Thursday, August 5, 2010

First impressions

It's eerily clean, orderly, efficient and quiet here.

Those sound like positive things, so why are they disconcerting? Well, they also stand in stark contrast to some of the things we were quite used to before coming here.

So, I love France, and I miss it, and I want to go back like nobody's business but it's also true that spending a couple of years there certainly made me expect a little grit, more than a little noise, some minor chaos -- unless you're at the préfecture in Marseille (then major chaos) -- and long, long waiting times for official business. Of course, after two years there, I can easily see that there are certain advantages that go along with each of those "negative" things (except maybe the noise one ...) and there are plenty of other really great things about France that make me want to go back, but these are some of the aspects of life that you immediately notice are different here. And that feels both nice, and a little weird.

We stepped out of the plane, which had been full (in coach class at least -- I can't say what was going on up in business or first where passengers get to travel in their own little cocoons because they don't let the riff raff up there) into the calm, cool air of Changi airport and followed the signs through the new and sparkly Terminal 3.

It smelled like the Polynesian hotel in Disney World used to smell in the 1980s. Aahh!

The bathrooms were impeccable and had toilet paper, soap and a choice of paper towels or hand dryers. Yes, this is actually something of note for me and James.

There is a special area of immigration for citizens and permanent residents that allows you to scan your ID card the way you'd scan a subway pass and go right on through. Residents-to-be and visitors have to go to the normal immigration counters, which, in this case, were not so normal because none had a line of more than about eight people and it only took about five minutes including waiting for those eight people in front of you.

James passed through immigration first (it's all orderly and "one-at-a-time", except for parents with small children) and barely had time to get a luggage cart (free) before our bags passed by on the luggage carousel.

Where was this strange land where you could get off a 13-hour international flight, go through immigration and get your bags in less than 20 minutes?

The same strange land where you could get a delicious bubble tea in the airport!

Blueberry and honey.

Or go on a walk on the airport nature trail, or swim in the airport hotel pool.

Also the same strange land where getting your work/resident permit takes about 15 minutes (of your time -- there's obviously stuff that gets done before you get there). We went down to the Ministry of Manpower (which they call "MOM") Employment Pass bureau with our paperwork and photos at the appointed time ... well, actually we were a little early. Luckily, there were greeters to help us.

And that went down something like this:

"What, you're 20 minutes early? No problem, may I have your letter?"
[Takes the letter over to one of the electronic registration kiosks and scans the barcode on the letter, returns the letter to us]
"You can go in and wait for your name to appear on one of the screens. When it does, you may go to any available counter."
We were done before our scheduled appointment.

We did have to get fingerprinted as part of that process (image on the back of the card), or thumbprinted, which seems a little intrusive, but I know that foreigners entering the US have to have all their fingers (and palms) scanned so I probably shouldn't feel weird. It's just that this never happened at the préfecture!

(It turns out my thumbs aren't very printable, so clearly I should have chosen a life of crime ... using only my thumbs. I guess there's still time, but Singapore's strict penalties for lawlessness make this a bad time to get my chops.)

After that we took a little stroll around downtown, got some fresh water chestnut juice and some guava juice at a hawker stand (more on these to come) and were amazed that we were able to carry on a conversation out on the street without having our voices drowned out by passing scooters. It seems people are required to keep the muffler on their two-wheeled motorized vehicles here. And it doesn't hurt that all the roads are new and well surfaced -- though far less charming.

All this calmness was a little too much to take so we went to Carrefour and then sat down for an apéro: the Singapore Sling -- cliché, but a drink I have been curious about since Richard Pryor mentioned it in Superman III.

Some liken it to cough syrup, but I beg to differ. It's a tasty blend of gin, cherry brandy, Cointreau, Bénédictine, grenadine, pineapple juice and bitters. I would get another one, but alcohol is insanely expensive here -- like US$25 for a bottle of certain $7 Trader Joe's wines -- so that will have to wait for a special occasion.

But other than the price of wine, so far so good in clean, orderly, efficient and quiet Singapore.

More pictures to come!


schwa said...

omg, sounds great. except for the $25 slings.
btw, you're gonna need to change the foto on your headline. Good luck to the both of ye!!!

Elisa said...

I know, but what photo to use? We don't have a home yet. And should we change the name? I kind of think that with the limited amount of space, there's no Singaporean equivalent of a "mas" is. Maybe in Malay?

Kevan Emmott said...

Oooh, those bubble teas looked and sounded yummy...

Elisa said...

They have every flavor here.