May, 2008

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Bangkok by Metre

Use a metered cab—make sure it is metered!

This is obviously good advice. And like most good advice I’ve received throughout my life, I chose to ignore it. At the Bangkok airport, taxi stand in sight, I ducked through the revolving doors and toward the pavement. Within two seconds I felt like the prettiest girl at the prom. But these people didn’t want to dance, nor did they want to admire my bright, shining smile . . .

“500-baht!” shouted one man, placing his outstretched palm so close to my face that I read his future. It was thus: You will not be receiving my 500-baht in this lifetime.

A less anxious man next to him quoted the same figure, adding, “Where you wanna’ go?”

I pulled out my printed sheet with the picture of my destination. “Asia Hotel, please.”

“What? No way!” He and the anxious man laughed, their entire bodies jiggling with glee. It was the kind of laugh that slaps you right in your face. “That too far. I lose money for sure. Now for 800-baht, I take you to hotel.”

I tried to act like I’d done this before. “800-baht is too much.” I looked on as the Singaporeans who had flown with me jetted off in metred taxis. Meanwhile the two men rattled off a number of figures, each an attempt to justify their price. I pretended not to listen. After flipping on my sunglasses I began to proceed on.

They followed, but a third man equipped with a clipboard stepped up. “700-baht and I take you to your hotel. Have nice taxi just for you.”


The man drew a “7” with his finger. “700-baht.”

“No thanks.”

“Your hotel is so far away, much further than other places, plus there is huge airport charge. 600-baht is low as can go.”

“Funny, because I hear metered taxis go lower. Oh,” I said, looking forward, “there’s one now.”

“Wait, sir. They very slow. My taxis treat you right.”

“Treat me right for 500-baht.”

The man looked exasperated. “Come this way please; 500-baht.”

Pleased with my first haggle, though aware that clearly I was being played whether I liked to think so or not, I agreed. I followed the man and his scribble-addled clipboard across the departures traffic where upon he passed an invisible baton to an older man who I was then to follow. Already this was less fun than I imagined it. Into the trunk of the man’s Volvo did my suitcase go, with me following likewise into the rear passenger seat.

One wonderful feature of this car was the pristine, untarnished seat buckles. This made perfect sense when I noticed there were no seat belts to accompany them. It turned out not to be an issue. The man drove slower than paint dries whereas I had always heard the reverse was true of Bangkok cabbies. But he was an amiable chap. He mentioned that before long a train would be built connecting the airport to the city proper. “When comes, I no good anymore,” he said, chuckling at the prospect. “I look for another job already!”

I finally arrived at my hotel, a little later than I presumed but no worse the wear. And I had conducted my first bit of haggling, regardless of being royally screwed. At least it was consensual. But a larger problem loomed: the word was out that I could be easily had. Every hoodlum, trickster, and money-grubber in Bangkok was on notice. During my first jaunt out from the hotel I was confronted by a heavily tattooed man in his 50s, cigarette dangling from his mouth, who claimed to be raising money for the Boy Scouts of Thailand; a young woman who praised my watch and then claimed she had access to expensive jewelry for very cheap (“Buy now cheap and soon resale value go higher!”); and a dapper-looking fellow wearing an Alfred Dunhill leather café racer jacket who didn’t really need my money but, hey, if the stupid Caucasian was just giving it away, why not give it a try?

I am so not going there . . .

I could take no more: I needed a disguise:

This would have to do.

Not! This outfit would only attract more attention—and the kind I definitely didn’t need. But this goes to show what lengths I’m willing to go to just for a cheap laugh . . . or a cheap cryyou decide.

Speaking of which, I came across several transvestites during my stay. This isn’t an entirely uncommon thing to see in the United States, even in the more conservative Midwest region in which I live. One difference, however, is that the transvestites in Bangkok give the women a run for their money. Thai people are generally quite attractive but, darling, their transvestites are simply duh-vine.

But though Thai-trannies are the more attractive and hygiene-conscious, I’m positive Ameri-trans could whip the mother-lovin’ crud out of them in a fair fight. I say that because in a fight between real women, I always bet on the one with hairy legs.

