Singapore Adventure

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Electrical Appliances 101
by venitha

It took three days and the macho of three men to figure out how to turn on our water heater. Ultimately, it was Russell, our new neighbor, who came to the rescue, and he had crib notes: he checked the setup in his own apartment, a mirror of my own. It was the four separate controls in three different places that threw us all. Go figure.

It's not just the water heater that imposes an intelligence test with its excessive controls. Thankfully, Jim and I have fared better on our other exams. After a slow start of one hot night and one cold night, we're getting a passing grade from the six air conditioners. Each has its own remote control with a bizarre and confusing number of buttons, including the hands-down favorite, Powerful. For extra credit, we pose like the symbol.

I passed the hair dryer's pop quiz with flying colors. It's built in - how nice! - and must be turned on in three places, including a switch outside the bathroom and a timer on the dryer itself. Yes, a timer. I have a hard time imagining myself forgetting that the hair dryer is on and thereby making the timer useful, but perhaps this is more of a problem for your average Singaporean. I can't say.

Now I'm clean and comfortably cool, and my hair is dry, or at least as dry as it's going to get in this humidity. It's time to ponder Singapore's doozy of an essay question on this topic: Why? Why does my apartment have more controls than the cockpit of an airplane? Why does every individual electrical outlet, each individual outlet on power strips, each individual outlet on the devices that no one knows the name of that let you plug three things into one outlet, have its own cute and colorful on/off switch? Why is there such a lack of standard plugs that nearly every appliance asserts its individuality by requiring its own special adapter? And why, in an area of the world where everything from the people to the bus seats to the individual serving yogurt containers is so small, is it all so big?