Schroedinger’s cat, or it all depends on what you are looking for (Day 38)

Here I am in Singapore. It is slower, more English, hotter, and better laid out than Kuala Lumpur.

In fact, KL was one great culture shock. That is really something that I have never experienced before, but I guess KL was also my first experience of Asia.

It is chaotic, incredibly noisy all the time, absurdly crowded and wildly diverse. I stayed in Chinatown (along with three fellow travellers from the Commonwealth who were taking advantage of the cheap plane ticket from Australia), which was good in the sense of being in the thick of it, but not so good if you wanted to have a moment to yourself to think about things.

I went out in Singapore a few times. Beer is absolutely incredibly expensive (like NZ$60 a jug in some places). No wonder you don’t see any drunk people around the place. On the other hand, food is ridiculously cheap.

It is these kinds of apparent contradictions that I have difficulty understanding.

Both places (but particularly KL) have highly developed markets for counterfeit stuff. Mostly music CDs, computer software and DVDs. They charge the same price (about NZ$3) for a CD regardless of its content. One of the guys I was with found NZ$4,000 worth of computer software on one CD (i.e., for $3). The cost of reproduction (rather than the cost of production) is what drives prices.

They also had developed quite sophisticated ways of avoiding the police (who seem to periodically come by and raid them). One method was to not have a stall, or just to have a table on which were 3 or 4 folders filled with numbered CD covers. You just chose the ones you wanted based on the number, the man went away, and, a few minutes later, returned with your CDs bundled up inside a plastic bag. QED.

They can not have been that concerned though, since they set up their stalls in broad daylight in crowded streets. One day none of them were about, fearing raids. But they were back the next day, responding to market demand I guess.

At one level (particularly if I were a software developer), this kind of institutionalised piracy is clearer a big problem. At another level though, if it does not prevent sales (that is to say, I only get copies of software that I would never have bought anyway) it is not clear to me what the producers actually lose. I am sure there is something, but I just can’t think what it is.

Not that I bought any, but the economic incentive to pad out your CD collection is fairly strong.

I have discovered that there is an Ulimate tournament (see in Shanghai in early June. Maybe I will head up there. I have a ticket on the train from Singapore into Malaysia on Saturday night.

From talking to some people at the guest-house, I have come to see that there is no right way to travel the world (i.e., by yourself, or with other people, or in a tour group, or whatever). But the way in which you do it affects what you see (hence the reference to the famous cat).

At the moment I am, in theory, all alone. But in practice I meet so many people all doing the same thing as me that I am never really alone (*burst into chorus of “you’ll never walk alone”*).

The aloneness that I have is the choice to do my own thing, and to join up with people who are also doing that thing, rather than having to negotiate with others (or worse still, have to decide before I leave home) what to do each day.

Still, it might be nice to go on a tour with a tour group. All those little things that take up so much of the day (finding somewhere to sleep, something to eat, and a way to get to the next destination) would all be taken care of for you. Maybe next time.