Mostly Naked People and Huge Crowds at Times Square

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Last Thursday night my wife and I went downtown to meet up with an old friend who was in town for the week and we decided to walk through Times Square to take some photos. You know, the tourist thing. I even bought a few “I Love NY” magnets at a souvenir shop.

Times Square is always packed but with the weather being so mild, it seemed like there were even more people out than usual. Besides the crowds, it seemed like the number of panhandlers had increased as well. We saw a few “acts”, but in Times Square, you mostly find people who are dressed up in unusual ways that try to get you to pay them for having your photograph taken together with them.

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The last time we were there, there were only a handful of people dressed up as animated characters. Now, there are dozens, sometimes with two or three of the same character standing right next to each other. Sort of takes the magic out of it, if you ask me. Not that there was much to start with, but if a kid sees three Iron Mans standing next to each other, how is he supposed to feel excited about having his photo taken? You have to at least let the kid pretend you might be the real deal, right?

There were also people dressed up in costumes to bait adults into paying for photos. A few years ago, there was only one naked cowboy; now there are two naked cowboys, a naked Indian, and some naked women as well. Well, not completely naked, but mostly naked, stripped down to their underwear and, in one case, panties and pasties.

It was fascinating watching my wife’s friend’s reaction to all this. She seemed shocked. I asked her if she wanted her photo taken with the half naked cowboys, with their junk hanging out, and she seemed really disturbed. She had earlier described the hoochie shorts women in America wear, that leave the bottom half of their butts hanging out of their shorts, as scandalous. She probably thought the mostly naked people in Times Square were scandalous too. I suppose it is. People wear less at the beach, but maybe it’s more about wearing clothes appropriate to the situation. And I suppose that’s the point of those people showing up there half dressed. They’re counting on the shock value to pay off in real money that people will shell out to have their photos taken with “crazy people” who are almost naked in Times Square.

We wound up staying in Times Square until around 11 PM. I don’t think we’d ever been there that late before. I was surprised by how bright the area still was at that time of night. Because of all of the electric billboards, it might as well have been noon on an overcast day.

Singapore 2010 Chinese New Year: Luck, Decorations, Crowds & Surcharges

Last year my wife and I missed out on seeing Chinatown at Chinese New Year’s completely.  Somehow, I got the date mixed up and we wound up going down there the day after the celebration.  This year I made sure to mark my calendar correctly.

Luck

We’d originally planned on eating at Bugis Junction, at the Pastamania in the food court.  We didn’t realize the place would be shut down.  In fact, almost everything was shut down.  Yoshinoya was open but I don’t care for the way the food there tastes.

We decided to take our chances and headed on to Chinatown.  There was a hawker open across the street from the MRT exit so we walked over to it, using the pedestrian bridge to go over the road.  At the base of the stairs, hiding by the edge where the plants are, we saw this kitten:

 

This is the year of the Tiger and a tiger is basically a big cat.  Maybe this means luck will come our way this year?  We like cats, so my wife carries around a little cat food to hand out to strays that look hungry.  We gave some to the kitten before going into the hawker to have our dinner.

Decorations

The reason we went down to Chinatown was to see the decorations.  The atmosphere was very lively so we wound up staying a bit longer than we’d planned.  I was really impressed with the decorations.  They were very nice looking.  It put us in a great mood and we even stopped for ice cream.  There was a guy there selling ice cream from a push cart.  He cut a slice (literally) and put it between two wafers and handed it to me wrapped in a plastic.  It was really good and only cost me 1 SGD.

Here are some of my favorite photos.

There weren’t as many decorations as there were at Christmas, which surprised me, but the decorations that were there were really nice.

Crowds

For a short while, we considered staying for the main event, but the crowds were starting to press in real tight.  We could hardly walk.  The crowds kept bottlenecking in certain areas which made it hard to get around.  Also, having so many people in such a small area was cutting out the breeze.  The place was starting to get hot, sticky, smelly and just plain unpleasant.

