The BugShop: A Trip to Asia

This page last modified- 11/3/01

This has nothing to do with VWs.

I had thought I lost this file until just a few minutes ago. I post it here because it represents my writing style in a "trip" report from a business trip in the summer of '97. For those who don't know, most of my FAQ material was written on airplanes on a notebook PC. But I got bored after a while with writing technical stuff on this very long trip, and thought I would capture the experience of traveling to Asia for the first time.....

Ok, it was inevitable. If the 2 weeks in Europe generated "Observation about France" with a 7 hour flight, then 25 hours of flights to Singapore and 3 battery packs for the laptop must generate a real novel.

"Business" Class

Weeks before, my co-workers warned me the day the memo about expense cutbacks came out, that if I didn't go down to the travel desk, that I might not get "Business" class to Singapore. I obliged, and picked up my ticket. Now first of all, I got to fly FIRST class on the domestic segments, in this case non stop Boston to San Francisco. I have flown First Class before, and I have a REAL problem with having to have to share the same access door with the "Pagan" class. I mean come on, if I wanted to rub shoulders with the common folk, I would use public transportation, OK!?

But my experience with Business class was stunning, to say the least. Andy told me that I had access to the "Red Carpet" lounge in the San Francisco airport, so I went to find it as soon as I got there. I asked that lady that checks to see if you have a ticket before you put your bag on the belt and get stripped searched.

(Ok, I didn't get strip searched, but I swear those metal detectors are more sensitive today. I beeped the thing, backed up and dropped my keys in one of those plastic baskets, and tried again. Beeeeep, backup I dropped the $1.27 in change I had into the basket, and tried again Beeeeeep. Then she shouts "SCAN CHECK ON LINE ONE!!!!". I feel like a terrorist, parents are beginning to shield their children like I might just explode right there underneath the scanner. The lady sensed my concern and says "probably just your belt buckle". Who DOESN'T have a belt buckle!? I get scanned by ANOTHER lady and sure enough, that baton thing beeps at my belt buckle. A thin tin clasp buckle, not one of those big cast "Chevy" kind you see in Texas. "Ok" she says. Then I pick up my backpack, with laptop, power supply, disc drive, disc drive cable and "Leather man" stainless steel, multi purpose tool inside, which just sailed through the x-ray machine, and move on. Bet the Terminator would never get through that line)

So the whole business class experience started at the Red Carpet lounge. They had a "First Class" lounge upstairs, but the business class people, being of their own socio-economic culture had their own lounge. It was very nice, but the black marble floor wasn't quite as shiny as the First Class lounge (at least the part that I could see from outside the glass door). At least we weren't forced to sit with the common folk in that filthy terminal seating. When I first went into the lounge I showed the lady behind the nice wood finished counter my ticket, she asked if I wanted a coupon for a free cocktail at the bar. I wondered "who wouldn't?", it WAS after noon after all. I said yes and got my little bill shaped coupon. Maybe at the first class lounge they just have a whole pile and you can take as many as you want. The lounge had lots of comfortable seats and was nicely decorated. It also had lots of phones, a very nice TV and a business center with fax machines and stuff. No places to lie down though, I was really hoping for a nice couch....

Then they announced that my flight was boarding. I took my time as I always do, and got to the gate in a few minutes. When I got there, they were letting the pagans on already. I was a little miffed that I had missed the opportunity to board early. I guess most of the business class seats are upstairs in the 747-400 in the "bubble". I like a plane with stairs inside. You almost feel like you are in a house, it is so big. But I was just a tiny bit disappointed in the seating. Paul and Andy had told me about these wonderful business class seats with so much room that with the seat full reclined, you could still get up from your window seat and walk past the person in the aisle seat. Not on this plane. The seats reclined, and had the foot rests and all, but nobody was walking in front of a fully reclined aisle person without them moving, unless you had become particularly close friends on the long flight. But the seats were comfortable and VERY wide. What was really nice was the storage bins under the window (I always sit at the window 'cause I like to be in charge of those shades when they start the movie. Probably a side effect of having been in the audio/video club in the fourth through ninth grades) Since the curvature of the roof up in the bubble is so high, there is about a foot of space between the side of the seat and the window. They have these deep bins in that space with closing covers on them. There's lots of space in there. You could put a small child in there and still close the lid. I'm sure if my kids were with me they would have loved to try it out..

So I politely ask the girl on the aisle if I may step into my seat (didn't know her that well, but still 6 hours left on the flight). First thing I notice is a BIG pillow and a BIG blanket on my seat. Not as big as regular bed pillow, but a useful size. And I appreciated that someone had had the forethought to get one for me so I didn't have to rifle all of the overhead bins and grab 4-5 of those useless little wallet sized ones that they have in the pagan section (I have found that if you stuff 4 of them all in one cover, it comes close to being able to give you some neck support). And the blanket was actually big enough to actually cover a significant part of my body. It was a tasteful burgundy plaid and was hermetically sealed in plastic for my protection. I thought about the germs that must spread in the downstairs cabin on those towel size felt pads they have.

