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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

Singapore, and How to Swing It

July 20, 2015.Joshua.0 Likes.0 Comments

56 stories below us, concrete and asphalt made the semblance of a grid.  No road here travels in a straight line, aesthetically pleasing, but it makes for a hard time navigating when you’re used to the US’ endless grids.  My acrophobia was held at bay by glass and steel as I looked out on the city that I currently call home and took all of it in.  One thought continued to ricochet through my head.

“This place is huge.”

Beverly could only nod.  The dichotomy of city and country makes for strange abstractions.  Singapore as a country is small, minuscule, in area and in population.  It is often called a miracle that this little island in the corner of the world could have as much clout, money and leisure as it does.  Then you look at the city, especially from 50+ floors up and it all comes into focus.  Singapore as a city is massive; not so much in population, though it’s five and half million residents say otherwise, but the island is quite large, and it is covered in the works of civilization.  Even the green parts, the “wild” parts, are carefully manicured forests surrounding the city’s reservoirs.

I feel like I might have designed this city in SimCity the way this town lays down trees.

I’ve lied to you.  I can only claim artistic license – that wasn’t the only thought going through my head.  There was another vying for “pondering time”, one that I had considered all weekend.

Am I living here, and is this how you swing the city, or am I still a tourist, on an 18-month long vacation?

I can see plainly that I don’t necessarily belong here.  It’s not that I am any less capable or lacking in any one particular quality versus the other residents of the island, but I do lack something more tangible – money.  While we’re far from living hand-to-mouth, the simple truth is that without Beverly’s expat package, our lifestyle would be much changed.  Oh, we’d get by, without issue, I’m sure of, and we’d be just fine, but this lifestyle, the travel, not working, spending my days eating, drinking and breathing words until my head is a jumble of phrases and observations.

Is this my dream?  Or am I someone else’s?

I can’t pretend that I’m not clinging to the concept of temporary.  This doesn’t feel like real life, this travel, this second life.  This is wonderful, eye-opening and a true once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it feels ephemeral none the less.  In fact, part of me hopes that it is.

So we do stuff like go to ION Sky, 50-some stories above Orchard Road.  50-some stories below us, name brands are hawked with no reduction in price, and no reduction in glamour and prestige.  Massive storefronts with tasteful black entrances proudly display brands like Prada.  Orchard teems with activity on a Saturday afternoon, like so many ants marching, to borrow a lyrical image.  She has a latte, the name of the bar, “Salt”, artfully written in chocolate powder.  I have a Grey Goose martini, and I purposely leave my preference for olives unsaid.  It comes back with a twist.

The day before, we took the train out to the Chinese Gardens.  Friday was a public holiday, Hari Raya Puasa, the Islamic “New Year” and last day of Ramadan.  Rain flittered down in varying degrees of severity on us as we looked at the garden of abundance, decorated with the 12 signs of the Zodiac.  We posed for pictures near our signs, Beverly disagreeing with the characterization of those born in the year of Goat, while I nodded sagely at the characterization of those in Dragon, a sign which I’ve always admired.

The goings on at the gardens and the nearby park were an amazing cross section of life in Singapore.  Chinese lovers walked hand in hand as kids ran from this statue to that.  Large groups of men, Malay & Indian, if I had to guess, posed for group “selfies”, and often held hands as well.  I suspect that this was not a romantic affectation.  In the park, cricket was being played with quite a bit of slipping and sliding on the wet grass.

We stopped at the Buona Vista stop on the way home, at a mall/shopping center that Bev had explored in her search for the perfect gym.  After walking around and taking in the various shops and restaurants, we saw a place offering smoked ribs and Oregon beer.

Sold, as the man says.

I write this, as I do most of my Monday morning pieces1Yes, Sunday night for folks in the States.  I’m competing with some good time slots here.  Do your part and support me over Game of Thrones., in a small bakery/coffee shop on Jalan Merah Saga, just a few blocks away from home.  I’m beginning to love this place, not so much for the food (though it’s quite good), or the coffee (also tasty) but for the fact that Holland Village is so packed full of expats that I can regularly visit this place and not be instantly recognized as the only ang mo in the joint.

There are a number of places around here already that know me by sight.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m somewhat of a remarkable shape of person – tall, broad shouldered, and well, white.  I’ve always had an aversion to being a “regular”.  It took me months to acclimate being recognized every day when I got coffee at Grendel’s downtown, though the rewards of good conversation and a friendly face to greet meet every work day was worth getting over my introvert tendencies.  Here, I feel the rewards are just as great.  Asians are not as willing as Americans to let people into any personal circles, but their inner circles run deep and with great passion.

So is this living here?  Is this just tourism?  Will I be back in Portland in a year with stories to tell and a few fond memories, or with the longing ache in my heart that I feel for the cities and towns I’ve truly called home over the years?

Though I write the most of Portland, a conversation last night revealed old longings I’ve learned to live with.  As Bev & I spoke about one thing and the other over dinner, we started to talk about our lives on the Central Coast – her in Isla Vista/Santa Barbara, and me in San Luis Obispo.  That ache I have for Portland exists also for SLO, though it has been buried under the intervening years and ignoble circumstances that hastened my departure.  I couldn’t help but marvel at the wistful tones in my voice as I spoke of some of the great stories from San Luis Obispo, of my time with Ernest & Allen and our brief romance with the start-up boom of the late ’90s.

And of course, there is the ache of hometown – Petaluma and the North Bay.  Though those too have been buried over by years and other memories.  Some of the shine has come off of San Francisco throughout the years I’ve known the city, but it too holds a place in my heart.

I suspect, that after another year-plus of living here, learning what I can of the city, that Singapore too will hold a place among them.


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