Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sundays from Singapore: Adventures on the MRT

Orchard Road, the main shopping street.


Had a very busy day today, learning to ride the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) subway. And ride we did! Today, I wanted to show the girls how they would get around to the shopping they might want to do, so we headed out for the free trolley at the mall across the street. It is a cute little trolley, the interior being wood paneled with stained glass transoms. A bit like SF cable cars. I, of course, stood poised at the right hand door, ready to beat the locals at their own push-and-shove game, only to have the left side door open. Drat! I would have to exit on that side to hit the sidewalk instead of becoming roadkill, and had to hustle to get on. The trolley waits for no moron!

After alighting at the Marriott, we made our way through the pedestrian underpass to the MRT station. Wisely, I had read up in the expat handbook that I needed to buy a transit pass to ride either the MRT or the buses. These people don't trust just anyone with cash, so even using a public phone requires a prepaid card, which can't be bought anywhere near where you are.

Smugly, I waited my turn in the queue to buy the passes, and felt superior to the poor schlepps who only wanted to buy a day tourist pass or a one-way fare. That, I knew, had to be purchased at a separate machine, which only accepts $2 bills and coins. with cards in hand, we headed for the platforms.

I have to bless the government of Singapore. If I had been in France, I would have been jostled and smooshed to death trying to determine where to go and how to stand, all the while being pummeled with insults I couldn't understand.

Here, a large color-coded map showed the routes, and advised one to note the final destination for the direction you wanted to travel, It was even kind enough to remind the hapless traveller to "get off at your intended stop." Thank you! With only 2 directions on this particular line, was sure I could do this, and show my children how savvy I am.

The turnstiles are like those in Washington DC, sucking in your card, opening the stile, and spitting out your card once you have passed through. They even tell you how much money is left on your card!

Riding the subway was a pleasant, easy and clean mode of transportation. We rode 1 stop to the south to go to the post office, 5 stops back to retrieve the phonebooks of gold, and 4 stops back home again.

News stand in Holland Village, a quirkier more local venue.

Lim's in Holland Village... great treasures, gifts and furniture.

I've decided that the postal system is one part convenient, but the rest is simply hateful. The convenient part is that no matter where I want to send a letter outside of Singapore, it's $1S. Cool. I'll buy stamps. The hateful part is multifaceted.

To start with, I can get my mail delivered to my box downstairs, That's good. Sometime during the day, a truck pulls in and tosses the mail bags overboard. Later on, a guy on a scooter comes by and sorts it into the proper boxes by wadding up and cramming the letters through the little swinging slots in the box. You can tell who is not at home, because their mail is sticking out of the box like the hair on "Wilson" in the movie "Cast Away." Nothing like getting your bills and having them look as if an orangutan has dragged it through the jungle on its was to you. Maybe I should mash and stomp on the outgoing stuff, too, just so it's even.

The envelopes here either open at one short end (kinda cool, maybe I can be like Johnny Carson and rip the end off and blow into it!) or it opens on a long side, but on the bottom! Turn over a piece of business mail, and the smaller flap is on the bottom. How do they load the paper in and tamp it down before sealing? Do they slide it in, then jerk up sharply and hope it settles in place before gravity takes it's toll? I'll have to see if there is an instruction manual for this somewhere.

The there is the issue of outgoing mail. There isn't a slot in the group box for it. What? Turns out, you have to march yourself down to the post office if you want to send something. Remember when I said that I crossed the street, took the trolley, bought the MRT card and travelled 1 stop to the post office?? Bingo! The newspaper reports the postal system (there's probably a Minister of Mail somewhere) is bemoaning the fall off in business as a result of email and Short Messages on the handphones (cell phones.) I bet they can't figure the problem out, either.

As for me, I will continue to email, pay my bills online, and toss out the Christmas cards. I never get around to sending them out, I just keep buying more and thinking I'll start earlier. I must have 15 years worth of the things.

Tonight, I will tackle the phone books, widely regarded as a wealth of information. There are three of them; the residential white pages (don't need much there...i don't know anyone,) the yellow business pages (could be hepful), and the also- yellow buying guide. Does this mean i can't buy from businesses that aren't in that one? Also included was a small book on police procedures and practices. Hummmm.

Good night all, and happy reading.



Penny said...

Love the orangutan comment! Creates a great visual as well as you stomping on and squishing your mail before sending it out!

Celticspirit said...

Neat Pictures! Did you ever get the Christmas cards sent out?