Some trips you take; others take you
Some trips you take are just for fun: drinks on the beach and wonderful dinners and runs on the boardwalk and shopping.
You know, true R & R.
Some trips take you to visit family or dear friends you think of as family. These are so special it’s hard to put them into words. They add to your bank of spirit points that can often be depleted by daily life.
And some trips help you evolve as a human being.
They take you out of your comfort zone, change your worldview, and open your eyes to cultural understandings and ways of life you didn’t really know went on as your own days went on.
They enrich your soul and your palate and teach you history and geography you either didn’t learn in school or forgot you learned. They remind you of just how much you don’t know what you don’t know.
I just returned from one of those.
I took a plane ride from New York that lasted eighteen hours and landed me on the exact opposite side of the planet. I crossed the international time zone, which put me thirteen hours ahead of my loved ones; half a day into the future from my real life. A true time warp, like Rod Serling, should have been narrating.
“You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: Singapore!”
I’m not a fan of long rambling accounts of every meal and every site visited so I won’t bore you with that. What I really want to convey is my impression of all that; the thoughts that will keep me up at night for weeks as I assimilate what I just lived through into my perspective on life going forward.
I got some good souvenirs, mainly spices and poop coffee (it’s a real thing- look it up); but the most lasting souvenirs can’t be piled on a counter for a photo. They’re safely ensconced in my brain, busy latching on to existing schema and creating new ones.
The antithesis of atrophy that aging can cause, new experiences keep my brain young; and this trip may have literally taken years off my life. In a good way.
I guess I’ll begin with the geography and history and get it out of the way. Singapore is only a few hours by plane northwest of Australia. It’s an island country off the southern tip of mainland Asia; a former British colony only fifty-eight years independent from Malaysia.
Its population is a hub of Asian diversity, with neighborhoods such as Arab Town and Little India and Chinatown, filled with Buddhist and Hindu temples and mosques, and synagogues, which are surrounded by high concrete walls and intense security.
All within walking distance of the very impressive architecture of the commercial downtown and the harbor lined with hundreds of shipping barges.
It’s the cleanest place I’ve ever visited, and you understand why when you see constant signage admonishing you to clean up after yourself, threatening fines if you don’t return your tray to the bin after eating at one of the mall food courts.
It’s also one of the safest places I have ever traveled.
I never felt the slightest concern about my purse or my personal safety at any time of day or night. And the service everywhere we went was outstanding, from the museum ticket counters to the tiniest stores; all without tips!
We walked for miles. My travel companions were as enthusiastic as I was to see and experience everything we could possibly see and experience in the five days we would spend in the country.
The afternoons were sweltering, so we learned to use the underground network of interconnected malls when we needed some shade and AC. But for the most part, in moving from one site on our list to the next, we wandered.
Wandering is underrated.
When you roam around on your way somewhere, you get to see a place like a native instead of a tourist. It’s the real stuff of the lives of locals that happens in between the museums and light shows and Singapore Slings and Gardens by the Bay.
We stopped in a shopping mall and hawkers’ market where the residents of the area have lunch with work colleagues and shop for wedding dresses. We wound up eating dinner one night in a hole-in-the-wall Indonesian kitchen with four tables, on a narrow back street where the crowd was not, shall we say, as obviously American as we were.
We got to be temporary insiders in a story not our own. And if you’re open to it, that changes you.
We thought we were being very careful not to drink the water or eat raw vegetables, we really did. But the revenge got most of us anyway. I feel like it’s a rite of passage when you go somewhere that we Westerners consider exotic. It was worth every…well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.
In Singapore, we were very, very busy, stomach issues notwithstanding.
A favorite experience was the Night Safari, a brilliant organization of zoo animals by sleep habits. Basically, they put all the nocturnal animals in a separate location only open at night.
I love zoos and have been to many, all over the world. But seriously, after that experience, my takeaway is — why in the world would you not do it that way?
In the country of Singapore, we did a lot, wearing ourselves out to the point where we fell into bed hard every night, too tired to even process the day’s experiences before rising to start again the next morning. But we didn’t really do anything crazy or too daring or even super unique.
That, we saved for Bali.