Report from Tomorrow - Vol 4
1USD = S$1.62 (S$1 = 0.62USD)
Phones and Technology
This is, indeed, the land of cellular phones and pagers! I read there are 743,000 already in a population of only 3+ million people. Everyone seems to be walking around with these. The phones are not cheap, costing many hundreds of dollars (usually $500 or more) and the license for the phone is another several hundred more, but it seems everyone has them. People get phone calls on the bus, on the MRT and, of course, in the restaurant.
I told Mary I feel really out of place not having these necessities. So I'm going to look for some cheap knock-offs that don't work and put my fake pager on my belt and carry my fake-phone in my hand -- so I fit in like everyone else. Mary says I've been out in the sun too much.
One technology I did succumb to was to buy a portable CD player. Proper S'poreans all have black wires coming from their ears as they travel on the bus or MRT, so I just figured I had to have one too. I can listen to music at work too. Mary doesn't play any of my CDs at home, so it really was a necessity, you see.
The Asian monetary crisis hasn't affected Singapore as much as other places. The Singapore dollar fell from 1.55/USD when I signed up (Oct) to as low as 1.75/USD. Now it seems to be stabilizing right now abut 1.60/USD. I am being paid in USD, so we are protected from some of the impact of currency fluctuations (as long as the USD stays in good standing).
I'm told that the Singapore economy has been growing at 10% or more for many years and the government has always had a surplus (imagine that, America). So the Singapore government has this huge fund of money to help stabilize the Sing dollar. They can't keep it up forever, but it helps keep confidence to keep the currency stable.
Indonesia (just across the straits) has had the rupiah move from 2500/USD to 13500/USD in six months (last I saw it was about 10000/USD). You've probably read more about this than we have. There are food riots now and then there. I was warned by locals to discard any thoughts of visiting nearby Bali for some time. Malaysia and Thailand are still stable, even though their economies have taken a serious hit. Several multi-nationals (Seagate comes to mind) have laid off people (not directly related to the currency mess).
Still, the drop from 10% to 1.5% growth is having a real effect. People have lost jobs, there are cut-backs all over. The bank where I work has frozen all hiring and raises. Singapore is a long way from immune, but there certainly is hope here. It's much tougher elsewhere.
After we got the apartment together and figured out how things work, Mary started to branch out. She's found the local American Woman's Association (AWA) which welcomes all ex-pats (people living away from home). It is housed in the American Club -- a prestigious club (entrance fee is something like S$20,000 and then you pay monthly fees). Fortunately, AWA gets to use their facilities for their stuff, but we don't have to be an AC member.
AWA is a huge organization - something like 2000 members. Mary's gone to the Empty Nester's luncheon and they've had about 100 women there! AWA does all sorts of fund raisers and volunteer work in the community. It has book groups, afternoon bridge and lots of other sub-groups. There are some seriously wealthy people here -- and some just regular folks too. Mary's just getting used to the group, but it's clear this will be a good resource.
Mary's also started to attend the Singapore National Museum. They offer lectures each week on places in the area and even some group tours to places (trekking in Bhutan, trips to places in Indonesia, Taiwan etc.). This place seems to be a more intellectual group and Mary really enjoys the lectures. We have so little idea about this part of the world, this is an enjoyable forum for leaning more about our new home.