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16 September 2014

Singapore '09 and Singapore '14

I'm going to Singapore again. I thought I'd seen enough of Singapore five years ago to sate me, in favor of exploring other countries in the world before I die, but MB is going to be in Singapore on a Liberty Port, so Singapore is where I'm going. Again.

The original Liberty Port destination was Hong Kong. So I bought a ticket for Hong Kong. Luckily, I planned to be away for about three weeks, so when the port was moved to Singapore (farther west and thus farther into the future on the calendar), it was just a matter of having to buy ticket to Singapore. (Cheaper than buying a ticket from California to South Dakota.) And why not? It's not like I saw *everything* when I was there last. Although, since I did see quite a lot in 2009, I won't be in tourist-mode hyper-drive, and the visit will be more relaxed. Poor MB can get lots of hotel-and-sleeping-in-a-real-bed time. As much as he wants, maybe. So I will be in Hong Kong for a couple of days, and then I will fly to Singapore. And then I will fly to Bangkok (yep) and journey to wherever else I have time to visit in SE Asia (via bus, via plane? who knows?!?! modern infrastructure in SE Asia is the limit!), and then I will fly back to Hong Kong (maybe another day or two there if I missed out on anything a couple of week previous), and then I will fly home.

Also, I expect to see J-Dawg in Thailand. Yay!

...So that is my big news. I'm excited. This time I'm fairly certain my passport is in order.

While thinking about my upcoming trip, I reviewed a couple of the blog posts I wrote about the first Singapore experience. I was a much more prolific blogger back then, but I also happened to be extremely busy (with trips to Two Harbors, MN and South Dakota, then San Diego, and then the whole business with moving to California to be with my boyfriend and taking a Great Western Road Trip en route), and I never got around to writing much about Singapore. So I thought I'd post a bunch of photos of the trip. And then when I post more photos of Singapore II in a couple of months, we can all laugh about how much younger MB and I look a mere five years earlier, and it will be sooooo funny and totally not depressing at all.

our hotel room

This was our room. Even though it was after midnight when we arrived at the hotel, we still ran around the room, bouncing everywhere, playing music and drinking champagne. (At least, that's how I remember it.) When I went to take shower (international plane ride), MB insisted I take a glass of champagne with me. (Because...decadence?) Of course, I promptly dropped it in the shower. Glass went everywhere. Party time. The next morning, I woke up in a way I've never woken up, not up until then and not even five years later: my head was at the foot of the bed, under the covers, and my feet up by my pillow. I don't toss around much when I sleep, I don't sleep walk or talk in my sleep, either...this was seriously weird. At first I thought it was because I was on the other side of the world, but the I remembered that Singapore is still in the Northern Hemisphere, by one degree. So how did I get turned upside down?

grape gulp

When I stepped out of a cab into the Singapore midday sun for the first time, I was shocked by how oppressive and HOT it was. One degree above the Equator! So I had to do things to keep cool, like go on a boat ride, and tour an air-conditioned museum, and buy this grape pop in a mall.

the rules clearly state

Whoops I failed to take a photo of the herds of cattle roaming through the skyscrapers of Singapore in a vain attempt to traverse the Cavenagh Bridge.

how things used to be

We did stop in the Asian Civilisations Museum for an hour or two because it was being blasted on the inside by air conditioning. Luscious, wonderful air conditioning. The photo above is my photo of one of their photos on display, a recording of what the Singapore River used to look like: covered in houseboats and trades-boats. Before I arrived in the city, I thought I would find the old river culture intact, just like when I traveled to Chichen Itza and I thought I'd be able to climb the pyramids. Wrong on both accounts. My knowledge of the world is apparently derived from National Geographic magazines from the 1960s.

I love how even-handed the recounting of history is in the ACM. Here's a transcript of the display:
The 1977
Clean Rivers Project

The Clean Rivers Project was initiated by the Ministry of Environment in October 1977. The $200-million scheme aimed to alleviate the pollution of the Singapore River and other waterways over ten years.

Apart from the physical challenge of cleaning up hundreds of tons of debris, there was the awkward job of changing the River's entire social, cultural and economic landscape. Seemingly overnight, long-time denizens of the Singapore River - lightermen, shopowners, food hawkers and residents - had to comply with new stringent regulations or leave their waterway. 
The removal of the lighters
On 31 August 1983, the last 300 twakow (lighters) on the Singapore River were piloted out to new berths in Pasir Panjang. The removal of these key elements of the riverscape brought its history as as a trade waterway to an end.

