Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Visiting the American Embassy in Singapore

I had to go to the American Embassy today (because my passport will expire in five months; many countries, including Japan, require at least six months for you to enter the country).

I've always thought that embassies were little microcosms of their home country. The Russian embassy had really tough-looking guards and several drunks even at noon, the Chinese one was massive and full of modern yet slightly malfunctioning technology, the Taiwanese one was run just like a business (in fact, they are even called economic offices for political reasons)...So it was interesting to see if the theory held for the United States.

Security was extremely tight (way more than any other embassy I've been to), strange because Singapore has almost no crime. No cell phones were allowed past the entrance, a little shocking as they are such a crucial part of life here (Singaporeans love their phones with a very very great love: many dates consist of two people sitting at a restaurant together, each on their individual phone; you must have a phone to open a bank account). The whole complex mostly resembles a fortress, surrounded by massive walls: it's even on a hill. Quite a contrast from the neighboring British Embassy (which is decorated with cheerful signs saying stuff like English Is Great), and rather depressing: apparently Americans are paranoid and potentially violent.

As for the people? The guards were polite, friendly and efficient, if rather pudgy (no competition with the Russians there). So were the staff. Americans are so cheerful and friendly! Strange after being surrounded by uptight Singaporeans all the time. The waiting areas are segregated by citizenship (so Americans have a completely different room to wait in from non-citizens), something else I hadn't seen before. Perhaps this was to enable the staff to thoroughly grill all the non-citizens on their intentions (they are friendly as a social style, but this doesn't necessarily reflect their true feelings). This didn't seem to alter the (huge) demand to enter the US though. Americans: friendly, superficial, a little xenophobic.

The Americans were a mixed lot: many of them were naturalized citizens, from all over Asia (apparently the xenophobia is also superficial?). We are a nation of immigrants, so this shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. Many were businessmen, some families, a hippie girl with massive dreads (you don't see that in Singapore!)...

The most odious was a man in his early 70s. He was wearing Prada jeans and a Burberry shirt, a huge gold watch and generally had that aura of money. He was also accompanied by a young (25?) Southeast Asian woman (not Singaporean, probably Thai: she spoke not a word during the hour I was there), who was very obviously his girlfriend. SO GROSS. He was just ahead of me in line, so I heard what he was there for. He was complaining that his Social Security checks were being deposited to the wrong account: "I've called four days in a row, and no one has gotten back to me!!" Since he lives overseas, he wanted his checks to be deposited in a foreign account.

I thought that the United States should not be giving funds to gross, rich old men to support their lives of exploitative depravity in poor countries overseas. There ought to be an income cap, so that only those who actually need the money receive it: and the US ought to require that those receiving the funds reside primarily in the country, so that the funds aid our economy rather than Thailand's sex trade.

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