censorship, really.  Then reflect all this against the strangely paradisal picture of Singapore that the government tries so hard to enforce in their statements (I recall a banner in UTown at the National University of Singapore which reads, “You will have the best education”), and it soon becomes apparent how and why the inequality gap in Singapore needs to be addressed and discussed more.

[1] “Singapore vows to create social safety nets” – BBC
https://sg.news.yahoo.com/singapore-vows-create-social-safety-nets-115421953.html

[2] The closest I can cite to a source for this is Singaporean Sudhir Vadaketh’s Floating on a Malayan Breeze (2010), the book I read for my UCEAP Country Project (and highly recommend to learn about both Singapore and Malaysia), but multiple people on forums and statistics would probably back me up. Vadaketh particularly talks about how Singapore’s business-oriented economic climate and conservative culture has left it in great need of a “knowledge economy” – one with highly trained local scientists, designers, and other creative forces. The National University of Singapore doesn’t even have an art major, for goodness’s sake. However, this assertion–that Singapore lacks a proper “knowledge” economy–is more speculation than anything else.

[3] “Singaporeans Earn the LOWEST Wages Among the High-Income Countries” – The Heart Truths, a blog which cites the BBC in Chart 6; the link is broken, but the article title referred to can easily be Googled and found
http://thehearttruths.com/2013/11/01/singaporeans-earn-the-lowest-wages-among-the-high-income-countries/

[4] “Fact Sheet – Foreign Domestic Workers in Singapore (Basic Statistics)” – TWC2
http://twc2.org.sg/2011/11/16/fact-sheet-foreign-domestic-workers-in-singapore-basic-statistics/

[5] “Welfare in Singapore – The Stingy Nanny” – The Economist
http://www.economist.com/node/15524092

[6] “Only one in five Singaporean investors think CPF is Enough for Retirement” – The Straits Times
http://www.straitstimes.com/news/business/economy/story/only-one-five-singapore-investors-think-cpf-enough-retirement-20140813

[7] So many sources for this one that I’ll just post the links.
https://centres.smu.edu.sg/lien/files/2013/10/SocialSpace2011-Bottom-Fifth-in-Singapore-Jacqueline-Loh.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_in_the_United_States
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1211000/hong-kongs-poor-take-6pc-income-share-while-rich-account-43pc-poll

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List: Worldwide Food Brands in Singapore

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, but I also haven’t seen anything like this on the internet.
Unless its taste is explicitly described, I haven’t been to any of these chain restaurants here or bought these products personally,  just seen them, so I can’t comment on how they are. A friend of mine says that in general, the food mostly tastes the same but is more expensive than in the US, and portions may be slightly smaller. Most sit-down restaurants that aren’t fast food chains are way pricier than you’d expect, even after converting. I was surprised at how many chains were available in Singapore despite the fact Singapore’s known for being one of the most westernized Asian cities.

As a general rule of thumb, even though Singapore imports most of its food, Western food always costs more.
Like many other posts on this blog, I will occasionally go back and ninja-edit this.
If you’re looking for non-food products, I can’t help as much with that–there’s so many shopping malls in Singapore with common fashion brands that I won’t bother to list them all.
And don’t worry, there’ll be a future blog post sometime on local cuisine.

WORLDWIDE CHAIN RESTAURANTS/SNACKERIES I’VE SEEN IN SINGAPORE:
7-Eleven
Auntie Anne’s
Ajisen Ramen
Baja Fresh
Baskin-Robbins
Beard Papa
Burger King
California Pizza Kitchen
Chili’s
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
Dairy Queen
Délifrance
Dunkin’ Donuts
Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ
Hard Rock Café
Hooters
IKEA
Kentucky Fried Chicken
Krispy Kreme
McDonald’s (this is an interesting blog to follow. The current promotion is a Samurai Tamago, aka grilled egg, burger)
Outback Steakhouse
Quiznos
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
Starbucks
Subway (sans $5 footlong promotion)
TGI Friday’s
Wendy’s
Yoshinoya

