Sunday, May 3, 2009

STI: Falling back on the daily routine

May 2, 2009


Falling back on the daily routine

By Joanne Lee 


WHEN I got onto the plane for home last Saturday evening in Lombok, the SilkAir stewardess offered me a complimentary copy of The Straits Times.


I was so relieved.


After six days in Lombok, I was hopelessly cut off from what was happening in the world - which, some might say, is the whole point of a short holiday.


Lombok is 40km to the east of Bali and a far less touristy version of its famous Indonesian cousin. It was a perfect holiday destination for these self-imposed belt-tightening times. We'd found an online promotion for a villa: US$100 (S$150) per person for five nights. Together with the flight ticket, food, surf and snorkel boat tours, I spent a total of S$825 for the whole week. Not bad, I thought.


But there was an opportunity cost built in that I hadn't thought of: Being cut off from the digital world - which some might say is the de facto definition of 'holiday' these days. Armed with my iPhone (for personal Web surfing) and my BlackBerry (to keep an eye on work-related matters), I thought I was going to be all right. The problem was Lombok is still 'un-touristy' enough to have spotty data coverage.


Okay, so part of it was my fault. I'd switched my 3G settings off on my mobile. When you're travelling and leave your 3G data plan to pull data off your telco's servers and push it to your phone regularly while roaming, you may very well be presented, at the end of your break, with a phone bill that's more than what you'd spent on your entire break itself.


What I didn't expect, brat that I am, is that the beautiful private villa we stayed at had no WiFi network - locked or otherwise. This meant I couldn't access the Internet on my phone or BlackBerry.


No matter. Hotels usually have a business centre, right? Er, wrong. This is a Lombok villa, Joanne. There is no business centre.


In fact, you don't get newspapers every morning either. Indeed, at Sengigi, the nearest town, there wasn't a shop selling English newspapers to be found anywhere. There were television sets in the villa rooms, but not the essential international cable news channels either.


I was a little panicky the first day, I must say. What's happening? Is there anything I need to know? My mother has drummed into me since December 2004 to always be alert to tsunami warnings when I'm near beaches. But after a while, I managed to calm down. The villa I was staying at was so far up in the hills that I would be safe in case of a tsunami. Also, once I got into the swing of the holiday and we started celebrating my sister's 30th birthday on the second day, I started letting go of my news junkie nature.


By the third day, when a friend proposed to his girlfriend and we were breaking out the bubbly, any thoughts of e-mail, Facebook or Twitter updates, and - more importantly, of course - news updates had gone out the mental window.


Six days it lasted. Six days of utter digital silence.


So imagine my shock when I opened the newspaper on the plane to read about the Aware saga, goose not being served in Singapore anymore and, most shockingly, the Influenza A (H1N1) outbreak.


It made me think: Had I stayed in Lombok for a couple of days more, I wouldn't have known about the outbreak. And even though Indonesia is not one of the affected countries, I can't help but imagine how clueless I would have been if it were. (My parents would have called, of course, but that's not the point here.)


When I touched down at Changi and my 3G was switched back on, it was such a relief to be able to trawl through the news applications on my iPhone.


For an entrenched citizen of the digital world who usually gets the news on-the-go, it was ironic that it was this trusty old newspaper that gave me what I needed to know. I suppose when all is said and done, there is no place like home - both 3G-enabled Singapore and good old print newspapers!

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