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March 20, 2006 Getting There
Flying with Singapore Air is a pampered experience, even in Economy Class. First hot towels then drinks and a gourmet meal. (We began with Thai fish soufflé and broiled eggplant). Eleven-year-old Jay pored over the movie guidebook, caught in the luxurious dilemma of deciding which movie to watch. (He actually watched four movies on the ten-hour journey from New Zealand).
Not such a pleasure for Jay was the taxi ride when we left the Singapore Airport. Jay wasn't used to riding in anything faster than a bicycle and the air-conditioned taxi was too much for his stomach. When he started looking green around the gills we were hurtling down a six-lane highway and there was no place to pull off. I'll spare the details, but it wasn't a lucky day for the taxi driver, especially as Jay had recently eaten at least two meals on the airplane. When we finally found our stopping place at Dairy Farm Estate Road, building number 17, the taxi driver dropped us off and made a quick get away.
Of the three of us, I was the only one who wasn't covered in vomit so I took the elevator to the ninth floor first, leaving Tom and Jay standing in a deep shadow in the parking area. We had never met our hostess, Anne Backus, but knew that she was an American teaching in an international school. We hoped she'd have a sense of humor and a washing machine.
To my great relief she wasn't home. A note on the door said she was off having dinner and to please come in. I tiptoed inside, saw a big apartment with shining hardwood floors and a bathroom with a shower, then returned to the ground floor to tell Tom and Jay the good news.
By the time Anne arrived home with two young Danish women, Jay and Tom were scrubbed clean. We sat and had a civilized cup of tea before bed.
March 21, 2006 the Singapore Zoo
Our hostess, Anne Backus, left the apartment early for the American School, where she is the Gifted and Talented teacher. She lent us EZ pass cards for the Singapore train and bus system and which made it simple to travel on mass transit. Once we figured out which bus we needed to get on, we only had to pass our cards before an electronic counter on the bus and the fare was computed automatically and taken from the balance on the card.
So much of Singapore seemed out of the future. I was reminded of Corasant, the city planet in one of the Star Wars movies, a planet completely encircled by city. Four million people live on the very small island that is Singapore and 80% of them live in government-built high-rises, often called "estates". Anne Backus's apartment building only had ten stories, whereas many of the estates were thirty or more stories high and clustered together, like towering dominoes in a giant child's game. It was high-density living on a scale I'd never imagined.
Fortunately, Singapore has land set aside for many small parks and a world-class zoo. We weren't far from the zoo at Anne's place so we decided to make that our first outing. We had no problem finding the bus stop and the right bus, though it dropped us off on an empty stretch of busy highway and the driver made some cryptic remark about waiting for another bus there. Tom, not good at waiting, thought we should walk back along the sidewalk in the direction we'd just traveled to find the zoo. I thought it was in completely the opposite direction and we didn't have a detailed enough map to prove either of us correct. A bit of a heated discussion ensued and Tom led off in his direction. He was wrong, but he did find an almost new umbrella on the side of the road.
After a few minutes walking in the correct direction, we came to an actual sign that informed us that the zoo was only 1.5 kilometers along a side road. We walked and we sweated. The heat, even in mid-morning, was of the sort we rarely experience in northern New York, that deep, humid ninety-degree heat when the human body is instantly coated in sweat the second it moves outdoors. We soon got used to wearing soaked clothing; it was actually almost comfortable after awhile.
On the walk in to the zoo the world around us was a green jungle, humming with insects and tropical birds. And the zoo itself was a delight-open habitat exhibits where we walked through the Australian Outback with kangaroos jumping around us and fed fish to giant Amazonian fish who snapped at the feeding stick with a frenzied lunge. Jay threw pieces of pre-cut banana at baboons who caught them in their mouths and we watched a show where sea lions dove for lost watches and a baboon had a coconut peeling contest with a brave human volunteer named Deter. I've never before been in a zoo that had special air-conditioned recovery rooms between exhibits. Jay scientifically marked our route on the map so that we saw every animal in the zoo, including the African wild dogs and the pygmy hippos. My favorite exhibit didn't need a fence at all-tropical food plants growing in a plot by the reservoir, all labeled with explanatory signs and interesting facts. Cocoa pods hung off a cocoa tree and the sesame plants looked to me surprisingly ordinary--knee-high stalks with four-inch, upright chambered seed pods that opened when they dried.