I moved a small pouch wrapped in plastic, that was on the armrest between the seats, toward the seat back so I could rest my arm. The girl next to me said "That is yours". Cool. Wonder what it is? I took the handsome burgundy "leatherette" pouch out of the plastic and unzipped it. There was lots of stuff inside. The flight attendant came buy with a big tray of drinks in real glasses and asked "Orange Juice or Champagne sir?". I had orange juice since I had redeemed my free drink coupon for a rum and coke in the lounge. Just as I took my orange juice and eagerly turned my attention again to the contents in the pouch, the attendant said "and Mr. Henry, here is your menu..". A MENU? You mean I have a CHOICE of food? But I shoved it into the seat pocket and rifled the pouch. I was hoping for some of those cool plastic, pin on "Captains" wings, but sadly there were none. There were a pair of socks in there. Cool. Free clothes. But I brought my own clothes this trip, next time I'll know. I'll save them for Andy, Paul told me that he really likes them. Then there was a pair of those geeky eye shades for when you pretend that you can't sleep with light shining on your eyelids, in burgundy, of course. A small bottle of "triple strength" mouthwash (I hadn't actually read the menu yet, maybe they had a garlic veal or something), a pair of those ear plugs that you roll between your fingers like bread dough and shove in your ear, a small bottle of lotion, a pack of those tissues like your mother always carried and licked spit on to wipe something off your face when you were a kid, a small tube of "Rembrandt" toothpaste, a small, plastic wrapped toothbrush in burgundy, a nail file, and a small package tooth picks with floss. Wow! Free stuff! Gee, had they known my underwear size, I could have left one of my bags at home! Oh yeah, then there was a piece of wax paper with two stickers on it, about 2 in square each. One said "please do not disturb", and the other said "Please wake me for meals"; in seven languages (and I am pleased to report that English still holds the number one spot on the charts). I wondered where exactly you were supposed to stick these. There were no instructions for use. I thought it would be funny to stick the "Please wake me for meals" sticker on my forehead and walk around the rest of the trip with it there.

What I was most pleased about though, was the little zippered pouch itself. As it turns out, I had prepared such a "convenience" kit myself at home, to carry in my backpack. The only pouch I had was a small, oval, plastic one, that was black and had small white flowers on it. I used it once, years ago, on a camping trip with 12 other guys. I was harassed relentlessly about this little flowered pouch for three days on that trip. Needless to say, that pain and anguish haunted me as I reluctantly packed this pouch at home. Well, now I needn't suffer that humiliation anymore, because United Airlines has provided a splendid (did I say it was burgundy?) pouch of similar size for me to use. My pouch had mouthwash in it too, among other things. It didn't have any socks, but it did have a couple small action figures I borrowed from my 5 year old son. I think I'm gonna swap out the stuff and leave that hideous, pain causing, flowered pouch in the bottom of this big bin beside the seat, and discard that horrid chapter of my life for good.

Shortly after the plane took off, the flight attendants announced the "plan". First cocktails, then dinner, then dessert, then a movie, then another movie, then another dinner, then another movie. They asked that if you planned to sleep, would you please leave you seat belt "outside your garments" so that in the event of turbulence, they could buckle you without waking you up. Is this really a problem!? I mean, how could you possibly buckle yourself inside "your garments". I'd though about half undressing and then pressing that attendant call button and asking for some help. Then the guy came down the aisle with the cocktail cart. Instead of the traditional bag of peanuts, I was given a small ceramic bowl on a napkin with a true "nut assortment". Not that chex mix crap they pass out at the bars, but a REAL nut assortment. The kind where you like ALL of the nuts in there. They even had pistachios. The guy asked what I wanted to drink, I asked for a rum and coke. He filled a glass with ice, poured a little rum in from one of those "nip" bottles, opened a can of coke and handed it all to me. Just as I said "thank you", he puts another nip bottle of rum on my napkin. Cool. I'll save that one for later.

Than they brought salads. They put a nice white cloth on your table tray. A tossed salad and on another plate (quoting from the menu) "Smoked Norwegian Salmon offered with Cabbage Lentil Slaw, sliced cucumber and fresh lemon". The attendant asked me if I had made a choice of a main course. I wanted to say "No, I was looking through the burgundy pouch when you handed me the menu and didn't really read it; do you guys have any of those cool pin-on wings?". But I didn't, I just read the choices quickly and said "I'll have the seafood". More correctly "The Seafood Malange. Grilled sherry scallops, salmon and saut‚ed shrimp with puff pastry with red roasted pepper sauce and leek and shiitake mushroom ragout". It was quite good, but I'm not sure I ever had "ragout" before. I thought that was something my uncle had surgery for when I was a kid. And you get REAL silverware, a tiny set of glass salt and pepper shakers, and there is no Saran wrap over any of the food.

