Sunday, 9 June 2013

What would Austin Powers do?

 For me, my super hero is, and always will be, Austin Powers.
Austin Powers, from the sixties, who travels through time to haunt his arch enemy, Dr Evil. Austin Powers, who is challenged to readjust his sixties values to other eras.

A pursuit for justice, conquering all obstacles in a cunning and creative way. Austin will always find his way out, and teaches us useful things while being on his quest.

For instance, he teaches us about laws of economics. Take inflation. Did you know that 1 million USD in the 1960s is now worth 100 billion USD?

But also, more fundamental life lessons are not avoided, as can be seen in this scene from 'Goldmember' where Nigel Powers (Michael Caine) states the following on culture: "There are only 2 things I can't stand in this world: people who are intolerant of other people's cultures, and the Dutch."
Me in my awesome Austin outfit

Now me being Dutch, I could easily be sidetracked by the 'Dutch' remark. But I am sure that he has nothing against the Dutch in general, and that he is probably only emotional about this topic because of a one time indigestion after eating overly mature Gouda Cheese. No, the point here is that living in another country makes you so painfully aware of how relative your own culture is. And therefore, that a cheese sandwich is not necessarily the preferred choice of lunch all around the world.

To reduce intercultural misunderstanding, it is also important to learn other languages, as is effectively illustrated in a scene where subtitles are misread, and body parts are named that should not have been named. The moral of the story being: if only Austin had learned Japanese, this awkward situation could have been avoided.

Now there are a few points where Austin and myself fundamentally disagree. But they really all revolve around opinions on body hair and the use of deodorant.

For all other topics I can rely on Austin. Whenever I am stuck in a difficult situation, and there seems no way out, I just ask myself: What would Austin Powers do? In real difficult situations, I always put on my Austin Powers outfit to get the right feel. I do look quite cool in that, which, in all fairness, is largely due to the lush fake hair.

If only I could get the Austin Powers version of one of those Superman-revolving-doors. A revolving door where you go in on one end dressed like a nerd, and get out on the other end dressed in red briefs over blue tights, and a cape.

But I guess I should have chosen that other super hero for that to happen.


Monday, 3 June 2013

What the Hell? - Thank you readers!

I received the message that my Blog has been chosen as a finalist for the Singapore Blog Award.

I had subscribed for this myself, I still remember how it happened.
 I had just come back from the gym,  where I had run a solid 15 mins on the tred mill and where I stationary-biked until I was warned by the built-in computer that my heart rate was too high. I was tired, yet  satisfied. I had pushed my boundaries. I looked in the mirror, feeling happy about how I conquered my laziness. It was in this rush of victory that my girlfriend pointed out there was a Singapore Blog Award. I decided to subscribe.

I found out however that there were defined categories where the blog should fit into. But I realized that the photos I had put up would not nearly make it suitable for the 'Photos' categorie, nor would my cool helmet remark and cycling jersey make it fit the 'Fashion' category. I could not make it fit 'Travel' even though I am a foreigner, so a traveler by default. Or 'Food', although I did mention local food several times.
Fortunately, my eyes were caught by the 'What the Hell' category. A title that adequately describes the content of my Blog. Needless to say, it was in this category that I subscribed.

Contrary to the expectations of me, my brother, my girlfriend, my close friends and all vague acquaintances,  I then was informed that my blog is one of the finalists for the What the Hell category!

I checked out some of my competitors in this underrated category.
I noticed that most of them are quite pointless.
Yes, I am facing tough competition.

Now I hope you will find my blog the most pointless of them all.

I hope you will vote for me (Click here)!

Unfortunately, only Singapore residents can vote (ID number required). The phone number does not have to be real (you can even put '#' in)

but if I don't win.....What the Hell?

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Urban Cycling: Swallow your pride

At the start of the OCBC cycling tour
Being of Dutch origin, I have cycled pretty much all of my life. I vaguely remember learning to cycle (without side wheels) when I was 5 years old,  and since then it has always been an essential part of my life. I rode urban bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, and OK yes.... motorbikes. I did beat Dutch wind, got frozen and soaked in Dutch rain, and I climbed Swiss mountains. I cycled in snow, rain, hail. I cycled in -15ÂșC, with so many clothes on that  I could hardly move. I cycled, ploughing with my mountain bike through 30 cm of fresh snow, where the inevitable crash resulted in a soft, silent landing. If it weren't for the ice cold melting snow running down my back, the crash was not even a bad experience. 

So conquering Urban Singapore Roads only seemed a logical next step. Less windy than Holland, less mountains than Switzerland, and less cold then pretty much anywhere in the world. What makes it a real sportive adventure however is the combination of 1 million cars, driven by 1 million impatient drivers, on a 710 square km surface area. And virtually no cycling lanes. Total bike control, eyes in the back of your head and willingness, no a WISH to sweat a lot are absolute prerequisites for even thinking of cycling in Singapore.

I finally decided to buy a bike, a foldable bike, a Brompton bike. I am a big fan of the Brompton foldable bike, but I would like to start off with the fact that I am not funded by Brompton by any means. Which I believe is a big injustice. Because I love my Brompton. It is relatively fast: 25-28 km/h average is achievable, once in shape. And it folds into ridiculously small proportions. I put it in the boot of taxis. I take it in the subway. I fold it and put it under the table at the hawker centre. The question 'is that a bike'? comes up all the time. And a demonstrative folding or unfolding puts a smile on many faces.
Folded Brompton
Two Bromptons stowed under the table
The downside of the Brompton Folding Bike is that it is a folding bike. So the coolness factor kind of suffers. It ranks in the 'luke-warm' category at the most. It IS a folding bike. I try to make up for that by wearing a cool helmet and some mean shades. I also practiced an 'I-ain't-taking-no-shit-from-nobody' face in front of the mirror. That did not help though. In order to survive on a bicycle in Singapore traffic you have to take a lot of shit from everybody.