We ended our tour in late afternoon and sat for a moment of recovery with a bottle of cold water and a snack of dried pineapple and dried mango, cost one dollar. Jay thought we should take the zoo bus out to the main road but I figured out the bus schedule and we decided we didn't want to sit and wait 20 minutes so we sweated our way back to the main road and collapsed onto an air-conditioned bus.
Back at Anne's apartment we had time to drink a pitcher of ice water and change our clothes before we walked to another bus stop with Anne and the Danish girls, Sarah and Marie, to share supper at a nearby hawkers' center.
Hawkers' center? Imagine an open-air restaurant where diners sit at plastic tables and wander here and there checking out the offerings at dozens of tiny kitchens. Sort of like a mall food court where the chain restaurants are all replaced with Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian Mom and Pop diners. I tried a bean bun and a fresh lime juice while Tom got a curry and vegetable rice and dim sum and Anne had boiled peanuts and satay sticks and Jay had teriyaki chicken and Sara and Marie had salmon and fried chicken. Nothing cost more than three dollars. All around us other diners ate plates of food I couldn't identify. Was it the pig intestine stew? Or the fish head chili? Anne bought a special Malaysian dessert for us to share-a bowl with a mound of shaved ice covered in a rainbow assortment of syrups and underlain by sweet beans and chewy black pieces, reminiscent of Jell-o. We didn't order seconds on that one.
After eating we took a taxi to Janet and Yee Wang's home, a house not far from the hawkers' center. The house was a comfortable sprawling one-story on a small lot occupied be Janet and Yee, their three teenage sons and various other relatives. Janet is a medical doctor and Yee teaches high school Phys. Ed and English. We sat in their living room and laughed together as we learned about each other. Janet's family was third generation Chinese-Malaysian Singaporean and Yee's family had come more recently from China. Both had grown up speaking English.
By the time we made it back to Anne's apartment it had cooled a bit, but I was very appreciative of the "air con" we turned on in our bedroom.
March 22, 2006 Wild Monkeys at Last!
In the morning I woke early, still on New Zealand time, and walked outside to go exploring. Dairy Farm Road, despite its bucolic name, was a busy four-lane highway. I couldn't figure out how to get across it without walking way back to the stoplight and I'd heard stories of a $500 fine for jay walking. (Also strictly enforced is the ban on eating or drinking in public transportation. Even chewing gum is not allowed in Singapore). I stayed on my side of the road and after ten minutes found a left turn where people walked, jogged and did tai chi on a stretch of not-finished new road. I turned onto a path along a very controlled river, confined by concrete walls, and saw a group of older women exercising to the pleasant commands of a female voice on a CD player. The river path returned to Dairy Farm Estates where I decided to walk up the nine flights instead of taking the elevator and so arrived back in the apartment dripping in sweat.
Anne was again gone to work and the Danish girls were still sleeping when we left to go find the daypack I'd left at Janet and Yee's house. We didn't have any problems finding the bus, or a grocery store to buy picnic food-bananas, bread and peanut butter-but we couldn't quite remember how to get to the Wang's house. It had been dark and we'd been in a taxi and the roads in Singapore seemed to twist and turn in non-linear patterns. Between the three of us we managed to put together a few landmarks and soon recovered the daypack and found a trail into the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
Surrounded by city, the middle of Singapore contains two large parks, one with reservoirs for the city water supply and the other, Bukit Timah, with the highest point on the island and the last remaining primary forest. The path we took wound through thick jungle, with the muffled sounds of a big highway mixed in with the whine of cicadas. We hadn't walked far when we heard a rustling in the trees and looked up to see a group of monkeys, long-tailed macaques, leaping from treetop to treetop. Their fur was a light brown or gray and they had whiskery faces that made them look like wizened old men. There was nothing elderly about they way they moved though-flying leaps from branch to branch. What a thrill to see monkeys in the wild, even though I knew they can be as much of a pest as raccoons are for us.
