Just as Much a Stranger Here

September 27, 2017 – Singapore

I’m just as much a stranger here as I have ever been anywhere, minus the 57 years of acculturation. The customs and activities of humans on this planet have always occurred as odd to me, even in my home country. Especially in my home country: borders, keeping unfortunate people out; standing and pledging allegiance to a piece of colored cloth;  Presidential turkey pardons; Black Friday; the High School Prom. (For a fun list of American customs that seem strange to people from other countries, read this blog post from Thought Catalog.)

Growing up in America, I had plenty of time to get used to the peccadilloes of American society. In Singapore, I’ve only had seven days. I’ve never even been to Asia before, so what might feel like everyday living to most of the people here, seems strange to me. Looking at the United States on a map, from here in Singapore, it occurs to me that Petaluma, California, from where we just moved, is in the east. The far east. Why do we think of this part of the world as the “Far East”? Certainly, that’s a Eurocentric point of view, not even American, as we flew west to get here. Further mind-wandering extrapolation and I am now thinking that there really is no east, west, north or south. We made up the whole system, so we could get from one spot to another on a seemingly flat surface. But it’s not flat. It is a globe. And any point on the globe could be seen to be on “top” of that globe. To a far away planet, directly “over” Singapore, where I am right now would seem the top. People I have mentioned this to point out to me that there are the poles, which are on top or bottom. I don’t buy it. Why couldn’t they be east and west poles? In any case, wherever a distinct egoic awareness is on the planet, it surely feels like center. And our trip here, although long and far, has really been a journey to the here and now–away from my old center, and, hopefully, a way towards a more holistic view of the planet.

I have come this far with a goal in mind: to experience the world as one, and to know in my bones that there is no point of view that is the be all, end all. And that all points of view make up what we call the world. Indeed, as I walk down the streets of Singapore, making my way with tentative steps and avoiding wrong turns, as new sights, smells, sounds and people fill my senses, “reality” has become very malleable.

Just as I was hoping.

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The Smells
Curry, sugar, dough, French cigarettes, wet streets after a 15 minute thunderstorm, oil and rubber wafting back up into the always humid air, chili sauce, and soy sauce. Around every block there seems to be a new odor that I’ve either never encountered before or it smells familiar but I can’t quite place it. What’s that? A clove cigarette, or a cook in an outdoor restaurant stirring the Frog Porridge? There are also smells I recognize–coffee, doughnuts, and row after row of mooncakes in one of the many malls at Orchard Road. Strolling by some of the densely-packed little bakeries and coffee shops, I wonder if it’s possible to go into a diabetic coma from smelling too much sugar.

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Oh. My. God.

Orientation – Time, Space and Weather
Not only am I noticing that from here the United States is the “far east”. In fact, my whole concept of east, west, north south, and time has shifted. When I call California, it is 15 hours ago. I talked to Lenny on the phone today, and he was getting ready for bed last night (I told him don’t worry, I was talking to him from the future and Thursday was coming along just fine.) In California, the only mental adjustments Rachelle and I regularly had to make was the +2 hours to calculate a phone call to her family in Kansas. Here, we are constantly subtracting 15 hours in order to time a phone call to a U.S. business, or back to family and friends. I am quickly training myself to look both ways before crossing any street. Cars drive on the left side here and, more than once, I have looked the wrong way, stepped into the street and been jolted back by a car or scooter horn. Now, unless the coast is clear for at least a quarter mile every way I can see, I push the “Press for Green Man” buttons and wait for the signal.

