My family and I are currently in Singapore visiting family. I decided I’m going to write about the trip, both to tell our friends and relatives how the trip is going and to give us another way to remember the trip after it’s done. Enjoy!
As I’m writing, we’ve now been in Singapore for five full days and we’ve enjoyed playing tourist. We’ve seen a number of different attractions, including Chinatown, the Singapore Flyer (the world’s largest ferris wheel), a beach, Buddhist and Hindu temples and a mall.1 Everything has been interesting and entertaining, if occasionally a bit overwhelming. The food has been new and delicious, for the most part, though, to be fair, some of the most unappetizing food has been the Singaporean version of western food. For instance, when I say that the hot dogs pale in comparison to American franks, that includes the color, as well as the taste. Thankfully, we’ve only had to go that route once. It was today, in fact, when we went to the zoo.
The Singapore Zoo was pretty impressive, actually, if you disregard the quality of the lunch menu. It’s quite open, first of all; visitors are separated from most of the enclosures by a moat, as opposed to glass barriers, which gives the zoo an airier feel and almost helps you forget that the animals are actually being raised in captivity. The gibbons had four or five separate islands all to themselves, there were monkeys and ring-tailed lemurs actively interacting with the humans around them and the orangutans are basically allowed to go wherever they feel like.2 Honestly, the only animal who actually seemed “unhappy” was the polar bear and, considering the fact that he’s supposed to be living in an extremely cold climate instead of near the equator, I couldn’t really blame him.
My most interesting moment during our visit, though, didn’t involve any animals at all. It happened later in the day, after Eitan had fallen asleep during lunch and Trudy and I had been able to transfer him into his stroller successfully without waking him. We had continued walking through the zoo and stopped at a small gazebo surrounded by yellow and pink flowers and overlooking the nearby river. Trudy and I sat on one of the benches to enjoy the breeze, while Eitan snored away, blissfully unaware of his surroundings. A middle-aged Asian man and two young boys were in the gazebo when we arrived and, soon afterward, two women also came in and sat down. It became clear that the man was the father of one of the boys and one of the women was his wife. The other woman was the mother of the other boy and her husband arrived later on. While the boys were chasing each other around the gazebo, only partially acknowledging their mothers’ attempts to quiet their play so that they would not wake Eitan, another family with darker skin and dressed in traditional Hindu garb also entered. It occurred to me that, in that moment, that representatives of three distinct and very different cultures were present and everyone greeted each other with a smile. After these two families left, there was another moment about a half hour later in which representatives of three separate cultures converged in that gazebo (the only difference was that this time, one of the families appeared to be Muslim, rather than Hindu, based on the clothes they were wearing).
That was when it hit me. The people who met in the same place at the exact same time were able to coexist completely peacefully without any arguments or aggressions or pressure. We smiled at each other’s kids, wished each other well and went on about our business. There was a sense of calm about the entire hour that we spent in that gazebo, partially because Eitan slept through the entire thing, but also because of the atmosphere from the garden and the pleasant interactions we had with other zoo visitors. The flowers, the breeze and the human diversity all gave the place a feeling of positivity and hope. After trudging through the zoo all morning and fighting the heat and humidity of a tropical climate,3 we had found tranquility and comfort in a small hut with four benches and no doors or windows. The openness of the gazebo mimicked the openness of the animal enclosures, while the interactions between us and the other guests were just as remarkable as watching an orangutan cross the street in front of us while holding the hand of a zoo employee or seeing a giraffe lean over to eat vegetables out of Eitan’s hand. We were in a country that prides itself on diversity and we had just seen that sentiment play out before our eyes. We had all been able to share experiences and space, just as the street around the corner from my father’s apartment houses a Hindu temple, a Chinese cultural center and a church all right next to each other (plus a synagogue further on down the road).
There is something about this place, indeed.
1. Trust me, this mall was an attraction. Plaza Singapura has six floors, plus two sub-basement levels, close to thirty different restaurants (real ones, not just food court stands), furniture stores, spas, family lounges, travel agents and a supermarket. It has its own subway stop. And, apparently, it’s one of the smaller malls by Singapore standards.↩
3. Singapore is only 85 miles north of the Equator.↩