We continued our walk to the Nature Center at the entrance to the park and were surprised to see Marie and Sara, the Danish girls, getting ready for a walk. We hiked together, avoiding the main paved trail to the summit and choosing instead a dirt path that looped around the park, under giant tropical trees and up steep steps built into the hillside. We met Singaporeans out for a walk and one older man took us under his wing and told us he would show us the best route to go. The man, "almost seventy", he said, and his youthful companion ("only sixty-six") were members of the Wednesday morning 184 Club, named for the number of steps on the longest ascent in the park. Our guide showed us several caves along the path, dug by the Japanese as air-raid shelters during WWII. Singapore suffered during the Japanese invasion and our guide remembered the hunger he'd endured as a child.
Part of our guided tour included the 184 steps and we were told to try and make it up without stopping. We all did and stood on top panting and sweating and smiling at each other. We thanked our guide and continued on to the wooded summit where we didn't have much of a view but found benches to sit on where we could share bananas and cookies. A sign told us that British colonials had hated this area of the island as it was a tiger-infested wilderness.
We used our nature reserve map to find the route north that connected to Dairy Farm Road. One stretch of trail was a bit treacherous, a steep muddy re-route around an even steeper and muddier trail in a streambed. It all added to the jungle atmosphere and as usual whenever we moved, we were dripping sweat. Marie and Sarah enjoyed the adventure as much as we did and it was almost too bad when we walked out of the heavy vegetation into a mowed field at the bottom of an old granite quarry. From there we passed an "Adventure Centre" where we saw students working together on a Ropes Course and then we were back into the traffic and bustle of Dairy Farm Road.
We do better with trail maps than with city maps and on our way to our next hosts' home we got lost again. This time we thought we knew where we were going. Tom had talked on the phone to Yvonne Barrett, an Australian teacher, and she told him it was 15 minutes by taxi to her home in Braddell Heights Estate. We decided that since public transportation was so good and cheap, why take a taxi? Many Singaporeans do and the taxis are everywhere but it still seemed decadent somehow to us to order up a taxi when we could see on a map that the train stopped at a Braddell Station.
Big mistake. What could have been a 15 minute taxi ride stretched out into a 2 hour slog-a walk to the bus stop, a long ride to the train station and then a journey on the Red Line that took us past all the northern communities in Singapore, high rise after high rise. When we finally got off the train in Braddell no one knew anything about Braddell Heights Estates. Jay was particularly frustrated by the long trip as we'd told him that the Barretts had a swimming pool. He saw precious swimming time disappearing as we stood swaying on the crowded train and then wandering aimlessly looking for street signs. Finally we found a woman we knew that Braddell Estates was "quite far away". She suggested a taxi and when we flagged one down and sat back into the air-conditioned interior I knew it would be worth whatever it cost to get to the Barretts house. The $6.00 we spent for the taxi was far less than the money we'd just used for the train tickets, as the long trips cost far more than the short ones. Oh well.
David and Yvonne Barrett welcomed us in and within moments Jay was in the swimming pool with 9 year-old twins Michael and Laughnan. Supper was Australian-style cooked by Emily, a Filipina woman with a big smile--- lamb sausages with tomato sauce, fried fish, mashed potatoes, green beans and white bread. Jay loved it, no spices at all!
While the boys watched TV we talked with Yvonne and David. They, along with Anne Backus and Janet and Yee Wang, are Servas hosts. Servas (to serve in Esperanto) began in Europe after WWII as a student-organized peace initiative. Today, around the world, volunteer hosts take in Servas travelers and show them a bit of their part of the world. The volunteers in Servas hope that increased cultural understanding will help the world get closer to peace. I hope so too and back in northern New York State we have hosted travelers from France, Germany, Canada, Austria and New Zealand. We were extremely fortunate in Singapore to find three host families. Many Singaporeans live in very small apartments and volunteer as day hosts but don't have the room for overnight guests.
