March 14th, 2006:
If you are an English speaker, you'll be glad to hear that English is the primary language used in Singapore. This country was formerly part of Malaysia so Malay is spoken sporadically, as is Mandarin (Chinese) due to immigrant workers, so it is a good idea to know at least the basics in all three. For example, saying "Ni hao" (its Mandarin, it means "hi" in English) to a bar girl was enough to earn me a free beer!
Due to the multiple languages, TV was a varied affair with Malaysian cooking programs on one channel and wacky Japanese gameshows on the neighboring channel. While some of these shows had questionable taste, it was an American show which took the biscuit, so to speak, on questionable content: the show consisted of eight obese people competing to lose weight(!) The slow-mo's of the contestants running on treadmills should have been enough to convince the producers that the show was A Bad Idea, but apparently not. Still, after wading past the Sumo wrestling and the brain numbing Chinese soaps, I did find the Australian program Home And Away which proved a useful study tool for learning the many Aussie colloquialisms : I now feel confident that I can "throw a shrimp on the barbi"; its also good to know, having studied the program, that if I ever go back to high school, I can spend the day in the coffee shop and also that it never, ever, rains ;)
A curious thing you'll find, if you travel to Singapore, is the emphasis on the military. The first radio show I heard (in the taxi from the airport) was sponsored by the Navy, TV ads promote various different branches of the military and billboards giving the benefits of military service are displayed alongside ads for computer war games. Conscription is used here, so every able bodied youth must spend at least 2 1/2 years serving their country. I had thought that Ireland's lack of conscription was the norm, but having visited countries in other parts of Europe and now also Asia I can see that its the exception.
Saturdays and Sundays are the wedding days in Singapore: there were four separate weddings in my hotel and peering out of my room window over the nearby hotels confirmed that all were jammed with wedding parties. I had never seen an Asian wedding before and was expecting to see the guests in traditional looking formal wear. Sadly, though, there were no flowing Samurai outfits(!) and even the bride wore a traditional western white gown. I tried gate crashing one of them but being the only Westerner made me stand out a little and "Ni hao" only gets you so far... If you want to be more adventurous with your Mandarin, you could try the far more advanced "Ni hao ma?" which means "How are you?". Just hope that they don't reciprocate the question as answering a question in Mandarin is beyond the scope of this tutorial(!)
Last tip: if you are looking for a place to take some good pictures of the Singapore skyline, there is a handy viewing area across the river from Raffles Hotel. I only spotted this in the taxi on the way to the airport, but hopefully you'll get a chance to use it if you are in the area.
So, that ends the thoroughly enjoyable Asian part of the trip. As I write this I'm relaxing in a plane flying to Perth drinking Champagne/sparkling-wine, watching a cloudless Indonesia pass by below and looking at the Oscar nominated "Constant Gardener". Qantas so far has been flawless, although there were a few dodgy moments at the airport when my Aussie working-holiday visa was being checked as it hadn't been correctly associated with my passport by Australian Immigration: one quick phone call sorted out the problem and they confirmed that the visa was aok. The native Perth-ians (?!) I was chatting with at the airport have given a nice long list of things to do in Perth so hopefully I won't be too bored there...! Well, I will be arriving in a couple of hours (its a five hour flight... urgh...), so its Sayonara Asia, G'Day Australia!