Thursday, September 30, 2010


The latest from Kopernik

gado gado

This week, with the workload ebbing slightly, I got up to these adventures:

1. climbing
After a terribly difficult time tracking down their contact information (I think I'm spoiled by how easy the internet makes everything), I finally got in touch with the Gibbon climbing club.

I rode my motorbike from Ubud to Kuta to climb on Monday evening. This took an hour, and the traffic was crazy. The roads were swarming with motorbikes weaving all over the place. I eventually figured out a strategy: ride slow, drift to the back of the pack of bikes, where the families with five people on a bike are, and ride just close enough to the person in front that nobody tries to cut in, but far enough away that there's some stopping distance.

I made it to Kuta alright, and met Dani and Ika at a climbing wall in Kuta after only an hour of getting lost in the city. Ika is a tiny woman who is a deceptively good climber. Dani used to be a forest ranger (?) or something like that and now teaches climbing full time. I climbed a bit, and talked to them a lot.

The neatest thing I learnt was that the Indonesian government created a national climbing federation, and sponsors a climbing team from each district in the country. It also built facilities in quite a few of the regions. I met Dani and Ika behind a firehouse, where the government had built a 20 metre (60 foot) wall, a 15 metre wall, and a bunch of smaller boulder-walls. Pretty awesome and pretty out of character that the Indonesian government would do this.

We got along really well, I'm going to try to go climbing on some real rocks with them this weekend.

2. green school
Ewa and I visited green school, an alternative / startup school (grades K-12 (!!)) in Bali, that is built almost entirely from bamboo, and emphasises experiential-over-theoretical learning. They are currently working towards IB accredition. Central to their mission are a set of scholarships: one fifth of their student body is Balinese children on full rides.

The school is also designed to have a low impact and great environmental awareness -- kids learn about cultivation, planting fields of rice and vegetables, and study the ecosystem that is all around them and often walks or flies right into their classroom. The school is also design to be a redistribution system, charging full tuition for most, to subsidise Balinese students and programs for local schools and kids, and raising money for similar ends by selling incredibly beautiful bamboo furniture and bamboo houses, to rich expats, for designer-brand prices. That's fine by me!

John Hardy, founder, says his idea is for these Balinese kids to completely skip out on the traditional streams of education, come out green, go to the best schools for environment and public policy and urban planning, and come back to fix Bali and Indonesia. It's an interesting idea that will be proven with time. The architecture here is just stunning.

The cafe there also bakes the best brownie I have ever tasted. From someone whose sweet tooth fell out early in life, this is very high praise.

3. mepantigan
I've started doing Mepantigan, a very young martial art (7 years) founded by a gentleman named Putu Witsen. He also teaches other martial arts and outdoorsy stuff at green school.

Mepantigan is great. It's got elements of other fighting styles in it, but focuses on throws and prohibits striking. Fighters wrestle in muddy mud pits or rice fields (where landings are soft), and are applauded for aggression, politeness and friendliness (!!). The folks who do it are all swell.

Mepantigan as a dramatic art incorporates painting, music, firebreathing, acrobatics, comedy, you name it. People love this stuff. Someone once sponsored Putu to go to Denmark once to teach and perform.

This is what it looks like. I'm not in that photo nor did I take it, but I'll do my best to do either of those things soon.

So far, it's great. I've done Mepantigan twice and am getting the hang of being safely thrown (quite fun actually), and safely throwing a person to the ground (Putu says I need to be more aggressive. That figures. The other thing I'm really terrible at is making warcries of effort when throwing someone, which is encouraged, which everyone else does really well).

Rolling in mud is the perfect thing to do on a hot day. I feel like a water buffalo: content.

Monday, September 27, 2010

ramah kelinci

Life trudges on
A shadow following me
It's a cute bunny

These Are The Vistas

The Balinese countryside is stunning. I spent a fair bit of time on the back of a motorbike this weekend as Nenga and I tried to hunt down some scrap metal to fashion into a briquetter for the charcoal we made.

I was completely shocked by how magnificent Bali is. And so big and spacious. I think my sense of scale and size is completely skewed (for islands anyway) from growing up in Singapore (how do they fit all this stuff...on an island??).