They guy came by again with a cart with coffee and wine, and asked if I would like anything. I usually don't like coffee after dinner. Usually after a nice dinner I like to have a Grand Marnier. Then I though "Hey I got two rums, maybe I'll get two Grand Marnier's if I ask for it". So I said, "No coffee for me thank you, but do you have Grand Marnier?". The attended said, yes and immediately left his cart and went to the gallery. He came back with a cordial glass etched with the United logo, poured a GM nip into it and placed it on my tray. I kept my head down and said thank you, and yes, another bottle was placed next to my glass. I quickly shoved it into my backpack and looked at my watch to see if there was time left before we landed to ask for something else.


As part of my own global initiative to assess and monitor fast food businesses worldwide, I ventured out to find a MacDonalds in Singapore one evening when I wanted something "simple and familiar" (sometimes not easily found in Singapore). I went into the huge mall that was attached to the hotel I was staying at. This mall was so big that it had TWO MacDonalds. I strolled in and made a quick visual assessment of the surroundings. Familiar, and the good old "Extra Value Meals" headed up the billboard. I ordered a #1 with a coke for "here", no language barrier this time. I was served promptly and the food was identical as any other MacDonalds I had ever been to. Astonishing.

Of note: The server placed a single napkin on the tray, no napkin dispensers in the dining area, the menus were subtitled in Chinese. There was no beer served there. The price? The Big Mac combo was roughly $3.50 USD.


In the mall next to the hotel, I was approached, and in one case, pursued, by salesman in a "tailor" shop. They spotted me coming and jumped out "Tailor sir? Come in and have a look?". Like I might come to the mall to kill some time and maybe grab something to eat and realize "Oh yeah, I was going to have a half dozen dress shirts made, wasn't I?" Even if I had, I would have probably shopped elsewhere based on the fabrics that they had displayed. Perhaps a nice sofa cover, but never a shirt.

Cell Phones

I would say that roughly one in 4 people I saw anywhere had a cell phone; and half of them were talking on them. No matter where you were, in fifteen minutes time you were bound to hear that shrill chirp/ring of a phone and everyone around would glance down and grab their waist like some child was pulling at their trousers (I started doing it too, when I heard a phone, so I wouldn't look out of place). And I guess the big thing now is a belt worn cell phone with an ear piece (like half of those walkman in-ear "headphones"). I have no idea where the microphone is, maybe they have them embedded in their face somewhere.

Public transit

I have long held the belief that you don't really experience a city until you ride on its public transportation. We rode the MRT (metro rapid transit?) to the Chinese Garden. It was the cleanest subway system that I had ever seen. It was bright and shiny clean, and there was no smell of urine. But the walls were covered with signs alerting you to all the fines for all the stuff you weren't supposed to do. Littering: $500, Smoking: $500, Eating or Drinking: $1000, not standing up straight: $100, picking your nose, $200. The place had so many prices on the walls, it looked like some kind of store.

But the real marvel was the buses. You have to either give your fare in coins to a machine next to the driver or put you pre-paid bus fare card in another machine. The bus driver had no change, as long as you put in AT LEAST as much as you owed, he was cool. But you needed your MBA and a laptop with Lotus 1-2-3 to figure out the damn fares. Your bus fare was based on how far you were going. Ok, no surprise there. But also, it depended on whether or not the bus you boarded had air conditioning or not; A/C cost you about 10 cents more. (A/C buses had a sign in the front "Air Conditioned" so you had a chance to see what kind of amenity level you public transportation vehicle had prior to making that financial commitment) And then, if you were short, you paid less. I'm sure this was meant for children, but they had two height "classes". .9 meter and 1.2 meter. I know some vertically challenged people who could not tolerate humidity that would have had a real problem figuring out this mess. And to top it all off, if you were waiting at the bus stop and no one on the bus had indicated a preference to disembark (or "alight" from the vehicle as they say in Singapore), you practically had to jump out in front of this 4 ton vehicle to convince the driver to stop for you. I guess you just have to learn how to work the system.

