Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The funniest thing happened to me in Singapore...

That statement alone is odd because Singapore is not the place where funny things happen to you. Funny things happen to you in Bangkok or Madrid. Beijing, Siberia, and Mali. But funny things don’t normally happen to you in Singapore. They call it ‘Asia Light’ precisely because funny things don’t happen to you. It’s the place with clean streets, low crime, and posters praising the virtues plastered everywhere. It’s the place with medical care in the airport. So, you would think that I would be delighted to be stranded here. But I am not. I have nothing to do. All the shops are closed. Even Starbucks is closed - if that gives you any indication of how dire the situation is. This means that I cannot get my visa and have to stay here for five days instead of one. I am not happy and want to tell someone and who should I happen to immediately run into? The Prime Minister. I kid you not. I turn away from the ticketing counter to the empty reservations hall and there is an enormous entourage of people headed toward me.

‘Who’re they?’ I ask.

‘The prime minister,’ the ticketing agent says.

‘Of the country?’

‘Yes.’

‘At the airport? On a national holiday?’

‘He likes to do those sorts of things.’

‘He likes to hang out at the airport on his days off?’

‘Yes.’

That was clearly the most absurd thing I’d heard in a long time and saw that there was no point in venting my frustration at his national holiday schedule as the man was clearly not in his right mind. Instead, I pushed my way upstream through his crowd to the taxi queue to get to my hotel. I arrived promptly at 9.45am. Check-in is at 2pm. I haven’t slept for 23 hours. I have a cold. And, I have nothing to do but wander the closed up streets of Singapore for four hours and try to entertain myself. I wander until I find a park bench. Time to e-mail. Singapore has got WIFI practically everywhere. Unfortunately, my battery was dead. So, I began to scour the back alleys of a quaint little dining plaza called Robertson Quays hoping to run into an outlet. I’m not proud. I’ll steal electricity from anyone. But I find nothing. So I go more and more off the beaten path until I end up in a back alley that leads either (I never figured out which) to the janitor’s workroom, the public bathrooms, or a Chinese canteen. I suspect by the clientele that moved through it was all three. Now, to my point (can you sense my boredom here?):

I never cease to be amazed at what you can get away with if you look like you belong someplace. But looking like you belong somewhere doesn’t come naturally. You can’t be too brazen or too demure. You must simply appear as though you have done or been (what/where ever it is) everyday of your life and you’re bored with it. Because, if you did belong wherever you are trying to pretend you do, you probably would be bored with it. So, as I stood there in the alley-way at the back of the janitor’s room/bathroom/canteen I tried to appear as if it were the most natural thing in the world for me, an obvious foreigner, standing there in the alley with the laptop bag open on the sticky, dirty floor charging my computer. It was frightening how well it worked. A couple of the janitors didn’t even give me a second glance. A couple of the cooks – complete with big bellies hidden away under greasy white aprons and cigarettes attached to their lower lip – just gave me the ‘whas up?’ nod. I nodded back. No one though it was odd that I was there. This still amazes me.

Well, that took up a good 20 minutes of my life. Only 3 hours and 40 minutes to go…

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