Monday, May 31, 2010

Singapore: Cleanliness, Calm and Class

I love Singapore! There's not much more I can say. Until recently I'd never really thought about flying across, but my cricket team decided that it would be a good idea for a tour. I was mega excited as I've been feeling really good in the nets and playing on a proper cricket ground for the first time in about 3 years made me feel like a kid impatiently awaiting Christmas! However, last weekend I sprained my ankle playing football. It was pretty innocuous. I was trying to keep the ball in play, tripped over the ball, and before I knew it 3 weeks of sporting activities were kicked to the curb. I have to admit having been a little depressed over the last week. I've tried to hide it, but it's getting harder. The doctor said I can't run for 6 weeks and it feels like a prison sentence. I know he's right as it's given way 5 times in the last week and I can feel it's incredibly week at the moment, but staying away from sport is killing me. Last week I was supposed to be playing cricket in Singapore, this week I was supposed to be playing football in Cambodia and the week after running a half marathon in Phuket. Now I get to play on my wii, watch the world cup on tv and little else. Fun

Anyways, Singapore. I'd been told about it by several of my students. You see, Singapore is a popular destination for the Vietnamese as it's close, clean, has great shopping and they don't require a visa to visit. They all talked it up and they were right to. Coming from Vietnam to Singapore is quite the shock! They are worlds apart. And before anyone says anything, I'm not trying to talk Vietnam down, I just want to talk about how great Singapore is!

Coming off the plane, the airport is impressive with countless moving walkways, modern furnishing and curtious staff. I was even more impressed with the efficiency of the immigration officials. They (thoroughly) checked the disembarkation cards of all the passengers with assured authority and professionalism which made me feel like I was reentering the real world. Exiting the airport, the taxi director/coordinator or whatever his job title is showed us to our ride (it was 01:20 after all) and after a pleasant conversation with the cabi we arrived at our hotel. Quite the difference from where I'm blogging from now!

The next day Hanh and I walked to the Skytrain. For those not clued up on the jargon, the Skytrain is a predominately overground underground (subway for the Americans). It's unbelievable. The carts are spacious and clean. Passengers wait for those alighting to step off before coming on and there's no graffiti or litter like you find in other parts of the world. Best of all, the trains run frequently, stop at the major points of the city and the interchanges (that I stopped at) didn't require a hike to get to your connection. The skytrain was almost like a tourist attraction in itself. Unfortunately I couldn't play one of my favourite games 'subway surfing' because of my ankle, but I still had fun!

Our destination, as you probably know, was the main shopping district. I think it's called Orchid Road/Street or something like that. We got off subway and walked through a park to the main prescient. It was rather nice to walk in the centre of the city without fearing being mowed down by motorbikes or being harassed by street vendors. Anyway, upon entering the shopping arcade (how English am I?!) I was impressed by the sheer size of the place. Furthermore, it was filled of shops I actually wanted to go into! Ok, the prices may be a little on the high side (baring in mind I'm a cheapskate and I currently reside in VN) but the quality and range of products was pretty impressive. Needless to say I headed straight to Starbucks and McDonalds for a few home comforts I can't get in Vietnam but I feel I should be forgiven for caving in.

After a pretty uneventful window shopping trip, we went to the cricket ground where I watched the might UCC playing and I was craving to play. However, common sense prevailed so I got smashed watching them instead. I'm not sure how I got roped into a 10 over umpiring stint but the bottle of Heineken in my hand made it little less painful (both the umpiring and the pain in my legend). The game, in all honesty, was a little one sided and I can't help but feel my teammates 5:30am bender the night before might have been partly responsible for it. Not to mention the fact they got put into bat and got the worst of the heat too! However, Malone deserves an honourable mention for a stella performance with both bat and ball.