Their absence only accentuated the Singapore River's new silence and stillness. People felt the loss keenly: the boats and the Singapore River had formed a natural whole, their fortunes intrinsically linked. They were, as one lighterman put it, like the scales on the 'belly of the carp', the auspicious nickname for the crescent formed by Boat Quay. Remove the scales, and the fish would die.

In 1987, the Clean Rivers Project ended on a resoundingly successful note. Its success was commemorated by a mass swim in the Singapore River. The old waterway was officially clean.

But the River had lost more than dirt and debris: the tide of change had also washed away its thriving, vibrant history as a trade waterway. By comparison, its newly-cleaned water now also appeared characterless and sterile.
under Cavenagh Bridge

Here is a view of the historic Cavenagh Bridge, taken during the aforementioned riverboat tour. The ACM was not kidding about the sterility and quietude of the river. It was still pretty, though.

approaching the Merlion

The Merlion! The halfway point (at which the boat turns around and heads back to the origin point) of our riverboat tour was the Merlion, a representation of the "national personification" of Singapore. The lion part comes from the name Singapore, "Singa" for lion.

Classic Singapore Skyline

Another view of the Merlion, with Singapore's famous cluster of downtown skyscrapers in the background, and the historic Fullerton Hotel on the right.

together on the river boat

Here we are at the end of the tour! There were only two other riders - a man and his son. We drank Tiger beers during the ride (that MB hid for the photo). I think someone was selling them next to the ticket stand for the tour.

satay snack

Room service, at one point. I was craving satay and a Coke, and MB was craving more Tiger beers. They cost a *fortune* at the hotel.

portrait of us

Dinner at one of the restaurants in the hotel. MB kept ordering champagne for us because he had no idea how expensive it would be to move me to California in a couple of months. It was cute of him, though.

Awwww... We were so teeny and adorable back then!

first Hindu temple sighting!

On one of the days, I insisted that we walk through Little India. Turns out, I *adore* Little India.

Hindu Dudes

Hindu statues. I tried not to be too touristy with my camera (as far as a white, wide-eyed, Western woman can attempt to not be too touristy in the Little India section of a SE Asian city), because Little India is just people living their lives. Except for a few trinket shops, there wasn't a commercialized section dedicated to hawking watered-down representations of Little India to the gullible masses.

Little India five foot way

This is a "five foot way" in Little India. Many of the streets in this quarter are built this way, with five feet of depth from the first floor overhanging the ground-floor, providing shade and cover for the sidewalk.

offering

An offering. (This is common - we saw offerings everywhere. I promise this wasn't just someone's unattended lunch.)

five foot way

Another scenic five foot way.

Amanda and Marty snacking

As we were wandering further away from the main Little India thoroughfare, it suddenly started to rain, and we didn't happen to be in a five foot way. So we decided to duck into a quiet restaurant for what the menu advertised as "traditional Singaporean fare." (Looks like I'm drinking a Coke again. I can't explain it - I don't drink pop in my everyday life, but I craved Coca Cola most of the time I was in Singapore.) Regrets: That we didn't eat at an Indian restaurant?! Also: That I didn't note what kind of traditional Singaporean fare we snacked on. Luckily, I am getting another chance to do such things!

Raffles Hotel Singapore Slings!

Later on the agenda: Singapore Slings (because duh) in the Long Bar at the historic Raffles Hotel, the originator of the Singapore Sling.

Fun Fact: Singapore Slings taste like cough syrup. Historic, colonial cough syrup!

fans in the Long Bar

Historic, colonial fans in the Long Bar.

Marty and Singapore Sling

Mmmmm!

(This was before MB had fully cultivated his "MB loves" expression. He wasn't used to my constant camera-ing yet, and he was in love, aw.)

difficult to fit in the frame

Here is the Civilian War Memorial in Singapore. During the WWII, the British lost Singapore (a British colony at the time) to the Imperial Japanese Army, after the Battle of Singapore. Horrors ensued, which I will only link, because they are sad. The four pillars represent the four ethnic peoples of Singapore.

