Decidedly urban couple who quit their jobs and successfully backpacked their way through Asia for a year. They met Buddha, drank baijiu and learned to master the squat toilet. Now appearing in a new life as ex-pats in Singapore.

Singa
Super Happy Singapore

Super Happy Singapore

In addition to momentous battles with jungle foliage and struggling to find inner peace, Vinnie has spent the last three months planning Singapore’s first Super Happy Dev House.

Huh? Work?

Jack Sparrow and his band of miscreants

People in Silicon Valley have a sneak peak into the cutting-edge concepts and technologies that are destined to change the way we communicate. Even better that just passively observing, anyone with a little gusto can jump in and take part. It’s an exciting place to be and a difficult place to leave.

Co-co-co-coding.

The stress of not working and being away from Silicon Valley was just too much for Vinnie to bear and by mid-January he was connecting with far-flung Valley-types who, oddly enough, all seemed to be based in Singapore.

And in typical Vinnie fashion, he went from casual conversation about Asia’s tech scene to becoming directly involved, and within days he was planning Singapore’s first hack fest, getting in on some early stage investing, and flying off to Hong Kong to judge South East Asia’s best new startups.

While I was hard at working scooting around Vietnam, Vinnie was planning Asia’s first Super Happy Dev House.

This is how we party in AMERICA!

Tonight was the culmination of three months of work; hundreds of geeks, hackers, business-y and not so business-y people showed up to discuss new ideas and quickly code them into reality. They dined, they drank and they developed technology that you might just find yourself using one day.

It was pretty freaking cool and, judging from what folks are saying, a resounding success. Huge congrats to Vinnie, Adrianna and Jason for throwing a kick ass party.

Kicking it old skool with MEETRO!

PS: Someone showed up in a MEETRO shirt.  Rep-re-sent.

 

Singapore Tech Scene

Singapore Tech Scene

Singapore was a trip, only a week long, but a fun city.  And Steve is right, it is Adult Disneyland thanks to its countless fun attractions –  from the giant sling shots launching crowds of people into the air, to the man-made lake with a moving cable around the top pulling kneeboarders around and over jumps.  This is a place to spend it if you’ve got it.

All of this will set you back a handful of Andrew Jacksons though, as the fun is built and priced for all the foreign born execs and their families.

We learned that a full 20% of the population are foregners living in Singapore for work – that number includes western execs to daylabors and migrant workers who come from as close as neighboring Malaysia or as far as India.

But Singapore shouldn’t put all its eggs in the multi-national corporate market when it has such an interesting domestic tech startup scene hatching…

Singapore Geeks

HackerSpace.sg

I heard Singapore had a bit of a tech startup scene so Kristine and I went to check out a local co-working space, HackerSpace.  There is an active and bright startup community in Singapore, more so then in other cities I’ve seen so far in Asia.  At just about a year old, HackerSpace has definitely been a major contributor to the local startup community.  I met up with one founder for dinner, Vin Nair of Smartloans.sg, a successful LendingTree for Singapore.  After dinner, we met up with some other startup folks for drinks – showing that the community is not all just work, but play as well.  I met half a dozen fellow geeks for coffee, and though introduced separately, each knew of the other people I was meeting with and what they were working on.

However, while attending a talk for a university entrepreneurs group – the question was thrown out by Danny Tan of foound.com: “How many of you have an idea for a business to start?” and nobody raised their hand!  On the follow-up question “You’re part of an entrepreneur club and you don’t have any business ideas?” one student raised their hand to say “but we need more experience first” – a complete 180′ from what you would overhear at Stanford.  Following up on that mentality, two people mentioned to me that many young startups fear sharing their ideas, going as far as to require NDA’s from potential investors during a pitch – young startups like to stay in ‘stealth mode.’

Over coffee with Jason Ong (who runs the local Ruby meetup) we discussed the startup mentality in Silicon Valley vs. Singapore. Toying on the notion of how to kickstart the ‘free flowing’ of ideas, I mentioned Super Happy Dev House (SHDH) = A party in which geeks get together to build fun software/services in one day and show them off at night.  A SHDH encourages people to work together, then share and present their ideas to a crowd of fellow geek enthusiasts.  From this conversation, we decided to wortk together on hosting the first ever Super Happy Dev House in Singapore – in fact, the first ever in the whole continent of Asia!

Ghost Hunting

Ghost Hunting

Like most backpackers, we travel with a guide book (Lonely Planet for us), which we may complain about at times, but it usually proves itself to be helpful.

We’ve found that the little tidbits in the book that don’t get a lot of attention tend to be the most fun adventures – from “the roads less travelled” sections to the little gray boxes of interesting facts, off to the side of some paragraphs.

One of these boxes contained a brief sentence about the Singapore Paranomal Investigators (SPI), a local group obsessed with the supernatural.  The images of Ghost Busters came to our minds and we had to check it out.