WORLDWIDE PRODUCT BRANDS AVAILABLE IN SINGAPORE:
7-Up Soft Drink (different logo design than in the US)
A&W Root Beer
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream
Cadbury Chocolate
Coca-Cola Soft Drink (they have Coke Zero, but Diet Coke is harder to find)
Cup Noodle Ramen (local flavors available)
Dole Bananas (they’re from the Philippines, and seem slightly smaller and less flavorful[1])
Domino’s Pizza
Doritos Chips
Dove Chocolate
Famous Amos Cookies (There’s even a Famous Amos store here, which I’ve never seen in the US)
Fanta Soft Drinks
Ferrero Rocher Chocolates
Good Humor Ice Cream (known as Wall’s here)
Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream
Hello Panda Cookies
Hershey’s Chocolate (including Cookies ‘n’ Creme bars and Kisses)
Honey Bunches of Oats (Post cereal)
Horlicks Malt Drink
Jacob’s Cream Crackers
Kinder Chocolate (including Bueno/Surprise Eggs)
Kit Kat Chocolate
Koala’s March Cream Crackers
Kraft American “Cheese” Singles
Lays Potato Chips (local flavors available, pic in future blog post)
Lindt Chocolate
M&Ms Chocolates
Maltesers Malt Chocolate
Magnum Ice Cream Bars
Mars Chocolate Bars (which for some reason are hard for me to find in the US)
Milo Chocolate Products (mostly Drink)
Mountain Dew Soft Drink[2]
MUG Root Beer
Nature Valley Granola Bars
Nutella Chocolate Spread
Oreo Cookies (Oreos here have thinner cream and different/less flavors available; the Blueberry Ice Cream flavor tastes minty)
Pepsi Soft Drink
Pizza Hut (random note: the Pizza Hut at PEK, Beiing’s airport, is the classiest one I’ve ever seen)
Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits
Pretz Biscuits
Pringles Chips
Quaker Oatmeal Cookies (haven’t seen the oatmeal yet)
Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (which, according to one of Craig’s flatmates, is not available in Europe)
Peter Pan Peanut Butter
Pocky Sticks
Skippy Peanut Butter
Snickers Chocolate Bar
Special K (Kellogg cereal)
Sprite Soft Drink
Smuckers Jam
Toblerone Chocolate
Yan Yan Cream Biscuits
Yeo’s Soft Drinks

MISSING OR HARD-TO-FIND WORLDWIDE CHAINS/PRODUCTS (doesn’t mean you can’t find it in Singapore, but they’re uncommon at grocery stores, MRT station convenience stores, and stores on-campus):
Cheetos
Bubble/Chewing Gum (all brands; their sale, though not the products themselves, is illegal in the country)
Chipotle (and without exception, Mexican food is overpriced here)
Cream Soda
Pop-Tarts
Salami
String Cheese
Triscuits
Twix Chocolate Bar (blog post on them here)
Wheat Thins

To look up groceries on Fairprice, Singapore’s largest grocery chain, click here.

[1] My guess is that most bananas consumed in North America and Europe are imported from Latin America, most notably Ecuador; in Africa, from Uganda or locally grown; in China or India, from their own country; and in Southeast Asia and Australia, from the Philippines.
Sources – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana#Production_and_export
http://www.freshplaza.com/article/108375/Europe-largest-banana-importer-worldwide
Also interesting and related, not that it works outside of the US: http://whereismymilkfrom.com/

[2] Irrelevant to just about everything: I like to call Mountain Dew “Dew of the Mountain”. It sounds so much classier.

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List: Discussion Questions that Living Here has Forced Me to Somewhat Address

– Would you want to live in Singapore, or in a place like Singapore, when you’re in your 20s or even later in life? If so, why? If not, where would you want to live? Consider the pros and cons of not only living in Asia, but also living in a country where you feel foreign by your accent and mannerisms, living away from family and certain friends for extended blocks of time, living in a city with all of its constant sound and haze, living in a tropical region where heat and humidity rule the day, living away from the countless little things in California that you miss (future blog post), living–to the blasphemy of Southern California–life without a car, living without mountains in sight, living with multitudes of distinct faces rushing all around you on any given day, living with thunder and lightning, and living in a flat in a high-rise building as opposed to a small house or 2nd-floor apartment[1]. Back up your answer with empirical experience.

– Given the people you’ve met and talked to from [X number of, approximately a dozen] different countries in the last two months, which is more than you’ve met in your entire life before, and finding out their experiences here and abroad in other countries, is the world is much smaller place or a much larger place than you imagined? This question may be interpreted literally, sociologically, or personally.

– Was it ultimately a boon rather than a detriment that your room’s lack of air conditioning forced you to hang out in the student lounge or the library more often, despite the fact that you’d previously done work well in your bedroom? Consider such pros and cons as: the furiously crowded internal campus shuttles, the general frowning-upon of singing along to music in public, and the availability of certain instant amenities in your room.