Amanda and Singapore I

Amanda, with downtown Singapore and the Merlion, and The Fullerton in the background

c'mere!

Coercing MB into a couples' selfie, above. He had to report back to the ship after this day, and I had another day in Singapore on my own, before flying out myself. (The embarrassing reason for my abbreviated visit to Singapore is discussed in the link above that refers to my passport being in order.)

giant trees on Orchard Road

And here's the other day in Singapore! This is Orchard Road, a huge thoroughfare filled with giant, multi-level malls - on every block. That's right. Not a mall. Not "a couple malls." A mall on every block. There are other significant buildings - I remember passing the Royal Thai Embassy.  But the malls made the biggest impression. And the trees. Those massive trees! I gaped at the trees, wondering if they'd been planted when the road was constructed (they must have, since they are uniform to the road), which couldn't have been too long ago, in tree-time, as Singapore was a mere fishing village in the mid-19th century. (That the British snagged for its valuable location in trade purposes.) And had the trees grown so large, so fast, because the natural state of this part of the earth is "jungle?"

How to get up to the park.

These photos are just highlights. After wandering, stunned, down Orchard Road (and buying a few things, what the hell why not), I found a subway station (subway as in USian underground train) and figured out how to "work" the fare and the riding of the train. I took it to Fort Canning, the mound of land that forms a large park in the middle of the city. Here is an escalator one can use to travel into the park.

SAM across the fountain National Singapore Museum

But before exploring the park, I decided to hit up a couple of museums. No need to choose between the Singapore Art Museum and the National Singapore Museum when you can go to both! And they were both pretty great. SAM features a respectable collection of modern art (including the heart-emblazoned tanks in this post). The National Singapore Museum contains a thorough history of everything about Singapore, ever. It was extremely interesting (apologies for the vague superlatives), actually, and I again admired the even-handed recounting of uglier details, such as the sad history of prostitution in the city, which was illustrated with an interactive display, including models of humans in replica shacks, and recorded voices telling these women's stories. However, the second museum was so thorough, I wasn't able to look at absolutely everything, and still catch some daylight for Fort Canning.

Fort Canning Park is for Lovers

Fort Canning is for lovers. (I'm not going to post more Fort Canning shots. It's a park with trees and grass, fashioned on a large hill. You get it. Pretty though.)

Fort Canning Park Self Portrait

Oh, I guess this self-portrait is in Fort Canning. The sun wasn't working with me, but there I am! City in the background.

Singapore Cat Things are everywhere.

These are statues featuring Singa, The Courtesy Lion! I looooooved Singa The Courtesy Lion. He was everywhere. He was adopted as part of the "Singapore Kindness Movement," which I also love. The Singapore Kindness Movement! Doesn't that sound wonderful? And a little culty? It's not a cult, though, it's a non-profit that was started by government officials. And what are the goals? To influence people to be gracious, kind and considerate to each other. That's so...lovely! I love it so much.

Alas, alas!!! While looking up Singa The Courtesty Lion again for this post, I discovered some alarming information. Singa The Courtesy Lion QUIT. Seriously! He resigned. From his resignation letter:
I suppose it's about time. After all, I've been doing this for over 30 years - first, as the Courtesy Lion, and more recently, as your mascot for kindness. I'm just too tired to continue facing an increasingly angry and disagreeable society.
WHAT. Whoa! I hope everything is okay and that people still care about being kind! Singa said it's time for the mascot to step aside and for real people to step up. This all sounds sensible, but I'm a believer in the power of symbols. Why not have kindness statues everywhere reminding people to just BE NICE to each other? Hmph. Maybe people are just annoyed with them.

I'm not, though! Singa resigned last year, but I hope I still see him when I visit.

the backs of buildings

ANYWAY. After Fort Canning, I walked through the city toward Chinatown. Here is a cool photo of spiral staircases in the backs of buildings.

Food Street

Chinatown was packed with the usual tourist trinkets, fish mongers, lights and colorful paper and cloths. When I'd toured the whole business, I hit a street filled with hawker stalls for more satay - which was infinitely better than the hotel satay, so much so that I was quite surprised - and more Coke.

satay chicken, peanut sauce and Coke

It was my last night in town.

And there ya go. Singapore recounted, a mere five years after the trip!

03 September 2014

happy to start the clock

MB is gone. His ship has deployed. We've known this was coming for the last five years, and though I imagine the ample time for preparation must ease the bearing of the separation, it's still a drastic change. Which is to say, things might be a little more emotional right now, had we less warning. Five years actually, is a healthy, generous, lucky amount of time to have lived together without having to live apart, thanks to a deployment. Immediately after this current tour is complete, he owes the government another sea tour. We don't know yet on which ship, or which port, but it's possible that soon after he ends this tour (which will approximately align with the end of this deployment), his next ship could be preparing for a deployment, or even in the middle of a deployment. That's the next possibility we think about, in order to lessen the blow.

I've been... Well. Not verbose! There has been a bit of up and down, but I'm giving myself a pass for the last week of August. It's okay if I spent most of it watching The Simpsons marathon on FXX and starting a new fantasy fiction series and not cleaning and not running and mostly not leaving the house. Interspersed with pacing and freaking out and thinking and thinking and thinking. And some crying. It's okay, if I think of September like the start of a school year for me. It's time to be serious now and get my shit in order. It's down to the less awesome newer seasons of The Simpsons, anyway.

We're glad the deployment finally started, though. I noted that I was relieved to end the "fucking anticipation of it," and MB agreed that he was "happy to start the clock, finally." (Last Autumn he kept fretting about how "I'm going to be leaving on deployment soon!" and I would exasperatedly remind him that 11 months is not soon. He was finally allowed to start worrying about it again in my presence around April.) This summer has been so strange. A series of Preludes to Deployment. First he was gone for six weeks from May into the second week of June. Then a two-week break in South Dakota and Oregon at the end of July, into August. Then we had visitors. And then we had a few days to prepare MB. He didn't want a going away party ("just another thing to worry about") and when it came down to it, he didn't want to be away from the house. On the last night before he left, I packed his bags while he grilled burgers. We ate bacon cheeseburgers with all the fixings in front of Jeopardy! Peaceful. Then I "fixed" iTunes on his laptop and put a bunch of music on his iPod. Half "here is some cool new music you might like" and half "well okay here is also some 90s rap."

We were being nice to each other on the morning the ship left. He didn't complain when I announced I needed us to stop at Starbucks on the way, and I didn't complain when he drove in the farthest right lane on the interstate all the way. We drank coffees and shared a chocolate croissant. The ship wasn't due to leave until 11 AM, but MB had to be there around 8. Apparently families hang out with sailors and officers on the ship, on the day the ship leaves for deployment. I didn't know this ahead of time, but at least I felt less awkward walking him on the ship, helping to carry bags, in my civilian skirt, tank top and sandals. He wanted to start work, but not overtly hustle me outta there at the same time. So we busied ourselves for a few minutes unpacking his stuff. Then I made him take a couple of photos. Then he walked me off the ship and we said goodbye.

MB in his state room. MB and AM

During the walk on and off the ship, he talked to a few people about things that needed to be done that morning. I could feel his excitement to get to his to-do list. The job is demanding and stressful, and for those reasons, he sometimes puts on like he hates it. Except for not having more free time, I'm skeptical that his attitude toward the job is so adversarial. Especially after seeing him on the ship that morning. The prospect of a huge, important job, full of problems to solve, and hundreds of busy days on the horizon? The feeling of being instrumental to an organization? The mental satisfaction of accomplishment in one's work? Solving problems feels good. Busy feels good. Feeling valued by your organization feels wonderful. These are amazing feelings. We should all be so lucky to have work, and work that makes us feel like that. Observing him, I felt happy for him, and proud that he's not a slacker, and a little..."I want what you have" jealous.

The separation is not fun. The complete loss of physical affection is grueling. But the scariest part for me is also the main advantage for me. It would be too painful to try to write about how dark it is to have endless free time at one's disposal, in a lonely city. Just trust me on that one. MB broke up my time. He helped the hours of a day mean something. He provided a distraction that also allowed me excuses for procrastination. But now I have to deal with myself. Or, yay I have all this time to deal with myself! Whichever. I have a to-do list. It's just a matter of doing it. I did take the first few steps during the last week, even though it was still August. The next trick is embracing this September thing, and making myself live a schedule.