Singapore Paranormal Investigators

After emailing them, they  invited us to join them on a trip around Labrador Park, where an iconic battle was fought between the British and the Japanese in the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (we’re slowly learning how aggressive & brutal the Japanese were in the early 20th century).  This park is known to every Singaporean because the Brits fumbled with their canyons pointed in the wrong direction as the Japanese snuck up behind them on bikes!  We were to go ghost hunting for tortued  souls!

We tagged along with a dozen or so investigators, many donning fitted black collared shirts with SPI embroidred in white letters to the chest and across the back (think FBI).  We were given an array of ghost hunting tools, from three-dimensional Electro Magnetic Radiation readers to laser powered heat sensors, to infrared spotlights and IR cameras.  We were told of past sightings and learned about paranormal that exists in Singapore.

Our Ghost Hunting Gadgets!

 

A lesson in the Paranormal

We learned about the black market for stillborn babies – their spirits used for good and evil.  In ‘evil’ hands, these tortured souls are used to put curses on enemies and control them by hanging very personal items above the soul in a jar.  On the ‘good’ side, monks pray to these souls placed within alters for many many years until the souls mature and the hatred and sadness behind their unfortunate deaths can be put behind them and they turn into deities and the jar can be opened (a spirit may talk to a monk in their dreams).

We also learned that typically virgins have the best visions of ghosts and the 15yr old investigator in the group could help with that!

With ghost hunting gadgets in hand, we set out to explore the area just before sundown, which was starkly different then our return trip by moonlight.  As  night fell a feeling of eeriness took over as wind blew tree branches and everybody ran over with their instruments to investigate.  The group is well balanced on it’s theories and keeps a level of skepticism among them to keep everything in check – including using physics to explain why one tree branch was aggressively swaying while others around it were not.

Ghost Hunting in Infra-Red

Ironically enough though, as we were walking by an obelisque monument to the veterans that died in battle, a nearby festival down the bay started playing that famous song from Ghost –  Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers.

While we didn’t experience any encounters, we did have an interesting time and the investigators of SPI were nothing but fantastic towards us – welcoming us into their group, sharing past stories, asking about our travels, and sharing local knowledge on cuisine and politics. – And we’ll happily trade a lack of virginity for a lack of ghost sightings any day!

 

And now I hate Monkeys

I always thought that I would like monkeys – they seem so happy, playful and cuddly. Who doesn’t remember watching Friends and thinking that -if forced to choose- you might date Ross but only because he owned Marcel the monkey. At one point in my life I spent hours googling to see if I could legally own a pet monkey in New York City. (You can’t.)

Four little monkeys sitting in a tree

But after a visit to MacRitchie park in Singapore, monkeys have now been added to my list of ‘animals that, before this trip to Asia, I would have wanted to own and now I hate.’  Other animals on this list include:

  • Goat – previously thought to be wonderful, organic means of cutting the grass, now feared due to their devil eyes and the hideous amount of shit pebbles they produce in one go.
  • Chicken – previously thought to be a great hippie pet and source of eggs, now understood to be loud, filthy shit-peckers
  • Potbelly pig – previously thought to be an adorable, clean house pet, now I don’t like their creepy wet snouts. (this one is debatable, I may still want to own a pig)

We headed to MacRitchie expecting, at best, to see some adorable little monkeys way up in the tree and instead came face to face with troupe of squabbling, lunch stealing, vicious little shits.

Stolen McDonalds, sneaky monkey

These evil beasts were everywhere: from the cafe, to the walking paths and the tree tops above our heads. You could not avoid them, and once you were in the park, you were stuck.  Surrounded my naughty monkeys.

Not only did I witness a momma monkey swing down and attack a woman’s lunch bag, forcing this poor woman to jump out of her seat, shrieking, while her husband tried to engage the monkey in hand to hand combat; I also saw a monkey follow a man outside the park, run up his leg and try to grab whatever he was in his hand. The man’s high pitched squeals echoed in my ears for hours.

"NO! I will not move from your walking path"

So take this advice: never buy a pet based on a Thursday night television sitcom.  Also, I think I would still choose Ross – he eventually dumped the monkey and at least he had a few braincells to rub together.

This is a video of me freaking out over a monkey attack:

Delicious Food with some light SMBD

Delicious Food with some light SMBD

Note: This post is about two very different concepts and at first may encourage you to grab a bite to eat.  Don’t do that because the second part of this post may make you want to throw up.  Also, if you’re a weak person, you may not like these photos.

—–

San Francisco has nothing on Asia when it comes to street food. Every country we visit has their own twist on outdoor dining: Korea serves street food inside orange tents, China fries bugs and bats, Taiwan has streets that come alive with night markets. But the king of street food, by far, has been Singapore.

A whole VILLAGE of street food

On our first day I discovered that Little India was celebrating the Thaipusam Festival right down the street from the Tekka Hawker Market and took this to be an omen from the heavens above.  A parade AND Indian street food? Yes!

