Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Back when I worked for a certain enormous global retailer of books 'n such, they opened a superstore in Singapore. Within three days an appeal for assistance went out because the store did more than a million dollars' business in 72 hours and the staff was overwhelmed. I was flown there at considerable expense to re-arrange the back room into a more efficient workspace, to train the inventory crew, and to assist the cash office with an enormous backlog of daily sales reconciliations.

I had a great time. I stayed in an executive suite. I drank booze for free in an executive lounge every day. I met cool people and toured an exciting and vibrant city.

And worked 15 hour days.

Singapore is strange. It's got a lot of freedoms, and a high standard of living, but there's a soft fascism in effect. You can be fined a thousand dollars for possessing chewing gum, and you can be caned for relatively minor infractions. Undercover cops police the restrooms and hand out big fines for a failure to flush urinals. For some segments of the population, the soft fascism is rather hard. Homosexuality, for example, is totally outlawed. I remember when machine-gun toting police and soldiers burst into the receiving room at the bookstore and confiscated boxes of gay-themed page-a-day calendars. Some of my Sing staff were gay, and they were devestated and terrified. This is a nation where disgusting pimps walk the streets offering Westerners binders full of photos of young women for rent. Somehow it's okay for a Yank or a Brit to pay money to debauch teenage girls there, but consenting gay and lesbian adults are denied their basic human right to engage in sexual behavior. While straight prostitution is legal in Singapore, pornography is not. A bizarre and conflicted nanny state indeed.

Never fear, however: Gandalf is on the case.

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