Report from Tomorrow - Vol 20

1USD = S$1.70 (S$1 = 0.59USD)

The Weather

Weather here is a very uninteresting topic to locals here. There is basically no variation - weather forecasters in S'pore have the easiest jobs in broadcasting.

The possibility of rain in Singapore is always a threat. Even on the sunniest of days, clouds can scoot in with amazing speed, dump a barrel of water right on your head, and then be replaced by the hot tropical sun.

Umbrellas are common, but are used more often to keep the sun off, than the rain. Umbrellas aren't as necessary as you might expect. Since the rains are typically short bursts, as long as you have the time, you can just wait out the shower. Times where it rains/sprinkles for hours on end are pretty rare here.

Of course there is the exception. The other day Mary announced she was going to the nearby Cold Storage (grocery). A bit later it started to rain - and then it rained real seriously, and rained... and rained without let up. Gretchen and I stood looking outside and admired the rain. I thought about taking an umbrella to rescue Mary. "Nah", we both said, "she's holed up at the coffee shop".

At that precise moment, Mary was looking towards our building and, huddled in a car park area, was thinking, "Surely they'll see me here and come rescue me." She waited and waited, and then gave up. A few minutes later Mary burst into the apartment looking like a drowned cat. So sometimes, umbrellas ARE needed here!

Early in 1998 there was very little rain here (El Nino effect) which, at the time, we did not appreciate. There was one period of over two weeks in Feb when it did not rain and they were watering the plants around our place. This was exactly the weather that allowed the fires in Indonesia to rage out of control. Now in late summer, those fires are all out.

There is basically no temperature variation here. Cool, overcast days have a high of 85 or so. Daily low temperatures are in the mid 70s. If the sun comes out for any length of time, temps will reach the low 90s - which is pretty much the norm. The warmest day I recall this year was 96 or so. It's just your typical Midwest warm August temperatures - everyday of the year.

Rain brings another aspect of weather - the omnipresent humidity. AVERAGE humidity in Singapore is 85%. To compensate, everything here is air conditioned - sometimes refreshingly bone-chilling cold, but then when you exit the building and walk into a wall of oppressive heat and humidity which deposits a layer of dampness all over you - fogging your glasses and everything else. One pundit wrote, "Mildew is the national flower."

Mary & I are affected to different degrees by this "Singapore Condition". I can break out in a full fledged sweat with remarkable ease, while Mary is usually comfortable even to the verge of "cool" (of course we always suspected it). We run the air con have half the time (evenings) and have it set in "dry mode" to remove the humidity. Typically it is set at 29C (84F) and we've come to think of that as "cool".

We both have our days, though, and can overheat easily. It HAS improved from when we first came here. I suppose in another decade or two, I might be comfortable with the weather too. I suppose this is just a variation on the phenomena we see in colder climates where Mary is reaching to turn on the furnace at 60 degrees and I have just put on a sweatshirt and am feeling a bit too warm.

It's a Cultural Thing III

All over Asia there is a protocol for exchanging business BUSINESS CARDS which is rather different from the way we do it. The card is presented with two hands oriented so the recipient can read it. He then takes the card with two hands, so both of us hold onto the card momentarily. The recipient then scrutinizes the card for a bit, pockets it and offers his/hers in the same manner. People here can be profoundly insulted when this ritual is not followed. My boss (an Aussie) met with a group of non-bank people and dealt out his card to everyone at once. Later, after the meeting, they accused him of being racist, insensitive etc.

MOTORCYCLES are plentiful here in the land of S$100,000 cars, as you'd expect. You'll see all kinds - from the slow mopeds to flashy ones, but they all drive similarly. They seem to feel that there are special lanes provided for motorcycles - those white lines that we think are separators for lanes. So while traffic is moving nicely, motorcycles stay in the car lanes - usually off to the left (remember they drive on the wrong side here) because the motorcycle probably goes slower than the cars. As soon as traffic slows down or stops, all the motorcycles begin to slip between cars. At stop lights you'll see a horde of motorcycles that have slipped to the front of the line only to roar off when the light changes and be passed by the cars again.

Note - this behavior is not unique to Asia. We saw similar things in Germany, except there the motorcycles were much more powerful and simply drove on the lane separators most of the time. I remember one time I was driving 130kph (~90mph) in Germany only to have a motorcycle zoom within inches of my mirror as it passed between us and the oncoming traffic. So you see, motorcycles are actually very well behaved here.

Remember back a thousand years in the US when well mannered young children would give up their seats to older adults? Well, it still happens here. The MRT and buses have seats designated for "people who need this seat more than you". More than once I've seen younger people (teens, 20-somethings) volunteer their seat to pregnant women and old ladies. No, no one has offered me their seat yet. Whew!