My girlfriend, who is from Singapore, had taught me to swallow my pride when going on the road. "Don't expect to get your right of way at any given time". Also, she taught me that if you go straight on a big crossing with filter lanes for left and right, and stay in the middle lane as you are legally supposed to, the cars that want to turn left will honk at you. Because they have to slow down for you. And they don't like to slow down for you, as there is always a next traffic light to race to. 
When the honking in that situation actually happened to me for the first time, I could not help laughing because of the predictability!

However, things are changing in Singapore. More and more Singaporeans realize that a bicycle is actually a good means of transportation in an urban environment. Clean, healthy and not causing any traffic jam. Also, the Singapore government is building so called Park Connectors. These are separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians that cut through more remote areas and are an absolute pleasure to ride on.

And there is the yearly OCBC cycling tour, where everything from serious road racing to leisurely foldies cycling is meticulously planned. There were some 11000 cyclists this year, and I participated in the foldies ride. It was a fantastic experience, with a strong 'we' feel. Even the expressway was blocked for the occasion. 
For a few hours, I could imagine a bicycle friendly Singapore. A Singapore with cool folding bicycles and non-honking cars.

Until that time comes, I will cycle the Singapore roads with no pride, a cool helmet and a smile to any honking car. 

Cycling on the expressway

Monday, 25 March 2013

Annoyance #1: Aircon:  Submission to the Central Controller

One of the reasons for me to go to Singapore was its warm, tropical climate. Sipping fresh coconut juice under a palm tree,  a dip in the blue water of the pool, eating a fresh mango. Just the idyllic picture a westerner has of tropical life.
Although the coconut  and mango bit are in fact true, I severely underestimated the resentment that Singaporeans feel towards their own climate. And the fact how efficiently they banned the climate out of daily life. Through Airconditioning. Or Aircon, as it is referred to locally.
Singapore offices and public spaces can be cold, very cold. 
I have been in meetings where I wore a t-shirt, a shirt, a cardigan, a fleece and a scarf to stay warm. (OK the scarf bit came from my phantasy)

Here is an interesting quote I found in this article from the New York times (see also the quotes further below):

'Some people contend that Singapore suffers from air-conditioning overkill. Engineers say offices here typically keep their thermostats at about 72 degrees, making cardigans part of many an office wardrobe.'

Please note that 72 degrees F (22 Celcius) is on the warm end of the Aircon spectrum, often temperatures can drop below 20 Celcius. This is OK when you wear a sweater, but very chilly when you wear summer clothes (shorts, t-shirt, flip-flops)

Yes, I have a whole cardigan collection at the office, corresponding the the room where I have meetings. The lighter ones I can wear in my own office, while the thick, heavy duty ones are for the notoriously cold offices. 
Now here comes the part I find more difficult to understand: Aircon temperature is regarded as the weather, it is just the way it is, you have to accept it. Whenever you are freezing your butt off in a theater, cinema, office or restaurant, and mention this to a member of the staff, you always get the same answer: 'cannot change it, is centrally controlled'. The employees do not seem to have any influence over it. It is also consistent with Singapore Airlines flights, that are by far the coldest flights I've ever experienced. But the Singapore Airline passengers know this, apart from some poor, freezing tourists in shorts and t-shirts. The regular passengers come prepared with thick sweaters and sometimes even coats. They know that the temperature is Centrally Controlled.
 Reflecting on this, I realize that apparently, in public places in Singapore there are no a thermostats with an 'up' and 'down' button. It is all done by the Central Controller. If the Central Controller were a person, you could ask that person to tone down the aircon a bit. If that were a possibility, obviously people would have done that. The Central Controller would push the 'temperature up' button a few times, and everybody would be comfortable. But that does not seem to be an option. So one can only deduct that the Central Controller is a superhuman entity, a mysterious being with a lame sense of humour.

But it is not only humour at the expense of freezing mortals that drives the Central Controller. There is more to it, and that has to do with Singapore's recent history.

'Shopping and dining in air-conditioned buildings became a mark of upward mobility. ''Escaping into A.C. was a way of escaping your past as a poor country,'' said Chua Beng Huat, a sociology professor at the National University of Singapore.'

And in a modern, rich country, even the deceased deserve aircon at their eternal resting place:

'For some, air-conditioning is a matter of both life and death. At the Ji Le Memorial Park, $7,000 buys a his-and-hers niche where cremated remains rest in climate-controlled peace. ''Chinese are very superstitious,'' said a Ji Le caretaker, Rick Chu. ''Now they're enjoying the good life. After they pass away, they want to make sure they're still comfortable.'

You can even buy duvets in Singapore, including thick winter duvets. Yes in Singapore, where night temperatures rarely drop below 25 degrees C. Searching for an explanation, I was told that some people turn their aircon down to 16 degrees C, and then use the duvet to stay warm. The world upside down: You need to create the problem because you want to use the solution.

But aircon in Singapore is not about being cool or about absence of sweat. Aircon is about wealth, about development into the modern age. 

For this sense of wealth, the following guidelines apply:
Warm = Poor, sweaty, dirty
Cool = Good
Cold = Luxury
Freezing = Bathing in gold

The Central Controller understands these guidelines like nobody else.