Most of my Indian holiday history comes from Kelly’s explanation of Diwali or the vague recollections of paint being splattered on Stanford students during Holi day.  I thought it might be like on ‘An Idiot Abroad’ with Indian Babas who do crazy forms of devotional yoga and acts of faith like holding their hand above their head for 12 years.

Really my expectations of this Thaipusam Festival were pretty mild forms of needles coupled with some interesting babas and possibly some paint throwing. If I had been expecting some serious SMBD shit, I would have chosen NOT to dive into a huge Styrofoam plate of Chicken Biryani. With extra Sauce. Plus Lentils. With more extra Sauce.

But dive into the Indian food deliciousness we did.

Chicken Biryani - yes please!

Members of the Clean Plate Club

The heavens opened and rained down a delicious combination of grease and goodness that we soaked up with ever last bit of Roti. This was swiftly followed by a strong chai. Happily in addition to outstanding street food Singapore also has spotlessly clean bathrooms that cost 30 cents.

From the Tekka Market we rolled outside and joined the growing number of people who were lining the street for the parade.  We slowly ambled in and out of stores.  I even managed to make room for some gulab jamun as we waited in the sweltering heat for the festivities to begin.

Get your own gulab jamun!

As I put the last bite of sugary deliciousness into my mouth, the music turned waaay up and the first devotee marched into view.

Kavadi offering cage - with spikes!

Pierced tongue and cheek

Yes!  Bondage! Men on spikes with pierced tongues and cheeks! It turns out that the Thaipusam Festival is more along the lines of the Catholic Opus Dei than happy Hindu Babas.  The people celebrating this festive fast and meditate for weeks before subjecting themselves to physical pain, a method of asking for help from the God Murugan.

Perhaps I should do a little more research when coupling religious festivals with binge eating.

All Smiles in Singapore (thanks to the maid)

All Smiles in Singapore (thanks to the maid)

Today felt like a real life game of Carmen SanDiego – we went from mainland China to Southern India, Malaysia to New York City, Disneyland to Morocco, and back!

Except instead of racking up those airline miles, all we did was catch a cab around Singapore.

Little India, Singpore

China Town, Singapore

I was pretty wary about Singapore – the first night there I accidentally dropped a skittle on the sidewalk and nearly tackled a couple strolling by in an effort to reclaim the candy and put it into a nearby bin. The knowledge of heavy fines for mundane offenses coupled with the absurd sterility of my high-rise surroundings, made me super paranoid of breaking the rules.

Brand-new Condo- our home away from home

We stayed with our friend Steve whose job had transplanted him to Singapore for a few years. He opened the door to his sparkling clean, brand new executive high rise and said, “Welcome to Disneyland!” (a reference that at this point I did not exactly understand).

For the next few days my brain twisted itself to understand Singapore, it’s a really confusing place: relentlessly strict and interfering, spotless clean and well run, hugely diverse and opinionated.

Government Interference

Unlike China where everyone we met from students, to adults, and certainly the seniors, believed in the system and espoused an apparently sincere reverence for Mao; nearly everyone we met in Singa freely discussed the benefits and the negatives of living in a Nanny State.

From Malay, Indian, and Chinese alike we heard grumblings about the obvious daily interference of the government.  People openly complained about government involvement in marriage and having children.  We heard stories of government-sponsored mixers and the financial incentives that are used to promote marriage with additional subsidies for each child.

People complained about mandatory savings accounts from which the government can liberally borrow. And about prohibitively high taxes on cars and huge fines for simple misdemeanors (like spitting or graffiti).

But while people in Singapore are super aware of- and disagree with- these government policies, support for the severely neutered opposition party remains low and folks tend to fall in line. The rules are easy enough to play by, and the rewards are high.

I spy graffiti in Singapore!

Sexy Maids

It seems that everyone has to put up with things they don’t like in order to enjoy all the benefits of Singapore. The expat life is an easy one in Singapore.  Firms pay the big bucks so businessmen can afford the $20 mixed drinks.

From friends we heard tall tales about overpaid businessmen and bored country-club wives. If your significant other works in Singapore, the world is your playground – you don’t even have to watch the kids. The government subsidies given for children also apply to expats, so the cost of owning a maid/baby sitter is fully covered by the government.

Maids can be found at the Maid malls, where you can choose the preferred ethnic makeup and religious beliefs of your future maid.  This may be more important to your husband that it would be to you, because if he wants, he can have sex with the maid.

Choose a maid!

My favorite story has to do with the ‘headache money’ that families are asked to provide to their live-in maids.  Apparently when the wife has a headache and isn’t interested in some hanky-panky, the husband can turn to the maid for some side action.

Creepy Maid

Singapore is not exactly Disneyland,  it’s more like the ride “It’s a Small World” where children from around the world smile and wave while the music plays on repeat. Everyone is smiling because, frankly, life is good, but underneath we’re all wondering – why is daddy sleeping with the maid?