Cool Stuff at the Hotel

The Pan Pacific hotel in Singapore is one of the nicest I have ever stayed at. It has 800 rooms in a 35 story open atrium architecture. A Chinese restaurant is perched atop one of the building's corners on the 37th floor. There is no take out. My room had a king sized bed, separate bath and shower, phone in the bathroom next to the toilet (I would love to have been in the first hotel board meeting when this idea was brought up for the first time), a safe, minibar, TWO terrycloth robes and slippers (white though, would have clashed with the United airlines socks), coffee maker and stainless steel ice bucket which was mysteriously filled every afternoon. There was a small console on the nightstand that was an alarm clock and controlled every light in the room and the air conditioner fan speeds. It also showed time in 8 time zones. None of the stuff in the room would work unless you put your magnetic key card in a little slot by the front door. (actually, I later found out that a business card would work and you could leave your A/C on "max" all day and take you room key with you) When you pulled it out, everything in the room went off after about 5 seconds.

If you go outside and walk any more than a block in Singapore, you have to change you clothes and take a shower when you get back (they have 90/90 weather: 90 degrees, 90% humidity. day and night, all year round). Because of this, I had to have some laundry done by the hotel after just 5 days. I placed underwear, socks, shorts, several T-shirts, a dress shirt and pants in the laundry back and left it for pick up in the morning. Upon returning to my room that evening, I found a gift on the bed. In a shallow basket, was a white tissue paper wrapped present complete with a red bow. I anxiously unwrapped it, wondering what gift had been sent to me. It was my socks and underwear. Neatly folded and assembled to form a nice rectangle. I had never seen underwear folded before. I marveled at the small square bundle, and thought it nice that you couldn't even see the holes the way it was folded. But I didn't see all of my other clothes. Then I looked in the closet to find all of my other clothes hanging up in there, wrapped in plastic. T-shirts on hangers, another novelty. Then I noticed pair of pants that were not mine and thought to call the front desk. But upon closer look, I realized that they WERE my pants, pressed and creased to a smoothness that I had never seen before. I don't think that I will wear them anymore, I'm going to try to keep them that way.

The pool was very nice, the water was so warm that you had to stick your face in the water before you were actually convinced that you were in the water. And it had and UNDERWATER sound system. And the other cool thing was that about every 20 minutes, a girl came around handing out CHILLED, wet towels. This must be the opposite of those hot towels they hand you on the airplane (which by the way are too hot for the stewardess to handle with bare hands, but it is Ok for YOU to burn your fingers)

The City

In Singapore, the ground is too soft for them to build the big buildings on top of, so they use shopping malls for foundations. They usually top that off with a restaurant "layer", then the actual building starts around the 4th or 5th floor. A pool is usually placed on the 3rd or 4th level to keep the sweating people out of the lobby. You can walk for 8 or 10 city blocks and never leave a the mall environment.

Escalators are a natural resource in Singapore. They are everywhere. Some are wide and some are small, and I think there is a fine if you walk up or down one, even if it is stopped. Hoards of people will cram into a primitive stairwell before they will actually attempt to walk on a stopped escalator.

Air conditioning is another problem in Singapore. Apparently, in the early 80s, A/C was over produced and there is a huge glut of it in the city. It pours out of open mall door ways and annoys the passers-by who are just trying to bask in the sauna-like outdoors.

The Food

The food is good in Singapore, but you have to know what you are eating. They eat everything that comes out of the ocean. I think I saw "sand" on one menu. And no one has learned how to clean fish yet. They just throw the whole thing into the pan or hot oil and plop it on a nice silver tray and bring it to your table. You can still see the expression on the fish's face that was there when he was caught. I swear one I had still had a hook in its mouth. And the Chinese food restaurants are especially scary. They'll cook and serve anything. Rabbit, snake, dog, cat, rat, anything. If you live in Singapore near Chinatown and go on vacation here's some advice: take fluffy with you.

But there are lots of familiar restaurants. I saw KFC, Burger King, Long John Silvers (I wonder if anyone ever told the Singaporeans that we don't actually eat there), Chili's, Tony Romas, etc.


This was a big surprise. The "Disco" (yeah, I cringe when I say that too) is still very big in Singapore. And so are smaller clubs with bands. But the better dance clubs are very expensive. Most have hefty cover charges of $25-$35, but include 2 or 3 drinks. $15-$20 is not uncommon with no drinks. And on the weekend, the places are packed. Still $7-$9 a drink.

Coming home

I was actually very happy to leave Singapore after 2 weeks there. I was there when the wildfires were burning in nearby Malaysia and Indonesia. It was very hazy and smoky smelling everyday, I virtually never saw the sun. I flew back through Tokyo, then to Honolulu Hawaii, then to my favorite place in the whole world: Maui. I stayed in a bed and breakfast just 1 block of the beach in Lahaina for 4 days. I went scuba diving off Molokini 2 of those days. Swam with reef sharks, spotted eagle rays, and all sorts of unique marine life. The water was 82 degrees and visibility was well over 150 ft. Awesome.

Then I came home....