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Random Travel Notes 12 August 31, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Up and Away.
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The twelfth installment of Random Travel Notes (to Singapore and Back edition)!

Finally: Progress. Was surprised to discover that the Philippine Bureau of Immigration introduced a new departure card since the last trip overseas. Was even more surprised to learn that this new card is at least on its second iteration already: we were asked to fill out different ones since those we’d already accomplished from the travel agent were apparently outdated. In some small way, it’s nice to know that there is some process improvement going on at the airport, however superficial.

How the Other Half Lives. Curious: do airlines decide to have passengers disembark by moving past the pricier cabins (First and Business Class) just so you get to see what you’re missing? I wonder.

Equal Opportunity Cabbie. Upon arriving in Singapore, we managed to flag down a cab whose driver was female, Muslim, and who formerly had a desk job at some unnamed office. Personally, something about one person having this collection of attributes is simply noteworthy.

Wife in the City. Although business was the order of the day for this trip, the wife came along as well since opportunity was just too good to pass up. This posed a challenge since it was her first time to visit Singapore and I couldn’t show her around for most of our stay. But she acquitted herself magnificently, managing to find her way around town on her own. She even discovered a free shuttle within the environs of our hotel that we didn’t know about despite having stayed there a number of times already. Good job!

Passing on the Pohpiah. The parents (and now the wife, too) have taken a liking to pohpiah. Unfortunately, the allure is still lost on me.

Are you sure? Try this for confusing: the corporate headquarters of United Overseas Bank (UOB) is at UOB Plaza. UOB plaza just so happens to be across the OUB Centre, the flagship property of the former Overseas Union Bank, which UOB acquired in 2001. So just telling a cabbie that you have to go to one or another building tends to bring about a double take. More, if you get off at OUB Centre, one of the first things you see as you walk through the entrance is (get this) a UOB ATM. It’s simple enough to just walk on over to the other complex if one happens to be dropped off at the wrong entrance, but even I have to wonder whether this is a sign that Singaporeans do indeed have quirky sense of humor.

Secondhand Designer Bags. While navigating the above OUB/UOB confusion, came across a branch of Madam Milan, a store that allows people to trade (or purchase) “preowned designer handbags.” Personally, it seems like a strange proposition, but then in the age of vanity and luxury brands, it somehow doesn’t surprise me.

Lights Out, Carry On. During a breakfast meeting, an electrical failure in the building we were in caused most of the lights in the restaurant to go out. I dare say that all the other diners more than took the unfortunate incident in stride: after a brief pause to take in the situation, everyone simply went on with whatever business they were doing before the interruption, without so much fanfare. It’s a marked difference from how I would think Filipinos would respond if the same were to happen in the Philippines, where blackouts are nothing out of the ordinary yet are typically greeted with audible exclamations of surprise.

Jacketing. While in Bangkok for the honeymoon, the wife and I bought some books at a branch of Kinokuniya and availed of the plastic covers that they wrap on your purchases as a complimentary service. Buying some books from their branch in Singapore, we hoped to enjoy the same benefit, only to learn that “jacketing” costs an additional SG$1 per book. If this is an example of adapting business practices to local conditions, I guess this speaks volumes about the Singapore market’s purchasing power. Yet whether this is a sign that the store is using the charge to discourage the consumption of plastic or instead make additional profit given customers’ purchasing power, I haven’t really decided.

Gaming on the Go. Offhand, I’d say I spied more people playing with PSPs than with Nintendo DSes around town, by a ratio of at least six to one. This more or less conforms with similar observations I’ve had in New York, although I’ve observed more people in the Big Apple use the PSP as a media device (whereas in Singapore, folks were actually playing games). Just saying is all.

Nobody Loves Me Anymore? At first, it looked like I wouldn’t be able to meet with any friends in Singapore. But soon enough, meetings were arranged and in the end the wife and I managed to meet with all but two friends we’d hoped to see while we were in town. Funny how things work out. Good times.

Rain, Rain, Go Away. Having lived in the city previously, I was well aware of how quickly rain could set in around this time of year. True enough, during our stay we had our fair share of overcast skies and brief showers; thankfully, the weather didn’t get in the way of our plans. More, the only time it really poured was on our way to the airport to catch the flight home. So all in all, good fortune does a good trip make.

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