Yet never did I run into a prostitute. Or, rather, never did a prostitute make herself known to me by way of a proposition. I’ll admit disappointment. I had tons of witty verbal comebacks planned for just an occasion but alas they never had the opportunity to be sprung forth. I guess I’ll have to save the witticisms for when the next time a stray dog attempts to hump my leg.

However, the bright and amiable schoolchildren of Bangkok definitely knew how to rock:

The future of the world is in good hands.

UMPCs. Oh my… so kawaii!!!!

Notebooks have to achieve balance between weight, battery power, performance and form factor, and as satisfied as I am with the two notebooks I use, the want to carry around PDA-sized and truly portable and light notebooks is always somewhere at the back of my mind.

So, one of the technological developments I’ve been keeping an eye on has been the production of UMPCs, short for ultra mobile PCs. These notebooks utilize smaller screens of 9-10 inch or smaller, very small form factors (with semi-cramped keyboards), very low-powered processors, and typically without optical drives. Asus for instance produced the wildly popular EEE PC last year and sold a couple million units, and has followed it up with a newer model that retain the original’s diminutive size but increased the potency of the unit’s hardware. And best of all is the price; just $760.

I can imagine a couple of uses for it right off. For starters, it’s small enough to carry anywhere, and has the necessary connections for Wireless@SG. During vacation, one can use it to store and check on photos taken. E.g. even though the 3 inch 900 pixel screen on my D300 helps a lot in checking on pictures, an LCD screen – even a 9 inch one – will help loads more.

Notebook manufacturers besides Asus for certain have all realized the potential of low-cost, budget UMPCs, and are all coming up with their own models. MSI is just about to start selling theirs and HP has theirs out for a bit already. This is going to be really interesting to watch.:)

More CPL foolin'

More fooling around with the B+W circular polarizer filter coupled with the Sigma 10-20mm lens. This quick shot was taken at about 2 pm just outside the living room window over the last weekend, and at 20mm focal length.

The sun wasn’t at exactly 90 degrees to the picture’s perspective, but cloud accentuation is certainly more visible than during the Pulau Ubin shots.

Larger picture here on the usual photo album.:)

Lost Luggage and Found Cake

The day before my departure for Bangkok went by more quickly than I anticipated. Yang and Ling each had busy days, and I once again whiled away the morning at the The Rivervale awaiting word on the status of my misdirected luggage.

Sunday at the airport’s Lost and Found offices, the representative told me my baggage would arrive from JFK to Changi early Monday morning and to expect a call to set a time for delivery. Monday when I called their baggage-trace hotline the person on the phone told me with confidence that my luggage would arrive Tuesday morning. When on Tuesday my baggage did not arrive and the service respondent assured me Wednesday would be the day of delivery, I took a trip to Singapore Air’s offices on Orchard Road to speak in-person. (This was a great excuse to take in the sights, do some window-shopping and grab something to eat.) I was quickly put at ease by the service representative who, during his phone conversation with the trace hotline, practically cracked me up as his needled whoever it was on the other line. “If you do not receive your luggage tomorrow, sir, call and demand compensation. Here is my name and my card.” Fair enough!


On my way home I stopped at Guardian to grab some hair conditioner. Even in the U.S. my senses fail me when browsing through the health & care aisles. A misstep is bound to occur, and before I know it I’m in the feminine hygiene section before reaching my intended destination. In Singapore, however, I can feel the weight of clerk’s and attendant’s eyes as I wander aimlessly through one aisle to the next. So unlike in the U.S., here I’m content to ask for help.

I approached a man in his twenties busy with stocking what appeared to be bottles of shampoo. The hair conditioner could not be far off I reckoned.

“Excuse me, where is the men’s hair conditioner?” I asked.

“Ah, no idea,” he said. “Cannot English, lah.”

I smiled. “It’s okay, I’m sure I’ll find it.”

