Friday, May 20, 2011

One degree north

In Perth it is autumn, and there is what passes for a chill in the air in Australia. Singapore is in the same time zone but a different climate zone. Singapore is one degree north of the Equator.

Singapore is all business all the time, though, and men are required to wear suits to the office (cf. Collapse, by Jared Diamond). So indoor spaces are cooled more than we anticipated. Outdoors, the heat is tolerable, as there is lush tropical greenery everywhere, providing natural cooling to what would otherwise be a concrete oven. Apparently energy costs are relatively low, as Singapore is a major oil-refining center. Nonetheless, there is a move afoot to think green.

Friends took us to a rotating top-floor restaurant (physically similar to other such restaurants in big cities worldwide) for a view of the city, particularly of the port, which was adjacent. The meal was a spectacular Chinese banquet of too many courses to count.

From there they took us to the Singapore Flyer, a Ferris wheel similar to the London Eye, but larger, for a broader view of the city. We then went for a drive to explore more of the city. Our host likes to show off his town.

In the morning we flew to Bangkok, where we will spend the next several days. After clearing Customs, we were greeted by one of Tina’s colleagues and an assistant from the hospital motor pool, who then hailed the driver from the cell phone lot (I assume). Eventually we all piled into a comfortable passenger van and, still in our tropical travel clothes, were whisked to an embarrassingly formal, rock-star-worthy reception at a model child- and elder-care health center on a military base. We were led from room to room and department to department by two senior military officers in full uniform, with chests full of medals, accompanied by other senior staff and two photographers. The photographers initially focused on me, as I was the larger target, but I think we eventually conveyed to them that Tina was the rock star in question. The military officers, as well as other senior staff, sported pins on their shirts bearing the photos of babies. The program that was the main focus of the tour was the initiative, now about five years old, of one of the royal princesses in support of increasing breastfeeding in Thailand.

The base where the demonstration project is taking place houses a thousand-and-some military families, over five thousand people. The center provides child care for infants through preschoolers, health care for the community, and a rich elder-care program, all in one center, so that there are many opportunities for intergenerational interaction. It is also the coordination center for the propagation of these programs across Thailand. What was most impressive was that the entire complex represented a quite modest capital investment. What is mainly required is cooperation and intent.

I admit to being somewhat uncomfortable with all of the bowing and scraping we have encountered so far (on the plane, at the center, at the hotel, in the hotel restaurant, but not at the airport). I don’t know what goes through the mind of someone who is executing exaggeratedly obsequious gestures in a country that has an active, occasionally violent, political opposition. I know what would be going through my mind if I were behaving that way. Yet this is apparently a standard feature of Thai culture, and I’m being a boorish and ugly American if I try to carry my own bag. I will try to behave better henceforth.


College Admissions Partners said...


Just wanted to let you know that I have been enjoying your travelogue. You're like a bearded Michael Palin.


Dick Margulis said...

Thanks, Todd.