Monday, November 15, 2010
Ordering a taxi in Singapore is so easy because of the cab company's wonderful automated system. The system recognizes your number and offers to send a cab to your primary pick-up point (usually your home or office address). You just have to press 1 and hey presto! your cab is ordered.
Except when that automated system gets messed up. One of the hardest things for me has been trying to get the company to register my name. Pamposh would be impossible, so I shoot for Pam. But there are similar Chinese names in Singapore: Bam, Tam, Pan and Tan. For some reason, Pam is the very last choice of the operator.
What's in a name, you say - just settle for Bam or Tam or Tan. I did. But then the cabbie who was sent to pick me up would invariably look at me suspiciously and grill me about my name, phone no. and general antecedents. Not the cabbie's fault - after all you don't expect to see a big Indian woman when you've obviously been sent to pick up a petite Chinese lady. Who's this other woman trying to steal the cab?
So, I called the cab company. After several minutes of "P for Poland" etc, they finally agreed to put me down as Ms. Pam. Great! No more suspicious glances from cabbies.
This blissful state of affairs carried on for several months. Then, suddenly, for no reason I could fathom, the company started sending cabs for Mr. Ho Ming. Who is Mr. Ho Ming?? No-one knows. Boy, this one was much worse than Bam or Tam or Pan. I do NOT look like a Mr. Ho Ming!! Not ever.
In one case, I actually had to ask the cabbie to call my mobile phone (the company gives the driver the customer's number) and answer it in his presence when he rang! Only then did he grudgingly allow me to step into his cab.
So last night I called the cab company again to ask them to change their records. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I'd like you to change your records please. You seem to have someone else's name for my phone no.
Operator: You want to change your name?
Me (a bit taken aback): No, my name is still Pam. I just want you to change your records.
Operator: Ya, ya, change your name.
Me: Yes, please change my name. (This is easier, I thought.) Please change it to Pam. P for Poland...
Operator: T for Thailand...
Me (unable to stop myself): How do you get Thailand from Poland? (Then, composing myself): No, no, P for Poland...
And so it went.
Let's see what name shows up on the cab driver's screen next time. If it isn't Pam, I hope it's something fun and exotic.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
My recent visit to Cambodia was an official one to see development projects, including some near Siem Reap. My colleagues and I decided to visit a village not far from one of the major highways in the country. Not far in terms of kilometres from the highway, that is. In fact we ended up doing a 45-minute bone-rattling drive on barely discernible paths - sometimes not discernible at all! I would have suggested turning back, but there was nowhere to turn.
So we took this better route back. I have never been so thankful for a dirt track! Bumpy as it was, it was heaven compared with the drive out along the practically non-existent path. We were so happy we were almost shouting in glee. Then, suddenly, we rounded a corner and found much more cause for joy. Two old temples in the middle of nowhere! Amazing. There were no deities in these small temples, but to my untrained eye they looked like old Hindu temples. The temples were built with the large stones typical of Khmer architecture.
There was also part of a wall and several broken columns. There was a one-room modern building near the temples and a Buddha statue, also from recent times, placed in the open next to the old temples. So some people were aware of the old ruins. But there was no sign of an archaelogical authority or government agency.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
New food is one of the joys of travel. After many years turning more and more squeamish about trying new meats, I decided to enjoy Cambodia's rather "daring" cuisine. My Cambodian friends seemed to find something new for me to try at every meal! And it was all delicious.
The restaurants were interesting too, everything from the roadside eateries to the huge, tourist-bus-oriented buffet restaurant with a cultural show. Lovely dances.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
We were chugging along in a motorized boat on Cambodia's huge Tonle Sap lake; I was facing the front of the boat, waiting for the lake to open out before us in its full glory. Suddenly a boy appeared just behind me - on our boat - with a bunch of cold drinks. I couldn't figure out where he had materialized from. Turned out he had jumped on from another boat that had come close to ours. I asked him if I could take a picture - he flashed me a big grin and a victory sign.
I twisted around to see his "mother ship" - couldn't spot a boat near us. Apparently the boat had come up close, the boy had hopped on, and his companion had swerved away from us. He asked me what I'd like to drink. I didn't really want anything, but how could I not buy from such an enterprising and charming seller? My two colleagues and I each bought something from the boy.
Once the transactions were complete, the boy moved to the edge of our boat. The other boat - manned by his father, he explained - magically appeared beside ours. The boy prepared to jump back on to his Dad's boat.
My Cambodian companions assured me all little kids on the Tonle Sap were expert swimmers in addition to being great saleskids.
So I relaxed and waved goodbye to the boy as he jumped into his own boat.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
There are also a growing number of food-by-phone or food-via-the-Net options. Your choice of Chinese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Middleastern food is delivered to your home. Such luxury. You can look up your cuisine options and menus online, then order via the Net or on the phone.
So, you are ready to eat but don't have food at home. What's the first thought that passes through your head? I'm hungry. And then, knowing there's no food at home: Where should I go? A clever company has captured these basic thoughts into perfect Singlish (Singapore English) for their website: hungrygowhere.com! Knowing that, how can one even think of typing out any other address for food delivery! Brilliant.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Back in 1985, I fell in love with KL almost as soon as I landed there. It was a big, warm, overgrown village with all the modern amenities. The people were friendly and hospitable and just so much fun. We took our work very seriously, worked long hours in a deadline-driven industry (journalism), but we had fun even as we worked. (Deadlines were not measured in seconds in those low tech days, but they did drive the business.)
Going back to KL is kinda weird now. It's like going into the future a couple of centuries. Of course, all Asian cities have changed drastically in the past 25 years, but none quite like KL. In most other cities, the old lives on alongside the new. KL feels like the old city just vanished into thin air and was replaced overnight by this gleaming new one.
Some of the old landmarks are still there - the British-style railway station, the beautiful old Indian mosque, the Central Market. But the old buildings are hard to spot among all the glittering new high-rises. In 1985, the tallest building was 18 storeys high. Today, the city's skyline is dominated by the Petronas Towers, the highest twin towers in the world, soaring 88 storeys above terra firma.
The "plazas" are now called malls, as they are in most other Asian cities, and boast more designer and high-end brand names. There is an efficient light rail system and an equally efficient rail link to the huge and very modern airport located way outside the city.
More than the buildings and the railways, it's the psyche of KL that's changed. Among all this glittering steel and glass, Malaysians are currently fighting over the name of God. Does anyone stop to ask themselves: Does God care what we call him? Does he think mosques and churches should be attacked to settle this dispute over his name?
When I lived in KL 25 years ago, I worked in a thoroughly multi-cultural office. The camaraderie of the office often spilled over into impromptu parties after work. I shared a house with some colleaugues very close to the office, so many of the parties happened at our place. Despite differences in race, drinking and dietary habits, we all enjoyed our get-togethers.The differences didn't divide so much as add variety to our lives. My first Eid in Malaysia was spent visiting the homes of several of my Malay friends. All of them had an "open house" that day - anyone could walk in and would be treated like an honoured guest. One of our hosts had even kept beer for us in his fridge - although he didn't drink himself, he wanted to be a good host to his non-Muslims friends.
Similarly, Indian Hindus had an open house for Diwali and the Chinese for lunar new year. My two years in Malaysia passed quickly with all these festivities and the general friendship and hospitality of my colleagues and friends.
Now, Malaysia's three major communities live side by side, mostly peacefully (barring the odd controversy over God's name and such) - but not together. My taxi driver on the ride in from the airport assured me that the God controversy was incited by politicians for political gain. No doubt that is so, and such cynical politically-motivated stupidity is certainly not restricted to Malaysia.
But, while in KL, I couldn't help noticing that the communities are now partying separately.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
One learns something new every day. I thought I was pretty well up on Singapore slang, but I learnt a new expression the other day: shooting missiles.
My husband and I were in a cab and my husband commented on how nice it was to drive down such a quiet street, especially when one considered that the very next street from us was always so noisy. The cabby nodded appreciatively and said he hated driving down that busy street. Because of all the "shooting missiles."
In these terrible times, the mind goes pretty easily to terrorist activity; but I quickly dismissed that first thought since the cab driver seemed more amused than alarmed. I thought perhaps he was referring to some manner of fireworks, this being the Christmas-to-Chinese-New-Year festive season in Singapore.
But no. He explained that many pedestrians, new arrivals from a certain part of Asia, oblivious to Singapore traffic norms, would suddenly dart into this very busy road anywhere and everywhere they felt like crossing it! Shooting out into traffic like missiles. What an evocative image!
What part of Asia? That shall, of course, remain nameless though it will not be a mystery to anyone who knows Singapore - or that certain part of Asia. :)