I turned to inspect the products to my left, but the conversation didn’t stop there. “Could be there,” he said, pointing to the upper shelves on our left. “Or even be maybe down there.” He pointed down toward the bottom shelves on which sat bottles plastered with images of smiling Asian women, their hair soft and glossy. His English was better than he thought.

“Okay.” I kneeled down to inspect his suggestion.

“But cannot English. So sorry.”

“Sure, no problem.”

“I speak Chinese only.”

I nodded politely as I scanned through the selection before me.

“Is just a matter of practice,” he said, placing the last of the stock from his basket on the shelf in front of him. “I must learn to apply myself.”

I felt like saying “Han na!” Clearly his English was better than that spoken by some of my friends in the States! After reciting a Shakespeare sonnet in perfect iambic pentameter, he broke away to the back office. Meanwhile, I settled on searching through the feminine hair care products looking for something neutral in scent. A lady from the counter approached me.

“You need help, sir?” From her tone she sounded like no problem was too large to conquer.

“Yes, I’m looking for hair conditioner. I can’t find anything that doesn’t smell like fruit.”

“Oh,” she said, kneeling down to join me, “you want to smell like fruit?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head, “not like fruit. These all smell like strawberry, papaya, or apples.”

“Okay. You want natural?”

That was the word I was looking for. “Definitely.”

“For dyed or treated hair?”


“For damaged or thinning hair?”

This gave me pause. “No,” I said, reluctantly.

“Then this, perhaps?” She grabbed a slim, plain-looking bottle from the shelf and opened it part way. “Smell, please.”

“That is so natural,” I said. “I’ll take it.”

It turns out the product brand is Asience, its motto: For Progressive Asian Beauties. Now I might be progressive, but I am not Asian, much less a beauty. But this goes to show how even buying hair conditioner in Singapore for an ang moh can be an amiable little adventure.


Only on Wednesday, a full 72-plus hours after my arrival to Singapore, did I receive my luggage. That meant the small gifts I bought Yang and Ling had arrived, too. Now these were very, very small items, mere tokens of appreciation, some of which included fridge magnets. Yes, you read correctly. Yang mentioned before I left for Singapore that he and Ling were in the process of decorating their refrigerator, so I donated six thematically dissimilar magnets to their cause.

However, I couldn’t just come bearing fridge magnets. So I also bought a heavy Mario Batal Italian cookbook and Blade Runner Collector’s Edition on BluRay. I’d need more, though. While killing time in Compass Point during the morning of my arrival, Yang commented on how much Ling liked the macha macha cake at Bread Talk. (He in fact bought her the exact same cake for her birthday.) I had to admit, it sure looked good. This would be the perfect show of appreciation.

But I had little time. Yang and Ling were set to arrive home quite soon, and with my departure to Bangkok looming near, this would be my last opportunity. So I ran to the Buangkok MRT terminal, boarded the train, minded the gap, alighted in Sengkang, and rushed through the brief link to the mall. Happy, happy. I had plenty of time, though I’d need be delicate when transporting the cake back to The Rivervale. The human traffic was particularly high, so I took no chances—I’d walk from Compass Point mall back home.

Only upon arriving home and placing the cake in the refrigerator did I remember what I’d forgotten: gift wrapping and a Thank You card. I sprinted back to Buangkok MRT, boarded, forgot about that stupid gap, alighted once more in Sengkang, and stood in line at the basement-level grocery store with an armful of gift wrap.

But when I got back home I had no time to apply care and consideration toward the wrapping of the gifts. If I was a skilled gift wrapper like Ann, perhaps I could’ve managed, but I’m a complete novice. And beyond that, I was sweating like Oprah in front of a buffet stand. So into the gift bags did the presents go, with the gift wrap crinkled and stuffed haphazardly behind them, and loose ribbon dangling festively from the opening.

All in all, it felt great giving gifts. I should do it more often. In fact, to haul all the stuff I bought in Bangkok back home I’ll have to buy another luggage bag.

But no macha macha cake—too messy.

Pulau Ubin . . .

