Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Asio
by venitha

The rising sun shoots a prison guard's spotlight at us as we're rifling like criminals through our safe. Amid the passports and paperwork are small ziploc bags of cash: US dollars, Singaporean dollars, Japanese yen, Taiwanese dollars, Indonesian rupiah, and Malaysian ringgit. We're in search of ringgit, not because it's got the best Asian currency name, which you have to admit it does, but because we're breaking out of Singapore for the day, heading across the border to Johor Bahru, aka JB.

We'll need ringgits for 1) a murtabak at Cafe Medina and 2) as many pirated DVDs as we can carry. Filled with ground mutton, onions, and herbs - do I detect a hint of mint? - and abetted by a savory curry, the murtabak hits the spot. We resist, however, the temptation of the DVDs, and not because of respect for copyright law. Seriously, I'm am shopped out.

Our trusty Lonely Planet guide (thanks, Casey and Karen!) instructs us that we also need US$7 each for the entrance fee to the museum. No kidding, US dollars required in Malaysia. Lest you start maligning our neighbor to the north (and east), let me inform you that graft is also alive in well in Indonesia. Our neighbor to the south (and west and east) swindles us out of US$10 as we pass through immigration, requiring this fee for, umm, well, bribes. They've got us surrounded, so we may as well just hand over the cash.

These blackmailers clearly have no esthetic sense. The Asian bills are beautiful; US notes pale to their sickly shade of green in comparison. Vivid colors, various sizes, hilarious denominations ($10 Singaporean = 50000 rupiah), cool sparkly stuff, vellum-like windows, and pictures of guys in funny hats. I even spent a ringgit note that was made of some newfangled plastic-y stuff that wouldn't tear; its state was evidence, however, that it would melt. Then again, if this is the ringgit's best trick, perhaps it's a clue to the reason for this shakedown for US dollars. Melting is, I have to admit, a somewhat less exciting feature than exploding.

Despite the extortion regularly tapping our US currency reserves, it's clear that the foreign bills are going to accummulate. We haven't strewn it all out on the bed and rolled around in it like bank robbers giddy from a successful heist - yet - but I don't need the chore of sorting it all out to wonder: what's the point? The Euro has proved the concept and value of a united currency. Isn't it about time for - I hope I won't be caned for suggesting it - the Asio?

Let's please just agree, though, to keep the beautiful colors and the various sizes and, most importantly, the guys in the funny hats. We can negotiate about melting and exploding. Perhaps this pretty new US$20 will help you see it my way...

In addition to our very own built-in safe, we also have our very own built-in bomb shelter. While this is just the sort of attractive modern feature that I took note of as I tromped through endless Singaporean apartments in search of Goldilocks, I'm perfectly fine with going our full two years here and having no purpose for the bomb shelter whatsoever. Other than storing all the weird artwork that the owners left behind, for which it is indeed quite handy. And it's a great relief to know that these items will be protected against the myriad attacks that our 19th-floor bomb shelter is undoubtedly able to withstand.