Monday, June 30, 2008

One If By Land

0830 hours and we’ve mapped out our initial strategy at Tokyo Disneyland. Park opens at 0900 hours. We’ve already got our tickets. Once we’re in, it’s straight to Cinderella’s castle, back of the park, second land to the right, and straight on ’til morning! Our competitive intelligence (Jenn) says Pooh’s Hunny Hunt is mobbed from the start, so our only chance is to out-hustle everyone else. But we are seasoned Disney fans, and we’re living in kiasu Singapore to boot, so we’re confident of our chances. Until we see this:

And that’s 30 minutes before the gates even open.

Dutifully, we queue, our hopes somewhat lower. About 96% of park guests are Japanese, so they have the home field advantage. As the gates open, the orderly line becomes an orderly . . . scrum. It’s Japan, so there’s no pushing or shoving - just a kind of intense strategizing. Fortunately, we reach the attraction early enough that the wait is only 15 minutes. Success!

We leave quite amazed by technology we haven’t seen on any ride in the States. Picture hunny honey pots that are individually guided by GPS. There is no track, and each honey pot traverses it own course. We whirl and do-si-do around the other pots (including one containing Heffalump “tourists” taking photos of us). It’s a bit like being immersed in a ballroom dance competition.

As we leave, we gleefully note that our strategy has worked: the wait for the ride is now 130 minutes. Later, we lunch at a gorgeously themed (and slightly trippy) Alice in Wonderland café called Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall, whose roof is covered in a hedge maze and whose doorway is a doorknob with a keyhole taller than we are. We eat unbirthday cake for dessert.

Unfortunately, our flawless strategizing begins to unravel when we try for a parade and a show. The best spot we can snag is far, far away from the parade floats (which have fun Asian touches like a dragon dance with the crocodile from Peter Pan). And we’re shut out of two shows before we figure things out. Being from the States, we just didn’t anticipate anyone sitting on the ground for three hours for a parade - or a full hour for a show.

But the Japanese are very patient, and not only patient but prepared. Each family has brought a ground covering to sit on as they wait. They look at us sadly when they see we have none. One elderly Japanese couple squeezes to one side of their mat and motions for us to share it with them. (Eventually, we buy our own as a souvenir, and it’s a big hit with our cat.)

Later, we adapt enough to score a perfect spot for the Electrical Parade, which Jenn has been missing for years (it was cruelly moved here from Orlando’s Magic Kingdom). It’s all worthwhile as we see the sunset behind the castle and the musical arrival of the “thousands of sparkling lights.”

But by 2200 hours, we’re bushed. And we’ll have an early start tomorrow: Day Two is by Sea.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

In the Mail

I spent most of yesterday grappling with the dreaded arrival of . . . the mail pouch. In a nod to the double life we’re leading, Joey’s company has provided us with a PO box back in New Jersey at which we can receive mail. And as they put it, they “pouch” the contents to us every few weeks.

We’re not clear on how it actually gets here: Do they pitch it onto the next boat out of New York harbor? Do they use some secret-agent interoffice mail service? Do they stick it in the suitcase of a hapless executive traveling from HQ to Singapore? However they do it, they thoughtfully transport the contents of our PO box halfway around the world to Joey’s desk.

And what, you may ask, is so valuable that it gets ferried to us across continents and oceans? Good question. Our friends and family use our address in Singapore if they write to us, and our US banking and bills we do online. So usually our haul looks something like this:

a few issues of BusinessWeek from last month (there’s nothing like reading the weekly market tips a few weeks late)

several alumni communications (our Ivy League alma mater and top-20 b-school are, naturally, desperate for funds)

and, mostly, tons of the same junk mail we’ve been patiently shredding for years.

Yes, the company thoughtfully ships us those credit card offers, personal loan ads, and sweepstakes entries so that we can personally evaluate them. Surely we wouldn’t want to miss that chance to refinance at a low, low rate! And of course we’d want to know we’ve been personally selected for an exclusive card membership!

Lesson learned: you can leave the junk mail, but the junk mail won’t leave you. I suppose I should appreciate the little touch of home: sitting in Singapore, as I slowly feed the pile of junk mail through the shredder, it almost feels as if I never left New Jersey.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Ads That Make You Go Hmm...

What comes to mind when you hear an advert for a cash line of credit? In the US, the ads usually suggest that your line of credit can help you pay for a dream vacation, start that huge home renovation, solve a financial emergency. But here in Singapore, I recently heard a radio segment advertising a line of credit for the cash payment by a young couple for their wedding banquet!

You would think that the wedding itself would be stressful enough for the couple, but the bride and groom are often responsible for the traditional wedding banquet, too. And Asian wedding banquets typically put Western receptions to shame, with huge guest lists and course after course of the most expensive foods available. Sometimes, if a large number of parental friends and colleagues are attending, then the parents will help out. Otherwise, the young couple are on their own.

And of course, in this cash-based society, it would never do to put the whole thing on a credit card (as we suspect most couples in the US would do these days). No wonder etiquette requires wedding guests to bring a substantial little red packet as a gift: you wouldn’t want your hosts to go broke just as they are starting out.