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Impressions of Singapore

June 02, 2006

Last week I was in Singapore, teaching a Workflow class to 11 students. Wow, what a great place. Two years ago I was getting very close to taking a position in Singapore with Microsoft as an IT Pro Evangelist. It would have been a killer role, but I was a bit worried about the heat and humidity. I ended up not getting the role (nasty politics, etc) and leaving Microsoft over it. The result was that I got a far better position at Captaris traveling the world far more than any position at Microsoft. But I always wondered about Singapore and if it really was going to be way too hot.

Well, it is very hot in Singapore and very humid, but its not as bad as I expected. In fact, I think Singapore is far more livable in than Dubai. There are cool breezes in some parts and while it is not quite as cosmopolitan and accepting of different cultures, it isn’t that far off (not that I, your typical white tall American male, have to personally worry about that). One thing I did notice about Singapore though was the focus on clubs and buying your way to VIP status. In front of hotels there are special parking places marked for “VIP”s. All the bank and credit cards offer special priviledges for card members. Priviledges like free bus routes, sale prices, and special rooms in restaurants seem to be common.

I went to Singapore expecting great prices on a number of things, mostly electronics. I had a shopping list and I came away with some good bargains, but not everything is cheaper. It seems that different places in the world have good prices on different things. With this new world economy we all live in, prices on lots of things are standard around the world, but each location focuses on one thing and makes it dirt cheap. Dubai for instance is the place for watches. For instance a black Seiko Sportura world time watch in Dubai is about 35% less than the same watch in Amsterdam. But in Singapore the watch was a little more expensive than the Amsterdam rate. But computer electronics can be incredible. The new Creative Zen Vision:M is about 40% less in Singapore than Europe. Other things such as IBM-branded accessories are cheaper at home than Singapore, but stores had it in stock!

I also found it interesting that similar retailers in Singapore tend to stick together. I have seem some similar trends in Dubai as well as in Amsterdam, but not quite to this extent. For electronics, you go to Sim Lim Square. For antiques there is the incredible Far East Mall or East West, or something like that. High fashion and cosmetics had their locations, but for obvious reasons, I have no idea where they were.

I stayed at two great hotels during my stay. First was the Singapore Marriott on Orchard Road. This is centrally located in a great shopping area but I got bored with it after a short while. Seeing the same shops over and over again got old. Two nights before my flight I checked out and moved over to the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa on Sentosa Island. This is a cheesy beach resort but far cheaper than the Marriott and it was pretty nice waking up to a lovely beach view those two mornings.

When getting around Singapore you have two or three choices: Walk, Taxi, or Subway. Walking is free, but it is very humid there and you will be soaking wet fairly soon. The subway/metro is incredible, very clean and comfortable, and runs on time all the time. But you may need to walk the last few hundred feet to your destination. As with Dubai, taxis are really dirt cheap here, though not quite as cheap as the metro. They go door to door…but only if you can get one. The only times I took the metro were when we couldn’t find a cab and due to the sometimes heavy traffic, that can happen a few times during the day. Most of the time there is little reason to take anything but cabs in Singapore, especially for the tourist or business traveller.

One of the highlights of this trip was getting to meet the hiring manager for the position I was going for with Microsoft in Singapore. He and his wife and two children met me for lunch at a great spot on Orchard. We had gotten off to a great start two years ago and had to end on a really sour note that was no fault of his when the circumstances and MSFT HR politics got in the way. I was a bit worried that it would feel wierd, after all he was the hiring manager for a position I didn’t get. It was great to find out that there were no hard feelings on either side. I look forward to the next time we can meet up somewhere in the world.

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