I'm surprised how beautiful rice fields can be. I imagined them as the kind of thing I'd shake my fist at and curse people for ruining the landscape, but they're just so small and well arranged and green. People wade in them and work all day. They have a certain honesty to them, you know?

It made me wonder if farmers wake up to their rice fields, that spread from around their house to the place where they meet groves of trees, and see beauty, or do they wake up to their rice fields and see a day of back breaking work?

I clumsily shot a stack of photos from the back of the motorbike while speeding through the countryside. Some turned out okay.

People here are big into kites. Everywhere I went, I would see a sky full of them. It doesn't look so good in pictures, but it's amazing to see in person.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ides of things

What in the blazes am I actually doing here?

This and that...

High on diesel and gasoline

Talk about pleasant surprises, I was walking down the street the last week, actually looking for a place to buy a SIM card, in a part of town I'm never in, and happened upon a shop called CBS: Cempaka Bali Sakti, translated roughly to Magical (a certain type of) Flower Bali.

<-- that's a cempaka

I like the name, because it's cute, and because it's more than a little misleading. CBS is really what the cool kids say when they mean Ubud Custom Cycles.

check out this bad boy!

Ketot was the first person I talked to there, he's a hefty, mongol looking fellow with a sparse Fu Manchu beard. Pande is a scruffy, scrawny guy with a mini pigtail and faint bleached highlights in his hair, and Komang is a tough (and tiny) woman, the owner's cousin, who Ketot and Pande both introduced to me as their boss (which she denies emphatically).

CBS does a lot of standard repairs, but the staff and clients also have a penchant for custom bikes of all kinds: choppers, street bikes, you name it. CBS is the womb and the nest for the coolest motorcycles in town, and may be the only one of its kind in Bali. I've got a bunch of photos of them but no bandwidth to put them on the internet. I might do a flickr thing when I'm back in Singapore.

The mechanics are always laughing and smiling, and I can feel the sheer enjoyment that they have in working on bikes. They also chain smoke, and have little regard for other shop safety. That said, they are really instinctive and talented hack mechanics and are very skilled and quick with tools and techniques, and with improvising tools and techniques.

Pande cutting a piece of metal with great precision, he's really good with the angle grinder. He's also cutting straight through the metal and into the floor (I guess that's just his style)

I spent a whole afternoon talking to them, taking pictures of them at work, and refusing cigarettes.

Kid riding Pande's crazy wasteland chopper bike. The gearshift lever is between his legs, rather than under his left foot where it is on most bikes. That's Komang in the top left.

Grinding down the ends of spokes so they don't poke the tube and cause flat tyres

After the first guy gets hit in the eye by a fleck of hot metal (don't worry, he's okay), he hands over to Ketot, who wears eye protection and has no problems with shooting sparks across the workshop

Pande welding on the monster bike.

There's never a dull moment here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

This biscuit was an animal swam in a brook

That's right, the third ingredient on this biscuit is ground catfish. It's an innovation by the institute of agriculture at Bogor (one of the top universities in Indonesia, I hear) to help kids get the nutrition (protein, most prominently) that their diet lacks. Or at least, so I surmise from the biscuit. The smiley face makes it irresistable to would-be eaters.

Ewa offered me a couple and made me guess what was in them, and I couldn't-- the best I could come up with was coconut, which might not even be in it. They were actually really good by any standards, I ate the second even after I found out what was in the first. They really got it right with this biscuit: not too sweet, but not fishy in the slightest.

It turns out catfish are really easy to farm, and when in biscuit form, are part of a complete breakfast: the biscuit are one fifth protein and one fifth fat.

when i saw this.. i f4pp3d*

*homage to the greatest torrent of econometrics books ever assembled
Trivia point: "econometrics f4pp3d" is a googlewhack

Oh, the things that get me excited these days. I just learned about Village Telco, which is a super neat initiative to develop an extremely flexible and extremely low cost telephone network toolkit, which is both open-software and open-hardware.

To start at the head, we all really take our telecom network for granted. It can be a little painful sometimes, but we afford our x9.99 (sometimes y9.99 with a data plan, where y >> x), and we get to talk to our friends, figure out when to hang out, and also call in emergencies, like a flat tire, or being locked out of the house. Telecommunication is really useful, wherever and whoever you are in the world.

Now, people in developing countries face the same monopolistic telecom markets as in America (what is it, like two companies?). In fact, it's worse: telecom companies in developing countries are even more bent on getting a high rate of return and invest in the most rural areas last, leaving the poorest people with lack of infrastructure and options that are too expensive for them. With their much tighter incomes, the poor spend a much larger portion of their money on communication. They make much harder choices on a much more frequent basis about whether to use telecom services or not.

Now, this is the case for poor people and energy as well, but the situation differs by a few details. The electrical grid is much more expensive and difficult to afford than telecom services, this is true, but it is much harder to get communication without telecom services than light without the grid. This is not to say that the options are good: the most common alternative to the lightbulb is the kerosene lantern (and kerosene is expensive), which is a terrible thing to sit next to -it's like smoking a pack of cigarettes every night- and there are many other important amenities the electrical grid provides, but let's get back to communication.

Here's where we arrive at Village Telco, who have designed a most innovative piece of technology, allowing communities anywhere in the world to implement and operate their own communications networks (you could do it too!).

What they've designed fits in the palm of the hand, runs on just 2.5 watts of power, is resistant to rough handling, the weather, five different natural disasters, and civil war (and is also flexible to a range of power sources). It works out of the box with existing technology, like ordinary landline and WiFi phones (it's a WiFi based system), and automatically connects to multiple other units like itself to form a linked network or relay for communication. It does all of this for just $120. They call this little marvel a "Mesh Potato", and it's cheaper than most cell phones-- it's probably cheaper than some landline phones.

This means that an entrepreneur could set up a local telecom network on a very small budget (the system is designed to break even in 6 months -- where traditional telecom infrastructure can take decades to pay back), without the need for cell antennae or land lines, and can grow the meshed network Potato by Potato as subscription and demand increases.

This is the 2.0 of telecommunications, where users can take control of their own communication infrastructure. Yee haw!

This is easily the coolest piece of technology I've seen all year.

On the topic of communities taking control of their own infrastructure, Husk Power Systems is a homegrown company in the Indian "rice belt" installing powerplants that supply electricity to rural villages that don't get the national grid. These plants are powered by rice husks, an agricultural byproduct. It's beautiful, a perfect re-use of outputs from the food system, that produces an invaluable commodity and creates no food/fuel conflict. If anything, there is a certain peace, and a mutual encouragement on both sides of the equation.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

mari kita makan

I could go on forever about how awesome masakan padang is. Although google translates it to "culinary field", the actual meaning is closer to "farmer's food". Masakan padang is rice served with the eater's choices from a spread of vegetables, eggs, soy, fish, meat and other accompanying foods.

One of my favourite things about masakan padang is how all the foods are arranged in plates carefully balanced on an elaborate arrangement of other plates, so that all the food is visible in the front window, even at a distance. It also makes it really easy to serve, by reducing the reaching distance.

Padang is really cheap and also allows vegans and vegetarians (this post is tagged "animals") to eat to their satisfaction and choose from great variety, eliminating the hassle of modifying menus or limiting their choices. In fact, it's got infinite customisability. It's also really tasty, easy and unassuming. A comfort food of sorts. I eat it every day.

Padang of the week:
Price: Rp 10,000 (about $1.12), where I ate it (price can vary slightly)

This one's got rice, vegetables, tempe, a deep fried egg, and chile*. A good place is more than happy to (as pictured) give you extra veg, and drown everything in coconut curry with no extra charge.

The tempe in Bali is consistently amazing. It's firm to the tooth like well done pasta, and yet has a certain creamy texture. It's got that wonderful nutty savouriness to it without the mal-fermented funk that sometimes comes with tempe in the US. And, it's super cheap. The tempe pictured cost about 20 cents. Next time, I'm getting two.

Deep fried egg! is a delicacy all across Southeast Asia. It's got all the nutrition of an egg, with all the delight of a french fry, this one topped with hot chiles and onions.

