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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

Well, folks, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Three weeks since I last wrote here, and those three weeks could be qualified by any number of descriptors, couldn’t they?  “Horrible” comes to mind.  “The Beginning of the End” might be a bit too dramatic1stop, really, but “Turbulent” doesn’t quite cover it, does it?

I’m not going to pretend that I know all the factors behind “Brexit”, the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.  It’s been talked to death, but as an American with only selfish interests in the actual nuts and bolts of the economic underpinnings of the north-western part of the supercontinent, I can only grasp at the most basic of concepts.  Save for one, which I am sadly all too familiar, the vitriol and hostility directed at the “other” that permeated the “Leave” campaign.

I’ll say it clear – judging off my Facebook feed2for what’s that’s worth, I have some friends who voted “Leave”.  My inclination is that their votes were not motivated by racial spite or influenced by fear mongering.  There seem to be some legitimate gripes about the EU, and again, not being versed in European economics or politics, I can’t speak intelligently towards that.  My own personal philosophy is not to radically alter economic policy – social policy, fuck it, shake that shit up – because it does seem in times of economic disorder, the ones that get well and truly fucked are the lower and middle classes.  But I respect the voting process.

However, it is abundantly clear that many people voted their frustration and their fear, preyed upon by the likes of the UKIP, whose methodology I was first introduced by a particularly nasty image shared via one of my family members.  The rhetoric coming from Britain’s far-right sadly echoes that of our own far-right in America, complete with the demonization of Muslim peoples, fueled by the fear of terrorism and the ugly xenophobia of rural life in the West.  This doesn’t invalidate the votes of all who voted “Leave” – it would be folly and propaganda to suggest otherwise – but it does sadly give empowerment to those who would act on the fears of others to ostracize “the other”.

The other.  There’s a lot of “others” in this world.  I’ve commented a lot that through my limited travel – albeit to an area of the world I knew so very little of – that we are all the same underneath.  We are.  It is as profound of a statement that I can give, though, writing or saying those words does nothing.  I cannot stress how important it is for everyone, especially in isolated North America, to the get the fuck off the continent and go see the world.  Especially Asia.  It’s painfully obvious as you barter with someone in Bangkok or chat with a taxi uncle here in Singapore how we all value the same things deep down.  Family, comfort, peace, meaning, love.  These things we all value.

What is different, however, what makes this world so amazing, is the various systems we’ve invented to protect those things we value.  In the West, especially so in America, we take this protection as a personal challenge.  We tell ourselves the individual is best equipped to understand what’s dear to them, and that the individual should be empowered to do so.  In Asia, especially, the reverse is true – that the community is stronger when it is put forward.  When the individual acts towards collectivism, the greater good is served.  There’s no right or wrong in this3re-read that if you disagree and then repeat it like a mantra.  “There is no right or wrong in this.”.  There is wisdom and folly in both approaches, as there is in any system.

This is just one poor example.  The point being is that, really when you get down to it, though we are all the same creatures, our differences in thought and expression is what makes us fascinating and able to learn so much from each other.  Demonization of those different from you, especially on lines so superficial as skin tone and ethnicity, is so abhorrent to me because of this.  We each of us have something to learn from others.  Xenophobia is stagnation.  Stagnation is death.

“The others” doesn’t just include folks from the far off corners of the world.  The others come from within as well.  Societal norms, while well-intentioned towards protecting the systems that protect what we hold dear, enforce codes of conduct that we soon take for granted as immutable law.  Those that act against those norms are too branded as “the other”, exiled at best, until understanding overtakes fear.  Forty-nine of those others died in a horrific attack during these past three weeks, in Orlando, which, in my sadness in confusion at waking up to a day’s worth of news on the attack, prompted me to skip an update4the second week was skipped because NBA Finals, Game 7.  Wild horses, etc..

