24 May 2007

Singapore Champions League?

Abacus, my employer, has a series of team- and morale-building exercises throughout the year, friendly little competitions among employees. They have broken us out into four "houses", similar to Gryffindor, Slytherin, et. al., from Harry Potter. My team is The Incredibles (I think I was placed on the team because of my resemblance to the father, only with a smooth dome), and over the last two days we participated in the Abacus Street Soccer Tournament. Maybe by chance, it coincided with UEFA's Champions League final, where the European club champion is crowned. Last night, in Athens, AC Milan beat five-time holder Liverpool for its seventh title. Well, that's where the similarities end. Our venue was an old street soccer court, and our histories are nothing as illustrious as the two sides who took the pitch in Greece. The Incredibles last night drew one match and lost the other two, earning a single point and a spot in the "3rd placing" match against the Avengers. I was unable to play last night but turned up to anchor the squad tonight.

While I felt it was important to bond with my fellow employees and see them outside of work, my legs right now would tend to disagree. I think they will be even more temperamental when I attempt to get out of bed tomorrow morning. But, that is the price of pursuing greatness.

The match started well when the referee reduced the timing of each half from 15 to 10 minutes. I played a roving midfield position (the pitch is smaller than a regulation size basketball court, so hold your applause) and assisted in our first goal in the third minute, which put us ahead 1-0. Alas, a defensive lapse and an inattentive goalkeeper meant that we were even at 1-1 at the half. The second half started well, as I volleyed a rebound into the back of the net (left-footed even!) to help the Incredibles take a 2-1 lead, but we were level again at 2-2 before we could reach the final whistle. Extra time yielded three Avenger goals, and the final was a 5-2 defeat. "Fourth placing". At least we got a $5 Starbucks card. That's in Singapore dollars, however, which means I'll still have to pitch in to buy a drink.

The championship match turned out to be a lopsided affair, as the Justice League jumped ahead 4-0 en route to a 5-1 win and the title.

Now that UEFA's Champions League and Abacus' Street Soccer tournament are over, I don't know what Singaporeans will do to fill their sports viewing needs for the next few months. Myself, I plan to take on a more managerial role in the next tournament. Unless it is competitive eating.

21 May 2007

The Mitre Hotel

Hello. I am back after a couple week visit to the States. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as I get back, I stumble onto one of the hidden "gems" of Singapore. I was with a friend on Friday who mentioned the divey-est of dive bars. Rats scurrying across the floor, huge holes in the ceiling, the dust of the ages on old furniture piled high. I said no way, this is Singapore. So, we went.

And I experienced the Mitre Hotel. Ironically, it is about 200 metres from my condo. Maybe a two minute walk, I pass by it every day on my way down Killiney Road to the train station. Mixed in with the restaurants and businesses is a little nondescript entrance to a tree-lined road that takes you to the hotel. It has a very back alley feel to it, and quite sinister after dark. We walk down there around 10:30 at night, and it was pretty foreboding. If it wasn't Singapore, I'd have been scared. Even with this city's reputation for safety, I wasn't comfortable. After about 50 metres, we came upon a few people with an old Singaporean man drinking beer outside a very, VERY run-down building. We go in, and it is unbelievable. "Uncle", as the proprietor is called, is the man holding court outside. Inside, his neice, who we later decide is insane, serves us Tiger beer in a can. The four people at the bar head out, so it's just us and the woman, and we sit for a chat. She is crazy. And the place is just torn up. Graffiti everywhere (we sat down, on plastic chairs, since that was the only "clean" place to sit; on the wall in front of me someone had dated their entry with February 8, 2007; not only my birthday, but the day I had my interview to get this job. Strange coincidence?). The woman starts telling us about the place. It is around 80 years old, used to be a nice hotel (it had a Shining feeling to it). There is one boarder living there still, upstairs. He is an old Aussie who has lived there for more than 30 years. The place is beyond condemned! I can't believe anyone lives there. She wouldn't let us look upstairs. Only residents are allowed upstairs, because of the rickety condition of the building. There is no air conditioning upstairs where the boarder stays, either.

The back room, where you have to go to get to the bathroom, is a huge room just filled with junk. I just knew there were spiders as big as plates living in the piles. I took a quick peek around, but I got out pretty quickly. The front room, with the bar, wasn't much better. I didn't see the rats, but she said they were there occassionally. There is a big Texas flag hanging on the wall, and it appears to have been there for years.

Uncle was railing against the government with his group outside. The building is under contract, so it will be remodeled or knocked down by the end of the year. W stayed to chat with the woman and hear about the ghost (a woman in red) that lives in the hotel. It seems that she likes to shake people when they are sleeping or push them aside if they are in the way. We started making up a ghost story, and we came to the idea that the ghost was a woman who was killed in the Japanese occupation during WWII, and thast she and the Aussie were in love back then. He escaped, but she stayed and met her end. He never forgot, hwoever, and returned after he finished working for the Royal Palace (which he really did) and has lived in this decrepit hotel with his love ever since then. The barkeep was really into the story, and she seemed to think it was real. After a while, I started hearing things, and between the ghost story and the environment, it got just too creepy. Once that feeling set in, it was time to go. It didn't help that one of the pieces of graffiti across from me said, "If you see me, you will die." Time to go. I haven't gotten out of a place that quickly in a long time.

I would have expected to find a place like that in Thailand, or Africa, or Louisiana, but not Singapore. And it is just a few minute walk from my place. I never would have known. It is a true nod to Singapore's past, before they cleaned up the city. It'll be sad to see it go, but I hope the woman in red goes towards the city, and not towards my condo, looking for a new home.