*There's more! Bali has red and green chile, just like New Mexico does. What a weird coincidence. The recipes are remarkably similar, the green consisting mostly of ripe fresh chiles and the red consisting mostly of ripe dried chiles. They vary in taste from place to place, just like in New Mexico. Some are mild and savoury, others taste like a molotov cocktail.

And whilst die hard New Mexicans like myself swear by green, in Bali, you just have to get both.

Merry christmas!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Real big on quarks

It's official: century gothic is the "greenest" font, using 30% less ink than Arial, and even more economical than some eco-fonts.

It's so green that the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay changed their default email font to century gothic to save the ink, the environment, and most importantly, money: 30% greater text-for-ink efficiency is a lot, since printer ink costs about $10000 a gallon.


I've also heard, but found conflicting arguments, that dark coloured webpages save energy. Whether they do or not, mine's dark because I find gentle lights and dark backgrounds easier on the eyes.



This is super awesome: Loband is something like a browser-in-a-browser (perhaps not an accurate description) written by a bunch of really smart guys one of whom I saw speak at this class (which is really awesome and welcoming to audit-ers and not-MIT / not-students). It's neat because it allows an internet user to load all of the content of a webpage text-first, and then waits for instructions to load pictures, sounds and flash...

Okay, I figured it out. It's a service that's run on a high-bandwidth server, to be accessed by users in low-bandwidth areas. It filters websites requested through the service down to their core content at the server before sending it to the user, reducing the amount of information that needs to be transmitted. As the name suggests, this allows for efficient and judicious use of bandwidth in situations where connection speeds are low.

The original business idea was for a whole bunch of high speed servers running loband in Europe-near-Africa and Asia-with-internet-near-Asia-without, allowing users in these countries better access to the internet, and easing congestion in those networks. I can't remember who was supposed to pay for it-- perhaps internet providers in those countries, who benefit from less traffic? I don't recall, but I do remember it made a lot of sense when I heard it.

I don't know how that worked out. In any case, Loband is a useful card to have up your sleeve.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stormy weather

For the third day today, it's raining men (I wish!) cats and dogs here in Ubud. I put a glass out yesterday to measure the rainfall, and I got a centimetre in about ten minutes(!).

On the way home, I lifted my scooter onto a deserted sidewalk to get around a road that had a foot of water on it. The flooding flushed the gutters out, leaving trash in the street, and making everything smell really terrible. Many roads had an inch deep stream of (brown) water sweeping across them. It had a certain charm to it.

Here are some brave souls fording the river directly.

Best investment I've ever made is a super waterproof messenger backpack, also known to be used by deep sea divers. Fortunately (and unfortunately), it's much more waterproof than my rain jacket and pants.

When I got back to the glass this morning to measure the total yesterday's rainfall, I found it overflowed (over seven centimetres of rain). I didn't get so wet riding home today. Like they say, yesterday was dramatic, today is okay.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Drawn onward to new era

This is (part of) the view from my office, and it doesn't really do justice to how amazing the view is. It's stunningly green, and the volcanoes are, in reality, huge.

After working for and talking to Ewa and Toshi at Kopernik here in Ubud, I'm getting a clearer picture of what exactly they're trying to do. There isn't really a simple explanation for what it is.

Kopernik works to address a couple of issues. In the first domain that they work in, they connect communities in developing countries in need certain types of technologies with companies or organisations which develop and produce innovative technologies, and finally with corporate donors and crowd-funding opportunities (where many donors each contribute a little to a specific project).

This gives poor people access to progressive, innovative and necessary technologies and products (which are often inaccessible because of cost) such as solar electric systems and water purification devices. Kopernik also provides support and advice to communities implementing projects. This spreads knowledge about technologies through the developing world and also connects companies to potential markets.

A key aspect of this is documenting the projects, and gathering comprehensive information on the outcomes and effects of introducing technology and projects. This allows experience to advise the design of future projects. Comprehensively reporting the impact of the projects that donors and supporters made possible is very important, and it helps to inform and engage people outside the field to support projects and learn about the impact of technology on the lives of the poor.

