Sunday, 20 May 2012

Miss Manners, Where Are You?

I will never miss this
Often weeks go by without missing Canada but I surmise with my son visiting, missing what is familiar is front and centre. Without stating the obvious, there are many things I miss about Canada, and of course, there are things I hope to never experience again. Who can forget the never-ending winter of 2011?

I am going to start with what all expats miss. It is not talked about much for fear of sounding like a raging alcoholic, but I miss Canadian prices on booze. Hard to believe, but I will never complain about paying all the taxes imposed on Canucks at the liquor outlets as long as I live. The price for alcohol in Singapore is astronomical and can land you in the poor house faster than a cockroach can invade your drawers.  

I vaguely remember a glass of wine at dinner
Some will say you can get a huge bottle of Tiger Beer at the Hawker station for $6 but I don't drink beer and I can't sit in a steam bath to indulge in a beverage I detest. Slugging a brew and sitting in a puddle of sweat just isn't on my Top 10 Things to Do in Singapore list.

A glass of wine in any establishment will run you about $18 plus for the dodgiest of grapes.  That is the going rate for most cocktails, and if you buy your own, be prepared to shell out major change. So like all expats, we fly out on the weekend and come back through the airport grabbing cheaper hootch at the Duty Free stores. I know this sounds strange but you can often get a $0 flight and save $50 on a tequila so makes perfect sense to us.

I miss courtesy and my personal space. In Singapore, it can be so congested that people lack manners and common sense when it comes to offering a seat on the MRT to one who needs it more than you.  God forbid you miss playing Draw Something for your twenty minute journey. Why would you possibly give up your seat to the 90 year old one-eyed man when you have to text your bud two seats down?  Be warned, when I come back, if I am in Costco at Christmas with a huge order of groceries, I am ramming you with my cart to get the best chocolates and cutting in the queue, pretending I don't see you.  

My parents had the good sense to instil courtesty and manners, but I fear I have lost all sense of right and wrong since you fight for every inch of breathing room in this sweltering over-populated country. Yesterday I took a tumble in a famous hotel. I managed to cut my leg in a few places and had blood gushing from surface cuts.  Not one eyebrow was raised as I limped to the MRT and not one person stood to offer me a seat.  I know they saw because I had a few noses turned up at the sight of my blood dirtying the train.

I was never one to watch television but there are rare times you want to numb your brain with a reality show. Unless you love Bollywood or Malay soap operas, you are out of luck with regular cable. I have tried to pick up online tv but no luck with IP addresses blocked in Asia. Oh well, I wonder if Ramadeep and Jalaja will marry without their parents' consent?

What is all this strange fruit anyway?
One day I will be able to open a package of cookies without them becoming soggy in five minutes and I know that at some point of my life, I will be able to buy ice cream and bring it home without it turning into a chocolate chip puddle before I find the subway station. There will be a way to have a shower and not sweat the moment I begin to towel dry.

South East Asia is a cultural wonderland and every day is a new challenge.  Some days are positive, some days not so much. Even the simplest task from Canada becomes an episode of Survivor, whether it involves manoeuvring your way to the subway during rush hour, procuring groceries in 35C heat with no car or deciphering alien fodder at a Hawker Centre. To keep my humour when times seem tough I remember to celebrate my small accomplishments. I just wish I could celebrate with an unaffordable glass of champange instead of a wine glass full of no-name grape juice.

(Follow Layna in Asia on Mexico on My Mind site for her perspective of travels in Mexico)

Sunday, 13 May 2012

I'll take a Pint of Beer but Hold the Beer

I like to do what any Housewife of Singy would do when her husband is missing in action on a business trip to Hong Kong...go to a bar. And chat up a 22-year old. And watch him eat glass...gee, that sounded better in my head than it does on paper.

Yuvaraj is a born and bred Singaporean
Let me take two steps back. I met a group of people at a chic watering hole on Club Street. It was a Meetup for Expats to mix and mingle. The watering-hole was so jam-packed you couldn't move so I was lucky to find a seat. The object of Meetup is to acquaint yourself with people from other cultures so I began speaking to a young man to my left. I was teasing him, asking him why a guy of 22 was at a gathering where most people were twice his age. He simply told me he was interested to meet people from around the world. Fair enough; that is also why I was there.

Showing the size of glass eaten
After more small talk, he proceeded to show me what I have only read in books. He took a container from his pocket and showed me glass pieces the size of large coins. He told me he was given the power to eat glass with no harm coming to his mouth or internal organs. And crunch the glass he did. I am certain the look on my face was one of astonishment as I witnessed this man chew and swallow what we use to light a room.

Yuvaraj agreed to meet me to tell me about his empowerment to eat glass or drink poison with no ill effects. He was being mocked in the bar and I couldn't hear him over the din of the party, but I wanted to know more about why he would take such a health risk. People were skeptical or flabbergasted when they saw Raj consume several pieces of glass.

Yes, he did eat several pieces
It turns out his entire family has the ability to swallow glass because they all have embraced the Divine Master's gift to open their fifth chakra so no harm comes to them. He claims they have a powerful shield around their Vishuddhi Chakra (fifth chakra on the throat) that protects them from injury and diseases. The family does not do this as a party trick and it isn't for monetary gain as you may have witnessed elsewhere. Raj explained he eats glass about once per day to spread the word of His Divine Grace Dato' Seri Guruji from Malaysia; he is one of hundreds of thousands of followers. He believes he is a disciple of the Master and he wants to tell as many people about the power they can also have, so the world is a better place and we heal ourselves.

