Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Singapore story


Traveling from Slovakia to Singapore is surprisingly easy as there are no visa requirements. So it was inevitable that traveling from Bali back home, we would make a two days stop in this city-state with its image of squeaky-clean discipline. Our early evenings was reserved for supermarkets and shopping centres. One lady among us went amok and set about negotiating the purchase of a two-metre plastic Christmas tree. It took some time to persuade her that she had to consider the horrendous complications involved in getting on airplane with this tree. Some members of our tourist expedition came back with the news that somewhere nearby you could land yourself a cheap, brand name watch. I was determined to resist this opportunity. In Bali, under a similar spell, I had succeeded in buying some fashionable brands of cosmetics, most of which were good only for mosquito repellent. But the devil of temptation never rests! Late in the evening I decided to take a brief walk. Strolling round shopping malls I was rewarded with the knowledge that in Singapore, too -- with its legendary lashings and the like for minor infractions such as leaving a cigarette butt on the street -- some places look like a cigarette cemetery. I was on the way back to the hotel when, in a corner of the supermarket, two young boys offered me a cheap Rolex. I was sure it was a copy but, to tell the truth, who would ever know in Bratislava? An invitation to experience the infamous Singaporean black
market was generously being proffered, and I just could not refuse!

The young boys led me to the subterranean levels of a supermarket. Then, when we turned a third time in the labyrinth, I understood this wasn’t one of my brightest ideas. It was near closing time. The awnings were coming down and we walked through empty corridors, where bands of sharks could easily and quickly demolish me. Before I could begin to think about my possible defense strategy – though my chances looked pretty slim -- we came to one shop that was still open and the boys led me toward the back. I was elated to see an English tourist here also in pursuit of the cheap Rolex. He was happy to see me as well. We quickly whispered some mutually encouraging words, and then the young boy brought me a whole set of watches to choose from. Under the circumstances, I was in no mood for a prolonged inspection. I took the first decent-looking model, mildly haggled over the price, paid, put the watch on my wrist and fled in search of daylight. When I was out on the street, my self-confidence returned and feeling like an experienced globetrotter, I returned to my hotel. I joined our tourist group in the dining room, and I took the occasion to show off my new watch.

“You amateurs!” I yelled to them, boisterously -- emboldened by my recent descent into the underworld. “To buy a cheap watch cheaply is easy enough. But to buy cheaply an expensive
watch -- that is art. Look!”

They all looked, but not in big recognition. Only one notably unsympathetic woman (who hates to travel, hates the sea and had joined us only because she had won the trip from a travel company) looked at the watch intently and, with complete ingenuousness, asked me if this was the famous Rolex model which self-winds on the principle of motion and gravity. I agreed immediately that it was and then somewhat confused changed the topic. I sat down to dinner but the remarks of the unsympathetic lady had got me thinking. Could it be that I’d bought the watch with the most progressive system of saving batteries? So much happiness at one stroke? Inconspicuously I looked at my new watch under the table. Given my rapt attention, it did seem as though gravitational forces were at work already. The second hand was moving, infallibly, in an orbit guided by the movement of my wrist. On the whole, the watch was at its most restful and happiest when my hand was immobile, with a tired second hand trying (but failing) to rise -- from the 6 toward the upper ranges.

I still have this watch. But I don’t wear it with pride.

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