Kopernik not only connects companies to markets and communities with solutions, but also fosters communication between the organisations, businesses and people working on development challenges in low income countries. A big problem, I hear, is that "development" (a word and name I'm not terribly comfortable with), is a very closed industry, where there is little participation from people or other industries outside it, and where even some organisations within it don't talk to each other.

Kopernik wants to change this by being a marketplace and a hub for technology as well as for people, and by involving and engaging people outside the field to learn about and support initiatives in developing countries. Ewa and Toshi are both veterans of the UN, and another reason they are going this route of connections-en-masse and decentralised operation is because it is much faster and more responsive than the bureaucratic and sluggish UN.

We're making plans now for me to spend a couple of months, maybe? in East Timor, working directly with projects and communities Kopernik already works with, and introducing a whole bunch of new technology and programs. Yikes!

I wake up early everyday and ride a scooter (unfortunately, it's too far and the roads are too dangerous for bicycles) to Ewa and Toshi's house (aka Kopernik head office), where we type furiously at computers, sitting on a deck that hangs off the side of a hill facing a river and a countryside dotted with loads of coconut trees, hills (volcanoes?) in the distance. Simply amazing.

I've never owned or rented any kind of motor vehicle before, so it's here in Ubud that I'm buying gas for the first time in my life, a surreal experience. Gas must be really really well subsidised by the government here or something, it's about half the price of gas in the US. Probably in no small part because my scooter gets something like a hundred miles to the gallon, I pay about a dollar (no joke), a week right now for gas.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yo soy del barrio

I often feel at home and confident in places before I'm actually familiar with them.

I have working maps in my head of so many little cities and places around the world...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fried rice paradise

Ubud is amazing and a stunningly beautiful place. Perhaps I say this because I do my best to stay away from the main road where all the bars and restaurants and swanky hotels, where all the sunglassed, sweaty tourists hang, which I guess is still gorgeous, by tourist trap standards.

Still, I'm thinking of the Ubud where the road is narrow, houses, shops and warungs (roadside eats) creep onto the sidewalk (that's barely there at all) and vines, bushes and trees and vegetation of all kinds grows over the buildings, trying to take over the street and block out the sky. Behind the buildings, it's thick jungle, or swaths of rice fields. Everyone here is brown (I need to work on being browner).

The architecture here is amazing. Houses have these awesome pitched roofs that slope on all sides but end in a flat top -- sometimes in tile and sometimes with straw, and sit on a flat concrete or raised earth slab, with very square, compact designs. Multi-storey houses keep their awesome roofs, and are stepped, a little bit like Japanese houses or Chinese temples. Families live in these awesome little compounds where houses sit next to each other on their platforms, with little prayer altar arranged all around them. Any space that isn't a house or an altar is groomed as a garden, with stone slabs to walk on, grass, and flowers and decorative bushes. Chickens, cats and sometimes rabbits run around the garden, children play, and brightly coloured birds sit in cages. The whole compound is walled in, sometimes with intricate patterns on the walls, and ornately carved entryways. It's charming and intensely beautiful I'm really not doing its beauty justice with words.

people live here! real people live here. Isn't it beautiful? I don't think any of the people around these parts are particularly rich, but their family compounds are all just really nice, a lot of carved wood and nice artwork. My theory is that so many people live in the same compound that the combined amount of money they can spend on it is quite substantial, and that they've lived in it for so many generations that they've had plenty of time to put some shine on it.

People are really friendly and smile a lot, people I've had extended conversations with are also extremely nice and really interesting. It's funny how in Cambridge, it was rare for me to meet someone who was local, whilst in Ubud, it's rare for me to meet someone who isn't. People also ride scooters around town with crazy abandon, weaving and overtaking all over the road, riding in the wrong direction on two-way and one-way streets. The food is very goreng (fried), but tasty, well portioned and nicely arranged, and the weather is a few degrees cooler, because Ubud is a little higher up in the hills, than the rest of Bali.

The first evening, I walked to a little hole in the wall warung, the kind of place the local boy at my homestay tells me he would go to eat at, and I walked by a small terraced paddy field tucked away in someone's back yard next to a plot of bananas and a little pen with hundreds of little ducklings in it, coconut trees shading everything. How's that for an urban garden?

