I phoned Wee-Cheng Tan around 3.30pm after sorting out my visa and room and we agreed to meet at The City Bay View Hotel in the lobby near 007’s paperstand. I told him over the phone I was wearing dark blue pants and a BootsnAll baseball hat. I had the advantage of seeing his photo on the site before and at 5.30pm he arrived. It was great to see him and I told him how much we and our readers appreciate his many travel articles.
We strolled to a corner food vendor and ordered Bandung, a Malay drink made from roses, milk and ice…very good.
Wee-Cheng is 33 has worked in investment banking. The Singapore lifestyle traditionally is all about working and career building and he told me his desire to take off for a couple of years didn’t go down with the parents too well, especially when other relatives would read his articles telling off arrests in Russia and road accidents in Albania.
He’s a real individual for sure and we discussed travelling and the type of people who travel. Wee-Cheng told me he gets bored with a place rather quickly and liked to get around without wasting time. In the former Soviet republics, there’s 15 and he’s visited them all, he took many internal flights and would hire a car and driver to get around. In Patagonia he spent 3 weeks there and managed to cover alot of places by using local planes. Having some expendable income allowed him pay ‘extra fees’ to smooth his journey in some countries, although he says his time in Russia was spoilt by the constant racism and corruption of the police ( they would shout at him across the street ‘come here Chinese’ and demand money for some ‘irregularity’ in his paperwork).
We talked about his time in China too and he compared the development in China to Russia….completely different and Wee-Cheng said that Chinese now invest in Siberia and export a ton of products to Russia (which the Russians criticize for being inferior even though they can’t afford anything better).
Wee-Cheng’s stores and observations are endlessly fascinating and if you’d like to check them out, here his Worldwide with Wee Cheng travelogue.
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I was given an evening tour of some of the downtown sights and checked out the new library (SGN $600M). It’s pretty impressive with a glorious view of the harbor. In Singapore, everyone has a ‘national identity card’ and this is hooked up to a database. To get a DVD / book from the library you stroll in, choose what you want and then scan it and enter your card. This eliminated the need for staff. People also have subway / bus cards which you don’t even have to take out of your wallet / handbag, you just whack the wallet / handbag against a touch pad as you walk by and it reads it. I think Singapore is the closest I’ve seen to ‘Minority Report’ where your whole life is on a database.
Wee-Cheng took me to see a bunch of electronic stores selling the latest DVD and camera stuff, it becomes a blur after a while. He was telling me the local history including how former Prime Minister and ‘father of the country’ Lee Kwan Yu tidied up certain parts of town. Wee-Cheng offered to take me to an area where there were many hookers and bars and we could get some food. It was an area not typically on a tourist’s schedule but might provide an interesting vantage point. As it turned out a storm came in and we ate at a food court downtown instead. Wee-Cheng gratiously bought us a large assortment of Chinese food and explained how the 3 cultures (Chinese, Malay and Indian) have peacefully coexisted and have borrowed from each other in terms of food, creating new dishes found nowhere else in the world.
He showed me a street where a Hindu temple sits adjacent to Chinese temple and told me during Chinese New Year each displays Chinese lanterns and help each other. Wee-Cheng visits the Chinese temple for a prayer each time after returning home from a trip.
I was trying to think about the pro’s and con’s of living in Singapore for younger people. They do not have space, but do have nightlife, action and a whole infrastructure that is well organised and modern.
Wee-Cheng told me owning a car in Singapore is a scary proposition. You have to bid for a licence (only a certain number are released each year) which can be SNG $60,000. The government will charge you import tax on your car which will be 100-150% of the value of the car, then there are other assorted local taxes. It doesn’t end there, the locals have to use a ‘smart card’ to drive anywhere. Each street has computerized readers and its own price for using and you have to pay, just like our pre-paid cell phone in Bali. Scary!
I could go on and on with all the info Wee-Cheng gave. We walked back to my place and said goodbye around 11pm. I invited him to visit us in Bali sometime and promised him some good food while he’s there.
Very glad I got to meet Wee-Cheng.