Saturday, March 24, 2012

You know you've been in a Cambodian village for a long time when...

  1. It starts pouring two hours after you just hung up your handwashed laundry to dry and you don't even bother trying to save it.
  2. The laundry sitting out in the rain right now is pretty much your entire wardrobe and you still don't care.
  3. You don't dare to turn on the light during a thunderstorm in case of "electrocution"  even though that means sitting in your room in the dark.
  4. You hide the fact that your cell phone is still on because otherwise people might blame the lightning strikes on you.
  5. You put on your running clothes because your host mom might make you run to the wooden shack in case your house gets blown over.
  6. You're tempted to leave your bike outside in the storm because it's like a free carwash.
  7. You resign yourself to no pee breaks until the rain is over because all the doors are locked and a giant tarp is blocking the front gate.
  8. Sitting in your room in the dark inspires you to start a blog post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oh Singapore!

If you happened to be searching for the exact opposite of Cambodia then you need not search further. I have found it, experienced it, and returned to tell the tale. Before I go any further, I will say that the climate is the same so don't be disappointed that there's no snow.

Yesterday afternoon, I got back from a 5 day trip to Singapore to visit my old college friend Jess. She was nice enough to let me stay over at her apartment and show me around/pay for some things. I think I'll bulletpoint some things that I noticed.

  • It is clean and so much quieter than Cambodia. The entire time I only heard one screaming child. People don't honk their horns. They don't yell. In fact, I had a really hard time hearing people because they spoke so softly. Selling gum is illegal there so there were no gum spots on the sidewalks. Nobody litters because there is a 500 dollar fine for littering. According to a website Kurt sent me, if you are caught littering three times the punishment is cleaning the streets on Sunday with a bib tied around your neck that says "I am a litterer". Unfortunately, I cannot verify that since I did not see anyone litter or get caught littering. This was actually my greatest fear in visiting this country. In Cambodia, littering is second nature. Sometimes, people look at you funny for carrying your trash around and NOT throwing it on the ground.

  • There were no beggars, thieves, or hecklers. For once, I could relax and not worry about fending off a crowd of begging children or holding my purse with two hands. I'm pretty sure I could have run down the street with 100 dollars in my hands and screaming "I have 100 dollars" and no one would have accosted me (except maybe the police because I'm disturbing the peace). At the end of my trip, I wondered "where are the poor people of Singapore?"

  • The police are secretive. In Cambodia, the police wear their uniforms everywhere and wave orange batons at you to get you to pullover so that you can bribe them. In Singapore, I do not remember seeing a single police officer though I am assured that they are there. Singapore has an interesting way of making it easy to think you're not being watched but also reminding you once in a while that you are. They have cameras everywhere except maybe the bathrooms, but you usually don't notice them. However, every so often you'll be confronted with a giant plasma screen mounted TV showing live feed from the security cameras around you. Every couple of feet you'll see a sign saying something like "No eating Fine $1000" And yes, every fine I saw was either 500 or 1000 dollars.

  • People are of many different backgrounds. It's common for people to speak English, Malay, Hindi, or Chinese. I would order food in English and people would automatically reply to me in Chinese. It seems like they all get along. A mosque in Little India is a few blocks from the temple. Though I wouldn't want to know the punishment for getting into a public fight in Singapore. Caning is a common reward for breaking a law.

  • Jaywalking is technically illegal. Sometimes I would just wander into the street and my friend would be  all "Helen! What are you doing? The cars won't stop for you!" But after living in Cambodia I'm just happy that all the cars go one way and I don't have to worry about being blindsided by a moto coming around an SUV. Dodging slow moving, big cars that follow traffic rules is no big deal.

  • The subway is on time and people are nice to you. They give up seats. They get out of the car to let you "alight". The day Cambodia builds a subway is the day motos start being driven underground. Then we'll have to dodge trains and motos and probably also fend off tuk tuk drivers that are really desperate. 

  • Two words: Sushi buffet. I would never knowingly eat raw fish in Cambodia. That is where I draw the line. Though lately the fermented fish has really been growing on me. But, 30 dollar sushi buffet in Singapore is a dream come true (ok 30 bucks is sort of a lot of money). 

  • Showing my shoulders and not being ashamed of it. Wearing shorts that don't cover my knees. It's a wonderful feeling to have sunlight hit those parts of me again.

  • No mosquitoes. I got bit 2 times the entire trip. I went into the "rain forest" part of the botanical gardens and was not bit once. I don't know how Singapore does it and I'm not sure I want to know. 

  • Botanical garden with grass you can sit on and no fire ants. It also has a really beautiful orchid section and I was so tempted to buy one. They sell these little sprouts that are sealed with nutrient gel in a capsule, but I realized quickly that I probably would not be able to take care of it.
Overall, it was wonderful. I think it's been the most relaxing trip I've taken in a long time. Honestly, that's mostly due to the lack of fear. Growing up in NYC, visiting two big cities in China, even rural Cambodia has been dangerous. I've had my fair share of accidents and mishaps and many because some people made bad life decisions, but Singapore is probably the first time in my life since I was a kid that I haven't had to worry about being robbed or assaulted. It would be really nice to put the blinders on and think that the world is like Singapore and that Singapore's government is perfect, but I don't think that would last long for me. 5 days was perfect.