Ubud is in grave danger! Already there's a Starbucks on the main road, with word that a McDonalds is on the way. Most of the shops in town are very shiny and polished, may selling upmarket clothes and perfumes and things that you could find anywhere else, really. There's even a fish spa, a nutty Chinese or Japanese idea where the customer puts his or her feet into a tank and fish nibble on them. In pandering to western tastes, Ubud is losing its architecture, its local food and all its charm and culture, fast.

I blame it on the tourists. I think tourism is a great way to bring money into a country and create business, but it's sad what lousy tourists can do to a place.

keeps things curious

After a little internet hunting, I found one person in Ubud who dances tango. Two days after landing in Bali, I found myself in a strange room dancing tango with a complete stranger I had never met before, and it felt strangely comfortable and even habitual, I almost took it for granted.

It's pretty amazing to find something so familiar and delightful in such a strange place, to discover this kind of common language that exists between two people who understand the same thing (be it music and movement, or art, or food)

I'm just a little partial to tango because it is such an wonderfully tangible and immediate experience.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Unforeseen protractedness

A blog in four parts, that is much longer than I had initially intended
Cake will be awarded for guessing the title theme

The End
My last days in Cambridge were a storm of good times and good people: playing ultimate frisbee for the last time, going out to Gwyn Jones's in Carlisle again (this time by train), seeing all of my favourite people in town, going to a couple of great milongas (tango dances), Bikes Not Bombs, and Daf and Laura conspiring to bake me a birthday cake (it was a really sweet surprise-- it's never happened to me before).

Life was so grand I almost didn't get on that aeroplane.

Carry That Weight
Singapore is as weird as ever. Aside from the excellent food (which I keep hearing is stolen from Malaysia, and is better there anyway), there's not a lot to like about it here. I've always found it a socially/culturally trying place, and have a hard time doing all the things I want to do, that I can do in a place like Cambridge (for example, get around by bike. Singapore is a TERRIBLE biking city).

Leaving my personal life out of the equation, I compiled a short list of reasons to hate Singapore. Whilst these don't (or rather, have not yet) affected me, I have an intense philosophical and principled problem with them.

One party system: If you've ever looked at (for example) the democrat/republican squabbling in the US and thought to yourself, "hey, what a bunch of fools," get this: Singapore has had ONE party in pretty much absolute and dominant power, since its independence. It's called the PAP and its priorities are, in no particular order, control, stability, and image (trading for it the human rights enjoyed in most high-GDP highly educated countries). Hence, all the counter-critic action, all the population control laws (see below) and all the gerrymandering (the government routinely changes voting district boundaries in order to ensure its MPs are elected) and regulations on smaller opposition parties to ensure that they will never be able to compete with the PAP.

Freedom of assembly: Singapore used to limit-nay-deny the freedom of assembly by requiring a police permit for gatherings of more than five people. In 2009-ish, it changed to require a permit for any outdoor gathering that was related to any cause. In January, 2009 they arrested a two-man protest of the unfair treatment of and earlier protest of the Myanmar government during their whole constitutional referendum debacle.
Get this: the new bill also allows police to stop people from filming law enforcement "if it could put officers in danger." This is the worse confusion of reason I've ever heard used to create an unconstitutional policy.

Freedom of speech: Singapore has severely restricted freedoms of speech. It's got a speaker's corner, modeled on the famous one at Hyde Park in London, but be damned if you think you can speak your mind there. Here's a fun little article that demonstrates how absurd things can be.

Freedom of press: Follows freedom of speech as abysmal. Examples are pretty easy to find on the internet

Black Bagging: Singapore's Internal Security Act allows the government to arrest and detain individuals indefinitely without warrant or trial. This piece of legislation is a relic of 1960, where it was written to control communists (which is unconstitutional in and of itself, might I point out). It was used more liberally in the 1960s through 80s to control social activists and opposition parties (which is grossly inethical, might I point out). It has even been used as recently as June 2010. Whilst the details of the recent case are unclear, I must point out that there is absolutely no reason to detain anyone at all without trial. It is against any constitution and every human right.

