Friday, April 14, 2006

Uniquely Singapore

It’s been just over a month now, which is surprising in a lot of ways. I’m surprised that time has gone by so quickly. I’m also surprised that only a month has passed. I’ve managed to adapt to heat, crowds, bad air, language barriers, and life in a hotel. I’m surprised to find myself in reasonably good health, even though I’ve been eating street food every day. I’m surprised that my spirits are so buoyant in spite of bearing witness to constant poverty, terrible sanitation, and constant smog. Surprised that we have a house, that Trish has a job, and that we’re winning an ever expanding circle of friends. It seems like I should have lived out a whole incarnation by now. Still, in some ways, I had planned to be further along by this point.

On that note, I'd like to post the audio for my Pig Latin newscast for WFIU. It's at the end of the feature. Just about 5:45 into the file, but I'd like to encourage you to listen to the whole thing.

So the one month mark means we’ve had to make what expats call “The Singapore Rush”. A tourist visa only lasts for 30 days here, so you have to get out of the country and come back in order to renew the permit. Singapore is the closest and cheapest foreign destination, so it’s become very common for expats working under the Indonesian radar to make a frantic round trip just to keep our paperwork current. Trish will get a work visa in a couple of months as part of the Jakarta Post job, but I’ll have to figure out an alternative. The round trip to S’pore isn’t cheap. When you add up hotel, taxi, airplane ticket, visa fees and Indonesia’s unique but charming “exit tax”, the bill adds up quickly. Especially if you decide to spend the day at the zoo, miss your plane in the evening, and spend another night in town, only to buy an expensive new plane ticket the next morning. Our trip was an exhausting and costly comedy of errors – one that’s not really funny “ha-ha”. The kind that would give my Hobbitty father some dark and troubling travel nightmares.

We loved the zoo though, and our day there provided a much needed and literal breath of fresh air. The contrast couldn’t have been more stark. I found myself at times more fascinated with the air quality than I was with the animals. The smell of waterfalls, rich soil, respiring tropical greens, and even exotic poop seemed like aromatherapy after a month of Jakarta’s grey and leaded atmosphere. Still, it’s a really great zoo. It’s set up like the one in Ashboro, NC, for those of you who’ve been there. Open exhibits with moats instead of cages, and sometimes several species mixed in a single habitat. The most impressive exhibit had a pod of ring-tailed lemurs (someone find me the plural noun for lemur!), colorful birds of paradise, flying foxes (bats so big we thought they were winged monkeys!), and a kajillion exotic butterflies.

The bats and lemurs came within just a few feet of the us, and Trish had some trouble shedding a mane of butterflies from her pink shirt. One of the lemurs bit chubby Chinese visitor while we were there, and we’re glad. She was teasing them with a map and deserved even worse.

The zoo brags that it has the largest collection of primates in the world. Primates are my favorite. Monkeys are funny. We accidentally discovered a few wild ones in Jakarta, but I’ll save that story for another time. The zoo’s monkeys, chimps, orangutans, and baboons are worth a whole day by themselves. I can imagine going to the Singapore zoo each time I have to make the “Singapore Rush”. If only to breathe its funky but refreshing air.

I think we’ve been undergoing a shift from first impressions and culture shock to a life more grounded. I’d hoped for the live journal to be a kind of shoebox for all the things I’ve seen with new eyes. After a whole month here, I’m afraid there are a lot things I’ve already gotten used to, and that I might be overlooking. So I’d like to ask readers to tell me the kinds of details they’d like to hear about. I’ve still got a growing cache of stories that I haven’t posted yet, plenty to write about, and more pictures and audio in the wings, but I’m looking for a few good prompts.

Things that no longer make me blink:
Avocado juice drinks
Riding on the back of a motorcycle in a traffic jam (“ojeks”)
Fried fish heads
Distain for Chinese Indonesians
Monkeys along the side of the road
Cats without tails
Sesame ice cream
Dizzying class disparity
Magic ninja soap operas
Haunted houses
Getting lost in a cab
Shoe shiners in restaurants
Endless ads for “whitening” cream on MTV
“Mister! Where are you going?”
Indonesian punk bands
Eating with a spoon in the right hand and a fork in the right
Head scarf fashion
Umbrella boys