– Explain the difficulties of planning a trip, including but not limited to: getting around in a country where one does not speak the language; consistently finding cheap flights only at inconvenient times relative to normal human sleep schedules and hotel check-in times; endless budget questions such as hotel vs. hostel, length of stay compared to cost efficiency and time needed to study or relax at home, and convenience vs. saving money; satisfying everyone’s wants in terms of visiting attractions without separating the group when only one person has free roaming on their cellphone; and avoiding touristy traps, unintentionally disrespecting the local culture, or large, cheesy crowds while being a total foreigner yourself. People write whole books about this, but they’re still not enough to make you feel ready until you try it. They rarely are.

– Do you miss Irvine because you truly like it better than here, or do you just miss familiarity?

[1] 80% of Singaporeans live in HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats. I haven’t gone in-depth about the economic development of Singapore in this blog yet, but this is a strong indication of just how much Singapore’s government has, since the latter half of the 20th century, transformed the way the country operates.

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Long Read: Thinking Mandarin, Part I

One of the classes I’m taking this semester (and I’ll give a summary of them all later, like December) is Chinese 1, aka LAC1201, aka Mandarin. There are two main dialects of Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), and two main written variants (Traditional and Simplified), which themselves descended from ancient Chinese, which in turn more resembled hieroglyphics than modern handwriting.

I grew up speaking household-vocabulary-limited Cantonese, but I never learned to write it. I guess I should thank my parents for not forcing me to Chinese school like a lot of my second-generation Asian-American contemporaries, though my sister’s quick to remind me that the real reason I never learned it was because I pushed away anything my parents tried to informally teach me as a kid: piano, Mandarin, how to not alienate strangers. Just making up for lost time now, I guess.

Enough about me. The point of this post is to highlight the interesting I’ve learned so far from class via tidbits, so leggo. Disclaimer: The following represent my non-expert opinions based on anecdotal evidence.

– One of the the two dining halls in University Town, where I’m dorming, is named “Koufu”. I figured it was just a name, or perhaps a bastardization of the word “uncle” in Cantonese (not that Cantonese is very common in Singapore), until I found the vocabulary words “kǒu”[1] (mouth, 口) and “fu” (happiness, 福) in my textbook. The more you know.

– This is commonly known in Chinese culture (and many other cultures) even among those who don’t practice the language, but the unspoken rule of respecting authority pervades both social norms and the language. “It’s especially impolite in Chinese culture to call an older (as in, married and unfamiliar with you, or elders in your family) person by their first name,” my tutorial leader pointed out, which gave me flashbacks to all those times my dad would get mad at me as a kid for saying his name. Then I’d go to my friends’ houses and their mothers would be all like, “Oh, you can call me Maureen.”

Oh, and the different greetings for when you’re meeting with important people (you’ll say “Nǐn hăo” instead of “Nǐ hăo”, and when meeting with close friends, you’d probably say “Chī le ma?”–“Have you eaten?” instead of the wooden and distant “Nǐ hăo;” in fact, it’s really common for even Chinese-only speakers to just say “Hi”), but that’s widespread across a lot of languages, including Spanish’s “usted” (which itself is seeing debate about it being “old-fashioned”). And this is more subtle, but there are entirely different words for older and younger brothers and sisters, rather than just saying “(big/little) + (brother/sister)”.

– Interesting Wikipedia article: Brand blunder.

The name Coca-Cola rendered phonetically in Chinese can sound like the words for “bite the wax tadpole”…or “female horse stuffed with wax”…Before marketing in China, the company found a close phonetic equivalent, kekou kele (pinyin romanization; 可口可乐), which roughly means “let your mouth rejoice”.

So kĕlè is cola. On a tangent, coffee, which didn’t exist in ancient China, is the phonetically-translated kāfēi (咖啡), but in Malaysian (also in Singlish), they call coffee “kopi”. I would’ve expected something like a translation of “bean juice” or “morning drink” rather than a direct phonetic translation.

– I just realized I knew how to write and say numbers 1-10 in Mandarin already. Thanks, Mahjong!

– Just as most people here speak colloquial Singaporean English, the Mandarin here is also infused with English and Malay elements, and is as different from the Mandarin you’d find in China as the Singlish here is to the English you’d find back at the States.[2]

– There’s a popular (and in my opinion, overpriced) boba haunt next to UC Irvine called Cha for Tea. “Cha” is Chinese for tea in both Cantonese and Mandarin, albeit with different intonations. –Somehow it took until my fourth year of college to notice this. Beautiful.

