I’m going to try to condense my time in Singapore to a single post, which maybe is a mistake. Mostly I feel that my time there deserves more fanfare than a few hundred words and some pictures. But after all, as far as the reader is concerned, I suppose if anyone really wants to know every little detail they can just ask me. But for now, the gist will have to suffice.
As I’ve said before, I arrived at 6:30 in the morning on Saturday, December 30th, after some 36 hours of traveling. Thankfully, due to some timely emails from my mom, my hosts the Ho family had been informed of this and didn’t come to the airport too early. Singapore has a nice airport, and it was lovely to be met by Janelle, Uncle Kah-Choy (aka Casey) and Aunty Shi-Ane. For those of you who don’t know, Singapore conforms to the Chinese custom of using the designation aunty or uncle for anyone older than you. For a guy from the West Coast, where it’s not unheard of to find kids who call even their parents by their first names, it took a little getting used to. I think it’s a nice convention though, and definitely preferable to sir and ma’am, or even Mr. and Mrs., really.
The first thing we did after putting my bags in my room was go out to lunch. At first I was pretty alarmed by the number of meals Singaporeans seamed to eat. It was only at the end of my stay that I learned that this is a common misconception, and that Singaporeans in fact only eat one meal a day, which starts in the morning and lasts until you go to bed. Another way I heard it said was that in Singapore, you don’t eat until you’re full; you eat until you’re tired.
I think the only real point of culture shock was the language barrier. While it’s true that I speak English, and that Singaporeans speak English, we definitely don’t speak the same language. “Singlish” as they call it is a pigeon language of English, Chinese and Malay. While I knew about this before I went, I still wasn’t prepared for having no idea of what people were saying. As soon as more than one person started talking at once, I was done for, and some people I just simply couldn’t understand for anything. As Migiwa Kato remarked to me later, “For the first two weeks I was here, I thought everyone was speaking Chinese!” I did notice some improvement in my comprehension over the 10 days I was there, but it was still weird to need Janelle to translate English into English for me. Also, I think that just knowing it was English, and not an actual “foreign language” added a level of frustration to the whole equation, more especially as everyone understood me just fine. My inner linguist did have kind of a field day, however.
I managed to stay up all the first day, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. I slept something like 11 uninterrupted hours the first night, which I think was mostly due to having gotten only 10 hours of sleep in the previous 72, though it might also have been the melatonin I took. I was active enough the first weekend, but I’m afraid that the first Monday and Tuesday of my visit I prevailed upon my hosts to let me stay home and rest.
Wednesday Janelle and I went to the Singapore Zoo. The Zoo is out on a peninsula away from the city in the middle of what I would call the jungle. As far as Zoos go, it probably ties with the Columbus Zoo for the best I’ve ever been to. We went to a show exhibiting an extremely exotic sea creature; a sea lion. At one point a three foot long lizard sauntered across the path in front of us. I thought it was escaped, but Janelle informed me that they just hane those in Singapore, and told me a story about being chased by a giant monitor lizard when she was little. It also seemed a little superfluous to have so many monkey exhibits when there was a huge population of wild ones just running around. I’d say probably my favorite part was the big, netted bio-dome with loose birds, lemurs, flying-foxes and insects.
I also had the honor of attending Janelle’s grandma’s 80th birthday luncheon. As I mentioned earlier, I could barely follow the conversation, which was kind of hard for a prolific eavesdropper like me. But I had a good time, and got to try a lot of really good Chinese food. All of it tasted pretty foreign to me, and not really at all like Chinese food back home. Some of the dishes were the same, but the spicing was always different. At one point they brought out a pear soup, which Janelle said tasted weird. That’s right, the pear soup tasted weird. Not the squid tentacles or stingray or who-knows-what. I think I can say as an objective observer that the pear soup was definitely more tame than anything else we had.
I’m still getting the hang of using chopsticks. Interestingly, the remark about my chopstick use I got the most was something along the lines of, “Ohh! You hol’ yo’ chopsti’ propa’ly!” Apparently nearly all Singaporeans hold their chopsticks “wrongly”. And while they all seem to feel guilty and deeply insecure about this, no one seems particularly intent on reforming either.
Other activities we did included going to Sentosa, the great southern resort island, getting Indian food in Little India (which I can assure everyone, is as spicy as its reputation makes it out to be), and going to see the Australian cast production of Wicked at the Singapore Sands Hotel. I’d never seen Wicked before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Having seats in the second row didn’t hurt either! Uncle Kah-Choy got busted for taking pictures, but it was easy to pretend we didn’t know him.
Janelle flew back to Oregon on Friday morning, and Josh left later that night. I spent most of Saturday with Migiwa Kato. She drove me all over the Island, and we had a few laughs comparing notes on Singaporean idiosyncrasies. We went out to what I would call the countryside to an organic farm, drove along the straights between Singapore and Malaysia, went to the east coast beaches, and went to a club on top of the Sands Hotel. The craziest thing that happened to me that day was probably stepping on chewing-gum. No no, it’s true! I went to Singapore, where chewing gum and spitting are both illegal, and managed to step on a nice, big wad.
Aunty Shi-Ane, Uncle Kah-Choy and I spent the rest of the weekend preparing for our flight to Shanghai. They managed to get me to sing in their church choir (Aunty Shi-Ane is the church choir director) even without Janelle present for emotional support. I was the only white person in the whole church, and they put me right in front of a microphone. The lady in the row in front of me sat down the whole time too, so the whole congregation got a good, long look at me. Don’t tell either of them, but I actually really enjoyed it.
Monday the 9th we flew into Shanghai, but now I’m getting beyond the scope of this post, which is already way too long.