(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Singapore



I’m on a flight from Singapore to Doha as I type. We’ve been hanging out with Liz and visiting the city/country for a bit over a week. It’s about 3am local time and we have about seven hours to go. Kiran is asleep on my lap. Priya is several rows in front of us with Kinaya, hopefully sleeping. 

Kinaya enjoying a cooking show at 30,000 ft.
I admit that I knew little of Singapore before coming. I had fully intended on doing some research and learning about the history, as I normally do before I travel. In this case, the flurry of work and parenting was too much for me and by the time I saw the words “Welcome to Singapore”, I knew not much more than the average limited-travel-to-Asia layperson. I knew that it was colonized by the Brits. I knew that there was a brief romance with Malaysia before stepping out on their own as a city/nation. I had had a quick look at a map to see where it was in relation to the rest of South Asia but that was about it. Oh, and Liz had told us it was clean, expensive, orderly and had lots of things to do and wonderful things to eat. 

the boat tour of Singapore
So we hit the ground running. Liz is changing jobs so the timing worked well. She was able to take us around and show us all these cool things. We began by doing a little boat trip around the harbor. The country is an island and apparently has the largest port in the world. It was good for us to cruise around and get a general idea of what it is about. 

Bird's eye view of the city from the Flyer
The country is big on land reclamation. I looked on the web and the exact area of land reclaimed from the sea but it’s a lot. One figure was about 70 square kilometers. This is impressive and important to a tiny country. It’s costly too. Some of the earth was dredged up from the sea and some came from wiping out some small hills. They don’t have a lot of options. The other thing is that reclamation is limited. Current technology allows you to reclaim land no deeper than 15 meters so it’s not as if you could just keep on expanding your land mass. Another challenge is that in a tight little neighborhood of countries, there can be concerns of infringement on other territorial waters. And finally, reclaimed land is particularly vulnerable to the rising sea level. In any case, I find it impressive and they seem to have done some well thought through things with the new land.
rainforest tree bridge

Over the eight or so days that we were there, we went cycling; we visited a Disneyland-ish island called Sentosa; we went up in the Flyer (like the Eye of London but, much to the pride of Singaporeans, is apparently slightly bigger); we swam in the beautiful pool at Liz’s apartment complex; we ate tons of fantastic food; we enjoyed the air conditioning of shopping malls; we had reflexology done to our feet; Priya had little fish eat calluses on her feet; we went up and down escalators (to Kiran’s delight); we tromped through a rainforest during some decent rain; we toured the city by day and by night; we visited an amazing aquarium; we hosted a barbeque; we even fit in some furniture shopping towards the end and, in addition to stuff that Liz bought for her move to Nepal, I bought a teak chair (that folds and was checked in with our bags, hopefully going to arrive in one piece).
Liz and Kiran cooling off in the pool

With our travel woes in the beginning (which you’ll notice I refrained from mentioning this time – as bad as it was), we wondered at moments if the long trip was worth it. In the end, there is no question that it was. Liz was a wonderful host and it was good to hang out with her. It’s always good to see people in their own element, see where they hang out, meet their friends, etc. Looking forward to Nepal.

my family - enjoying the fishies

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Uptick in Violence



I’m currently on a flight from Bujumbura to Nairobi. It’s a relatively short flight and can be quite beautiful when it’s clear. That’s not the case today.

I’m a bit behind in my blog postings. As usual I’ll try to methodically catch up.

A few weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon we were at home with the girls. Saturday tends to be a day guided by routines and, if I remember correctly, this day was similar to the others: gym workout (me), beach, lunch, nap, tea, play, dinner, bed (girls), happy hour (parents). At some point around tea time we heard the popping of gunfire. If you read this blog much you would know that this is not an unfamiliar sound in Bujumbura. However this was far earlier in the day and a bit louder than normal. The other oddity was that it went on for over a half hour and there were occasional sounds of some sort of explosives going off.

I went outside to listen and see if I could get a better idea where it was coming from. In my role it’s also important for me to know what is going on since I may have to guide my security focal point regarding communications to staff and determining any sort of actions that need to be taken (informing people to stay home or at least avoid certain areas). 

An exchange of text messages with my security guy confirmed where it was and what was going on. An opposition protest had gone awry. Rocks were being thrown. Tear gas was being used to disperse the crowd. Two hostages were taken (but were later released unharmed). The shots being fired were mostly directed into the air (fortunately) and though scores were injured, no one was killed. 

The elections are still more than a year away and there is some serious positioning going on. Violence was anticipated but it’s starting earlier than most had anticipated. Opposition as well as the ruling party are sending signals. No question that the government is putting the hammer down. In the aftermath, a couple dozen protesters were given life sentences. Yes, that’s what I said. A bunch of young people who got carried away are now doomed to spend the rest of their lives in a dingy, hellish prison. The message is clear to the opposition. My hope is that once the point is made, once the dust has settled on the elections, that level heads will prevail.