. . . AKA: The Mosquito Coast. Or so I’d been led to believe. So ferocious are the mosquitoes of Pulau Ubin, so insatiable is their thirst for human blood, that local custom demands that an ang moh devour a fried carrot cake before the clock strikes eight in the morn, thus ensuring the bumboat captains and all their passengers safe passage to their respective destinations. It turns out I was the man for the job. So after ducking into the seaside food court and doing my part to prevent unnecessary calamity (and having fully digested the delicious carrot cake and accompanying sides) the three of us hopped aboard an able captain’s bumboat and chugged across the watery gap to the island of abandoned rock quarries, Pulau Ubin.

The trip shore to shore takes but five to seven minutes tops, but the mosquitoes were particularly feisty. Reports poured in through the newswire warning of a frenzied mosquito swarm capsizing seafaring boats. We were sitting ducks. Yang’s shoulders were but temporary placeholders for his chin, his head swiveling rapidly side to side. Panic was in the air.

“These bastards mean business,” I said, my voice breaking. Yang didn’t respond; he was in full-on sentry mode.

With great fortune we and nine accompanying lucky souls arrived at Pulau Ubin. Other bumboats and crew, we were informed, were not so lucky. But in the spirit of adventure we sought to make good on their sacrifice, to explore where those ill-fated could not. But first, Yang and Ling sprayed and liberally rubbed each other down with insect repellant. Having indulged in the fried carrot cake only a half-hour prior, I declined such measures, believing fully in the prophecy.

Within minutes we found ourselves riding merrily atop our rented bicycles, darting with careful consideration and much precision through the morning traffic consisting of fellow bikers, near-sighted truck drivers, and oblivious tourists traipsing by without a care in the world. Yang, already on edge from the mosquito scare, began exhibiting signs of road rage.

“Careful,” I said, trailing behind as we ducked through the horde, “it’s been practically forever since I’ve ridden a bike.”

“Oh *&%@!,” he shouted back, “once you learn you never forget!”

Judging by his reply, it was too late to reason with him—he’d become unhinged, though not without his logic faculties. Yang alternated between colorful swearing and brief, corrective lectures as he bulldozed his way through the ignorant masses. Moments later the crowd parted in half to make way for the irate bicyclist and his cavalcade. As we passed by the cowed and quivering onlookers, I was only too proud to be among his party.

From that point onward it was nothing but smooth riding—if not for those blasted hills. Worse yet, Yang and I were quickly running low on soul coal though Ling showed no signs of slowing. “Where does she get that kind of energy?” asked Yang, squinting ahead as his bride breezed over the horizon.

“She’s trying to outrun the smell of that insect repellant,” I said between desperate gasps for air. “Hurry, or we’re going to lose her!”

With loving mercy Ling accepted our pleas and allowed us the occasional breather disguised as photo-op. Before long we barely attempted to cover up our lack of stamina.

“Look,” I’d say, “a rock I haven’t seen yet.”

“Oh,” joined Yang, parking his bike, “that’s no ordinary rock.”


“It is very rare indeed. I’ve only read about ones like this in books.”

“Should we get a picture, you know, to document our find?”


Snap. Snap. Snap.

Meanwhile the ever patient Ling rode in circles up and through the hillside, popping wheelies and soaring over potholes.

And speaking of potholes, as expected, there were plenty. A short while into our trek our bums were quite tender, and the jostling from the bumpy off-roads was nothing compared to meeting an unexpected crater in the paved roads. With every nerve-wracking, brain-numbing

During one particular stretch of road, something strange occurred to me. Sensing the unusual, I quickly turned around to head in the opposite direction. “What are you doing?” Ling asked as Yang took the opportunity to gasp for air.

“I’m heading back,” I shouted. “I think I missed a pothole on our way down this hill.” Sure enough I had, but this was easily remedied.


Perfection attained, it was time for a break.

We committed ourselves, feet to the ground, to a stroll along the beach-sprawling, wetland-dissecting boardwalk where we took in lots of sun and the infrequent wildlife sighting. Eventually we arrived at an observation tower, the top of which promised an imposing view upon the island. To reach such lofty heights, however, one must proceed to the giddy little top of said tower by way of the old reliable staircase.