David and Yvonne had traveled with Servas in France and then became hosts when they returned to Singapore. They both worked in the Australian school, David as a teacher in Grade 6 and Yvonne as a school librarian. They'd been in Singapore four years and thought they'd stay at least until their fifteen-year-old, Mima, graduated from high school. The Australian school was excellent and they'd used their vacations to visit other Asian countries. When I asked about expenses, they said they did about as well as they did in Australia. Some costs were higher but they didn't have a car, preferring to use taxis. Cars in Singapore are extremely highly taxed, often doubling the already expensive price of a vehicle. Even so, cars are a status symbol in Singapore and I never saw an old or rusty one.
After a good talk we turned in, grateful again for the air conditioning in our room. It was hard to imagine getting any rest at all without it.
March 23, 2006 Pulau Ubin
The Barretts usually bicycle to school but it was raining a bit so they called a taxi and all jumped in, a novel way to get to school for us. We walked up the road and around a corner to catch a train to the far northeast corner of Singapore. This was another long train journey but at least we knew where we were going and the train wasn't crowded so we could sit down with our books. At the end of the train line took a bus to Changi village where the ferry left for Pulau Ubin, a small island "left back in time".
In Changi we walked to a hawkers' centre for lunch where we tried a few new things but didn't dare try the "homemade carrot cake, white or black" from a stall that produced platefuls of a dark fried substance. ( I asked Yvonne later and she told me the carrot cakes were the compressed white squares I'd seen the man frying in his tiny kitchen. White carrot I guess, with some kind of black sauce added to it, definitely no cream cheese frosting).
We found the "ferry terminal", a dock where $2.00/person bought a "bum-boat" ride across the strait to Pulau Ubin. When we walked in to the departure area we saw a group of blonde women, a shock to our eyes after three days in Asia, waiting for the next boat. Our three brought the number of passengers up to 12 for a full load to the island. We all piled in to an old wooden boat that wasn't even tied up to the dock and enjoyed the breeze during a fifteen-minute boat ride. What a contrast to see the endless line of towering high rises on one side and the wooded shores of Pulau Ubin and Malaysia ahead of us.
At the dock on Pulau Ubin we talked with a park guide who showed us on a map the best bicycling routes and told us where to get off the bikes for a short hike. When we turned away from the information desk into the compact little village we were immediately propositioned with, "Get bike here, good bike here" from several competing businesses. They all seemed to be a $2/day rental, unless we upgraded from the old clunker bikes to newer-looking mountain bikes. In the spirit of the island we chose the cheap old bikes that had at one time been ten speeds but now had a few functioning gears. We had to raise the seats as we are considerable taller than most Singaporeans and even with the seat fully raised on his bike Tom's knees knocked against the handlebars.
So there we were, on bicycles again, this time on a little backwater of a tropical island with a few kilometers of paved roads and almost no cars. It was great fun, even for Jay after he got the knack of getting his bike started. We pedaled past old Malaysian-style homes built on stilts to keep off the moist ground and above the occasional flood. In an orderly grove of trees I saw a cup hanging off a tree and recognized the place as an old rubber plantation, with healed scars in each tree from slashes placed to let the latex drip out.
We took a break at a small beach of rough sand on the north side of the island. Jay and I followed hand-lettered signs advertising "Cold drink here" to a dilapidated house, mostly a rusty metal roof and a few light walls. Two old men sat in the shade under the roof and pointed to a hanging group of empty aluminum cans, the beverage menu. Jay was thrilled to see in the selection a can of A&W Root Beer, something not to be had in New Zealand. I tried something with black current juice and aloe bits, the first time I've ever had a soda where little pieces bumped into my lips as I drank. It was a strange mix of new and old-drinking icy cold cans of soda in a remote Malaysian home. Later I wondered how the drinks were kept cold as there is no electricity on the island. Perhaps the owners buy big chunks of ice from Changi village or they may have a generator that periodically powers a freezer. However they do it, the profit margin can't be high. The drinks cost $1 Sing, or about 75 cents US.
