Sunday, July 28, 2013


The last time we had U.S. Secret Service agents in our department was back in November 2009, when President Obama visited Singapore for the APEC Summit ( link to blog entry here ).

Earlier this week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden dropped by on an Asian tour, and as per usual protocol, we had 2 agents stationed in the ER for 2 days, in case medical evacuation was required.

It was a stroke of good luck that I happened to be on shift on one of those days, and managed to find a couple of quiet periods ( even though the resus room can be hell at times ) to chat with the agents.

Before I go further, a big thank you to both gentlemen, who are extremely friendly, personable, and fantastic conversationalists. :)

The first agent I met was John. Looked about early 30-ish, very boyish and married.
Previously worked in the Washington, D.C. police department before joining the S.S. 2 years ago.
Told me about the absolutely hair-raising crime rate in D.C. ( the non-touristy areas, that is ), which surprised me tremendously. "They never show this in the movies or TV shows," he agreed. No s**t!
He's been shot at once, and almost stabbed twice ( during his DCPD stint ).
Specializes in investigating money laundering schemes, which also encompass identity fraud. Says the S.S. gets many referrals from police departments because the latter are just too weighed down by cases and need assistance for more complex crimes.
Finds Singapore "unbelievably clean and safe", and "so green".
Did some sightseeing as well - Chinatown, Arab Street, Orchard Road.
Remembers eating at a food court at a mall, where he tried a spicy Vietnamese pho dish.
Loves spicy food 'cos his wife is half-Indian.
Thinks Singapore's stiff penalties for drug smuggling are terrific. Stunned that we hardly see drug addicts in the ER.
Also discussed crime rates in other U.S. states, and TV series The Chicago Code came up. ( I couldn't resist. :))
Most S.S. agents assigned to V.V.V.I.P.s' ( POTUS, VP ) personal details stay an average of 6-8 years.
Says Biden flies around in a luxurious military plane ( I asked, "Air Force Two?", which amused him a lot heh! ), and "some of them are so big, you can do back flips down the aisle". WTF!?

Conversation lasted a satisfying 30 minutes. ( Quite proud of myself for squeezing so much out of him in such a small amount of time. :))

The second agent who took over the later shift was Chad. Aged 35, sported a military-style buzz cut, looked a bit stern but turned out to be totally hilarious and overflowing with information about everything. Spoke to him for almost an hour - thank you for staying quiet, resus room. :)

Chad originally hails from Seattle, after which he joined the U.S. Navy, went to college, worked in the Washington State police department, then moved to the S.S. 3 years ago.
He's currently based in Los Angeles, and specializes in investigating credit card fraud.
Appears to have done the same sightseeing trip as John, but also mentioned going to the Skypark at Marina Bay Sands, where the bar ( Ku De Ta ) is open all day. ( Okay, square that I am, I thought it only opens at night. :))
Shares John's glowing opinions about Singapore, and it's the first time here for both of them.

Instead of following Biden throughout his Asian tour, most of the more peripherally placed agents ( e.g. medical cover etc ) actually fly in from America, hang around for a few days, then fly back when Biden leaves for his next destination. So they suffer from severe jet lag as a result. ( Man, a bit cruel, no? )

S.S. agents all carry Sig Sauer P228 pistols. They approximate .357 calibre guns, which "will leave a big hole". I can certainly imagine!
Sig Sauer's chosen for practical reasons as well - the parts are easy to replace and the guns repaired very quickly by sending them back to the manufacturer.
They're also heavy, and S.S. agents must carry them even when they board commercial flights ( they fly economy, which makes it more uncomfortable ).
For this reason, they don't go through the usual Immigration check points, and there've been occasions where civilian passengers spotted their weapons when they reached up to the overhead compartment and their jackets opened slightly. He didn't elaborate on what exactly happened, but he did say people were "alarmed".

When asked why he joined the S.S., he replied frankly, "to get out of Seattle". Because the weather was too gloomy and he couldn't stand it.
Since I visited Seattle in 2007 for the ACEP conference, we had a big laugh about the rain, clouds and temperature. Apparently, it's like that even in summer. No wonder he wanted to escape!
Seattle also has the highest number of suicides per capita. Victims have mixed demographic profiles, but Chad is pretty convinced the weather has something to do with it.
As for why companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon and Boeing base their HQs there ( not to mention CEOs like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, who have homes in the city ), he explained there's a significant state income tax break, in addition to other major tax reliefs, which entice such companies to base their operations there and also stay on for many years.
However, Chad agrees the Seattleites are amazingly nice, even though the weather is the exact opposite. No, he has no idea why. :)

We also discussed other U.S. locations like LA, Vegas and New York, which we're both familiar with. And I offered tips about how to pick slot machines which won't make you lose too much money. :D

And he's been reading The Straits Times - saw a story about a guy who was jailed for 9 months for stealing a laptop, and commented, "We need more of that!"

Poor guy brought a novel to read ( one of those Jason Bourne thrillers - not the Robert Ludlum originals, but a more recent book written by a new author ), but I told him the computer right next to him had Internet.
He's also taken a walk around the hospital in the middle of the night, when he went to 7-Eleven to get a snack. I'm betting no-one even noticed him.

The funny parts? I'll omit the details, but the general health of Americans and Singaporeans was a hot topic, including diabetes and myopia. Lasik popped up, and for some strange reason, a 20/30 visual acuity ( from a previously perfect 20/20 ) is causing him distress. He stared at me really hard when I told him I'd had Lasik done. Think he was impressed with the result? :)

At the end of our chat, I scribbled down the name of an Orchard Road shopping mall which has a good spread of baked goods ( he expressed a craving for local pastries ) and he said he'd go search for it.

He has superb manners - when I first introduced myself, he immediately stood up, came forward and shook my hand; and when I said goodbye, he did the same.

I don't know when we'll see more S.S. agents again, but I hope it won't be another 4 long years. All the best to you both! :)

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