[1] There are four tones in pinyin Mandarin: ā, á, ă, à, and the unofficial neutral tone, a (the letter a is just an example–this is applied to all vowels, including combinations of vowel sounds like uo or ie). In Chinese, way more often than in the Romance/Latin languages, pronouncing the right syllable with the wrong tone will completely derail your meaning (example: mă = horse, mā = mother).

[2] I’ll probably write a post about Singlish at the very end, when I have better grasp of the slang.

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Picturebook: BITCH, Beers, Botanical Gardens

10 points to Ravenpuff for anyone who can guess what my post title is a reference to.

I told you that this blog wasn’t going to be a Instagram-dump of a four-month vacation in Southeast Asia, but rather, about answering the sociological questions that come naturally from the minutiae of living in Singaporean culture. I told you that, but then I visited Chinatown on the 17th.

Figure 1.1 – Lanterns hung up in preparation for the Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown, which is on Sept. 8th

IMG_3447[1]

Figure 1.2 – Sri Mariamman Temple, founded 1827 – Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple

IMG_3451[1]

Figure 1.3 – Buddha Tooth Relic Temple – built 2005

IMG_3454[1]

Singapore has one of the oldest documented Chinatowns around, and while not quite as famous as, say, San Francisco’s Chinatown, it’s a major district, cultural center, and tourist draw. The juxtaposition of those last two elements presents to you the following picture:

Figure 1.4 – Self-explanatory

IMG_3461[1]

Of course, I bought that hat for myself.

No. No I didn’t.[1]

My point is that we walked past Chinatown, aka the king of stall-lined streets selling clothes, knick-knacks, and stone fountains, into Chinatown, aka the host of temples in which shoes are taken off and interior photography is forbidden (Sri Mariamman Temple) and the chants of the religious drown out the chatter outside while people borrow sarong-aprons from nearby bins to cover up their shorts (Buddha Tooth Relic Temple). Host of tiny-but-grandiose temples of majestic red and gold and rainbows, of candles and of banquets of fruit baskets and dishes set out on tables for offerings (the stuff does get eaten, worry not), of a hundred little golden guardian statuettes along the walls.[2] Then back into Chinatown, aka the market of tourists-who-act-like-tourists, where stray cats sleep and one can buy “I heart Singapore” umbrellas or smartphone skins or a set of thirty-five keychains for ten dollars and stall vendors shout suddenly of lower prices when one bargains too lightly and then walks away. The contrast between holy temples and pulp-shopping rows of stalls sitting literally down the street from each other weighs heavily, palpably. One could easily get into a debate about the merits of high vs. low culture–low culture is, after all, still culture–but seeing them directly next to each other is a rare treat.

Yet[3] for all its flavour, its bright colors and mixed architecture, Chinatown’s a sight for the eyes, and more so at night when everything and a half is lit up–if I go back, it’ll definitely be after dark. It’s easy to get around and find what you’re looking for: cultural immersement (Chinatown Heritage Center), food (Maxwell Hawker Centre), temples and hostels (South Bridge Road), tacky knickknacks (everywhere), street performances (weekly), and tiger beer (of course). The list runs.

Figure 1.5 – Notice how well-paved the streets are for a Chinatown. Average cleanliness of Chinatowns I’ve been to < This Chinatown < Average cleanliness of the rest of Singapore I’ve been to

IMG_3460[1]

I mean, look at that piece of litter up there. Look at it. So lonely.

That same day, we went to the Botanic Gardens, which is essentially a massive public park with a pricey food court, as well as Singapore’s de facto picnic capital. If you like birds, small children, dogs, lawns, and watching people take selfies, head down south from the Botanic Gardens MRT stop and explore the grounds.

Figure 2.1 – You’ll have to venture in a bit before you reach the denser, more photogenic areas.

IMG_3467[1]

Figure 2.2 – Symphony Lake, which despite its murky water has a good deal of fish living in it

IMG_3477[1]

The real highlight of the Botanic Gardens is the National Orchid Garden, which costs SGD$5 (or SGD$1 for students, sweet) and is worth it for all but the fiercest of flower-haters (or the tired and apathetic). In particular, it’s easy to get gorgeous photographs out of this place, even though my cellphone pictures aren’t any indication.

Figure 2.2 – Orchids at the National Orchid Garden. I wanted to put something funny or entertaining here, but. Yeah. Orchids.

