Thursday, November 24, 2011

Faith. Hope. Love: Chapter One

13So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13. ESV.)
I did not travel to escape. I was not looking for a way to lose myself or adapt. I was not in search of peace, enlightenment, entertainment, or understanding. I simply went for gain. On a “business trip”, if you will. Get paid to travel? Could I ask for anything more?

I had gone off on my own once before this. When I was in high school I ventured to Europe with a group of peers and some chaperones. This time I was an adult…a very young adult…but one just the same. I left my apartment and roommate, new furniture, old job (which I loved), car, possessions, family and friends to experience more of the world…twenty four hours by plane and seemingly a lifetime away. I only took what could fit in my luggage and left the rest behind.

My parents saw me to the airport gate. There were tearful goodbyes (on my mother’s part) and numerous hugs. I surveyed the group with which I was traveling. They were my family for the next five to nine months. I was never one to stay put, really…a pilgrim since the day I could spread my wings and fly. And exploring by myself came easy…I just closed my eyes and jumped…right into the deep end of it all. I knew I could swim.

The engines of the plane hummed steadily as strangers became acquainted, sharing names and hometowns. A handshake and a smile sealed the deal as if to say, “I know you now.” A few had worked together before but no one looked familiar to me. We were a crew of vagabonds, nomads that had jumped a means of transportation and were off to disappear into the sunset. The clouds were an ocean below us. And, our former lives an alternate universe. Money was no object.

It was piping hot in Singapore. The sun warmed my face like the soft stroke of a hand against my cheek. Stand in an enclosed place long enough and it turned into a sauna. I grew up in Florida so the tropical climate was comforting. I cannot say the same for everyone else. There were some complaints about the portable “potties” on our work site. We did not have running water facilities. A person entered the restroom sticky from humidity and exited it, after a quick tinkle, looking as though he or she had just climbed out of a swimming pool. It was hot, dang hot! But I did not mind so much. It reminded me of home.

The city was modern, spotless, and buzzing with action. The streets teamed with people going here, there, and everywhere. Not a single wrapper or wad of gum defaced the grounds. There was not the slightest hint of graffiti of any sort threatening buildings, public benches, or other structures. Orchard Road was done up like a huge Christmas present. Was I in New York gazing at the Macy’s store windows decorated to the hilt? No, this place was too clean. I was in Singapore and the department stores were sparkling, festive, and ready to welcome the holidays. Giant displays looked as though they had come straight out of a storybook. The shoemaker had gone to bed and elves went to work decking the halls overnight.

Without parental supervision we were left to our own devices…a small hoard of young adults released into a foreign environment where the consequence for an infraction was caning. I did not dare test the boundaries or push the envelope. With a crime rate of four percent I was free to walk about the city-state alone without a single individual bothering me. No one approached me or harassed me. It was peaceful and stress free. Taxis swarmed the roads like bees around a hive. There were so many of them…blue though, as opposed to the yellow ones that overrun the avenues of New York City. English being the “business language” made it simple for me to maneuver around. Women had a voice so I could be heard by each and every man whether taxi driver, merchant, or doorman. I was empowered to get what I wanted or go where I chose, when I desired it. There was a hint of a European undertone. (Not surprising since it was under British rule in 1824 (before it became independent in 1963) and its legal system has its roots in English common law.)

My condominium was brand new, completely furnished, and even offered a maid service. With a work schedule of six days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and two roommates, it was nice to have the help. The square footage was lovely but had plenty of surfaces where dust and dirt could collect. The front door was of heavy wood and opened into a hallway which swept visitors into the dining and living areas. The floors were a cool tile against the tired, sore soles of my feet. And white grout! Who likes to keep light grout from turning gray? The outside kitchen branched off of the entry way…to which the door remained closed at all times. Bars were the only thing on the windows, no glass or screens to hinder insects from investigating our housing and food…plenty of room for a cat to fit through but too tight for a human. The pint-sized, front load, stacked washer and dryer set sat waiting for action in a compact walk-in laundry room (which resembled a pantry) where dirty clothes could easily collect and take a person hostage…never to be seen or heard from again.

The main room windows opened into a large, cobble stone courtyard two floors below. The sounds of fellow employees danced through the air, filtered passed the drapes, and bounced off the vaulted ceiling. A fan purred as it slowly rotated and pushed sultry air about the rooms. The sunken bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchen caused me to stumble each time I missed the miniscule step while coming and departing. My modest sleeping quarters were nothing short of a single bed and wardrobe which matched the shiny wood floors…perfect for one person.

The night life flourished at a chain of picturesque European bistros across the street from the complex where I lived. This is where I spent most evenings as I did not have a family waiting for me at “home” to prepare and serve them dinner. Each restaurant front lead into a dimly lit, nook of a bar or café area then opened through the back into a vast dinning patio of themed spaces packed with tables and chairs. This setup applied to each establishment along the stretch of the boulevard except the one on the end referred to as “The Wine Cellar”. The atmosphere fitted its name and was reminiscent of the tasting room of a winery. There it was not unusual to see lovely ladies sporting a glass of wine and escorted by gentlemen with cigar in hand or mouth.

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