Friday, 9 November 2012

This was getting really weird

I wanted to buy I hard drive. Or better said: I NEEDED to buy a hard drive, I needed to buy a 1 Tera Byte Hard Drive. My old one had ceased to be, and I have not made back ups from my computer since more than half a year, give or take a quarter. And going from 500 Mega Byte to 1 Tera Byte seemed only logical. Problem however is that buying a hard drive is as uninteresting to me as buying shoe polish, detergent, staples that fit my stapler, or the little tool you need to remove the staples after you accidentally stapled the wrong stack. It is simply not the kind of product you take home, unwrap and then indulge in a lively 6 hour back-up session.

I had been canvassing the different choices for a while, and in all fairness, the Sonys, WDs and Samsungs of this world have done a great job in attempting to make a sexy product out of it. Different colours, styles, robustness, add-on covers to personalize your cool 1 Tera Byte Hard Drive... For me however it is still a far stretch of the imagination that teenage kids these days would be impressed by this. "Dude, check out my new 1 Tera Byte Hard Drive. It backs up like crazy! And it has like, REALLY many many bytes".
Anyway... I finally got into the buying mood and stepped into a store called Challenger. I stood at the hard drive shelf for some 10 minutes, looking at all the choices. Narrowing it down to the 1 Tera Byte ones. Looking at the USB 2 ones. The USB 3 ones. The Thunderbolt ones. The shiny ones, the matte ones and the just-in-between ones. I finally opted for the Sony, in a cool brushed aluminum style (to impress my teenage nephews). It was S$149 (member) or S$179 (non-member). I had made my choice. I wanted this cool looking Sony Black Brushed Aluminium 1 Tera Byte Hard drive. But I did not want to become a member. I know what memberships mean in stores like this... tons of spam, 'personalized' brochures in your mail box ('a special offer for you, Mr Ben') and a customer card you need to carry around at all times, and that all for probably a one time purchase at the store.
I stood in line, proudly with my Sony Black Brushed Aluminium 1 Tera Byte Hard drive in my hands... tonight I would back up like I never backed up before! Mega Bytes would elegantly flow at light speed from my MacBook to my Sony 1 Tera Byte Hard Drive! I was really looking forward to this. When it was my turn, a friendly girl in her twenties served me. The inevitable 'You member?' question came.
'No' I said
'You want to become member?'
'No' I said
'You get a lot of advantage if you become member.'
'Thank you, but I do not want to become a member, I will pay the full price' I said.
This clearly was unheard of. Her colleague, from the next cashier, overheard this and came over.
'You get a free pen', she said,  'And a torch. And lower prices. And a fabric thing' (OK I do not think she said 'fabric thing', but she showed me a fabric thing). You pay 30 Dollars for membership, so same price in the end.'
'OK I see that, but I still want to pay without becoming a member' I said.
' But Sir, why would you do that, you can get the free goodies, including the fabric thing, plus membership for the same price'  the first girl said.
'Er.... I do no like to go through all this registration' I tried, really cornered now.
'No problem Sir, I can fill out the form for you'
'Look, I JUST want to pay without becoming a member, OK?'
'But Sir, you will pay the same price'
I did not want the membership, but these girls had paid a bit TOO much attention to the 'close the deal' part at their sales training.
It was clear they would not let me buy the hard drive without me becoming a member.

This was getting really weird. I realized I just entered a lose-lose situation.

Option 1: tell them to bugger off, that I wanted to pay the regular price for my Sony Black Brushed Aluminium 1 Tera Byte Hard drive WITHOUT becoming a member. But after all this, I had just made the internal decision that I did not want to buy at this store anymore. Or at any Challenger store in Singapore. Or any Challenger store anywhere. Or at any store that had any permutation of a subset of letters from the word 'Challenger' in its name.

Option 2: grasp my Master Card out of the girl's hand, saying 'I do not think I want to buy here' and walk out the store, facing a boring evening without exciting things like REALLY fast backups.

I made a split second choice between the two.

I should have made bold statements on consumer rights, on how the tyranny of customer loyalty programs touches the very essence of free hard disk choice, but instead I took
option 2.

The girls were speechless.

I am still looking for a good 1 Tera Byte Hard Disk.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Annoyance #2: Drivers

My #2 annoyance in Singapore may be related to the previous annoyance, as it has to do with people going from point A to B. I want to talk about drivers.

