Sunday, June 17, 2012

Alex and I did Keynotes at PyCon APAC. There are videos of many talks including our keynotes. The talks were wide-ranging and well-done. We got to meet really awesome people there. Liew Beng Keat was the perfect host and speaker liaison. I especially enjoyed meeting Sandra Boesch of SingPath, her game to learn programming. She and her husband, Chris, hosted a tournament at the conference which was sponsored by the ubiquitous LucasFilms Singapore group. Great way to keep folks engaged and having fun. We had to leave early for Alex's GTUG talk, but it looked like a great way to finish off the conference. If anyone is asking themselves "should I attend PyCon APAC?", the answer, imho, is YES! You'll get a lot out of it. Including a chance to visit one of the most intriguing, perplexing places on earth. 

Singapore is hot, humid, crowded, noisy, but full of very friendly people. 90F with 90% humidity at 9am was normal. There's a reason there's so many airconditioned malls and underground tunnels connecting all the buildings downtown...

We got there and took a tourist pass that allowed us to hop on and off the tourist busses throughout town (including the Duck Tours - amphibious vehicles.) We got to hear on the busses about the multicultural heritage of which Singapore is very proud (Chinese 76.7%, Malay 14%, Indian 7.9%, other 1.4%) and about the cost-of-living (incredibly high for housing and cars!) and the distinctive districts of the city (Chinatown, Little India, Central Business District, Marina Bay...) The city is very clean (due to the high fines for littering). In fact, there's a joke about it being a "fine city" (referring to fines for jaywalking, littering, etc etc). It was a bit of a change to get used to all the skyscrapers after living in a place where you can't build anything over 2 stories. And the architecture is just weird. Every building is different. Alex joked that, if he were asked to design a skyscraper for the city, he'd go with the most straight rectangular boring block building as possible - because it would stand out so much among all the strangely shaped buildings! Here's an example of one of the most distinctive:

 There's a swimming pool on top of the buildings!

 The food was great. We had the local specialty - Fish Head Curry.

DH tried the, ahem, delicacy (the eyeball). I demurred. We also had a lot of great chinese, thai, vietnamese and indian food. Our last night, we had fried noodles (mee goreng) with egg on top. Yummy.

Everything in the city seems to revolve around shopping, food, and finance. But that could just be a tourist's view. Speaking of which, I got addicted to Singapore Slings there. Even got to taste it at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel where it was invented.

It was nice to see a place that was so positive about its multicultural background. It's quite proud of its mix of people and its history as a British port. (It claims to be the busiest port in the world.) UK tourists (British and Aussie) were everywhere. It was also much more normal there to discuss money - how much things cost, how much someone paid for their home, stuff like that, than you hear in the US in general. Talking about money there is like talking about the weather here.

It's a very strange mix of extremely capitalist but very centrally controlled. (It's often referred to as Authoritarian Capitalism.) They're really focused on having everyone employed. The unemployment rate for Q1 2012 was 2.1%! Almost everyone (80+%) live in government housing, and housing is almost entirely apartment buildings. Note that "govt housing" means it was built and is run by the govt but you buy your apartment (over 95% of people do this). Only people who can't afford to buy even with govt aid rent their place. The tourbus even took time to distinguish between the types of housing ownership "leasehold" and "freehold" - "leasehold" is for 99 years and is way cheaper than "freehold" so almost everyone goes for that. Also - the govt won't sell to a single person typically. Most folks live with their parents until after they marry. (Most marriages are civil unions by the mayor, but you can also have a religious ceremony.) We met a guy who was working there, from Britain, whose company owned the flat he was living in. Oh - and you don't get to do any renovations to your home without permission. It's like the whole place is a big HOA except it's not an HOA - it's the government. And don't you dare vote the wrong way - districts where voters went too much for the opposition party got skipped over when the improvements to the elevators were being installed. So officially democratic but...

Singaporeans also like to claim there's no "social safety net" for folks. On the other hand, they have compulsory savings programs and government-run healthcare. All hospitals are government controlled. All health care is paid for by the person getting the healthcare (to reduce excessive and unnecessary use), but it's paid for out of the mandatory health-savings and the cost depends on the level of subsidies the person gets from the government based on income level. Many people have private health insurance to cover stuff not covered under the govt healthcare plan.

Only about 30% of S'poreans have cars. That's because, before you can buy a car, you have to buy a certificate (for the car) of around $80000 Singapore Dollars. There's also really high import taxes on the car itself. So it ends up costing over 3 times as much to buy a car in Singapore as in the US. And many places have tolls that increase in rush hour. So, driving is highly discouraged.

All in all, a very strange, interesting place. I definitely would *NOT* want to live there. Not just the weather is oppressive, to me. (I'm very sensitive to government controls and didn't even like living in a townhouse because of the HOA.) But, like I said, everyone was VERY friendly. So it's a fun place to visit. Just don't bring chewing gum. Or jaywalk.

No comments: