Report from Tomorrow - Vol 12

1USD = S$1.65 (S$1 = 0.60USD)

Flora and Fauna

Descriptions of the island when Sir Raffles stood at the river and declared he would make this the British trading center of the Far East sound pretty dreadful. In general they describe Sinapore as a writhing mass of centipedes, rats and snakes - nothing at all like today.

They killed off the last wild Tiger almost 100 years ago here (in the Raffles bar, according to legend) and today the island has very little in animal life. You'll see small geckos now and then (these little guys can walk on your ceilings, are harmless, except to bugs and are considered good luck. In comparison, Micah tells me that in The Gambia, they hate geckos and will chase them and kill them. Go figure.). We'll see them outside now and then. Sometimes snakes are reported at new construction sites, but we've never seen any (the island is home to a number of the most deadly).

Generally the island is devoid of fauna. A large park out west has monitor lizards which are pretty amazing. I've only really seen one kind of bird (something like a blackbird). Heck, they don't even have flies and mosquitos here -- certainly not as many as in Minnesota. It's most amazing, really, given the climate. How can they not be here? But it's true, you can walk through a wet market and see remarkably few flies.

Of course one insect they have in abundance here is the cockroach. We were told that if you live here, you have cockroaches. We've been pretty fortunate so far, but on the 7th floor, we still get one once in a while. They spray the grounds regularly and I suspect that's the answer to the bugs question - pesticide used on a massive scale.

We think and speak of the island as one massive city - but it is not really true. There are lots of green areas and as you get away from the south central part of the island where downtown is, it becomes increasingly open -- but never rural as we know in the USA.

Nearby Malaysia is empty by comparison, having lots and lots of plantations (pineapple, palm oil, fruits galore etc.). One story to tell of Malaysia has to do with controlling the rats who eat the fruit of the palm oil tree. Seems the plantation owners wanted to control these, so they brought in more cobras, vipers and pythons. You can guess who made the decision - not the workers who had to work in the fields. Sure enough, the workers were reluctant to work. Nowadays, they've introduced eagles to hunt the snakes and rats during the day and owls to hunt at night.

The island is covered in flowering bushes and trees and, of course, just regular flowers. I suppose this is how the US South is in the Spring - all year long here. There wasn't anything like Spring here. Maybe a few more bushes have blooms, but I can't really tell.

The city has plenty of boulevards planted with colorful ground cover and flowering trees. Go to your local nursery and look at the stuff they have for growing indoors -- and imagine it growing all over outside here.

The deciduous trees always have leaves here... they drop some of them now and then, but, of course, never go dormant. Coconut trees are all over (you do not want to be under them when they drop the nut), as well as all sorts of fruit trees. Malaysia and Thailand grow enormous amounts of fruits of the most amazing shapes and colors.

Books

There is a public library system here, but it's not much really. Mary joined the national library and occasionally goes there to get books. They have a smallish selection of popular books and reference books. Perhaps most distressing to Mary is that the books are not in order - not even close to it - very stressful to a book-seller like Mary :-)

One curious institution here is that you can rent books. There are many small book shops here where you can boy a paperback (and some hardback books) and then return it within a month and get a refund. I've been re-reading a 7 book fantasy series (Wheel of Time by Jordan). I buy the 800+ page book here for S$13 and then a few weeks later I return it for S$9. These sorts of places only have the more popular books.

Book prices here are about what they are in the US (with the exchange rate). I've bought a number of computer books for S$50-70 which is about what they cost in the US (list price). The range of computer books here that I normally am interested in is pretty limited. You can, of course, buy books on the Web (like at Amazon.com), but the shipping cost may well be as much as the book ($25 USD for air mail).

Borders opened a store here a few months before we arrived. Coming from Ann Arbor, the home of Borders, it was interesting to compare the two stores (here and AA). Borders here took S'pore by storm because the books were never shrink-wrapped, so you could browse through them and they have places to sit to browse - both new concepts for us here.

Not all books are shrink-wrapped here, but a great many are. While I look at Borders here and think they don't have much space for reading and not as many books, compared to other book stores, Borders is a book-lovers heaven and they are packed all the time.