And no, for the love of god, I don't want to detail my to-do list for you a party full of people I barely know and mostly don't like. People who are only harassing me about it because they are too boring and uncreative to think of anything else to ask me about! (One thing on the to-do list: make friends with people who aren't in the military. Which isn't against military people so much as it is a protest of the military habit of socializing with people for the sake of socializing, and not because you necessarily enjoy these specific people's company. God I'm sick that whole thing.) The list is full of a tons of stuff! STUFF. Like, I made a series of appointments to get my health resources in order. (I'm fine, but it's inconvenient if I ever have to go to a doctor and I haven't even chosen a PCM yet.) Plus, dental. Ugh, dental. Also, career stuff. (I guess it's okay Blogosphere, I'll tell you about my list.) Running stuff. Reading stuff. (I am 11 books behind in the GoodReads 2014 challenge, but I WILL catch up.) Organizing my boxes full of scrapbooking stuff. And um, then scrapbooking. (Whatever it's awesome.) Etcetera.

...I think I am going to be okay. And MB will definitely be okay.

There will also be a reprieve during the deployment. A trip that I will be taking in the Autumn. But I will write more about that later. For now, I will end this post with the photos that MB demanded not two days after the ship left port: "pics of Cleo being cute."

Cleo likes foot pets.

Cleo under the kitchen mat

sleeping Cleo

These ones did the trick.

18 August 2014

Like it or not, sex sells!

I nearly injured my eyeballs a moment ago - from over-rolling them - as I read some random internet comments at the bottom of an article that questions why actresses must frequently take their clothes off to generate publicity, while their male co-stars are allowed the dignity of clothing.

"Like it or not, sex sells!" I can't think of a more irrelevant thing to say. About anything, in the history of things to say about stuff. "Sex sells." Ugh, seriously YOU ARE SO BRILLIANT. Tell me more! "Women's naked bodies are more beautiful than men's naked bodies." GO ON. "Men are more visual than women." Stop, stop...because my mind? BLOWN.

Sure, sex sells. Criticism of the objectification of women's bodies (along with criticism of the porn industry) is one of those weird zones in which Feminists sometimes overlap with some social conservatives. But whereas the latter group aims to restrict women's sexual empowerment, and thus disapproves of any depictions of sex, which 90% of the time is represented by a woman's body, Feminists argue that dehumanizing women, by turning their bodies into objects, is a disempowering tactic that alienates women from their own sexuality. Patriarchal culture teaches women that their bodies are not their own. One need look no further than the controversy over reproductive rights that is happening in this country (and all over the world) to see that. Whether a fully-developed human woman has less legal rights than a zygote, is a thing that's actually being debated. It's gross. So after taking the photo below, I had to think about what caused the instantaneous feeling of revulsion and disgust that I felt, when I first snapped the scene, and if my feelings were justified, or feminist.

Because nothing is more empowering than giving money to a business that respects my humanity! #americanapparel

Is American Apparel attempting to appeal to female customers by marketing a pro-sex and pro-sexual empowerment agenda? Or is this sign for the male customers, the "sell it with a sexualized female body" tactic? Putting aside the company's history of pseudo-pornographic ads featuring "real American Apparel employees," and the sexual harassment accusations against their ex-CEO (totally not setting the tone for the company there), the notion that depictions of naked or "neon-stripper" women are merely part of a pro-sex/pro-sexy agenda is contradicted by the lack of naked/sexualized men in their advertising. And man-shaped neon strippers.

Like with the issue of matrimonial name-changing, these things don't happen in a vacuum. If a woman keeping her name after getting married was more common, then the trend of women taking their husband's name wouldn't be inherently sexist. (It's not always inherently sexist. Just mostly. It's a complicated topic, but tangential to this post.) In regard to sexualizing human bodies, if the world was spotted with just as many depictions of male bodies, as there are female bodies, there wouldn't be a problem with the odd neon lady stripper.

(The comparison above is just to make an analogy. Sexualizing/objectifying women's bodies translates more directly to sexual violence, and is thus a much, much more serious problem in our world than the multitude of "romantic," Western wedding traditions. Symbols can be powerful, but name-changing is comparatively harmless, and for my generation and succeeding generations, more of a consolation prize for men, who must relinquish some of their power in the interest of equality.)