Back on the bikes we pedaled by a few abandoned homes and some that I wasn't sure of their status. Only 100 people now live on the island, far fewer than 50 years ago when granite was excavated here for new buildings in modern Singapore. The jungle has erased most of the evidence of human habitation except for a deep pit from the quarry, now filled with aqua-blue water. We had a good look down into this lake as we walked the short climb up to the summit of Pulau Ubin. From the top we looked north into Malaysia, past heavy forest to distant mountains.
At the most remote road end on the island we visited a Thai Buddhist temple. Priests in orange robes were doing housekeeping, taking the old trays of edible offerings outside to give to the birds. Inside the temple we saw carved elephants and an elaborate shrine. It would have been a completely peaceful place except for the roar of the generator. I hoped the priests had at least a few hours a day when it wasn't on.
Pulau Ubin did have the feel of an earlier era in Singapore and others told us it resembled Malaysian towns of today. We weren't the only ones who found it delightful-when we pedaled past other cyclists they were always grinning. And I grinned even more when I heard a big thud and right in front of me a monkey dropped down onto a lower branch. I stopped to enjoy my second encounter with wild monkeys.
Back in the ferry-side village we returned our bicycles and sat at a table under the shade of an umbrella to try out "Cold and Sweet, Young Thai Coconut" for $1.50sing. The owner of the little store, which also sold ice cream sticks and packaged junk food, took a coconut out of her cooler, and hacked off the top of it with a sharp cleaver. She put in a couple of straws and a metal spoon. We sipped the clear cold liquid and it tasted heavenly, just a bit sweet with a hint of coconut flavor. With the spoon we hollowed out the soft white flesh, a thin layer that had the exact consistency of poached egg white but with a mild coconut taste. We topped that off with slices of cold watermelon and were re-hydrated enough to walk back out into the sun to the ferry dock.
All the way back to the Barretts we didn't get lost once and we made it to their house in time for a cooling swim before taking taxis to a buffet restaurant in Little India. The boys chose chapattis and fried chapattis for their dinner while the rest of us feasted on dahl and all sorts of vegetarian stews and sauces. After dinner Mima took the boys home in a taxi (a perfectly safe thing to do in Singapore) while David and Yvonne and Tom and I walked the crowded streets. Everywhere little stores spilled over onto the sidewalk so there was barely enough of a path left to squeeze through for pedestrians. The prices were remarkably low-$9.00 for a pair of jeans, t-shirts, three for $10. David said almost everything there was made in China.
Yvonne wanted to go to Mustafa's, a huge department store started by an Indian immigrant and now sprawling over almost a block. It was as if a Wal-mart Super Center had been squeezed down to a tenth of its original size and the inventory doubled. We threaded our way past three rows of soap, brands from all over the world and four rows of chocolate where I had to pause to appreciate the magnitude of the display. On one floor were cases of gold watches and jewelry, important for Indian weddings. Yvonne was looking for a certain brand of Chinese hand cream and David liked a special type of sandelwood incense. Hundreds of other shoppers of many ethnic groups were out searching for bargains. Tom and I held onto most of our money, our basket contained two Toblerone bars and a pair of socks. It was a consumer goods paradise but I was happy to get out the door.
March 24, 2006 the Australian School
When we first arrived at the Barrett's we'd offered to help out at their school and Yvonne took us up on it. She arranged for Tom to give a talk and slide show about lightning-caused fire to the Year 5 classes. They were studying natural disasters and Tom is an expert on that interesting topic. Jay was invited to the Year 6 class where David was teaching a special cartooning class and I was to help out in the school library putting plastic covers on new library books.
David and the twins biked to school and Yvonne and Mima walked with us. The kids wore uniforms--green shorts and khaki-colored shirts. As we approached the school we encountered more children in the same uniform, chattering away in their Australian accents.
