Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Price of Everything

E@L is on the hunt for a good kopi in C* General. The hospital has two food areas, each awkwardly and annoyingly placed across the width the campus: one on this side, one on the other. We'll try this first one, as its, well, duh, the nearest…


E@L had arrived a bit early, with time for a kopi before putting in an appearance (but does he really need to be here? He knows he'll be sitting on the uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room for hours before they tell him to go home, there are no cases), as he had walked across Bukit Timah to the train station rather than wait on Dunearn for the 960 bus, which only seems to come every 20 minutes and therefore is always sardine-can full – and no, people will NOT move to the back of the frackin' bus so that E@L, if he had waited (and waited) for it, he would have been forced to kick and punch his way into the crowd on the steps and scream at the blank-faced, unmoving sheep in the aisle. Why don't people fucking move? Can't they think of the times that they were themselves in E@L's situation, teetering and tossed at the doorway? Ang mohs are included, just as guilty, look at this guy, brain stereod-out with white earphones and iPhone5. Wanker, look at me, MOVE! No empathy in the marrow of their bones, these people. Or is it some internecine cultural feud, revenge for the times they were in E@L's situation and no-one moved back for them. Is that what ensures this level of callous indifference?

Anyway, train, kopi. Train first. Damn, E@L left his ez-link card (like an Octopus card in HK, or a Myki in Melbourne - except it works) at home. Cash jangling in his pocket, always have plenty of coins. New single ticket system. Previously you paid a deposit of $1 for the hard-plastic ticket which you'd get refunded if you fed it back into the ticket machine at your final destination. If you remembered. Countless tourists have gone back home, several dollars forfeited, the green tickets still in their pockets, purses or on E@L's table. (Take these in lieu of rent, thanks man!) Now there is a thin paper card, no deposit required, it's reusable and promises a 10c discount after the sixth recharge. Hardly worth it, may as well throw it away.

And… He approaches the platform doors and sees the usual crowd of miscreants and ignorant idiots standing in the middle of the plainly marked exit channel…

"Please Allow Customers[sic] To Exit The Train"

And the ensuing stenosis is inevitable, the trickle flow (think almost blocked artery in, say, the heart) of those who rush first to get in against those who are trying, what the fuck, to get out. The back and forth of bodies pressing, the rolling wave of will and against won't. No-one going anywhere. It takes forever to get on, traffic-jam at the door, everyone held-up by the uncles and aunties who have never learnt the rules. Wrong generation, unable to learn manners and courtesy now (but knowing not to spill water on a red cheong-sam as it is bad luck and means money will flow away this year of the dragon…)

E@L is reminded of the experiment someone did to time how long it would take to exit a plane after an emergency landing (a pretended emergency). When the airline staff (presuming they survived the crash) ushered the travellers (presuming they too weren't churned into mincemeat) off the plane in an orderly way, with everyone following instructions and exiting row by row it took 2 minutes to empty the plane. Good. Let's mix it up a bit, thought the experimenters. With the incentive of a $5 prize for the first 20 people off, it was hell unleashed… There was shoving, there was climbing over seats, there was the carnage one would expect. There was 10minutes or so for the eager participants to be deplaned. Oh what a fun game that was. So what if there was a real emergency, a crash-landing, a bomb, a fire, a dumping at sea and what's left of the plane is sinking? How's that for motivation? $5? Not interested, get out of my fucking WAY! The motivation was that the rear half of the plane was on fire and the aisles bestrewn with unidentifiable or, worse, identifiable body parts and that certain death was imminent unless you get out of the mangled wreckage first (carrying any body parts that looked like they were once yours?)

Yeah, well, like that. It's not that this line is so particularly congested, it only takes a few over-eager dumb-fucks to clog the bottleneck. A handful of people manage to get on (E@L included), but some who wanted to get off have achieved it, some not. They'll have to try to exit again next stop and then, if they can get on, return that one stop to try exit yet again. The commute. Sisyphean chaos.

E@L has a lot of history with train doors. Yep, lots.

But with the buses it's the same (see above), so why not drive yourself E@L, you're rich, buy a fucking car and shut the fuck up, you suggest, innocently. But the fact that he's hardly ever here, for one thing, makes E@L baulk at this. With the outlandish car market here, the COE (a 10 year registration-like charge that you bid for) currently at S$92k, added to the price of the car (with taxes and other mandatory charges, a car worth $40k will cost you at least $88k before you add the COE component) and then there's finding parking and paying at the ever-expanding placement sites for the ERP (toll-roads = Every Road Pay, the taxi drivers smirk) and the already 5km traffic-jammed expressways, who'd have a private vehicle? The ultimate value of going through this bullshit? It's just not worth it. A car - say $170k. A return bus/train ticket to Tampines - $6.40. If E@L takes the commute to work whenever he is in Singapore, say 100 work days a year, that's $640 per annum. How many years to catch up with the price of the car? 230 years. And that's just one car to cover those 230 years. Granted, public transport prices may rise over that time however, we'll ignore this. (As we do most inconvenient truths.)

