Friday, January 9, 2004

(Chinatown markets, Singapore)

Impressions of Singapore (Part 1)
(Photos are over here, towards the bottom of the page ... )

High humidity, warm balmy nights, cicadas singing - to an Australian who’d spent December in England, it finally felt like Christmas. Colonial architecture among commercial high-rises, the knotted arthritic limbs of tropical trees, frangipanni in bloom, a city turned towards the water all deepened the sense of familiarity. Some moments I could have been back in Sydney - well, Sydney minus the pollution, litter, grime and car-choked narrow streets.

Even the fact that walking fifteen un-airconditioned metres would leave me glistening with a Mr Sheen-level sheen of perspiration felt not unlike Sydney.

So, I was in Singapore for the World’s Debating competition. Despite our successes at the Oxford Intervarsity, my team didn’t reach the octo-finals, which was a bit disappointing. In some ways rather more disappointing was the virtual absence of alcohol from the tournament. While my drinking to get drunk undergrad days are behind me, alcohol is perhaps the only genuinely expensive thing in Singapore: S$7 or $8 beers, S$12 gin and tonics or S$60 for a bottle of fairly ordinary Australian wine.

Even for those who did want a punishing drinking schedule, Singaporean bar staff seemed utterly bewildered by Irish/Australian/debater levels of demand. One suspects those native and to the manor born seek to refill their glasses much less often.

The competition itself was run terribly well: I don’t envy convenors the logistical nightmare of coordinating 900 people over 9 rounds of 75 individual debates per round, a finals series and a social circuit.

Otherwise, I met some nice people, bumped into some ANU debating friends (which was scary, I seriously expected to be too old to be recognised at all) and hung out with the Oxbridge gang. Jet-lag at times dulled my enjoyment of the tournament, and my enthusiasm for sight-seeing, but catching up with the family (who I saw after the tournament) was fantastic.

Overall, though, the most intriguing part of the experience was gaining some awareness of the facets of Singapore as a country/city-state: the ethnic mix, the economic miracle, the consumer paradise, the incrementally liberalising democracy, the visibility of guest workers, the endemic civility and community-spiritedness. There was both much to admire, and a direct awareness of the pervasiveness of the nanny-state.

I also bought a lot of new clothes and collected my new laptop from my Dad (ordered and paid for in Australia by me and smuggled into Singapore by him. Yes, I know no-one bothers buying new electronic goods if they’re visiting Singapore … but anyway …), so I came back bout 15 kgs overweight.

(Luggage, not me. If I could gain 15 kilos I might actually hit standard weight-for-height ratios.)

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