Posted by: yannaungoak | September 24, 2009

Singapore Memories

Internet connection is getting all screwy again. I guess waiting around for about 15 minutes for Lifehacker to load kinda defeats the purpose of the website. I can be really dogged and  stubborn about stupid tiny little things. Refresh …. wait…. refresh …. wait ….. refresh …. page cannot be displayed …. refresh ….

Anyways, I’ve been back in Singapore for more than a week now. I’ve settled into a routine of staying up until about 4 AM and waking up around noon. I don’t have to really be at work now that we have two employees plus othercousin there. So at work, I’m mostly reading up on stuff, calling people up, and building the company website. There’s really not much to do. Lots of free time also means lots of wasted time. It sucks. Boredom and lethargy are evil. I’ll have to spend more time organizing myself to get some serious reading done, and also get some progress into other projects that I’ve been wanting to do or am in the middle of doing.

I’ve been taking long walks at night like I used to back when I lived here back in the day. It’s one of my favorite things about Singapore. After about 2AM, everything quiets down, its like you get to have the whole city for yourself. The tree covered sidewalks, and the neon lights from the high rise buildings, no vehicles on the roads except taxis, the 24 hour food courts, the cool breeze instead of the usual scorching sun. I love it. When I was in high school here in 2003 (another period in my life when I had way too much free time), I used to walk all the way from Clementi where I lived, all the way to the city center (that’s about 10 km or 6 miles).

The great thing now is that I’m living right smack in the city center in Bugis. Singapore’s city center is more historical than it’s other parts, and there’s all the old buildings from British times alongside the modern high rises. I’ve lived in a dozen different places in Singapore in all these years, but it has always been in the newer residential neighborhoods, which all feature meticulously planned government housing, which makes for incredibly pleasant neighborhoods but lacks the kind of feel one expects from a city. You know, the kinds of telltale signs that people have been living in the place for more than 20 years, the sense of spontaneity and randomness in the order and style of the buildings and the streets. None of that in the places where I used to live. But the city center definitely has that charm. Because this city used to be a hub for trade back since in the colonial days, everywhere in the old parts of the city is lined with shop houses, where you can open a little establishment on the ground floor and live on the upper floors. That tradition is very much alive and well here.

800px-BugisStreet034

It’s amazing how many little mom-and-pop places there are in this city, selling everything under the sun from electronics to herbal medicine and of course food. You’d think in a city state like Singapore where a right wing government has been in power for decades, that all these little establishments would have been eroded away by the free market, to be substituted by big chain stores (due to economies of scale). But that  probably just tells you something about the inadequacy of simplistic left-right political classification that someone in a place like the US is accustomed to.

It’s weird because there definitely HAS been a shift towards bigger brand-name chain stores here as well. There’s this awesome record store called Roxy records that everybody who listens to non-mainstream music in Singapore knows about. They have been in business since the 60’s, but they’ve had to downsize repeatedly in the past decade or so. When I go visit them they would complain about how they couldn’t afford the rent at their old place, and got replaced by a shop selling big screen TVs. Big EVIL big screen TVs, their tone would imply. At least they’re still in business. And I’m always in awe how things change so slowly in this most fast paced of cities.

And today I was looking around in bookshops at Bras Basah when I went into this small stationary store and immediately got this distinct “Singapore stationary store” smell. I remember getting the same precise smell in this little stationary shop that was near my house when I was living in Singapore as a child. The year must have been around 1993. It was amazing. I could remember everything from that old store. How my mom would buy me crayons for art class there. How my grandma would go get her betel nut at this Indian place next door (back before the days of the Burmese diaspora when there weren’t Burmese betel nut shops in Singapore). I can still remember exactly how the shop was arranged. It’s ridiculous how the sense of smell works better than everything at transporting you to a long forgotten place.

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