So E@L prefers the trains for the moment.

But as it is getting so crowded in Singapore - as it is in BKK - maybe what is needed is a significant portion of Singapore's anticipated 6.9million PRC and Bangladeshi foreign talents to work as the white-gloved, military uniformed platform pushers, as we once had in the good old days in Japan. At least they were polite enough to say, "Sumimasen. sumimasen…" as they forced rapist-comic-reading salarymen, elephantiasis-socked school-girls and you into the jellybean-jar of the now bulging carriages on the Shinjuku line.

So long as they don't push too hard...
Lost in physical translation?

Singapore. How hard can it be?


"Kopi, upsize. Take away." A young man, slightly chubby, black-hair loose and no doubt in half of the meals. E@L say "Please" to him? Not likely; a) he wouldn't understand the concept, and b) this is Singapore, get real.

The yellow sign above his head has pictures of laksa, bee hoon, nasi lemak, and the price list - Set A is $3.40. Unsure of the quality of the kaya toast here, and not feeling like coddled eggs, he goes for just a drink. Kopi Lg $130, Reg $1.10.

It comes pretty much instantly - he expected a wait, but no. The paper cup, with its dangle soft plastic handle, looks suspiciously regular sized.


"Only one size." Straight-faced.

E@L hands over $1.30 and turns away, takes a step, then halts and looks around, up to the price-list, at the server, who looks back, still unsmiling, at E@L. Indifferent. Callous. Callously indifferent. Or is this another blank sheep-like look? Is he a cheating bastard or just stoopid? A fraction of second is all it takes for E@L to understand that, either way, he has just been duped. It's not worth arguing over.

Next day, different server behind the counter, little old lady with a scarf tied back, like DFW again.

"Kopi, take away, please auntie." Respect your similarly aged.

The same proportioned paper-cup as yesterday promptly placed on the counter.

E@L hands over $1.10.

(Kopi not too bad, to answer the initial conflict that set-up this post - it was not worth crossing the hospital to get to the other Kopitiam after all. The kaya toast however, he found out later that day, is execrable.)


Planning a trip in Europe for June/July, E@L needs to get from Barcelona to Amsterdam (he has given up on the Vienna leg, it's impossible to get there from Barcelona for some mysterious Stoppardian* reason) and so he does a flight-search using Expedia.

… searching, searching… a line of orange dots pulsing…

Up the top of the extensive list, it seems that there are NO direct flights. You must go through London, or Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Geneva and/ or Zurich and stop-overs become sleep-overs - between 3hrs and 13hrs. WTF?

The return ticket costs a minimum of S$324, up to $554. But, you ask, why are you returning to Barcelona? Because, E@L replies, he is flying in and out of Spain as the return to Singapore from Amsterdam, or Frankfurt for that matter, is 30% extra. Plus he needs the points to stick his PPS club membership to the wall again)

$334 seems a bit steep, let alone $554, and fuck that one-stop shit. There MUST be a direct flight.

Yep, E@L scrolls down. There ARE direct flights with KLM, but, it seems, only for one leg of the trip. Either there or back, but not both.

Hang on, that can't be right. If you can go direct to Amsterdam with one combination, and direct to Barcelona with another, why the fuck can't Expedia combine these two direct flights into a single, simple combination. Nope, E@L scrolls to the bottom of the page - there are a lot of matches as he mentioned, and no, not one direct here and there set. And the prices down at the bottom are a mystery. It says "Select to Price". He selects. No price available.

E@L closes the Expedia page and clicks across - wringing hands in pleading and desperation - to the KLM website itself. Bang. A choice direct return flight. Straight up. Top of the page, a matrix of options - depending upon week-end or week-day, only €121 or €175.

What? How does this work again? A direct flight costs S$200, and an indirect flight, drag E@L all over Europe please and dump him on uncomfortable chairs at the airport gate for 12 hrs thank you very not, costs nearly twice as much. This is bullshit.

Expedia is now the E@L ex-flight-search-tool, it adds no value, but is instead misleading. It's not expedient: it's just not worth it.


*Mrs Drudge: Yes, many visitors have remarked on the topical quirk in the local strata whereby there are no roads leading from the Manor, though there are ways of getting to it, weather allowing.
(The Real Inspector Hound. Tom Stoppard, 1968)

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