Saturday, May 30, 2009

Back to Basics - With a Twist

2009 was officially the year when everyone collectively jumped on the "Green" bandwagon. I personally think it's great that being more efficient, productive, and cleaner; while finding alternative sources of energy are now considered cool and mainstream. What I do love about this new green penchant is that people are rediscovering that tried and true methods are actually beneficial to the cause, such as the simple act of using a bicycle as an alternative or even primary means to transportation. On a recent trip to Taiwan, I found that the city of Taipei is taking bicycle transportation well into the 21st century.

At strategic locations all over central Taipei, Community Bike Centers have been established. At these locations, people can use smart cards which assist in the nominal financial transaction of renting a community bike. The transaction takes place at a free standing Kiosk which instructs the rider each step of the way. From here, the rider walks to any number of community bikes that are awaiting to be placed into service. The rider then swipes their smart card across the Sensor Device which operates as both a locking system for bike security and to register the bike to the specific rider. Only after the transaction is registered, is the locking mechanism automatically engaged and the rider is then free to take the bike and set out on their journey.

Once the rider is done with their bike, they can simply return it to any of the many Community Bike Centers that are all over town, swipe their smart card to calculate hours used and deduct the charge, inventory the bike at its new location, and safely lock the bike for its next use. It's a new take on an old and trusted method of transportation and is meant to encourage community bike riding in urban areas to help reduce traffic, improve air quality, as well as enhance physical fitness.

Taiwan has a wonderful bicycle culture and is the home of the bicycle manufacturer Giant. Many Taipei residents enjoy the city's bicycle connector paths which connect riders from the dense urban core to outlying suburban and scenic areas. It's great to see this country lead the way in bringing technology to something like urban bicycle transportation. I sure hope other countries can follow Taiwan's efforts.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Singapore Stop-Over

I can count on one hand the number of friends who have had both the flexibility in precious time and money to be able to swing by Singapore during my tenure here in the Lion City. But when a friend is able to align those variables and stop in for a visit, it is always a very good thing. My friend Caroline is part of the esteemed Munich Crew that many have read about in some of my earliest blog posts. Just over a year ago, Caroline resigned from her job, sold her house and car, and ventured off to see the world. Her travels eventually landed her in New Zealand where she worked different jobs to keep the cash flow positive. After close to a year in Kiwi Land, Caroline decided it was time to re-visit friends and family back in the UK. Singapore was the perfect transit hub to pause and take a breather during this marathon journey. It was Caroline's first visit to an Asian country and yours truly was her guide.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is quite a few things to do on our little island nation. To start things off, we attended a performance of CATS the Musical, which holds the title of the longest running play on Broadway. Well, we weren't in the Big Apple, but Singapore's Durians (the local nickname for the Performing Arts building because of their prickly fruit appearance and fortunately not their smell) were the perfect substitute. Neither Caroline nor myself had actually seen the show before, so we were both quite anxious to see what all the fuss was about.

The cast did a great job and their furry costumes and feline antics added to the appeal. The songs were catchy and I knew this to be true because I caught myself whistling them later that day long after the performance had ended. There was no time to cat-nap after the performance because the next stop on the itinerary was just a whisker away.

The Singapore Flyer is one of the newest iconic structures to appear upon the city's ever evolving skyline. It currently ranks as the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world, even taller than the famous London Eye. One round trip revolution on the observatory wheel takes 20 minutes to complete and some incredible views can be had along the way. Peering out one side of the glass-enclosed viewing pod, one can see the new Marina Barrage, which is one of Singapore's most ambitious national projects to date. The project attempts to aid in the nation's quest for water independence and sustainability so that Singapore no longer has to purchase water reserves from their foreign neighbors. How it works is that the Barrage acts as a physical barrier between Marina Bay and the South China Sea, which is the busiest shipping lane in the world and resides on the other side of the Barrage. With Marina Bay now sealed off from the sea a massive reservoir has now been created. As rain water falls into the bay, over an extended period of time, this reservoir will convert from salt water to fresh and provide the nation with a new source of precious H2O. The Barrage's unique design allows its walls to tilt and release water from the bay back into the sea when water levels rise because of heavy rains caused by seasonal storms, which helps protect against unwanted flooding.

Looking out on the other side of the viewing pod, you can look down on Marina Bay, the Central Business District, and the Esplanade Performing Arts Center (look for the Durians), which combine to create Singapore's modern skyline. But like a shark who will drown if it stops swimming, Singapore must always keep building and developing its skyline and business and tourist attractions. With a new special kind of cash-rich tourist in mind, development is well underway for a massive casino along Marina Bay which is scheduled to open in 2010. Formally known as an Integrated Resort by the government, the owner of the famous Sands Casino is building the Marina Bay Sands Resort that will hopefully attract gamblers from across Southeast Asia and maybe even nibble at the heels of both Macau and Vegas.

Caroline's visit not only allowed me to catch up with a good friend but also gave me a worthy excuse to look in on some of the normally more touristy sites around Singapore that I've tended to gloss over after having lived here for close to five years. It's always nice to see a place all over again through the fresh eyes of someone who has yet to become deafened and blinded to the amazing wonders that we often take for granted. And to my friends out there who have yet to visit my little island home that dots the South China Sea, please plan a trip and let me be your honored guide.