There’s been a lot of discussion within LGBT circles regarding the reaction towards the killings.  Many folks highlighted that even within that community there is a sense of “other”, and the folks that died that morning in Pulse were one of the most ostracized groups in American, queer folk of color.  I can’t quite put words to what I felt as I read more and more about the killings – not the reactions of people to the murders, those were predicable as was the anger it precipitated within – but rather how it affected my own sense of security and privilege.  How it rattled me what I had in common and what I don’t with the people who died.  That I can look at my own ability to pass as both privilege and oppression.  That it didn’t spur me to action, and that any action is limited to writing words when I want to be back in Portland standing up for “the others”.  And me.

Sometimes I lose sight of that, too.

Those searching for definitives here will have no satisfaction.  The past few weeks haven’t been about me.  So much anger has been voiced in the world, my own changes nothing, helps nothing, solves nothing.  Only my action changes the world, and I am only willing to stand up so high here within the Lion City.  Here in our sanctuary of a city, we mark the news with reservation.  I’ve seen a lot of advertisements for the Navy.  The idea of protection, encirclement, isn’t far from my mind.  Nerves fray slightly.  Watch and see becomes the prevailing wind.

And I can’t find fault in that.  The world waits with baited breath for the next shoe to drop.  They look to the US, to November.  The peril is all over.  Will he, will she, what will be the result, what will be the fallout?

Enough of this.  Let’s talk about the good.

Beverly and I visited the Night Safari as well during these past few weeks.  I had some reservations considering my last entry, but with vast Googling, I found nothing offsides about the Night Safari, and plenty of praise5this is in contrast to the Singapore Zoo which holds a polar bear.  A polar bear.  At 1 degree north.  Yeah..  So, we went.

The Night Safari is cool.  There’s no denying this.  It’s a mostly open-enclosure zoo where wooden walkways wind past Asiatic otters and civets, through a broad fenced in enclosure where you can hang out with the wallabies, or watch massive Malaysian fruit bats chill out upside down.  There are some cats that are enclosed in spaces, but the larger cats have a large open space to roam.

Oh yeah, it’s only open at night.  All the critters there, you’re watching their nocturnal behaviors.  There are lights, but they’re soft, moon-like floods that give the impression of a bright full orb shining above.  The walkways twist through overgrown bushes and trees, giving the park an eerie, dangerous feel.  Most of the creatures there are grazing animals, as you’d likely expect.  Many types of deer and hogs, some standing right near the track for the tram ride you can take through the park, calm, though, when one idiot forgets to turn off their flash, it does spook them.  So for the Gods’ sake, turn your damn flash off.

Though the one animal I was dismayed to see was the elephant.  Majestic and proud, he was the clear star of the park, but no amount of room could be enough on this island for such a massive creature.  I get that there is a mystique and an allure to the elephant, especially here in South-East Asia where they have become a symbol of this land’s beauty.  I get that their ranges are shrinking by the day as we spread.  I know that most zoos try to serve conservation as much as they serve the public’s entertainment needs.  It’s still hard to swallow.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the launch of Tales of Two Cities, a collaboration between the Singapore Writers Group (of which I am a member) and the Hong Kong Writers’ Circle.  The book features a number of short stories set in or focused upon the two cities of Singapore and Hong Kong, and several of my dear friends here are published within.  We had a launch event at Kinokuniya, and then celebrated a little with happy hour next door at the Mandarin Orchard.  Jean-Luc was not advised.

Really, though, I’m so proud of my fellow writers for another successful book and wanted to laud them here.


Comments (2)

  • David . June 28, 2016 . Reply

    I stumbled upon your blog. I really like your posts. I’m a rose city transplant too of a sort. I’m Singaporean but I attended high school and college in Portland. Keep up the good work with your blog.

    • (Author) Joshua . June 28, 2016 . Reply

      Hi David, thanks for the kind words! Glad you’re enjoying the blog, and it’s awesome to see another rose city transplant 😀

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