Alright, I know i'm way behind here... It's been a week since I've last blogged and the trip officially ended (Howard left Singapore last Monday morning). Since then, I have been preparing myself for the beginning of b-school at INSEAD, which begins on August 27th (Orientation week). I had originally planned to be in a French class this week (since INSEAD has a requirement of a 3rd language to graduate), but the class got cancelled on Friday. Thus, I have the week to read, relax and generally prep for the program...

First things first... Singapore is a lovely place. I've spent the last few days travelling all over the island/city/state and can honestly say its pretty great. There are quite a few myths regarding Singapore that came from the whole Michael Fay episode back in 1994. Unfortunately, the place gets a bad rap for the incident, even though the actions of Michael Fay were bothersome and anti-social (Who thinks spray painting random cars is a normal thing to do?) Regardless, the city definitely has a protective feel to it, with lots of regulations against "vices" and disruptive behavior. For example, there are many signs warning people against smoking, and there is a heavy tax on cigarettes (oh, and the packs have those gruesome images of people who had operations due to lung and throat cancer). The same taxation applies to beer (a 6 can pack is roughly $15-20 SGD or $10-15 USD for budget stuff). They also have many signs regarding death occuring from jaywalking as well as terrorism warning videos at train stations. Yes, this place is serious, and the locals seem to think it makes sense. While I have certainly seen lots of jaywalking and beer drinking here by locals, there is a general feeling of safety and conservativism here, no question...

I spent a lot of my time this past week dealing with my Lenovo laptop (which took a bit of a beating on my trip, resulting in some serious wear and tear on the outer case) and buying some basics, like a cell phone. For the laptop, I had to lug the device all the way to Chiangi Business Center (right by the airport, about 45 minutes from home) to have them assess the damage and the warranty coverage. If I bought the laptop in Singapore, I would have had to pay for the repairs, since physical damage is never covered. However, my US coverage was sufficient for a free repair. Unfortunately, they did not have the parts on hand and needed to order them (they finally arrived today). Hopefully, I can pick it up tomorrow.

For the cell phone, I went to Funan IT Mall and Sim Lim Center. Funan is a massive semi-fancy mall by City Hall that includes boutique-type PC and cellphone shops. It was here that I realized how complicated buying a cellphone would be here. There are way too many options, and too many functions to think about. Here, cellphone service is much better (including on subways) and everyone is obsessed with the latest gadgets (MP3 player, Camera, GPS, mobile office). I got overwhelmed pretty quickly. I decided a smart phone with some of these functions could be a good idea.

I then went to Sim Lim, which is more like a flea market for high-end electronics (if you need some random cable, you can get it here). This place was filled with cell vendors touting hundreds of phones. Ultimately, I decided on the BenQ P51, a large phone that can double as a 2nd computer (I figured GPS with a Singapore map would be good for getting around here). That evening, I began to regret the purchase, finding that the device acted like a Windows PC (yes, it crashed a few times and I got some weird error messages). I went back to Sim Lim the next morning to try to return it, but the vendor did not have the replacement phone I was looking for (oh, and there are no returns at these stores). Ultimately, the vendor agreed to take the phone back, but I had to cover some of the pieces he threw in (I am now the proud owner of Singapore GPS software!). What a disaster... Finally, I found the Nokia E65 a compact slider phone with Wifi (so that I can speak to all of you via Skype for free/low cost) at another vendor. Its a very cool, small phone and i love it. For my cell plan, I got SingTel Prepaid, which is a bit complicated, but has very good service.

I also took care of my student pass documentation this week, involving a medical exam and dropping off the paperwork at the Singapore government office. The medical exam was pretty painless (even taking blood!), taking under one hour to complete. I then went to drop off the paperwork, and got onto the wrong line at the office. I waited for 1 hour only to find out that the line I was supposed to be on had a queue of 10 minutes. Whatever...

I also visited the local Jewish Community Center and the synagogue Maghain Aboth. The center was recently reconstructed (four months ago, actually) and now includes a beautiful restaurant and event space, along with the typical jewish spaces (market, offices, beit midrash, etc). There is a strong Chabad presence, led by Rabbi Abergel (who's been in Singapore for 13 years now). The community is pretty small (about 100 people) with a few studets from Israel/etc doing exchange programs here as well. The prayer services are heavily Sephardic, very different than what I am used to, but quite nice. The community is actually quite similar to the one in Hong Kong, with a similar kind of community center. Shabbat services and meals were quite nice, and I expect to enjoy the place further over the next few months.

Aside from all of this, I have met a bunch of INSEADers studying at the pre-term course as well as some living in my building (Heritage View on Dover Rise). They all seem pretty cool and excited for the program...

Finally, a note on my apartment and the complex. The apartment is a 3 bedroom with a spacious living room, kitchen w/ washer/dryer, etc. Its quite nice. The complex has 4 pools (1 kids pool, 1 very shallow pool, 1 round pool with a massive waterfall, and one lap pool w/ a curve), gym, bbq pits, etc. Its definitely a great place to hang my hat for the next 6+ months. The only issue is distance, both from the city and the synagogue. Walking on Friday evening back to my apartment took upwards of 1.5 hours (the walk is about 10 kms or 6 miles). On Shabbat morning, walking back and forth was quite brutal. I might need to come up with alternative arrangements for the upcoming weeks...

Well, that's the deal so far... Over and out. Keep in touch...