Singapore February 2012

That I was ready to leave Singapore after a few days despite it being the most American place in Asia suggests I can’t leave the USA long term. While I still love rice and bean paste as much as the next chio (I learned this term from a Singaporean and do not understand exactly what it means or even what part of speech it occupies but I feel prepared to use it anyway since who cares, it’s not a real word, and since many Asians don’t speak English grammatically I should be cut some slack in speaking Asian slang incorrectly) and while I think chopsticks are simply a superior food (and countless other objects!) handling instrument, I think Asia is crazy. Maybe this is just what happens when you view a society from the outside. Maybe if I objectively walked around the USA I’d notice the things the average American does that I disagree with and therefore would deem crazy if I thought about. In any case, the Singaporeans I talked to agreed that certain things about Singapore were singular.

For example, going into the casino made me feel poor, the opposite of how being in Asia is supposed to make you feel. My Singaporean friends said the Singapore casino made about half as much as all of Las Vegas and that it’s primarily used for money laundering. Although I don’t care for systematically losing money, we decided to check it out because our hotel connected to the casino and there was literally nothing else to do in Singapore at this time. There was a line almost out the door of Singaporeans waiting to pay the $100 entrance fee. As foreigners, we were allowed in for free. At the first table, we learned a game that seemed to have several “decision points” where you are choosing between options of increasingly negative expected value. Although the history of how the dice etc had been rolling was being recorded by a computer and displayed on a confusing screen, people seemed to be diligently making their own records by hand as well.

We were randomly putting down the minimum bet of $50 when Rei said, “Are those $1000 chips?” I looked down and a man had just bet $10K. What was happening? Was this somehow a high roller’s table? My confusion grew as this man proceeded to win like $30K in the next few hands. “We have to just do what he does, he clearly understands something we don’t.” Rei said, “Look, he only bet $4K this time, he’s varying his bet size.” By mimicking the man and betting when he was betting his max size, we won a few hundred bucks. Then he left the table with his entourage of an old, tiny Indian woman and other Indian man, probably annoyed by how we were so obviously watching, imitating, and talking about him. From that point on, I monotonically lost money. Getting to fold a card while slowly lifting it to identify it was about as exciting as it sounds. Casinos suck.

On Orchard Road, there were 6 or 7 Louis Vuittons on the same block. I don’t know how Asians spend so much money on crappy expensive stuff but often seem to lack any sense of taste. The light brown and tan Louis Vuitton bag is objectively ugly, and it’s the one everyone buys. Is its ugliness its appeal, like when people buy those extremely ugly hairless crested dogs with the tongues and eyes lolling out? Or is it a really functional bag, and these women are buying it because it’s really good at organizing your makeup? Or is it like a peacock’s anti-signal, an “I’m so rich and gorgeous that I can buy this expensive, ugly bag and yet still be considered rich and gorgeous?” China was probably worse than Singapore- in China people would be wearing solid gold bling and the pendant would be some Hello Kitty-looking figurine. Maybe New Yorkers have spoiled me with their sophistication and fun, confident stylishness. While in Singapore, I missed NYC. I missed America.

But while I’m in the USA I miss Asian food. In Singapore we ate so much good food. There was a spicy crab that I could probably eat every day for a long time, and for someone who values variety as much as myself, this is high praise. Because I hadn’t gotten the new iPhone yet (I had the same phone for 3 years) and was in one of my phases where I didn’t exist on the Internet, I did not photograph every meal (I have begun photographing my meals on tumblr because what else am I going to put on tumblr, and I want to know what this whole photographing your meals movement is about. Who knows, maybe it’ll pay vast dividends in a few years and then I’ll understand why Asians do this). In fact, the only photograph I took was of Zac and this tea kettle because I had been furnishing my new apartment and this kettle looked unique.

Other than eating, I enjoyed the night safari because I love animals, and I bought some manga with Samir. Asian comics are cool because unlike macho Western comic books they have cool girl characters and even female protagonists. To illustrate another East-West difference, when asked to sort Battle Angel Alita, Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon, and some female shogun manga in order of maturity rating, Zac got the order exactly wrong.

In Singapore I learned some important things. One of them had to do with Chinese people running successful capitalist economies while executing people (what a great euphemism) (TQ said like 10K people a year in China though the real # is classified), caning people (Alex described them gauging out your flesh, then sending you to the hospital to heal for 3 months before going for another round), and taxing stuff paternalistically (alcohol tax based on % alcohol, 100% car tax).

Another thing I learned had to do with how rich these Asians are. I don’t know how they’re that rich. Aside from investments and entrepreneurship, there are many possibilities. Maybe they had made billions off Chinese versions of Facebook/Amazon/Google and thus got rich off Chinese protectionism (there’s already a Chinese Pinterest, still waiting for them to come up with a censored Chinese Dropbox). Maybe they are real estate moguls. Maybe they are in politics. Maybe they are royalty. In any case, understanding there’s so many billionaires out there made me realize there’s no reason for me to do anything that doesn’t make me happy. After my mom died, I realized I had no more Real Problems. Anything I put my hand to, like teaching my cat to use the toilet or running a company, would not be a Real Problem. Until the next crisis, all the solutions I’d work on would be work of my own creation, lower-case-‘p’ problems (unless I decided to pull an Eliezer by personally internalizing humanity’s struggle and having a showdown with human mortality or something).

Anyway, these rich Asians made me realize if I’m going to be doing something just for the money, I might as well get plastic surgery and marry one of these billionaires. Since I have no desire to do that for billions, being unhappy for anything less than billions is a waste of time. I guess this was my understanding of the adage “you can never make as much money as you can marry.” If you’re not willing to marry a rich guy for billions, then you care about more than money, and if you care about anything other than money and you already have enough money to function, do stuff that makes you happy.