Raj knows I write a humorous blog and I am not an investigative reporter, just a person trying to enlighten Westerners about cultures in Asia. While he is only 22 years old, he is wise beyond his years. He knows people are sceptical and cynical but he is okay with that. It was a delight to learn from such a well-spoken, respectful young man, regardless of whether or not I believe in his empowerment and glass performance. He has a true respect for his parents, upstanding morals about marriage and faithfulness and he believes without a doubt his purpose in life is to spread the word of the Divine Master. He has been granted an audience with Ministers in Government and soon says he will meet the President of Singapore.

I asked Raj what he has prayed for himself and he just smiled and said he didn't really need anything. He is so upbeat and positive, there must be something to his story. He told me he only prayed for his grandfather when he had a stroke, and visualized three times that his grandfather's organs would start to function. He says his prayers came to fruition and he is out of hospital back with the family.

Raj has hat on - fourth down on left
I asked once again, why didn't he ask for anything for himself. He said he wanted to act in an Indian drama on television, even though he had no acting experience. He not only got the role out of 40 other hopefuls, he also worked in a Bollywood movie. Raj claimed this came to him because he meditated and asked the Divine Master to bring him this role.

There is enough information on the web about The Divine Grace and glass eating if you are skeptical; I will leave that research up to you. There are thousands of people who follow The Master and if it changed their lives for the better, more power to them. I am merely here to say there are many things we don't understand about Asia and its people.

The longer I live here, the less I know and the more I discover.  Asians believe in many gods, horoscopes, rituals and signs we will never understand. While there are many Christians in Asia, there are hundreds of other religions that follow their own beliefs. I am fascinated by Raj's claim and all the ancient spirituality we encounter as we travel.

If you want more info about becoming empowered, Raj can be reached by SMS (+65 9183 1625). Empowerment does not come free from his Master so be certain this is what you want before you depart with your hard-earned money.

(Follow Layna in Asia on Mexico on My Mind site for her perspective of travels in Mexico)

Saturday, 5 May 2012

SaVanh, I'm In SaVanh...

People often ask me how I meet so many people in S'pore when I have been here a short time. I was nervous when I moved thinking I would be talking to my plants all day long, going a little stir-crazy from loneliness. I am happy to report that this is far from the reality. I joined what some people would call a "dating service" but this service is for people that have similar hobbies or interests.  It isn't to meet men, it is to meet people that have a common bond even though they are from different cultures and countries.

The real name of the service is called Meetup. R2 found these groups on the web and I have since learned they are not just in Singapore, but all over the world. Luckily, Singapore has hundreds of such clubs. I have joined about ten Meetup groups but some are more active than others. You can make yourself busy every day if you chose to join this forum.

Even swans do yoga in the Botanical Gardens
Every time I go on a Meetup, I liken it to a blind date. You get all pimped out in your best togs, make sure the broccoli is out of your teeth and your fly is zipped before you meet like-minded members. There are groups for wine aficionados, business women, financial networking, animal lovers, rain-forest hikers, worldwide travellers, singles, single parents, and yoga fanatics; the groups are endless.

The outings I enjoy most are the womens' get-togethers. I have met interesting ladies from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, China, Japan, USA, UK, Belgium, and even Canada.  Who knew? I am happy to report many of these women are fast becoming amigas and confidantes. Even though we are from a multitude of cultures, we have common issues; our husbands leave the toilet seat up, the humidity is killer on the coif, we compare the best travel deals to nearby countries, and we all question why are we paying these exorbitant rental prices. Everyone misses their creature comforts from back home but know there are unique friendships to be made and foreign lands to be explored in Asia.

I read about a Meetup recently that intrigued me.  It was called "How To Be Lucky on Friday the 13th." R2 was working in Hong Kong so I thought I would head to Club Street in Tanjong Pagar where a Meetup with over 80 people was occurring in a contemporary club. I love this enclave and I heard this was "the" place to be at night. When I got to the street, I had no doubt it was the happening place. Taxis, cars and beautiful people were everywhere. It was barely 7:00 p.m.  What would it be like at midnight?

Digital Nomad and Layna in Asia enjoying the Meetup
One of the four organizers of this Meetup calls himself a Digital Nomad, originally from Kolkata, India. He played host most of the evening, running between the door, posing for photo ops and making sure everyone was having a brilliant time. His goal is to make Singapore swing. He says this island has a reputation for being boring but not since the Meetup groups came to the country.

This night was anything but boring. It was packed to the rafters in SaVanh IndoChine.  I learned SaVanh means heaven in Laotian. I am not sure heaven will be that hot and sweaty; I thought that was hell, but this place was packed to the rafters. From the feng shui fish tank you perch on, to the two-story water wall, to the Asian statues and mirrored bar, this prairie girl was impressed. I kept wondering if the koi were getting an eyeful down below when the short skirts scampering by.

Great decor at SaVanh
We were instructed to dress in our finest club wear and not to forget our "lucky charms" for the thirteenth day of April. I saw people bring bottles full of vodka (I guess to get lucky), a florescent "hand" pen that brought luck, a pendant from a deceased grandmother, but the strangest one was from a young man who brought glass which he ate for luck.

It was hard to top the glass eater, but my lucky charm was my wedding ring. Singapore is the only place I have travelled I feel safe enough not to have my finger lopped off.  And believe me, when you are in a bar as packed as SaVanh, you want the wolves to see your trophy bling.

Tomorrow might bring Dim Sum with the Stay at Home Wives or I may venture out for a trek through the rain forest with the Singapore International Ladies Group. And if I get really adventurous, I may join the Elvis Meetup for a little Graceland fix.

All I know is that I am thrilled there are so many options in Singapore to meet people. If you are bored, it is only because you are too lazy to read the paper or search the web for all the happening events in this country. I need more than 24 hours in the day to fit all the outings I want to enjoy while I call the Little Red Dot my home.

(Follow Layna in Asia on Mexico on My Mind site for her perspective of travels in Mexico)