I do not drive in Singapore which I've explained in my previous blog. I explained that the prices of cars are just too high. Meanwhile, prices have gone up further; the COE (the piece of paper, valid for ten years, that you need to buy a car) costs S$86000/EUR56000. After this, you still need.... a car. I like Singapore very much, but not enough to donate that much tax money to the government.

Besides the costs, there is another reason for not wanting to drive here: the traffic is CRAZY! There seems to be a personality change that happens to Singaporeans when getting behind the wheel of a car. Suddenly, 3 millenniums of rich oriental culture, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism will be forgotten, and replaced by Darwin's 'survival of the fittest' principles. Needless to say, owning a bigger car than your neighbor is advantageous to sustain these principles.

A few types of behaviour are particularly striking.

The Tailgating/not signalling/not-let-anybody-in-your-lane cluster.
These three are closely intertwined. There seems to be an unwritten rule to leave a 1 meter space or less between cars. This is regardless of the speed. If, for some reason, you forget about this rule for a second, another car might quickly change lanes and take the position in front of you! The not-let-anybody-in-your-lane principle kicks in, as this cannot be tolerated in Singapore traffic. After all,  you would lose face and would be ridiculed for the years to follow. So the moment you see somebody signalling to get into your lane (yes, it is called YOUR lane for a reason!)  the only fitting response is to quickly accelerate to fill the space and prevent this evil act from taking place. This is where the three liter turbo charged engine is an indispensable tool, and I am sure this is part of the explanation for its popularity. Of course, your fellow drivers are not crazy. They too drive the Singapore roads daily. So they know that signalling to change lanes is as futile as asking for a napkin at a hawker centre. So the Singaporean driver will act swiftly and change lanes signal-free at the moment there is a small space available in the other lane, where one symbolic blink may be given right before completion of the maneuver.

Inability to stay within their lane
For many drivers, staying between the lines is a task that is difficult to master. I suspect those were the kids in kindergarten that screwed up at any color-by-numbers assignment, but were never corrected, as their proud parents saw that merely as a sign of borderless creativity. This borderless creativity however is less of an advantage in modern day traffic. These drivers see lines - even when double white - only as a friendly suggestion by the Land Transport Authority where they could possibly drive. After a multi-lane turn, they will make a random choice in which lane to continue after the turn. This, in combination with the tailgating, actually causes many accidents.

Excessive Honking
This is my personal strongest annoyance when it comes to traffic. I live downtown, opposite of Mount Elisabeth Hospital. As in any big city, traffic will sometimes come to a full stop for a while. But you would think that in the vicinity of a hospital, where people are not at their best, to put it mildly, and usually dying to get some sleep (pun not intended), drivers would refrain from honking. This however does not seem to stop anyone from expressing their annoyance by excessive honking. And I do not mean a short and clear honking signal, like to prevent a pedestrian to step in front of your car (I already explained the unpredictability of the pedestrian's behaviour), no I mean a continuous honking. This can be sustained sometimes for 10 seconds or more (scientifically measured using my 1987 Casio watch). The underlying assumption must be that the lorry driver with supplies at Paragon Mall will actually finish his maneuver faster when he hears the ominous sound. Or that the gridlocked crossing will miraculously clear by the cleansing power of the horn.

Witnessing all this behaviour from the back seat of a taxi is damaging enough to my blood pressure; I fear that if I would drive myself in Singapore, I would eventually lose my composure and drag a misbehaving fellow driver out of his car and tell him off. I would explain how irrational and dangerous his behaviour was, not proud of losing my temper, but happy that I would have contributed to safer roads in Singapore. Or at least that is how it would happen in my fantasy. In reality of course I would just use the horn for 10 seconds.

In Singapore these issues are now acknowledged, and the authorities wonder why the traffic behaviour and agression is so much worse than in other, much more congested cities like New York and Bangkok. Measures like refresher training and on-board video cameras are contemplated. Funny enough, they even use the small town of Drachten, Netherlands as an example!  (see article)

Meanwhile, I will rely on MRT and taxis and protect my blood-pressure.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Annoyance #3: Avoiding the Risk-Pedestrian

Is Singapore a perfect place? Almost.... Of course, at any place in the world there are big things and little things that are annoying. I thought it would be a good time to give you my top 3 annoyances, which will be the topic of my next 3 blogs. Today, at number three we find:


Ever since I have been living in Singapore, I keep on bumping into people. Walking down the street, or in shopping malls, requires a sharp eye and full concentration for a continuous sequence of pedestrian avoiding maneuvers. I tried to make an analysis of this, since beside being an annoyance, I hope it can be of help to those new to Singapore.
After thorough study, I must conclude that he major Risk-Pedestrians tend to fall in either one of the following categories:

The Impulse-Stopper
This is most tricky Risk-Pedestrian, and the cause of the majority of my pedestrian collisions. The Impulse-Stopper can and will, at random moments, decide to stop in the middle of a full stream of pedestrians. A look at the iPhone, a billboard, a store with an 'ON SALE' sign, a sudden thought..... the Impulse-Stopper will stop when he or she feels like it, without any look over the shoulder. When walking behind an Impulse-Stopper, the sudden stop requires a split-second reaction. One possibility is to stop immediately as well. This is risky, as the pedestrian behind you will now see YOU as the Impulse-Stopper and has to react. Another, more safe and effective maneuver is the quick-side-step-maneuver, fluently bringing your arm and shopping bag with the six-pack and bottle of wine behind you as you pass. The elegance of the quick-side-step maneuver varies greatly with the given reaction time and the available space.

A more innocent Risk-Pedestrian:

The Direction-Changer.
 The Direction-Changer can be on either side of you, walking at the same speed, and than suddenly change direction towards you. The Direction-Changer can usually be avoided by a subtle acceleration or deceleration.

The most challenging Risk-Pedestrian is:

The Collision-Seeker
The Collision-Seeker is the only Risk-Pedestrian that I believe has evil intent. The Collision-Seeker will, as implied by the name, seek a collision course. The Collision-Seeker however will not look at you, but she (they tend to be females) will stubbornly look down, and act as if she only sees the one meter in front of her. She pretends not to see you. But YOU know she saw you. And you know, that SHE knows that you know that she saw you. She seems to enjoy the thrill. The next few seconds are crucial; a miniature chicken race at 5 km/hr; if you both keep bluffing, you will collide. Who will change direction? Or, the ultimate humiliation, even stop? One has to give in.....Unfortunately I do not always win. But I am getting better at it!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Yoo Won Hah Oh Coh?

It has been a long while since I wrote about my life here in Singapore. The reason: TIME! I thought I was living in the fast lane before, but only now do I understand the true meaning of fast lane. Plans change always last minute, last second. Sometimes I do not know in which country I will be 2 days later. Change of plans! The customer changed his mind! This customer wants to see you on Saturday! Welcome to Asia, is what people usually tell you in such situations, in a slightly apologizing, but accepting way.

So now that I am done excusing for the long lag between my previous blog and this one, I would like to share with you a very interesting topic: Singlish! Yes, this is Singaporean-English. English is the first language at Singaporean schools, and therefore, Singaporeans have in general a very good level of English. So they speak it much better then most Europeans. Please bear in mind for this statement, that the British do not tend to refer to themselves as Europeans, especially under current crisis circumstances, but let's not go there.
The only challenge for a foreigner is to understand the accent! I still remember my first visit to Singapore, when I ordered some tea. The waitress then asked something that sounded like :"Yoo won hah oh coh?" I was genuinely surprised she started talking Chinese to me, despite my non-Asian looks. It turned out that she was saying: You want hot or cold?

Another interesting experience I had: I was staying at the Far East Plaza Apartments, and was picked up by an agent to help me with my working permit. He asked me: "You stay in Fized apartment?" I answered, surprised because he knew where he just picked my up: "No I am staying at the Far East apartment, where you just picked me up". He replied: "Yes, what I mean, Fized apartment"

Singlish is short, to the point, and any consonant that can be avoided pronouncing, will be avoided. Also, any article, noun or pronoun that is not utterly essential to bring out the meaning of a sentence, will be left out.  A sentence like:   "This week I cannot possibly fulfill your request, but next week I can make time available", translates into Singlish as " This week cannot, next week can". Or a question like "Would you happen to have any non-prescription anti-diarrhea medicine?" can be answered with "Yes, have" (provided it is asked at the right store)
Then there is the legendary 'lah'. This can be used freely,  anytime, at the end of sentences. For maximum effect this needs to be drawn out in relaxed attitude kind of way, as in: "Ok, laaaaah". But also its split second variants can be heard continuously. The point here is to make the 'lah" almost subliminal..... Was it there? Did I hear it?
One last, very common example: To switch on or off is, translated in to Singlish: 'to on' or 'to off', respectively. "Please on the aircon", "Please off the light"

Two evil colleagues gave me a little book that gives a sneak peek into everyday Singlish. Very helpful! I started practicing.

I believe I do a pretty decent 'OK, lah' already, but it is still a long way to bring it to perfection.