What would you do if you had complete control to develop a nation to your liking? The answer would probably come out looking something like Singapore. Clean, modern, tightly controlled, and very pretty, with an extremely low poverty and unemployment rate; high, stable wages; a good health care system; and a seemingly happy, driven, and well-integrated populace. The city-state's motto is, “Democracy, Prosperity, Peace, Equality, and Justice.” It's a tall order for the racially mixed city made up of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and “Other” (mostly western ex-pats). But Singapore pulls it off with a healthy dose of self-control and a little bit of heavy-handed threatening. You get the feeling that people are aware of the freedom that they have given up (mostly reflected in an inability to criticize the government – or chew gum in public), but have chosen to accept this trade-off in exchange for a clean, safe, and generally very pleasant life experience.
Our time in Singapore was short, but it was a welcome relief from the past three months of dirt roads, pollution, and questionable food. Ah, to drink the tap water! The first couple days were spent wandering around, eating wonderful food (Mmmm – Little India!), finding a great brewery (spicy, bold, “white” IPA with hints of banana and clove – 7% and about 90 IBUs), and sleeping in air conditioning. I even celebrated all this cleanliness by shaving my beard. We were fortunate enough to have several friends of friends in town and really enjoyed drinks and conversation, long runs through the park, and a very insightful look into the ex-pat lifestyle.
This latter experience came thanks to the incredible hospitality provided by Sonya and Ole Jacob and their two beautiful children. Sonya is Jenny's friend Cathy's sister (from her Boulder cycling team) and originally just met us for a run in the very scenic McRitchie Reservoir park. But Sonya took pity on us and graciously invited us come stay at her home for the week which ended up being filled with delightful meals (Ole Jacob's pepper crab was to die for!), good wine, and trips to the swimming pool. We also learned what it took to transplant your family to a foreign country, where you (as the wife) are not allowed to work, and adapt to a strange culture of live-in “help” and international schools. Just what these two weary travelers needed.
The rest of our time in Singapore was spent wandering the National Museum (a great look at the history of Singapore and some insight into how it was “planned” from the very beginning) and the Asian Civilizations Museum (which pulled together a lot of the pieces that we have been learning over our last three months of travel). We perused shops, strolled through Chinatown, took the elevator to the 70th floor of the Suishotel building (what a view!), and walked along the recently renewed riverfront Quays people watching and reflecting on our journey. As always, my mind goes back to the same questions? Where are we going? What are we really trying to accomplish with this trip? I feel like I'm still searching...
And, as so often happens, bits and pieces of the answers start to come when you least expect them. Ambling down a small street next to a beautifully painted temple in Chinatown, we stop in a small shop with some peaceful, soothing music playing in the back. A few words are exchanged with the shop owner and, somehow, an hour later we are still standing there raptly engaged in a deep conversation (via broken English) about the mysteries of the soul and the subtelties of various Buddhist philosophies. I left that conversation with head and heart spinning and a renewed commitment to seeking out more answers, more wisdom, and more Truth. Little did I know what was around the corner.