28 January 2006

Live from Singapore

Socrates and I are about to cover the Chinese New Year scene live from Singapore. After initial investigations yesterday, it appears that the city-island was set up for massive celebrations in all districts, but most notably Chinatown. These celebrations were certain to include red lanterns, loud Chinese music, and appeal most to the hoards of thrill seekers scouring this island-city from end to end.

(In her journal from the period, which I've carefully lifted, Quondam-Anne relates contemporaneous observations about the trip. I've included them in italics from time to time. She has this to say about first impressions in Singapore:)

From what I can tell, Singapore is a destination attracting tourists from all over Asia wanting to lay down a fair penny. Having no true indigenous people of its own, it has adopted Indians, Malays, Arabs, and Chinese. It started out as a British colony and apparently still holds to a proud, if not pompous, philosophy of success. Everything here exists to showcase one thing: bills. Anything there worth doing requires the same.
I know, this sounds like the bitter pouting of a penniless missionary, but really I was expecting something very different out of Singapore. I was expecting "quaint". But, as Socrates pointed out, people don't travel to the cleanest, richest Asian Tiger for "quaint". He's got a point there. Plus, I'm not penniless: the school handed out an ample Chinese New Year Bonus.

And so we followed our couple around Singapore, follwing them through Orchard Road (the swank shopping district) Clarke Quay, Chinatown, Little India, the Arab Quarter, and a little visit at the Raffles hotel.

Upon arrival, as per the overarching reason for the visit (renewing the Handsome Accomplice's visa), our couple made the most valiant scramble possible toward the Royal Thai Embassy, minus a superfluous-and-stubborn-however-well-meant extra march around the block led by Quuondam-Anne, who wanted to stick to her map-reading skills despite actual signs in the actual city leading to the actual Royal Thai Embassy. This didn't matter anyway, as the office handling visas had closed at about the time their plane had taken off from Bangkok and would remain closed until the following Wednesday, giving everyone a nice, cushy holiday break over the Chinese New Year celebration. Shoulders sunken, sails deflated, they dragged their feet to a nearby Borders, just one franchised accessory out of hundreds on the sold-out island, and sated themselves in titles and authors. Socrates was excited to see them hovering in the philosphy section, but simultaneously he wished they would disappear to another section so that he could peruse the titles himself.

For some evening fare, the couple happened upon Clarke Quay, where a congregation of conspicuous architecture housing a spate of overpriced restauants huddled near the mouth of the Singapore River. Boat-sized cockroaches, disguised as boats and adorned with red lanterns for the New Year, served as river taxis up and down the river.

The next day our disjointed quartet hit the meat of the city. On their way to Chinatown, our couple met another couple of expats:
We boarded a subway train and were greeted with a friendly imperative: "Where you from?" Who we later learned were Dan and Susan introduced themselves to us and began to trade stories. They were from Louisiana but had been traveling since before hurricane Katrina had hit in September. Dan was retired from the military and had spent three years in Vietnam. They traveled everywhere on military planes. They'd started out in Hawaii, which had actually been their honeymoon, and just kept going after that, hitting Japan and some of the Caribbean Islands. They thought Thailand might be their next stop. They gave us all kinds of tips on bargaining folks down in price. They were kind and average people, amazed by the spectacle of what they thought they'd learned from where they'd been. Dan advised us against stealing from the Indians and Arabs in Singapore: "You know what they'll do, don't you?" he deadpans. "They'll cut off the right hand. Y'see, they eat with their right and wipe with their left, so you cut off their right hand...and they starve to death."

An odiferous tour through Little India treated the couple to a delicious vegetarian lunch before spending approximately four more hours on foot. I was happy to have chosen a companion from a time before even bicycles as we followed the couple, eventually taking a break:

[We] went for a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel, the origin of the froufily delicious cocktail and arguably the most famous hotel in the world (which learned from our guide book though I'd never heard of it before but then again I'm no rich jet-setter by any means, and grand hotels, I suppose, are of decreased importance to me when compared to the more immediately applicable thickness of the seat of my pants). Anyway it was a grand moment, the two of us sitting there on the lavish patio among the people who could afford everything that goes along with it. We drank to "Singapoverty", refreshed from the day we'd spent pounding the pavement in the polytopian metropolis.

Interestingly, what occurred next were the most expensive ten minutes of our lives, when the couple agreed to take a short ride in the rickshaw waiting outside the Raffles Hotel. Socrates had to hold me back from warning Quondam-Anne, or at least exhorting her to negotiate for a reasonable fare before embarking. At least the event was well documented.