Here's the icing on the cake:
Charismatic churches (pastor disaster, ha ha!): In recent times, Singapore has experienced a bloom of swanky churches, where mass / service is attended by a highly unrepresentative population of, on average, extremely wealthy people. They donate (as is recommended by the bible, and I hear, quite well enforced by the church) a tenth of not just their salary --Chinese businessmen are too savvy for that-- their net income, from assets and from paycheck. Their pastors drive Mercedeses and BMWs, live in big houses and often own a number of others. I don't know how they can go along with churches that are basically donation clubs for rich Singaporeans, let alone trust their BMW driving pastor's guidance.
A recent investigation uncovered extremely sneaky means by which church leaders are able to circumvent laws and regulations to benefit from these donations. It involves the church making large donations to other churches, outside the jurisdiction of Singapore law, such as in the Philippines (as an example, and not to pick on them in any way), with the catch that they must invite the pastor to speak at their church, for which the fee is, say, half of what that large donation was (Singapore can't force the church in the Philippines to hand over information on the transaction). And for the church in the Philippines of a million dollars is a lot of money, and half is better than nothing, eh?

and, I almost forgot- put this in your pipe: Singapore has one of the highest income disparities in the world, on par with many African (politically corrupt, might I add) countries. Its neighbours on the big list? Burundi, Kenya, Iran and Nicaragua. I guess this is not so far off from the USA, where taxes and other policies that have favoured the rich for generations. From recent Singapore newspaper articles I've read, the poorest people here are starting to find that they make less than a living wage.

It's clear that my ideologies differ from the leadership's in some pretty fundamental ways, but is this the kind of place anyone would want to live in? If they had a choice? If they were well informed? All the information I used to write this (besides floating in my head) is easily available in open channels, and on the internet. I think that people are on the whole well suppressed and well misled, coddled with a bit of comfort and had the wool pulled over their eyes.
Singapore's really well developed economically, but really needs to wake up and grow socially, culturally, intellectually, and all the other -allys they've missed.

Through the Bathroom Window
Singapore's got a great little theatre scene, in which they make fun and jest of and generally celebrate the precious little culture of and little big news and happenings around Singapore, sometimes even poking fun at the government. And it's surprisingly good, with loads of original music and lots of Singapore in-jokes. It usually makes me smile and laugh.

Living inside Singapore's great little theatre scene is Singapore great little gay theatre scene.

In a country where not only is same sex marriage not lawful, but where there is still an "unnatural sex" law that prohibits homosexual sex explicitly and homosexual relationships implicitly, there is a thriving gay club scene, as well as a gay theatre scene where some very gay plays (featuring some very prominent local celebrities) take on the issues of being gay in Singapore in really big ways. Often funny, sometimes very poignant and sad.

I'm super proud and appreciative that they dare do this in Singapore, and that they pulled it off so well. Every show I've been to has been packed.

What really earns Singapore a special place in my heart (at this moment, as much as I hate to admit it) is the tango. Tango in Singapore has been so much fun: people have been really friendly and welcoming, and dance very well. Singapore is also one of those rare places that (I know from personal experience) men will dance with men (it's quite common for women to dance with women, it seems/I hear). Why is this important to me? I started to write but it got long, I'll explain this another time.

When I dance in Boston, I usually never stay til the end of a milonga, but the first night I went out dancing in Singapore, I stayed out til two in the morning (way way past my bedtime). It was just great-- I couldn't leave.

Why is this important? It's a hint that I can find something I like doing, and something that makes me happy, anywhere, even in Singapore.

Friday, September 3, 2010

pots and kettles

I was at Chicago O'Hare airport on my way to Singapore when I saw a political ad on the telly accuse Obama's administration of policies that destroyed jobs and favoured large corporations over small businesses (what I thought was a classically republican move).

Every other word I hear in democrat AND republican propaganda alike is "jobs", and the other word(s) is(are) "small businesses." So, does this mean that both republicans and democrats are trying to create jobs and to spur the growth of small businesses? Whilst they accuse the other party of destroying jobs and small businesses?

Are either of them doing anything other than slinging charged words at each other? Will we ever get to the bottom of this?

This might be worth reading.