I landed in Singapore three days ago. Three days of a new city to explore. Intriguing spicy foods to try, with tongue-twister names and fragrant spices. New faces, young and old, ever hue of the color skin rainbow. A cacophony of languages, all completely different in intonation and rhythm.
Three days of writer’s block.
My heart is weary with the constant barrage of news from home, most so upsetting to my pride and integrity as an American, that I struggle to concentrate and put experiences to paper. Every story I could share about my newest journey could not possible matter in the face of the shadow that grows bigger and darker from home. The fear of the “other.” The demonization of refugees, many of whom I call friend. The surge of hate politics. The non-stop efforts to undermine the core tenets of the Constitution in the span of one week. I am so whiplashed and battered in my heart and soul, I struggle to see the purpose in this endeavor of mine to travel SE Asia for two months.
Yet I am reminded of the importance of beauty, of mindfulness in the simple joys that unite us all as human, in the power of travel to shatter stereotypes and dangerous barriers of our minds as we meet and interact with people of cultures different from our own. I have been walking around Singapore in a haze of indifference and apathy that could not possibly justify the money I spent on the plane ticket (or maybe that’s just jet lag).
Today I rode the MRT – Singapore’s sleek, modern rail transit – from one corner of the island to the other. Singapore is one of the most diverse cities I’ve ever visited. My ear caught a mix of at least 9 different languages as I read train notices posted in the four major languages. Women wore everything from Manolo Blanik heels to skinny jeans to colorful headscarves to bright sea glass nail polish – and sometimes all at once. Two elderly men squared off in a dance of courtesy – one Muslim, the other Hindi – as they each insisted the other take the empty seat. Children giggled and squirmed in brilliant red silk suits for the Chinese New Year. Women of all faiths snuggled their children on their laps. Teenagers buried in their smartphones looked up and gave their seats to women lugging groceries. A man wished everyone a happy new year as he departed the train.
It was stunningly beautiful.
I needed to think, so I took to the Southern Ridges, a series of forested hills in the midst of the city, connected by bridges and walkways lifted high into the tree canopy. I strode through the muggy heat to the cricket and bird symphony, as glimpses of the cityscape peaked out from dense foliage. Families promenaded with me, once again of every religious, ethnic, cultural, and language background. Some were tourists, but many were residents of Singapore, enjoying the holiday and blessings of a new year with family.
On the way back to my friend’s condo, the skies opened up and I discovered another side of Singapore – the tempest. I splashed from covered space to covered space as thunder rumbled, but I cannot outrun the truth – even in the darkest moments, there is still joy and beauty and life. I have to hold on to that.