Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Faith. Hope. Love: Chapter Three

When I first moved to California, I lived in a part of the Los Angeles (L.A.) area. Litter tumbled like weeds along streets and sidewalks, freeways were grossly congested, and there was always this brown haze that lingered about in the atmosphere. Some days I could barely make out the downtown L.A. skyline. After moving to Northern California, the L.A. funk became more noticeable to me each time I made the trip back and drove through. It hovered like a gray cloud forbidding the sun to break through…a toxic mist that covered the city like a blanket.

The air quality in Singapore was monitored daily due to fires in Indonesia. On good days, locals went about their business unaffected. On bad days, each sported a surgical mask. Being I am originally from “the sunshine state” of Florida, I was not used to checking the PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) or API (Air Pollution Index) each day. The highest PSI reading of record in Singapore was, around the time I was there, in September of 1997. It was listed as “very unhealthy”. Fortunately for me, the managers of the company for which I worked made sure I was well informed and looked out for my health and well being. Otherwise I would have been clueless.

There are very few smells sweeter to me than after it rains…the fresh, wet, clean, vibrant fragrance of the earth as it rises into the heavens. Gazing out the window as the drops fell to the ground, saturating everything within its reach, stirred up a desire within me to race outside and take in a deep breath. This was the case the day I visited with a colleague and it began to pour. (Her unit was located just across the cobblestone courtyard from mine.) The moment the downpour stopped I promptly made my way down the stairs to the damp grounds below. I let the after-rain-smell fill my nostrils but to my ghastly surprise, the scent was not as I imagined it to be at all! Rather it reeked of wet dog! My face contorted and I quickly covered my nose as I raced home. In my opinion, the climate in Singapore was tropical and similar to that of Florida…hot, humid, without truly formed diverse seasons, and with adequate rainfall. After my “wet dog” experience, though, I hesitated to bask in the aromas following precipitation. Admittedly, it was not always that of a damp mutt. Other days the odor was quite pleasant, alluring, and relaxing like springtime in a lush field full of wild flowers and white butterflies.

Ten hours a day, six days a week were spent at work. My time off was used exploring the sights and Singapore lifestyle…whether it was shopping on Orchard Road, at Takashimaya, ordering (or watching others request) stingray, satay, or various different Singaporean cuisine at a hawker stall, indulging in Mongolian Barbeque, hiking, grabbing a bite to eat at Boat Quay or Clarke Quay along the Singapore River, or sitting down with a “Singapore Sling” at the Raffles Hotel.

One afternoon at work, and I honestly cannot remember how this came about, my colleagues approached me, said they were making a coffee run during our one hour break, and did I want to come? We could make it there and back in sixty minutes?! I was not quite convinced but always up for an adventure, I went. The second our break began we bolted from the venue, ran across the street, through an open piece of land, and went down the stairs to a train platform I did not even know existed. My heart pounded as each minute mattered. Tick tock, tick tock, we passed station after station. I had no idea where we were…downtown maybe? I made sure to stay close as the cars stopped and the doors opened. On the heels of the person in front of me we winded our way to the store front. There was a line! Would be have time? I was not even a coffee fan! Why was I here, again? I asked what was good. “Try the frozen drink,” I was told. “One blended beverage with whip cream, please.”

The group waited for everyone to make it back out of the shop then we were off and running again! This time the path reversed. I must not lose the way and get lost! Tick tock, tick tock. It was going to be close! And no one could afford to be late! There was no margin for error. How many times had they made this venture? We inhaled our drinks as we blew through one terminal after the next. On what colored line were we? Was there a map at which I could look? Screeching halt, doors, onward ho! Two minutes left! Hustle! We crossed the finish line without a moment to spare. Phew, back to work.

Whenever in a foreign place, I find comfort in familiar things---whether it is food, activities, or people. Because I am American (and grew up across the street from a lovely Japanese woman who used to cook wonderful things for me to eat), I am drawn, like a moth to a flame, to stuff that reminds me of the United States (and Japanese cooking). One evening when I was in Switzerland, my peers and I ran into another posse of Yanks. While these individuals were complete strangers, it felt as though they were long lost pals. We were ecstatic to see them and they were likewise overjoyed.

When a second set of workers from the States came to Singapore to do advertising for our organization, there was a feeling of familiarity at first sight. We visited them at their location, went out to dinner, took a walk, and just chatted it up. However, once I realized one of them was flirting with me I cut the rest of my time with them short. Flattered, yet not interested.

Faith Hope Love: Chapter Three
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