The point is, it would have looked strange to see the outline of a male stripper in the window of American Apparel. It would have come off as either "funny" (especially if the pose was typically "female"), or "gay-friendly neighborhood." In any case, I would have Instagrammed it with the caption: "Equality!" My caption for the photo above, on the other hand reads: "Because nothing is more empowering than giving money to a business that respects my humanity! #americanapparel" The "giving my money to" isn't an exaggeration. My current favorite skirt is an American Apparel skirt. ...I sicken myself. (Damn you, American Apparel.)

For anyone who thinks I'm being ridiculous about a neon sign, here's what you see when you click the geo-tag in Instagram for the American Apparel at this location:

The geo-tag for the American Apparel on Garnet reveals other "empowering" photos.

At least she's wearing clothes. But something makes me think that when the model posed for that photo, she was more of the "I'm starving and can barely afford the rent in this city" position, as opposed to the "I hope some dude-bros pretend to fuck this photo of me from behind" position. (The dude-bro photos were taken on different dates, by different Instagram users.)

Which isn't to say that photos of people fucking signs and statues and trees, and whatever else people enjoy joking about fucking in photographs, aren't funny. They sometimes are! But American Apparel seems committed to the strategy of depicting models as soft-porn stars. It's problematic because it's unbalanced, and therefore dehumanizing, and the sign in the screenshot above is just one more example of that.

I've considered whether the "objectify everyone" point of view is necessarily the most positive corrective. If "sex sells!" then companies are going to use sex to sell. The idea "men are more visual" and that's the reason we see women's sexualized bodies in ads, media, videos, movies, everywhere, rather than men's bodies, is some unscientific bullshit.* Obviously, a patriarchal culture in which women are punished for having sex is going to argue that women don't want sex, and thus ads selling sex won't appeal to women. Historically, women haven't been allowed to make overt expressions of sexual desire (after the adolescent "celeb-covered bedroom walls" stage, that is). Women's sexual desires are not catered to - by and large, and especially in the past - in the porn industry, because as lower beings, women weren't allowed to act as though they crave sex. (Ex. Dissatisfaction with one's sex life is viewed as a superficial reason to leave a relationship.)

Further, it's been proven that women are less likely than men to have sex with anyone who propositions them because women disproportionately suffer the negative consequences of sex: greater risk for sex-related disease, pregnancy, pregnancy-related complications including mortality, sexual violence/rape, murder, and of course the good old-fashioned "being called a slut." In addition, women are less likely to experience the positive consequences of sex, most-pointedly, orgasms, with a partner who barely knows them and is therefore probably less invested in the woman's sexual pleasure. This is the famous "would you have sex with a stranger" study that supposedly proved that "women don't like sex as much as men," and was subsequently debunked. If women could have orgasms whenever they had sex, as men do, and become impervious to pregnancy, less likely to contract disease, and drastically less likely become the victims of violence and murder - and of course if their characters were not denigrated for doing so - women would be just as sexually empowered as men (ie. they would rack up an equal number of sexual partners). And therefore just as "visual."

Speaking to the visual aspect, specifically, whenever some study comes up that "proves" men respond more to visual stimuli, it tends ignore the gender-based socialization that humans experience from the moment they are born. Finally, there is a more insidious aspect to the objectification of female bodies and how it ties in with male visual stimulation: the soothing feeling of superiority over humans you were put on earth to objectify, judge and fuck. OF COURSE I don't believe that most men consciously think this way. But I have observed that for some men,** there is a gleeful sense of "winning" in situations where being a woman is demonstrably less fortunate than being a man, like whenever I see men snickering at the long line of women who are suffering because they have to wait so long to pee in public restrooms. Advertisements and the media communicate to us over and over, via millions of depictions of naked and sexualized female bodies, that women's bodies exist for the pleasure of straight men (while the comparative absence of naked/sexualized men communicates to straight women that their desires are either non-existent, irrelevant, or shameful). Considering that we've been bombarded with these messages since birth, can we blame people for believing them?!

Well, yes. After a point.

*There is no argument I find more annoying than the "I think this thing because this is just the way I think things are" argument. A BILLION ARGHS!
**If you are a man, and you don't do these things, then I am not talking about you. xoxo!