As for the rest of the stay, Socrates and I will be occupied exploring parts of the island our couple didn't get to see and joining in the Chinese New Year Celebration, because in a matter of hours, the Hapless, however handsome, Accomplice will be coming down with an illness that will last for the remainder of the stay in Singapore, and in fact, the rest of Quondam-Anne's stay in Thailand. Don't worry: the couple sticks together and Quondam-Anne takes good care of him. I have yet to visit the first part of my stay in Thailand, so if you're just tuning in and it hasn't turned up, check back in a few minutes.

You can also read the Handsome Accomplice's version of events and then of course be sure to inspect the Singapore Photo Adventure.

24 January 2006

Here I Am in Thailand!


And even though the Singapore jaunt has been recorded already, this is the last stop for Socrates and me, and let me tell you, these two time travelers are tired birds. What would you say if I just posted some token photos and directed you, once again, toward a flickr Photo Album with plenty of commentary?

Well you don't get a choice in the matter! Enjoy!

21 January 2006

Vacation Begins

Today Socrates and I hang out at gate 32 of the international terminal of Chiang Kai Shek International Airport. If there's a surefire way to get into the gate area without a ticket, it's a time machine. Course, we had to land in a bathroom stall, which required some scrupulous planning and still ended up a little awkward.

We find Anna Horkey and Quondam-Anne waiting for an airplane. They are boarding a flight to Bangkok in about an hour. We’re sitting with our backs to them and overhearing them talking about computers and viruses. They're tired. The three and a half hour bus ride from ChiaYi to Taipei made them sick to their stomachs, though the seats were capacious.

"Well, there was the semester," says Quondam-Anne. "I suppose now would be as good a time as any to begin reflection on how that all went."

"I can feel my back muscles loosening up. They feel better than they have in weeks," asserts Anna.

On Thursday night the pair cleaned and cleaned and cleaned in the E6 classroom, beginning with the light fixtures, the filthiest thing I have ever seen in my life, and ending with the little tears they dropped on the ground after five hours, not even satisfied with the fruit of their labours. The window scrubbing left them only panes of smears. On top of that, thy mixed the floor cleanser incorrectly, leaving the nice redwood floor covered in a cloudy residue.

But they left. Against odds, they secured tickets from the bus station. (There were really only very few odds against, but they were afraid that they might be left out in the cold after what Molly’s father said to them upon exiting the Practice Hotel that morning: “It sure would be a shame if you couldn’t get bus tickets”. Shortly thereafter the pair swore that they'd make the flight in Taipei if it meant riding a scooter there. Of course it wouldn’t come to that.)

They passed the jubilant return ride to campus with a boisterous-if-jumbled rendition of Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing!” (a song with no words, actually) and hurried to pack. The trip was comfortable, if strange. The pair wondered what they'd have done if the other weren’t there. The bus that finally brought them to the airport dropped off around an obscure corner of the arrivals area, which, though somewhat comical, would have created endless confusion had they not had someone to laugh with. Funny how two together can ease so much. People just want someone else to go through things with.

I guess that's why I brought Socrates. Next we'll visit Bangkok.

07 January 2006

An Outing with the Muffins

Everyone enjoys a good field trip now and again, and Socrates and I are no exception. Today we join about three hundred kindergartners on their journey to a field of dry straw.

The first time around on this field trip, there was no intelligence to suggest our destination or our purpose. The accompanying English teachers were left to their own devices to figure out what what going on. In the meantime, unlimited free-time with all our Chinese-speaking cuddlebunnies. It turned out that we had been led there to make earth-ovens and cook vegetables like sweet potatoes and corn by wrapping them in foil, placing them in the ovens, and packing down the hot earth all over the parcels.

It also turned out that the Muffins did little or nothing to aid or even heed the activity for which they'd traveled 45 minutes in the bus. Most of them were too busy throwing handfuls of dry straw at each other and Socrates. He's happy enough now, but I know he's going to grump about trying to get that stuff out of his outfit later.

I don't think that anyone noticed there were two of me here, either, because it's a big field and I teach about 120 kindergartners between all the classes. I'm trying to avoid Quondam-Anne, though, because I think seeing me would be damaging to her already-fragile state of mind. She's approaching the zenith of culture shock, and though she's enjoying the company of the children, she's still a little confused about what everyone's doing in the field today. Not to mention what seeing us together would do to the children.

For photo coverage of this event, click on this link.