Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Two years ago I was sitting on the front porch of my home deep in the redwood forests of NorCal (Northern California). I would sometimes just sit there and stare out into the yard, lost in thought. Our house is what was described by the man who built it as “Mendonesian” in design. It is a very definite combination of Mendocino sensibilities (Mendocino being the exceedingly counter-culture county it resides in) and Indonesian kampong design – thus Rumah Mendonesia. The house is surrounded by redwoods (endemic) and bamboo (introduced) and is situated in a small gulch on the north side of a larger gulch which is finger off of the Anderson Valley.

The land under our house is a 10+ acre parcel mostly cover in Redwoods. Our dirt driveway dived the front of the properly in half. On the east side there is a large garden, on the west side there is an enclosed paddock where live 4 goats (Nick and Nora, who begat Ned and Nute, before Nick got his much needed operation), 3 chickens (Gibson, Olive, and Ethel), and 5 ducks, (Indira, Othello, Socrates, and Lucky , and one other who arrived since I departed). It a farmette of sorts.

Our nearest neighbors to the east lives in the next gulch over and remain completely undisclosed to us. The neighbor on the west side lives farther up the hill and her house is only just glimpsable though the redwoods. It is much farther than even the best pitcher could hurl a stone.
The road to our house is a private one, built for the express purpose to getting to our house, well, not just OUR house, but the houses of the people that live on this parceled out former ranch. It is a dead end road, it just goes to the top of the valley wall and ends – a road to nowhere. Few people travel that way for unless they live there, or are visiting, they have no reason to.

The nearest real “town” (read village) is named Boonville (pop. 420). Boonville has a gas station, an small old hotel, a old school hardware store, a post office, two “quickie marts”, a couple of restaurants, and a lumberjack bar ("No chainsaws or firearms allowed inside"). For us to get to the nearest real store is a 50 minute drive and even then one can’t always find what they want.

I tell you all this to more vividly illustrate the isolation of my previous existence - compared to today.

Today, I stood and stared out the window of the elevated train that intertwines and tunnels its way through the island state of Singapore. Outside the city streaked by. I was lost in thought and completely alone on the train. Then the train hit a little bump and I was jostled back to reality. In that brief moment between deep thought and reality I saw Singapore as one who is newly arrived would – just for a flash – and then I was back, shoulder to shoulder, amongst the breathing masses. As I stood there, surrounded by people chattering in many different languages, watching the now familiar landmarks pass by, I realized how much had changed for me, how very different my life had become.

If fifty or sixty years ago you had shown a science fiction writer a glimpse of today’s Singapore they would have been thrilled – it is (with the exception of personal flying transportation devises) almost exactly how they had envisioned it. Singapore is clean, safe, organized, efficient, vertical and manicured to within an inch of its life. It is almost like walking through a botanical gardens with high rise buildings. It is pretty amazing.

Singapore is probably the most purpose built city in the world. For the last 42 years the authoritarian government has had its hand in shaping almost very aspect of life here. Its leaders had a vision of their future and they pursued it with a passion. They created not just the physical city; the buildings, transportation and economy, they molded their citizens as well. While tearing down the old shop houses and erecting new multi story housing units they changed the behavior of the people who would inhabit them. They created an economy that is the envy of almost every other country in Asia, and built a nation where 70 over percent of its citizens own their own housing. Almost 5 million people inhabit Singapore and yet the kind of poverty seen in other large city is almost unknown here. Singapore is easily the safest city and country in the world. Anyone can walk any street at any time without fear of molestation or harm. And even with an authoritarian government (or maybe because of it) Singapore remains as free as almost any other country you might visit.

Now, all of this planning and organization does come with a few side effects. There isn’t really a “free press” here as the government owns almost every TV, radio station and periodical in the country (but I can’t tell difference – of course I really pay very little attention to the news). Penalties for breaking the law here can be rather harsh (so it is recommended you don't break te rules). And with its dive towards modernization Singapore has left behind some of its history and cultural roots. The government now recognizes that its push to
conform and its removal of some of the fringe elements has created a citizenry that has some difficulty with creative thinking and innovation. The government recognizes the problem but ..... well, you can see the dilemma.

But what is the most unusual for me is the culture of it all. Singapore in many ways is like an ant colony; there is a definite master plan, it is structured, compact and designed. Much of the
housing apartments are interconnected with coverd walk ways and overhead bridges, and down town there is a vast warren of interconnected underground areas, some complete with shops, banking and food stalls. People live vertically here (as it should be for all cities – thus avoiding the horrible urban sprawl that creeps across American like a mold). Education is exceedingly serious and competitive. A child future is decided early on and their education is tailor to it there after. There is a definite feeling of community solidarity and oneness despite any differences. People activities are (for the most part) centralized; a central "business" district, shopping in “mega malls” and “hyper marts” recreation on selected islands and in recreation parks. Transportation is easy and efficient with inexpensive taxis, a well planned highway system, and excellent mass transit (both trains and busses). Life is ordered.

I now live in the Indo-Malay Archipelago, but my living quarters could not be less Indonesian. I live in a condominium complex is called the Madeira. My 17th floor unit is in one of three 28 storey towers. The complex is walled and surrounded by landscaped grounds. There are over 475 units in the three towers, and they house more than 1500 inhabitants. The Madeira is a near self contained complex with an ample car park, 3 swimming pools, tennis courts, a putting green, two gardening plots, play areas, 10 BBQ stations, a water feature, a gym, Jacuzzis and his and her steam rooms. In the bottom floors of the adjacent apartment buildings there are dozens of places to eat and many shops selling a multitude of diverse products: pets, bicycles, herbal medicine, hardware, clothing, religious items, massage, groceries, doctors, school supplies, shoe repair, driving classes - almost everything one could ever need. All of this in one square block.

It is nothing like NorCal.


At 7:45 AM, Blogger ciotóg said...


Saw your comment on 'The Travelling Hungryboy' blog while I was doing a search today so I thought I'd swing by and say hello. I'll get around to my favourite topic (discussing beer) at some point in the future :)


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