Most interesting to me is the way my brain is mapping out its new environs. What were once dots on a map at Changi Airport, with names that meant nothing to me are now signposts that invoke memories of neighborhoods I am getting to know. The crumpled transit map in my back pocket now also serves as a guide of my own newly-wrinkled brain: Aljunied, my current neighborhood, near “The Ranch” restaurant, decorated to look like an old-west saloon, except it looks like a Southeast Asia cafe with a couple of cowboy hats hung on makeshift hooks (decent Chefs Salad, and an ok burger of which I dared not ask the origin); Orchard Avenue, shopping mecca bustling with Singaporeans on the way somewhere quickly, or back again while a large digital screen blasts advertisements with narration reminding me of a Blade Runner scene; Kallang, the district that has a concert and sports stadium, some better-than-average “food court” restaurants, and a very comfortable movie theater. As we venture out to more and more of this vibrant, muggy, ever-rising city, I can sense the brain synapses fire and neural networks stretch as they continue to model the external world, accumulate new language and new customs. It is a marvelous process to observe, my own brain reaching, growing, yearning to understand a place. I vow to keep meditating,  taking my vitamins, exercising and watching my blood sugar so my neuroplasticity remains intact for all the adventures yet to come.

I think this is what it must have been like being a young boy, learning the way the world works. Only now, I vow to learn for the sake of adventure and growth, not merely to survive.

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MRT Map to 28 Stanley Street – we found Bulletproof Coffee!
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Kaji Avenue
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Oasia Hotel, near Telok Ayer Park
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All Castes Welcome – Thank Goodness!

Weather Update. Yesterday was 86 degrees F. Today is 86 degrees F. Tomorrow is forecasted to be 86 degrees F. Every day so far has been a high of 86 or 87 degrees F. Tomorrow, the forecast is for a cooling trend, down to 85. The coldest day on record in Singapore is 69 F. (After 9 hours of uninterrupted rainfall.) This morning, we woke up to a shower, a downpour plunging the temperature to a cool-feeling 79. Josh Willard, a golf pro from Australia who toured Asia some years back, and lived in Singapore, warned me before I left, “Be ready for the heat, mate! It’ll hit you like a wall as soon as you walk off the plane.” He assured me I would love it here but also shook his head with a smirk as if to size me up and think, “Not sure you’ll be up to it…mate!” Well, Josh, I’m proud to report that, as of yet, I don’t mind it at all. Of course, the fact that air conditioning is everywhere and there is a swimming pool twelve steps outside the front door of our temporary rental, ameliorates the effect of the “feels like 95” message on my weather app. But even when I am out on a long walk in the heat and humidity, I’m holding up just fine to being 88 miles from the equator, thank you very much.

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Right outside our front door in our Singapore apartment

Sights

I have had six laser surgeries on my eyes for retinopathy, two cataract lenses installed and last year recovered from a two-month eye palsy which shut down the vision in my right eye completely. So, I am really appreciating not only what I am seeing in Asia but that I have my vision at all. It is precious. And there sure are some beautiful sights to see.

 

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Sounds

The buddhist chanting outside our kitchen window, ringing chimes. It sounds like Santa Claus is coming and bringing toys for bald-headed meditators. The roar of Singapore Air Force jets over our apartment on 31 Lorong Geylang as they circle the island, defending against what? Starbucks, malls and supermarkets pipe in western music that serve as audio bookends for the Mosque calls for prayer, Chinese music and birds, both real and piped in over p/a systems downtown.

Yesterday, all day and up until we fell asleep around midnight, Rachelle and I were entranced, then slightly irritated and finally simply resigned to our bedtime lullaby as a Chinese Opera troupe performed on the street nearby.

The next night, we were walking back from the Aljunied MRT and caught a bit of the show…

People

Singapore is roughly the same size as San Francisco but with 5 million more people. Its government, which seems like the most pure version of Capitalism bolstered by a dictatorial form of Communism, which seems loyally followed by every Singapore resident with whom we have spoken, plans on having 10 million people residing here as soon as possible. Not as in “we predict 10 million people here and are doing our best to accommodate this.” No, it’s more like, “We think it best that we increase the population to 10 million ASAP and we are building our infrastructure at top speed to make this happen as quickly as we can.”

Our first social outing was with Barry, Rachelle’s colleague, his wife Jackie and Ian, Barry’s son-in-law. Some other friends also came and we spent hours on a Thursday night, wine tasting, sharing food and conversation. Three Americans, an Australian, someone from the UK, two Singaporeans surrounded by locals and other expats and a good number of French there, serving and selling their wine. Waiting in line for the restroom after dinner I struck up a conversation with a French expat. It turned out he lived in the next building from where we are staying at 31 Lorong Geylang. What are the odds? This confirmed that if you open your mouth, and, more importantly, your ears and heart, you discover connection. Sometimes it’s a next door neighbor you never met before. Sometimes it’s a human being with all the same hopes and fears as every other.