Figure 2.3 – Lush, but not quite overgrown

IMG_3504[1]IMG_3513[1]

Figure 2.4 – I like colors, okay?

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Figure 2.5 – Mhmm, this font design. Not-mhmm, my picture-taking skills.

IMG_3537[1]

Coming up in future posts, listed here more as a self-reminder than anything:

– My mandated country-project essay for UCEAP, which gives four pages (okay, I may or may not just post an excerpt) of background information and analysis about Singapore

– Where the Homeless People Are: an investigation

– A brief history of land-use, HDBs, and cultural preservation in modern Singapore

– Snack time, baby.

– What I miss about ‘murica, what I don’t miss about ‘murica, and why I only call it ‘murica in writing

– A (somewhat unfair[4]) comparison of UCI and Singapore, both established in 1965

– Fauna and flora of Singapore (probably near the end when I hopefully actually know anything about this)

– Classes, packing lists/tips for future UCEAPers and travellers

– More unfunny lists

[1] Clearly I bought that hat for Craig instead.

[2] I would’ve taken more pictures inside the temple, but the sarong-apron was blocking access to my smartphone in my pocket. I sound like such a first-world-problem writer right now, don’t I? Yeah. Yup.

[3] My high school senior English lit teacher insisted that a comma was needed after an introductory “Yet”. To this day I’m still not sure I agree with her; there are also certain English-grammar “rules” I refuse to ever follow, such as no-starting-sentences-with-conjunctions and no-ending-sentences-with-prepositions. But feel free to prove me wrong; I’m just not sure that a world where “Yet, she continues to ramble” is mandated over “Yet she continues to ramble” would be a world I’m ready to live in.

[4] Unfair, because Singapura was so much more than the rebellious teenage offspring of Malaysia before 1965, and so much more than the British colony of wealth and trade goods before 1963, and still even more than the famed fishing harbor and trading port it’d been known for for most of the last millennium. Irvine was a dump of chaparral that important moneyed people decided to develop, and lo, it developed like an apple blossom in the mists of a sweet spring okay I’ll stop typing now

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Long Read: Not Really

I miss cheese.

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Picturebook: From Tourist to Student

I’m a private person, and I’ve experienced much more these last few weeks–both good and bad, but overwhelmingly good–than I’m about to illustrate through my shoddy phone-camera photographs and brief narration. But now that school’s started, the most touristy part of being in Singapore is over (until our break week of classes right before our midterms, at least). Side effects of this transition: less sore feet from walking the streets of Singapore, but then again, I brought over cheap flip flops, so my bad; getting tired of the food (future post about my diet coming up); less money spent on topping up my MRT (subway-and they have an extremely efficient system over here, like Hong Kong’s) card; and obviously, school replacing the excursions Daisy’s taken us on (Daisy is our UCEAP-appointed contact, who’s basically been acting as our ever-helpful tour guide so far). It’s been refreshing having summer.

On Sunday, 8/3, Craig, his flatmate, eight Europeans whose names I memorized and whom I enjoyed hanging out with but will probably never talk to again, and I went to Sentosa. It’s an island off southern Singapore that’s viewed as a popular but expensive retreat, with multiple attractions, a Universal Studios, three beaches, and a cable car back to the mainland. If you choose to walk the quarter-mile there instead on the tiniest of slopes, moving walkways will gladly assist you straight to Vivo City, a mall located at the Harbourfront MRT exit. Beautiful.

Figure 1.1[1] – Tanjong Beach, full of younger people playing volleyball, a local playing with her dog, and what looked like the photoshoot set-up for a bikini calendar (because as Craig pointed out, it’s totally normal to go to the beach wearing full-face makeup).

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Figure 1.2 – Speaking of Craig, ohey, looking snappy as usual. Behind him is basically what the rest of the island looks like, apart from the open plaza where a candy shop, the entrance to Universal Studios, and most memorably–not really–a Chili’s restaurant sit. IMG_3284[1]

But no, really, beautiful. As mentioned earlier in the blog, Sentosa’s the Disneyland (or more accurately, the California Adventure) of Singapore, complete with tryhard modernist architecture, bright colors, and even a gargantuan Merlion statue for effect. The three beaches there aren’t anything that special, though I’m spoiled as a Californian when it comes to judging sands and shorelines.