“Where’s the lift?” asked Yang, his voice a study in mock incredulity.

Ling could only sigh. “Dear!”

But to the top we ventured, thinning oxygen and quaking legs be damned. The view was quite good, though nothing spectacular. There’s something about spying down onto the very tops of trees that feels wrong, like peering directly down at a balding man’s head. One should, above all else, retain dignity and duly allow others do the same. Still, we were in no hurry to descend those mother-loving stairs. It was about then that I spotted the cautionary sign which informed us that the maximum load was twenty people. We were a good ten to fifteen over the limit already, with more gaining every minute.

“Great” Yang said, “maybe I won’t have to use the stairs after all.”

Soon after we collected our bikes and decided to call it a day. We careened over the hills and through the ever increasing crowds, returned the bikes, boarded and survived the return bumboat back to the mainland, and, upon returning to the air-conditioned comforts of home, breathed a sigh of relief. Not one of us had experienced a single mosquito bite, much less succumbed to malaria, and we persevered where others, sadly, had failed.

If there’s one thing I learned from my day in Pulau Ubin, it is this: for the repelling of mosquitoes, choose fried carrot cake over insect spray—not only does it taste good, but it smells better, too!

Photographic toys

Here’s a picture of the equipment that Matt brought me, alongside a few other items I’ve picked up in the last month.:)

From left to right:

  1. Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR Zoom Nikkor Lens
  2. Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens
  3. B+W 77mm Circular Polarizer Filter
  4. Hoya 52MM Circular Polarizing Filter
  5. Hoya Pro1 Digital 77mm UV Filter
  6. Hoya 52MM UV Filter
  7. Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash
  8. Nikon D300 with Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM Lens

In addition to the above, there’s also been a dry cabinet to keep all the optical equipment in a fungus-inhibiting environment, and a Tamrac Adventure 7 camera bag.

As remarked in an earlier post, the Sigma 10-20mm lens is incredibly fun to use. And despite review notes elsewhere that the lens build quality isn’t impressive, the lens feels sturdy enough for me. It’s not as though I’ll be tossing the lens around anyway. The SB-600 speedlight has worked well too over the limited flash shots I’ve taken. Interestingly, at default settings and bounce, the flash output using the D300 + SB-600 is far less harsh than my old Konica-Minolta 5D + 3600HS flash unit. I haven’t played around with the 55-200mm lens, but there’ll be opportunity soon enough at my institution’s family day at the Singapore Zoo next month.

With the above, I’ve pretty much gotten everything I need or want, except perhaps a bounce card, a 50mm prime lens, and a ball tripod; all of which are fortunately going to be a lot less expensive than the items above.:)

Singapore 1, Matt 0

Well played, Singapore. Not only at the end of each night did you relentlessly stuff me until I waddled back to The Rivervale like a cross-eyed duck, but your strategy of playfully misplacing my luggage for over 72 hours was a nice touch, the disarming blow that made your initial victory possible. I bow to your tactics and intend to come back from Bangkok poised for sweet revenge. But know this: I still weigh .4 kg less than I did when I arrived. You have much work to do to win the war of the bulge, as I’m prepared at a moment’s notice to skip the MRT and opt instead to run to and fro to destinations, unsightliness be damned.

I know—during my last visit I was smug. Yang and Ling, armed with the knowledge that I ate like a wild hog tied down to a buffet bar serving fresh slop yet still left for home in November 2006 weighing less than I did when I arrived, have stepped up their game a notch.

With little to no sleep and no luggage, my merciless hosts escorted me to Banquet at Compass Point late Sunday morning. I thought it was simply routine when they plunked down a tray heavier than my carry-on bag stuffed with camera contraband upon the seating table. Its contents: roti prata, and a lot of it. It was then, studying their expressions and devilish grins that I realized I was the victim of foul play.

Knowing full well that I would have no other recourse than to scarf it down, chasing it with a cup of teh tarik—and do so with a smile, thank you very much—my hosts had played a card from a truly fiendish hand.

I was overmatched.

