Smile Politely

Singapore, Dungeons and Dragons, and Durian

I’m in Singapore; here for a conceptual art conference called ISEA: International Symposium for Electronic Art. I’m presenting a paper that The Husband and I co-wrote, about Buddhism, Augmented Reality and Social Networks.

It’s actually the second time I’ve ever been in Singapore, and I have many mixed feelings about the place. For one, it’s a giant shopping mall — my “Uniquely Singapore” paraphernalia actually states that the national sport of Singapore is shopping. So me being here is like an almost-recovered alcoholic being locked in a beer factory for a week.

The white-marble mall attached to my hotel is open until 11 p.m. every night, and you have never seen such riches; it’s filled with watch stores that sell watches that cost more than my car; Brookes Brothers, Mont Blanc. The mall is filled with people day and night. And this is just one mall; if you walk outside there is another, and another, and another. Non-stop.

I’m traveling alone – I’ve done this since I graduated high school. I remember somewhere in the middle of high school coming to the realization that I was going to have to move away from my family in order to go to college – and I was terrified. Then a couple of years later, I was traipsing around Europe by myself. What happened in-between?

Dungeons and Dragons

Yeah, I know, I’m a geek, whatever, but playing that game when I was in high school completely prepared me for traveling the world alone (and also, with The Husband). When you played a role-playing game back then, you actually practiced the concept of going to a strange town, finding a hotel to stay at for the night, and walking around the town and encountering things. Of course, my encounters here in Singapore are a bit more complicated than rolling dice, but then again, I haven’t had to fight any Gelatinous Cubes either.

The trip over here was very interesting. I flew from Bloomington airport to O’Hare and then got stuck for nine hours waiting for a delayed flight to Hong Kong. While in the airport I amused myself with some new iPhone applications — one is called “nearMe” and when I enabled it, it showed me a map of where I was, and then had little icons of pictures all around where I was, and these were pictures that other people had taken who were all within 100 or so meters of where I stood! That was fascinating! Someone had taken a picture 10 meters away from where I was sitting (for nine hours) and had posted it to the web, and I was looking at it!

Another application I watched for a while was twittervision. When you bring this application up you are watching people from all over the world’s thoughts (tweets) — which is basically as addicting as MTV used to be when it first started. Watching both twittervision and the nearMe application in the airport really gave me the sense that there will soon be the capability to better understand our interconnectedness in the world.

And that’s why I’m here in Singapore; the talk I gave was about how to physically manifest social connectivity (and the idea of actions and repercussions) — through use of technology. I haven’t come up with a good answer yet but I think the answer does lay in mobile social-computing applications that embed proximity sensors — to know information about those around you is, at least, to acknowledge that there are other people around you. That might be the first step.

The Durian

Singapore, apart from being a giant shopping mall, is an exquisite place. It’s right on the equator and is humid and gorgeously hot-mid 80s all the time during this part of the year. It is filled with lush greenery and everything is manicured; you’ll hear it compared to Disneyworld all the time, and the comparisons are
definitely just.

Every morning the hotel buffet is filled with every fruit you could possibly imagine — and many you’ve never heard of before. Whenever I see a new type of food here, if it doesn’t have eyes, I always ask what it is and how to eat it and then I pop it into my mouth. I’ve eaten a rambutan so far, and some other things that are kind of like leechee nuts but not as sweet.

The most impressive fruit they have here is the durian; the “King of Fruits.” It smells like the worst armpit odor you’ve ever smelled, if someone rubbed a piece of burnt garlic over the stinky armpit. They say that if you can get past the smell you will love durian, but this is my second time trying it and it’s two days later and my nose still smells like a stinky armpit with burnt garlic on it.

They also say it takes three tries before you fall in love with the durian, but once you have, you’re hooked. I’m on trial 2. Guess I’ll have to come back here some day.

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