Figure 2.1 – River Safari, lookin’ good today

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Figure 2.2 – Gardens by the Bay, Flower Dome succulents

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I was much more impressed, just as I was when I first arrived, with Singapore’s flora, which is gorgeous. Hopefully I can try a blog post at that later this semester once I research some species, but don’t gag me in my sleep if I don’t. The fauna, if you count the animals in captivity, should be given a mention too. On Tuesday, 8/5, Daisy took us UCEAPers to the River Safari, which was pretty nice–we saw red pandas, giant pandas who were sleeping with their heads facing at the perfect angle away from the cameras (some of which flashed despite the signs telling people not to, good job people!), giraffes, golden pheasants, elephants, spider monkeys, anacondas, rhinoceros[2], capybaras, and more. So yeah, it’s a miniature version of the Singapore Zoo, where they take a bunch of animals from around the world and put them in a smorgasbord of river-themed exhibits.

My favorite tourist attraction in Singapore so far / by far were the Gardens By the Bay. Craig randomly felt like not going (which Daisy joked about as “GBtB: Go Back to Bed”), but his loss, because the Flower Dome (there’s also the Cloud Forest, which I didn’t visit) impressed me. Figure 2.2 is some sort of succulent that wasn’t labeled. I’m sure I took better pictures of other flora here, but I have a soft spot in my heart for succulents and you have limited time in reading my blog post, so Figure 2.2 is what you get. And the following, too, I guess.

Figure 2.3 – Gardens by the Bay, Flower Dome – don’t know the ID of the tree, sorry

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Figure 2.4 – Orchid display at the Flower Dome

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Figure 2.5 – Gardens by the Bay, outdoors (the free part; also outdoors are some impressive and well-known man-made trees)

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Figure 2.6 – The Helix Bridge just next to Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands (resort, casino, and shopping mall with a pool and skating rink in it, a phenomenon that I’d previously only seen in Vegas–minus the skating rink)

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Two days after I took this picture of Helix Bridge (Figure 2.6), it became crowded as cluck for the National Day fireworks and celebrations, which Craig and I completely ignored while eating a quiet dinner elsewhere. Apparently the National Day Parade was really impressive this year, though, and if we’d arrived in Singapore just a year later, we’d have caught Singapore’s 50th birthday.[3]

Figure 3.1 – Rag ‘n Flag ’14: “Carnival of Dreams”

 

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Figure 3.2 – A sign. That says ‘Science’. In English. On a lawn. During the daytime. It’s in Singapore. Did I mention that it was a sign?

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August 8th was Rag ‘n Flag Day at UTown, the newly-built section of campus where I live. A long-standing tradition at NUS, Rag ‘n Flag featured student and professional music/dance performances, beautiful parade-float-like stage displays that I’d previously seen students constructing, and club booths asking the public for donations. I didn’t attend, though, aside from passing the crowd while heading to the canteens for lunch. I could hear the concert from my room on the fourteenth floor anyway.

While not nearly as picturesque or directly representative of Singapore as other pictures I could’ve uploaded, Figure 3.2 brings up a cultural point of discussion. I toe the line here between unfairly stereotyping and pointing out what some may perceive as obvious: Asian communities tend to have more of a cultural tolerance for cartoon-y cuteness. Not in a white-collar high-end business setting, but still in places you’d never find in the States, like a permanent university sign where the i has an orange heart for its tittle. This is supported by how Hello Kitty is a such a hit in Asian communities outside of Japan, aside from its promotional products being collector’s items, or the popularity of anime and manga in Asian communities even outside of Japan.

Figure 3.3 – The road to perdition class

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Our modules started on Monday, though I don’t attend tutorials or lab in addition to lecture until Week 2 or 3. This is a typical snapshot of what I walk past on my way there. It’s a much longer walk than getting across campus at UCI, though it might be because of the occasional heavy spurts of rain and the fact that attending UCI has spoiled me to the point where I’ve forgotten hills sometimes exist where pedestrians walk. There’s an internal shuttle service, but it’s more jam-packed than a downtown hawker-centre noodle stall for now, so I’ll enjoy the trees. Have I mentioned that they’re gorgeous?

[1] Lab reports have whipped me into labeling images as textbooks do. I’m not trying to appear like a stuffy scholar or anything, I swear. I’m just a jaded soul.

[2] Rhinoceros have three plurals, according to Merriam-Webster: rhinoceros, rhinoceroses, and rhinoceri

[3] Fun fact: Singapore’s independence from Malaysia was the same year UC Irvine opened. Both have come a long way in a relatively short time, a comparison which draws further ones and warrants a future blog post, if I remember.

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