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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

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All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Singapore: home of non-zany oddness

I spent much of last week in Singapore. If you’ve never been there, it’s a city suffering an identity crisis somewhere between George Orwell and Rene Magritte. It’s home to a created version of normalcy so complete, it’s tempting to succumb to paranoia that you’re actually the Jim Carrey character in The Truman Show. It’s Pleasantville writ in skyscrapers and humidity.

In fact, everything is so damn ordered that, when anything the slightest bit odd happens, you notice. That’s not to say that oddness is rare, there; it’s just extra noticeable. Odd things cross either one’s path or one’s mind all the time, but against a backdrop of so much bland orderliness, the odd stands out.

And I mean “odd”. Not zany-nutso-shake-your-naked-tits-while-garlanded-hippos-dance kind of crazy. That’s too out there. Singapore is clenched far too tight for serious nonsense like that. No, Singapore’s oddness oozes quietly out from the edges that aren’t quite as firmly tacked down.

Singapore is so unnaturally tidy, clean and well-lit, there simply aren’t any dark corners in which the usual pedestrian, human neuroses can take refuge. But any substance squeezed hard enough will begin to squelch out between the fingers of the clenching fist. That’s life in Singapore: squeezed so tight, the oddness starts to ooze out. Singapore’s fingers are just meticulously manicured.

A simple example. It’s no secret to anyone who’s traveled on Singapore Airlines that the hiring policy discriminates on looks. As unenlightened as it may be to say so, each SIA aircraft is, as a result, a flying garden of earthly delights. It’s been so for years.

But what I’ve never been able to figure out is why the stewardesses are always having such a good time. Every flight I can remember, these young women are chatting and giggling and gentle with each other. And it isn’t just in front of the passengers. On my flight from Paris to Singapore, I went to the galley in the middle of the night, and five stewardesses were in there having a grand time. And I mean partying like they were all on a quarter tab of ecstasy. It was a love-in laugh-in. Noticing me after a while, far from acting like they’d been caught, they included me in their joke, and went on laughing while pouring my wine. Not even Qantas staff are *that* laid back.

There’s nothing wrong with it, of course. It’s delightful. It’s just a little odd. More than a couple of standard deviations from the norm.

Another example. I checked into my “executive sea view” hotel room drolly wondering how an executive view of the sea differs from the usual vista. Throwing back the curtain, I got hit in the eye with what seems to me a rather typical Singapore kind of pay off. It was a sea view, right enough: miles and miles of sea. But the particular bit of sea I was viewing was one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world: tankers and container titans as far as the reach of my eyes. Just there, out beyond the swim-up bar.

Another? Waiting in the hotel business center for my document to emerge from a slow printer, I idly leafed through a glossy local magazine with lots of ads for wrist watches that require a second mortgage. In the back pages, I came upon some sort of society section: pages of couples and small groups snapped at big-money, see-and-be-seen events about town.

Lord knows why but one couple’s picture jumped out at me. They were young, fetching, bright-eyed and well-dressed. Then I read their names. I am *not* making this up: Rachel Kum and Hugh Hoyes-Cock. After getting over my initial shock, I couldn't help but wonder at what would happen if they got married and she hyphenated her last name.

More? Okay, then, there was the ersatz Polynesian culture and dance entertainment at the faux jungle-hut function hall on the grounds of the Singapore Night Safari. Since when do Singaporeans consider themselves Polynesian, dress like Maoris and shoot darts (in this case, large Q-tips) out of blow guns? And, call me jaded, but, if you’re gonna make the effort to perform a fire dance, hey, at least try to make either the dance or yourself look a little dangerous.

To be fair, on the Singapore Night Safari I did see something I’d never seen before: a South American mammal that looks like a rat the size of a Golden Retriever. It was beguilingly cute, actually. The guide, who sounded exactly like a Singaporean Peter Lorre in his night-time half-whisper, advertised it as the world’s largest rodent. I just stopped myself from yelling out, “What? You never seen a kangaroo?”

No angry letters re marsupials, please.


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