The school building is only a couple of years old and was an impressive place-a giant air-conditioned lobby, airy classrooms and a spacious library. Over a thousand students attend, most of them Australian, some from New Zealand. While Yvonne helped Tom set up for his slide show, Jay and I browsed in the library where I found a big selection of Australian children's books. Later, when I was cutting and pressing clear contact paper onto new paperback bookcovers, I worked with another volunteer, an Australian woman with two kids in school. We had an interesting conversation about "foreigners". She said in Australia she had resented the way Asians didn't integrate into Australian society but now she understood how it was much more comfortable to stay with one's own ethnic or national group. I resisted saying that she didn't have to send her kids to the Australian school; there are many other good schools in Singapore. I could tell she was struggling with "sense of place" and being an "ex-pat". I certainly didn't have any answers for her.
Yvonne poked her head into the room to say that the kids had loved Tom's presentation. Jay returned from the class where he had bravely joined in and reported that Australian kids seemed just like American kids. He wasn't long on detail, and I didn't press him.
We said goodbye to the Barretts and stepped out into the heat for the short walk home, all of us glad to have the freedom to leave school in the middle of the day. After packing up we took the train to Chinatown.
People of Chinese heritage are the biggest ethnic group in Singapore and live all over the island. Chinatown attracts tourists to its crowded streets where the colonial-era buildings feature narrow balconies, elaborate shutters and painted patterns on their stucco walls. We walked past Chinese medicine shops with bins of dried shark fins and sea horses among the choices on display. We tried out the cookies at a Chinese bakery-sesame and bean paste, walnut, and "gold coin" cookies made in a mold to look like Chinese coins. Some shops sold "antiques" which seemed to be reproductions of ancient furniture and sculpture. I tried to explain to Jay about the Tang dynasty and other eras in China but my history was weak. At least he understood how long Chinese civilization has been around.
We'd been invited to Janet and Yee Wang's home for supper and to spend the night so next we had to figure out how to get there. Tom thought we could take a bus but after wandering around Chinatown and looking at various bus stops we couldn't find the number bus we needed. When we ended up at a subway stop, Jay and I looked at the subway map and thought we could get pretty close that way.
After our subway journey, when we stepped above ground, we didn't recognize the district but we thought if we walked east we'd get to the Wang's. Of course, none of the roads went directly east. It was a bit of a forced march, all of us dripping sweat, through another large high-rise "estate" until we found the Bukat Timah Road and hopped on a bus that we remembered from our stay with Anne Backus. I'm sure if we had stayed in Singapore longer we could have figured out the transportation system.
Janet was just home from work and offered us cold juice when we walked in. When she asked Jay if he liked computer games his face lit up and she led him off to one of the boy's rooms where he opted to stay while the rest of us went to the Botanical Gardens for a walk.
Here was another surprise for us-in the middle of a city of densely packed high-rises and busy four-lane roads, Singapore has reserved acres and acres for a stunning botanical reserve. We walked past palm trees and waterfalls and through the "Evolution Garden" where a spiral path begins at the Big Bang and circles through the eras of plant life on earth. Particularly interesting were the cycads, early fern-like plants that were dominant during the Paleozoic era but are now restricted to a few living fossil species. Later we walked past bright pink fuschias and a huge tree called fragens fragrencia, with sweet yellow flowers. We walked and talked but didn't have time for the orchid area, the most famous part of the garden.
Back at the Wang's house we sat down to a feast of rice noodles, sweet and sour vegetables and pork, oxtail soup and slices of mango and star fruit. Janet and Yee were obviously used to feeding a crowd. Though their oldest son was off in Europe for school, their younger two sons, Min and Peter, were still at home. They'd also taken in a nephew and a friend's daughter and just before we started eating Till showed up, a young Belgian Servas traveler. It was a comfortable chaos.
After supper Janet and Yee and Min and Till and Tom and Jay and I crammed into the car and drove down to a hawkers' centre. Janet ordered several traditional Singaporean desserts for us to try. My favorite was the pureed purple yam with coconut milk. The hot soybean jelly didn't have a western parallel, in other words it didn't seem dessert-like at all to me. A couple of the jell-o-like ones were better than their bright colors suggested; coconut milk gave the flavors a boost.
