Saturday, April 08, 2017

The good life

WHAT would Walter say to the fat cats of Singapore?

On the family’s first overseas journey, we stopped overnight at Singapore. I would have been content to explore again Changi Airport, the airport city, but the older son brooked no slacking or clinging to safe harbors.

I got plus points from him for collecting all the tourist information materials after clearing with the immigration. Sucking a candy—free also from the poor young man, too tired to do anything but express a soul-deep weariness with his entire body, one of the many processing all the foreigners streaming into this multicultural state—I scan the lushly printed guides and am convinced that I have done enough sightseeing and am ready for bed.

Bedtime, however, is not yet within sight in our itinerary. If one leaves from Cebu at 3 p.m., it’s 7 p.m. and still bright as midafternoon in Cebu when the plane touches down at the Changi Airport.

Having a long work day must be why Singaporeans tend to be brisk to the point of brusqueness. The driver of the coach ferrying us from the airport to the hotel in Tiong Bahru Road barks in a curious mix of Singlish and English.

I notice he restricts himself to the by now familiar body language of silence and strain when a Caucasian family comes on board. The older son, better travelled and more tolerant, observes that as Singlish, the local lingo, is spoken with a clipped, abrupt tone, their Singlish-accented English must come across as cold to foreigners.

Anywhere in the world, people remain the most exotic. I think of this as we drive up to our first view of the Gardens by the Bay.

Silhouetted against a velvet evening horizon, the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest, and Silver Garden are unlike the humble gardens back home. The coach drives by at 8:45 p.m., in time for the second scheduled switching on of the Garden Rhapsody, which displays the Supertrees, more architectural than horticultural marvels shooting 22 meters above the ground.

My glimpse of Singapore emphasizes more than anything the Otherness: streets and sidewalks washed clean of people. Tourist brochures with more information than one thinks one needs about Singapore; night-shift workers who release only the minimum data to keep transactions functional with the city’s transients.

Searching for dinner, we ended up by mistake at the back of the kitchens of a local hawker center. Two tabbies lolled, replete, on the pavement.

These street toms dragged bellies that scraped the ground. These ones never chased rats, if such deviants had a niche in this socially engineered city.

The cat in our campus, Walter, who keeps several human pets, might be keen to swap stories about the good life.

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* First published in the April 9, 2017 issue of the SunStar Cebu Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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