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Wednesday, June 30th, 2004

Time Event
9:38p
Where were you when the lights went out?

Sometime last night, a gas valve somewhere in the Jurong industrial estates broke. The result: a 30 percent drop in Singaporean power, and widespread outages in western, central, and north-east Singapore. Of course it got me; it was a fascinating night on Spindizzy (a balloon dragon had accidentally stuck her hand through a vixen's body and gotten stuck, to their mutual embarrassment) so of course I was ripped away. As if to add injury the apartment buildings across the courtyard were unaffected. And then after the power came back on, the cable modem went out; the exceedingly slow (well, it was near midnight) customer support line explained it was the fault of the blackout.

Lest United States and English readers get too smug, this nationwide power problem was fully solved within two hours, and most areas had about fifteen minutes of darkness. Still, quite a few are very upset about the failure at all -- ``We are not a third world country, we should be able to rely on our electric'' said one woman, and if that sounds defensive to you, I got the same impression. I suspect it's insecurity; I think the nation has self-esteem problems. (To be fair there was a similar outage in a different part of the country three months ago.)

That's not really a deep insight -- unless I missed this changing recently, it's illegal to fly the Singaporean flag or sing the national anthem without explicit permission except near National Day. Every year the government commissions a new meandering pop song to express Singaporean loyalty, which the natives never learn but all the foreigners can't get out of their head (``We are one -- Singapore! -- one nation strong and free''). It signifies something that the government feels the need to pay singers to compose mediocre gushing-patriotic songs; in the U.S. they need to start paying singers to stop.

Anyway, it was a nuisance, particularly for people who hadn't eaten yet (eating at 10 p.m. or later isn't rare; the atmosphere's much better three hours after sunset). At Holland Village, a pretty densely packed enclave of restaurants, cafés, small shops and coffee places they started selling glow sticks, sparklers, flashlights, and candles and carried on as best as possible. At least one person was trapped in an elevator for two hours, and there were several nasty little accident.

My mood, though, was considerably cheered by stumbling across an article about the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (an historical site -- it was where Japanese forces first landed in Singapore in 1942), where among many other animals a family of ``smooth otters'' have moved in. I had lived my life, until now, not knowing there was such a thing as a smooth otter. Now I see they are, theoretically, an MRT and a connecting bus ride away, if they would not avoid me. Even the name is somehow comforting, and brings a gentle smile to my lips. I had a similar reaction to finding in the supermarket a reasonably-priced battery-powered milk frother. I wish only to know why nobody had previously thought to tell me of ``smooth otters.''

Trivia: The first significant component (the crew module) built for what became the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour began construction 15 February 1982. Source: Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System: The First 100 Missions, Dennis R. Jenkins.

Currently Reading: The Space Shuttle Decision, 1965-1972, T. A. Heppenheimer.

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