The stage was set up in such a way that unless you were a special person, a VIP, and had access to the privileged seating area, you could barely see anything.  There were very few vantage points that would offer a decent view and they were packed.

I have to wonder why the stage would be set up in the center of the road like that.  It offers such a narrow viewing area.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to set it up caddy-corner in an intersection?  A LOT more people could get a good view then, rather than just the few VIPs that were likely sitting comfortably across from the stage.

If you’re going to have a public event, set it up so the public can actually see it.

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We decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle and moved off into the side roads to look at the stuff for sale.  The crowds there were horrible too, so after fighting our way free to a major road we headed back to the MRT station and went back to Pasir Ris.

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Surcharges

Toilets

I forget the name of the mall just outside the MRT exit in Chinatown, but they had a clever scheme set up.  I really can’t blame them because it makes sense from a business perspective, but it was still annoying.  When we were leaving we stopped in at the mall to use the restroom.  The female restroom on the lower level was conveniently closed for cleaning.  So, we searched further into the mall and found another restroom.  The difference was that it was a pay restroom.

Like I said, I don’t really blame them, because there were a lot of people going into the mall just to use the toilet.  They have to cover the cost somehow.  But still… obvious scheme was obvious.

Food

The hawker we ate at on CNY Eve didn’t charge us anything extra for our meal.  When we got back to Pasir Ris and had roti prata and beer, we weren’t charged extra.

Yesterday though, on Sunday, we went to Bedok to look for something to eat at the hawker.  We were hoping the New World Mutton stall would be open, but it was closed. There was a chicken rice hawker stall open though.  Great Wall chicken rice I think.  We ordered two plates and after our food was ready the guy told us there was an extra .50 SGD per plate as a holiday surcharge.  Thanks for letting us know up front.  At least the food was good.

Sunday evening after jogging we passed through the hawker to get dinner.  We ordered two plates of roast pork rice.  2.50 per plate.  After the food is ready the guy says, “7 dollar”. I asked him what he was talking about and point at the sign. 2.50 and 2.50 is 5 bucks. Turns out this jackass wanted to add 1 SGD to each plate as a holiday surcharge.  I told him he should’ve put up a notice.

Well, turns out he did.  He pointed to a tiny sheet of paper, covered in Chinese characters and prices which I had assumed was another menu, or the same menu but in Mandarin.  I just gave him a look.  I’m white.  The chances of a random white guy being able to read Mandarin are pretty damn slim.  I’m sure that there are people from a lot of other countries in Singapore that don’t read Mandarin either, which is why English is the business language. Nice calculated way of trying to pressure people into giving up more money.

Well, I didn’t have 7 dollars on me.  We had literally just finished jogging and we brought just enough for what food usually costs plus 1 dollar for either a fee or in case I felt like having an iced kopi.  So, I told him sorry, that I only had 6 bucks, and turned and started to walk away.  Of course, the guy called me back and said 6 dollars would be ok.  I figured he would say that.  6 bucks is better than him throwing the food away.  So… haggling win for me.

I understand the point that they’re working on a holiday, but something tells me the workers aren’t getting paid any extra.  Also, with only a few stalls open, I know they’re already making a killing picking up business from all of the other stalls that were closed. The .50 SGD extra from earlier I can accept, but 1 SGD extra on a 2.50 plate?  That’s about a 30% markup.  Seems greedy to me.

I don’t remember this kind of surcharge being added to food last year.  Hopefully they don’t try to drag that out for the full 15 day holiday.

All in all, it was fun to get out of the house and look around and we had a real good time seeing the decorations in Chinatown.  It reminds me of when I used to go to Chinatown in New York City as a kid.  I regret not seeing any dragon-lion dances but I’m sure they’ll be other times.  I’ve seen quite a few since being here in Singapore, especially with the opening of so many malls over the past year and a half.  Lion dances seem to be a tradition to bring luck to a newly opened store here.

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you all have good fortune this year!