After cricket was wrapped up, a few of us headed into one of the main party districts in town. Clarke Quay. I really liked this place. Loads of good restaurants (from the outside anyway), a ton of bars and, my personal favourite, a fountain at it's heart. It is a bustling place with a fantastic vibe and atmosphere, something that HCMC, in my opinion, is sorely lacking. We found a bar called 'The Lost Kingdom' where a cover band played 80s and 90s classics which was pleasant enough. Unfortunately the beers were a touch on the extortionate side but you can't have it all! We ended up going home relatively early (2am) as everyone was shot after a day in the sun but Singapore has left nothing but a good after taste in my mouth and I can't wait to come back. I will upload some pictures soon as my camera cable broke last week and I haven't replaced it yet. I'll also write about my favourite part of Singapore tomorrow....can you guess what that is? Answers on a postcard please!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Strange (to me) Beliefs - Part 2: Fortune Tellers

Driving on a busy, bumpy, pot holed road isn't the easiest of tasks at the best of times but it was made a touch more difficult as I had something on my mind. You see, I was on my way to the future Mrs' house to ask her parents for their permission to marry their daughter. As it turns out it was all rather anti-climatical, almost like asking someone to borrow a cup of sugar. Anyways, we (or rather I) was asked when the big day would be. I plucked a random weekend in the future and that was that.

Now I'm not all that clued up about traditions in Vietnam so the next part was a bit of a shock to me. About two weeks after, Hanh informed me that the date I'd picked was fine. Wait a minute I thought, of course it's fine. It's my choice, so if I want that day, that's when it'll happen.

Well much like events last week in Downing Street and Westminister, a secret meeting had taken place. Not to form a coalition, but between Hanh's family and the fortune teller. Apparently it's custom here to visit a 'mystic meg' to see if certain dates are lucky or unlucky. Fortunately I chose correctly as I don't believe in any of that rubbish. However, many couples in Vietnam will specifically chose a date which will bring them good luck. For me, the only positive of this system is that if you chose an unlucky day and it doesn't work out you can blame it on destiny!

I'm not sure what would've happened if had been told that the date that I'd chosen was unlucky and had to be moved. In all honesty I think I'd have just said I don't believe in that nonsense and risked upsetting a few people in the process. Perhaps I would've just accepted it but I'll never know. Sometimes I can be too stubborn for my own good and fortunately this wasn't tested. Hopefully there aren't lucky or unlucky dates to have children as I'm pretty sure any offspring of mine, if they're anything like me, won't want to make life too straight forward!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Strange (to me) Beliefs - Part 1: Fan Death

Having been abroad for just over 2 and a half years now, I've been exposed to a few traditions, beliefs and superstitions that I find both comical and a touch on the odd side. Over the next couple of weeks I intend to write about a few of them. This is partially to give you an idea of some of the things I've run into out here, but also so that in future years when I look back on my younger years I'll smile remembering some things that had I not documented them would've been consigned to the recycling bin on my internal hard drive!

So Fan Death? When I first heard about it I thought it was a wind up. I was in Seoul at the time. I didn't have air conditioning in my apartment and the summer months can get particularly hot, humid and uncomfortable in South Korea. Therefore, I'd often leave my fan on full power all day. One day in class someone asked me if I had air conditioning so I explained my situation to them. They looked shocked and proceeded to inform me that I was in danger due to that well-known threat.

What exactly is fan death? Well, basically some believe that if you leave the fan on it will suck out all of the oxygen from the room. Therefore after several hours you'll pass-out and eventually die. I had to laugh. My student couldn't be serious! How could they be! So I left it as a joke and pretty much forgot all about it.

That was until a close friend of mine stayed over. We'd been drinking close to my house, it was getting pretty late so he crashed on my sofa for the night. On coming into my place, he saw that the fan was left on and went over to the windows and opened them. I was pretty drunk at the time so didn't question it. In the morning there was a puddle by the window. It had rained overnight (before you say anything gross!) and some water had leaked in. I asked my friend why he'd opened the window and he told me, in all seriousness and sincerity, that he was scared we would die.

I laughed. I felt a little bad about it, but I couldn't help it. After I explained it wasn't possible for the fan to 'eat' all the oxygen he admitted that it did sound a little far fetched but I think deep down that he still fears the miniature windmill in my room!

So there you have it. Fan Death.