And then even dinner at Yang’s mum and dad’s place, a truly lovely gesture for which I am eternally grateful, was the site of unfair treatment of this particular ang moh, feeding into the very nature that may ultimately serve to destroy him.

Yang’s mom prepared the most appetising and visually drool-inducing spread of Asian-style food I’d ever seen in person, yet even this incredibly gracious and hospitable gesture was, in fact, yet another attempt to stuff the ang moh until he could do nothing but submit to the wholesome goodness of homemade Asian cuisine.

At least I was not alone. Yang and Ling were also victims of the very methods in which they wished to delude me. On the ride back home the three of us were so full we took turns tapping each other on the back, burping each other so we could fit into the elevator back home.

So Mrs. Foo, you deserve to share this victory alongside your country. I humbly bow to your expertise, and only hope I may prepare myself for our next encounter. Even your leftover beef rendang over sliced bread, which we ate the next night, decimated any chance of my bounce-back victory on Day Two. I am no match for you! The score for now:

Singapore and Mrs. Foo 1, Matt 0. (Yang and Ling are at approximately 0.5 by my scorecard, so I have the chance to catch up.)

Ultra-wide angles

One of the best things about having an ang mo friend is that every time he comes by to visit, I go wild at Amazon and order all the lenses and accessories I need and have them sent to him, and he’ll bring them over to Singapore. These things are much cheaper than if you were to buy them in Singapore, even if you include GST charges and the like. Moreover, Nikon honors international purchases of their lenses and accessories, so there’re no issues with warranty cards either.

Of the four items that Matt brought me this time, the item I’d been most looking forward to is the Sigma 10-20mm f/4.0-5.6 EX DC HSM. There’s quite a number of reviews for this lens, most of them very glowing e.g. this one, one or two of them less kind (e.g. Ken Rockwell’s). But all at least agree that the lens is very wide-angle, and great value for money for its span. I haven’t shot much with ultra wide-angle lenses like these before, so getting one and bringing it for the Pulau Ubin shoot let me have a lot of fun.

The lens is as good as it’s advertized, reported and reviewed. At 10mm, cropped factor not withstanding, there’s an amazing amount of stuff you can cram in. There’s a fair amount of barrel distortion, some of which I have to correct in Photoshop, especially if there’re persons in the shot and they’re not entirely dead centered. E.g. Ling looked real funny in one of those pictures shot at 10mm at the Pulau Ubin’s visitor’s centre. Colors turn out pretty well too, nicely saturated, and best of all, there’re no issues with sharpness for my needs. Ok, not as sharp as a prime lens, but I don’t blow my pictures up to poster size, and I don’t do much software cropping either.

The one thing that hasn’t turned out well though is uneven polarization with the B+W circular polarizer filter. Outside making sure that the sun is angled across my shoulders, there isn’t much I can do about this though, since it’s a matter of physics. The stuff is widely documented and commented upon, with two opposing views here and here. Those B+W filters sure are expensive, but they’re investments and can be reused with other lenses. And as long as I’m modest with how much I rotate the outer rim and don’t shoot at the widest angle, the uneven polarization isn’t too bad.

Here’re two shots from Monday’s trip to illustrate what I mean. The first one was shot at 18mm and is about OK, the second one at 10mm experienced slightly uneven polarization.

Day Zero: Ang Moh Direct

Carry-on luggage, Lowepro CompuDaypack: 15.4’’ Dell laptop, Nikon D40 w/ kit lens, 80gb iPod classic, 8gb USB flash-drive, Samsung A-737 handphone, printed e-ticket, and accompanying itinerary—all mine; also containing: Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM Lens, Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G VR Zoom Niikor Lens, Nikon SB-600 Flash, Hoya 52mm Circular Polarizing Filter—all Yang’s.