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Misc.
Light switches – down for on, up for off. Just as in London, “to go” food is “for take away”. Exits are usually marked “Way Out”. Colleen Sollars post, It’s time to wake up to the devastating impact flying has on the environment inspired us to donate to www.carbonfootprint.com, as a way to offset our impact to get here. Not having a car has been great. We have to think about and plan more before we go out, and often choose not to. Did I really need to leave? Or, was it just a way to escape my current state of mind–like drinking used to be? Everyone takes their shoes off when entering a home.

Best of Planning Ahead
Ordering two FRIO insulin cooling cases – activated by cold water, they keep my insulin and pump cool, even when I’m out in the heat all day. Bonus–if it gets too hot, I can slip my phone into the bigger pouch. I made some big posterboard checklists before the move to keep track of what we had to accomplish to get here. Outlook and Google calendars and task lists are great and all but there is something solid solid and safe about seeing a big white board with check boxes being ticked off. Rachelle was still working until just a few days before departure so there was a lot of juggling to get out of our house, into various hotels, commute to her installs in Roseville, Rocklin and Marin. We are very grateful for those hotels that accommodated early check ins or letting us store our 8 bags of luggage when we needed.

 

Things We Miss

Friends, mostly. Dino, our neighbor. We got rid of a ton (no exaggeration as the list includes two cars) of “stuff” to lighten up enough to relocate the 8,448 miles. But I don’t miss any of the items we sold, gave away or put into storage. There are certain conveniences, locations and foods for which we sometimes pine: Lily’s sugar free chocolate bars, coconut cream, Whole Foods organic vegetables, our Sonos music system (it’s on the way!), the Marin Headlands, and of course Marley (more on our precious cute snuggle bug later). Recycling — one would think 5.6 million people on an island would be very much into recycling but not so much. And plastic bags are ubiquitious–if you order a coffee for “takeaway”, the put it in a single-cup size plastic bag! But for every one of these missed things or things I judge to be silly, there is a new treasure, an ingenious way of doing something or impossible-to-get-elsewhere item. And, we have finagled a way to watch Dancing With The Stars.

Upcoming

We are moving to Malaysia on Friday. For 1/4 the rent, you get 4 times the square footage, and furniture, and a clubhouse with a swimming pool, etc., etc. The inconvenience of crossing the border into Singapore to catch a flight is not a big enough consideration to keep us in the big city. Really, it would be so much better for all if Malaysia and Singapore would merge once again. These border checks are silly and, although Trump might have a wet dream looking at the controls both ways, the hassle to cross is a ridiculous waste of time. After we settle, we will arrange to have Marley flown to Kuala Lampur and delivered to Nusa Jaya and I will begin to look for gainful employment or some sort of legal income stream here in the center of my world. I will also be continuing my work with Pachamama Alliance, starting with leading small “Awaken the Dreamer” Symposiums. Rachelle’s schedule is already booked solid through December.

There will be plenty to blog about.

*Update* CNN International has scenes of the Las Vegas shooting running constantly. Another tragedy. I will have something to say about this but for now, it is just sad. There is no one for whom it is not sad. Not the victims, not those of us observing from afar and not the family of the shooter. What happens to one of us, happens to us all. Our hearts are ripped open, yet again. I recently read Charles Eisenstein’s “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible”. Watching scenes like those we all have seen on the news give the heart a pause–is it really possible to have that world? I call upon all my strength of will, and remember Guru Amma’s hug as I look at Her picture on our “portable altar” that Rachelle sets up in every hotel room and Airbnb. The last time we were on retreat with Her, a woman asked Ammaji a question: “How are we to respond to all the violence, suffering and cruelty in the world?” Amma seemed to consider a long explanation as She tilted Her head in thought. Finally, She simply said:

“Comfort each other.”

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