Saturday, August 16, 2008

Living “Anywhere”

Angela is nothing if not a patriot. She is willing to acknowledge the shortcomings of her country, but she loves it in spite of these shortcomings and insists that it is doing “the best it can” under its circumstances. When I reflect upon my own beliefs concerning America, I find that I must feel the same way. Sure, we have our faults as a country and a society. Certainly, I am not happy with the way some of our institutions are run, with the way some of our politicians behave and the choices they make. I am certainly not happy with the national reputation we have created for ourselves as Americans. However, I too believe that we as a country are doing the best we can with what we have: the space, the people, the power, the resources. We are trying to improve upon what we have been, what we are, what we want to become, and that is what matters.

I say all of this because Angela asked me whether or not I thought that, after being here for two weeks, I could live here. It was a question I truly had to consider, because at this point in my life, I am claiming to be open to living pretty much “anywhere.” Contrary to popular belief, I am only choosing to live in New York City because that is where the majority of publishing jobs are available. (Therefore, if I am located where the jobs are found, hopefully my immediate availability will make me a More Attractive Candidate.) Would I consider living in Singapore permanently?

My immediate reaction was, “Sure; why not?” This country upholds one of my most desired qualities: cleanliness. As opposed to the litter-strewn, piss-stained, gumwad-caked, smelly streets of New York, these streets and sidewalks and even building walls look as though they are powerwashed daily. No bizarre stenches waft from arbitrarily placed dumpsters or port-a-potties throughout parks or on street corners. One time I even went running and was horrified when, without thinking, I spit on the grass. I could have been fined $200!

So the city is clean. More than that, though, I am positive it is very safe. Why? Because if no one will steal your belongings in a public area, then the chances of getting mugged, much less shot or killed are slim-to-none. Let me illustrate: When I went to NUS (National University of Singapore, where Angela attends college, or “university” as they call it here) with Angela for classes, we ate in the canteen with her friends. (The canteen is their equivalent of a dining hall or cafeteria, only open to the outdoors, like nearly everything else.) When I go to eat, I almost always hold my bags until I have all of my food, and then everyone finds a table together, sits down, and eats. Here, however, we set our bags down at a table far from where we would be standing in line to order our food. I had brought Angela’s laptop to do work later while she was in an afternoon class, so this was included. “Just leave your stuff here,” she told me when we got up to order. And we just left everything—my camera, her laptop, all of our books and phones and everything—right there, unattended in the middle of swarms of college students to go order our food. We did the same thing when there was a break in the middle of one of her classes: we just left all of our bags and belongings in the classroom and stepped out to go to the restroom or get coffee. Needless to say, I was impressed. Imagine living in such a secure, trustworthy society!

Lastly, I must say that I love the food. So much fish! So much fruit! I am surrounded by cheap deliciousness. Lunch the other day was a bowlful of spicy vegetables, noodles, and fish soup called laksa, and you wouldn’t believe what it cost me. $1.80! And that’s in Singaporean currency, not even American! I guess this isn’t a very valid reason to move somewhere, but still, if I didn’t like the food, it would certainly be a deciding factor not to move somewhere.

But. But but but. Initially, I thought that constant sunshine would be a huge bonus. Imagine having a tan all year round! I would certainly never have to worry about getting seasonal affective disorder (all you Pittsburghers and Rochesterians know what I’m talking about), and I would only need to buy one wardrobe’s worth of clothing: summer. However, even after two weeks here, I’ve come to realize that pretty much everything I do is in terms of seasons. I’m always waiting for that “relief” period. Right now, the warm weather is fine. I don’t mind the humidity because I know that in a few days, I’ll be back in a place where I don’t feel like I’m breathing in a sauna and where I don’t sweat in my sleep. In the same way, I regularly enjoy summertime because I know the cool breezes of fall are coming. I enjoy winter snow and fireside cuddles while looking forward to the hot sun-bathing days of summer. I am most able to enjoy the present because I know that the future holds something different but equally enjoyable. Here, there are no seasons. There is no winter relief from the heat and humidity. I feel as though I would be waiting forever for something I rationally know will never come.

Additionally, for all of its cleanliness, Singaporeans must pay a price for the beauty in which they live and the conveniences they enjoy. This price is freedom of expression and, therefore, influences on change. Four people with one sign is considered a demonstration, and demonstrations are illegal in Singapore. Instead, they have a corner on which single people are permitted to “speak freely.” Not criticizing the government, though. Drug trafficking is punishable by death—of which they inform every aircraft passenger upon landing at the Singapore National Airport. And because defacing public property is such a severe crime, skating parks are the singular locations in which citizens are permitted to do graphiti without retribution. Every time I run at the local “track” (a sidewalk running for about a 1km loop around a small child’s playground and stunted basketball court), I go past one of these skating parks. They are covered in rainbow messes of beautiful artwork and scraggly acronyms, but not one letter extends outside the concrete park area.

I am not sure I could live in such knowing confinement. And I am almost positive I could not live without seasons.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

As much as I love the summer and sunshine, I found myself incredibly happy when it was raining here the other day.