Singapore, December 2009
I remember the first time I walked out of the airport. The sun had gone down, but the air was still as hot as always. Strong smells of spices, distant sea and high humidity flung in my face in a blend I had never felt before. I quite enjoyed it and I sensed the excitement of a new chapter of my life. I was moving to Singapore! Setting foot outside Europe for the very first time. Attending a College I had never seen. Never mind the fact that I was following an airport-worker who would take me to the Air France’s service staff because I had left my wallet with my phone, international students card, international drivers licence, Master-card and Visa-card in the seat pocket in front of me on the gigantic jumbo jet. I wasn’t bothered. I was happy. Nothing was gonna tip my mood. And quite right; great air-crew, effective air-port staff and, voilá, I received my belongings a moment later from a member of Changi Airport’s technical staff. I never-ever do blunders like that! But you’d have to shoot me with a 24 pound cannon to break the tide; freedom and exploration here I come!
I was returning again and looked at the rebuilding of the immigrations section of the airport with the curiosity, references and memories of a local. I was greeted by two of my smiling friends, Vienna Mei and Math Faust. We took the MRT-tram and at Tana Merah Interchange the same smells and humidity I had felt the first time pressed against my face again when we left the train. But this time was different. It was expected and I greeted it a warm welcome! I had waited for this moment.
I wasn’t travelling in and out on frequent basis any more. Neither could I queue up in the “locals” queue at the immigrations, since I no longer had a green card. When the winter is extra long, summer is extra welcome. When summer is long, skiers get excited over the very first flake of snow in the air. I hadn’t been back for over two years and intended to enjoy every smell of cassia, jungle and tropical sea that could make its blessed way to my nose!
Math and I went to Jurong Point to get food. We talked about going to their house first with my luggage, but after all the travelling I was simply too hungry. I needed food desperately. Meat to be specific! After a major logistical operation of getting a table, at the fully set food court, we went to order. My beef curry disappeared fast and I had to get another plate of chicken rice. Two meals and I was starting to feel more alive again.
We took a taxi home through the long streets packed with well kept housing blocks from Singapore’s Housing Development Board. You may think I’m a geek, but I loved seeing them again. I was back in my second home of Nations. Norway first, then here!
I had left a cold and dark Europe, enveloping itself in long nights and Christmas preparations. It was to become one of the coldest early winters recorded over the last hundred years. And here I was on a tropical island in Asia Pacific. On the stereo the taxi driver had tuned in to a show that was playing big-band Christmas music. How surreal it was! Less than a day earlier I was in cold and dark Europe, and the music would have fit like a hand in a glove. Then I travelled half way around the world to a climate so different, and I’m greeted by Diana Krall singing she wants to go sleigh-riding. –Subsequently followed by the likes of Count Basie. My ears tells me that I’m in Chicago or NYC on a snowy December night, my eyes and nose tells me that I’m on a highly urbanized tropical island. It is such a bizarre feeling that maybe you have to be a musician to understand it, or simply be a citizen of both these worlds at the same time; East and West.
Later when Wei comes home she informs me that it’s my turn to do the dishes, wash and hang the laundry, and clean the toilet and all the floors. Such a staggering amount of work that the only thing I can make out of the order is that she’s trying in her own way to say: “hello, it’s nice to see you again!” –or at least, that’s what I bargain on.
Breakfast. I need breakfast! Hungry Europeans used to dark bread and heavy meat needs more than rice and noodles. As much as I love both rice and noodles I crave bread for breakfast as almost always. I had found a Starbucks one of the first days and kept coming back for my daily infusion of bagels and sandwiches accompanied by sparkling water and cappuccinos.
As I had the previous mornings I line up again to order a big package of various yum-yum I need to get through the first hours of the day. The list is extensive to say the least. –At least by East Asian standards... maybe even by European standards. A cute little Malay girl in her late teens or early twenties, who’s got a big smile with shiny braces on, serves me in the counter that day. My order is placed and while various items are roasted, heated and manufactured I hunt for a table with a deep comfortable chair and a view. When it is found I return to the counter to wait for my items. The smiley little lady looks curious and since she’s got nothing else to do she strikes up a conversation.
“Soooo, are you working around here?”
“No, I’m not. I used to study here some years ago. But now I am back for my friends’ wedding actually.”
(Polite smile follows as to pass the conversation back to her in an informal way and to acknowledge her nice conversational initiative.)
“Soooo, are you single?”
(What the heck!?)
“What? Yes, I am!”
(Short answer and stern formal face-expression as to let the topic drop as fast as possible!)
(Big smile, direct eyes.)
“Well, thank you!”
(Looking at the air to spot for Santa Clause or third world war…)
(She keeps smiling.)
(Signal bell on the toaster.)
Thank God, my food is finished in the roaster and she gets other things to do. I take the tray, say a polite and pseudo-militant “thank you” while she keeps smiling like the sun and returns the courtesy.
I just wanted breakfast, no wife.
The taxi driver asks what I’m working with. I tell him I just finished my Masters Degree in Music Production. He says I look very young! I laugh, thank him, say I’m thirty and wait for the reaction. “Wuah? You look younger lah!” He says he thinks I look like I’m in my early twenties, maybe twenty-five at the most. He goes on saying that many Western men gets an “old” look fast. He doesn’t know that we, the same Western men, are sometimes amazed of how young some Asian men can look for their age. The taxi driver philosophies over why many Western men looks so old without realizing that he is calibrating “normal” by men that are not from the West. The conversation amuses me. I think he hasn’t driven around on many skiers, mountaineers and surfers, but rather over worked business-men. He says he is pretty sure the cold and climate of Europe is an important factor. I say I’m a Norwegian skier and mountain-guide and that my skin never looks as fresh and clean as when I’m cruising down hills at high speed in -10°C on a frequent basis. We have to find another solution. I propose my theory that stress and worries is an important factor. After all, many Western men in this community are business-men and working professionals for over-seas companies. We agree that is one of several likely possibilities. Then he says he thinks that eating a lot of meat makes men look older. If they ate more veggies and less animals they would most certainly look younger! I see a number of religious items on his dashboard and knowing what they are I know that he probably subscribe to a more vegetarian diet than my Nordic one. I’m a blonde blood-type zero, primeval dude and the obvious just has to be said: “I eat a lot of meat.” “Oh!? No, really…?” “Yes!” (Laughter). Some confusion seems to follow and we go silent for a while. It seems I didn’t fit into the theories and some thought is required to solve this riddle! We are approaching our target within visual range so any further conversation will have to wait for another time. I pay, thank him for the journey and we say goodbye.