Janet asked the dessert cook if we could try a tiny bit of durian, the Singaporean special fruit. Till and Tom and I were curious about this as the durian smells so bad that it is banned from even being carried on a train or bus. The teaspoon sample on the spoon looked an innocent fruity yellow and only smelled a bit strong and rotten but the taste was much worse. The flavor stuck in my mouth, a sort of a dirty sock, woodsmoke glue. I couldn't believe Janet liked durian, but I understood more when she compared the taste to that of a fine bleu cheese---it's not for everyone.
Back at the house, we asked Min about his life in the army. Boys in Singapore have compulsory military for two years beginning, usually, when they are 18. Min gets to come home on the weekends and didn't mind his job delivering food and supplies. When I asked Yee about conscientious objectors he was very abrupt. "They go to jail for two and a half years. Why should they be excused from what I and others have to do?" He knew that Seventh Day Adventists always went to jail instead of joining the military and I wondered if there are others.
When we talked about family history, Janet said her family has lived in Singapore for several generations and her mother's family is originally from Sarawak, a big island off of the Malaysian peninsula. Janet speaks five languages, including three Chinese dialects and Malay, and her first language is English. She said she uses all her languages when she is at work as she sees patients who don't know much English. She's learning words in Tamil, an Indian language spoken by many of the migrant workers, dark-skinned people who do much of the menial work in Singapore.
We stayed up late talking then turned the sofa into a futon bed. Once again I was grateful for the invention of fans and air conditioners.
March 25, 2006
With nine people in the house, someone was bound to get up early and when the bathroom light and fan woke Tom and me up at 6:30, we tiptoed out of the house to go for a jog on the nearby trails that wind through the jungle reserve. Early morning is the least steamy time of day in Singapore but even so it didn't take long before we were sticky with sweat. Others were out walking and running and doing morning exercises so we felt right at home.
Back at the house we rushed through breakfast (pancakes made by Edna) so we could get to school in time so see Peter run in a high school track meet. We made it just in time for his appearance in the 50 Meter run and we stayed to watch a few longer races and the relays. It felt very comfortable sitting with Janet and Yee and cheering on the boys. Their high school, Chinese Anglo Boys School, is well-known in Singapore for its sports program. This meet was an all-school event and every student had to participate.
We left in late morning, when it was hot even under the shaded bleachers, dropped Jay, Janet and Min off at home, then drove downtown with Yee to a shiny new multi-level mall. Yee told us he liked the variety available at the large Carrefour grocery store there and we certainly were amazed with the plethora of foods from all over the world. I even found a heavy loaf of German rye bread to give to Till as a present. Most bread in Singapore is fluffy, fresh and very white. Yee bought a trout and mussels from Chile, part of a promotion of South American foods.
After a delicious lunch, we had a quiet hour then Janet left for an afternoon lecture as part of her doctor certification and Yee drove Peter off to a church youth group meeting. Yee was always driving someone somewhere and he had very little time to himself. With this, high blood pressure, and a difficult situation at his school, Yee had decided to retire from teaching early, at age 51. After he retired from school teaching he planned to increase the number of violin students he taught and have more time for his own interests.
We had time for one more quick trip to the Botanical Gardens, this time with Jay, before we needed to pack up and take the train to the airport. We thanked Janet and Yee for their generous welcome and urged them to visit us in North America. They have relatives in Vancouver and Toronto so maybe they will.
At the airport we retrieved our bike boxes from storage and wheeled them over to check-in. We seem to always have at least one mini-disaster when we are leaving from an airport and this time it was a discrepancy on our tickets. Our printout said we were to leave Singapore on March 25th to fly to Japan but the tickets said we left on the 26th. At least it wasn't the other way around (what a nightmare that would have been!) and eventually the ticket attendant got us on the flight. Even if she hadn't, we now had three sets of friends in Singapore and could have called on one of them asking for a place to stay. What a rich way to travel, leaving behind good memories of new friends.
2006 North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York 13617-1475