You see, my trip to Singapore just isn’t as fun without bringing contraband into the country. And if you don’t consider someone else’s camera equipment contraband, then you simply lead a far more interesting life than I do and you would then do well to indulge my fancy. After all, I’m a frisky ang moh, defiant to the last breath. I’ve even been known to jaywalk. However, I’m no fool—I leave the peg leg and eye patch at home so I don’t look too suspicious. I’m sure I belched out an occasional pirate-like “Yar!” while traipsing through the airports, the weight of the piracy hanging from my shoulders a small burden worth bearing, but no one appeared fazed. And as I marched through the 3rd terminal at Changi International approaching the customs queue, chest puffed out and unruly smirk glued to my pasty-white face, I felt obliged to chuckle. This is just too easy, I thought to myself, these guys are complete amateurs.

It was but a few moments later, while standing in queue at customs and waiting for the old, officious woman to eye me like the perpetrator I aspired to be before pecking her little stamp upon my passport, that I the Changi intercom screeched: Mr. Matthew McGee, who just arrived from flight SQ25, please blah blah blah, buh-blah blah number two.

Again my poor hearing fails me! Hoping that Changi officials haven’t asked me to go to the restroom, I tapped the nearest person, an elderly Indian fellow with kind eyes ears just as bad as mine. “Sir, did you hear what that message said for Mr. Matthew McGee to do?” I asked, placing my hand upon my chest to drive home the point.

He smiled, revealing fewer teeth than a hen has sense. “You,” he said, poking his finger in my chest, “Mr. Matthew McGee, who just arrived from flight SQ25, please blah blah blah, buh-blah blah number two.” I winced. He shrugged. And within minutes that smug customs agent pecked both our passports with that tiny little stamp of hers. Soon after, we were all strangers again.

But as I stood at the baggage claim for minutes that passed as slow and as long as a hog passes wind—or so I am told—without a glimpse of my luggage making its giddy little rounds along that filthy conveyor belt, an intense feeling of dread overcame me. That old Indian fellow gleefully extending an obnoxious wave goodbye as he galloped through the Nothing To Declare checkpoint, suitcase in hand, only drove home the point: I’d been played like a sucker.

The latter half of the airport paging message now suitably decoded within my miniscule brain, I headed to Lost & Found, not so much to find my luggage, but instead to recover my dismal self-image. There they explained Singapore Air had misdirected my checked luggage to Timbuktu, and, I gotta’ tell you, I ain’t never going to Timbuktu, luggage or no luggage. How did my luggage end up anywhere else but Singapore? No one’s saying anything. Only that it will arrive tomorrow morning. So, $S 120 wealthier and one bag of compensatory amenities later, I moped through the Nothing To Declare checkpoint and collapsed in Yang and Ling’s arms, defeated but still determined to make good on my mission impossible: To make the drop of camera contraband before the authorities were on to me. Clearly I am a trooper.

And I did. They, like the tattered remains of my deflated corpse, are now in Yang’s hands.

To be continued . . .

Checklist – checked

Ling posted up a checklist of things to do when Matt was in Singapore, and the foodie items for him to try out. Here’s the current report after Day 2.:)

  1. Paranakan Cuisine: laksa (Katong of course!), nonya curry, mee siam, rojak, popiah, kueh kueh, otah, etc
  2. Chinese cuisine: dim sum (e.g. xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung), clear soups, congee (Crystal Jade’s), Hainanese chicken rice, duck rice (A* coffee shop), steamboat, shrimp dumpling noodles (Rivervale Mall’s Foodcourt), beef hor fun (Casaurina Rd), fried carrot cake (Shi Fu coffee shop), fried kway teow, fried rice (Din Tai Fung’s), chilli crabs (Jumbo’s), fried Hokkien mee (Punggol Plaza foodcourt), mee swa, three layer belly pork.
  3. Malay cuisine: mutton / beef rendang (my mother in-law’s one is good), satay, nasi briyani, nasi lemak, lontong, mee rebus, mee soto, mee goreng, etc
  4. Indian cuisine: Roti prata (Compass Point Banquet – the best!), naan, teh tarik, teh halia, etc
  5. Thai cuisine: green curry, mango and glutinous rice dessert, red rubies, sweet tapioca, etc
  6. Local fruits: durian, mangosteen, malay apples, etc.
  7. Bak kwa
  8. Jasmine Green Tea, chrysanthemum tea.