Mar 24, 2007

Singapore Sojourn Day 2 & 3: "Finding our Bearings, Snow City, and The Farris Family"

Our friends Terry and Liane Farris

I'm afraid for this entry, the only photo will be the one above. Barbara was in charge of the digital camera and I had the camcorder, and while she did an excellent job of chronicling Japan and the rest of the trip she took no pictures on Friday and Saturday. Which is a shame because she is an excellent photographer.

Friday, March 16, 2007

We were exhausted from nearly 24 hours of travel and ready to get into bed as soon as possible. As a result we were easy prey for the taxi touts waiting at the customs exit.

Normally, when entering a foreign land I like to take a few moments on leaving immigration and customs to pause, orient myself, check my plan, change money, maybe look for a cell phone to rent, before venturing out into the wide world of a new country. But on this night, I was tired. I knew the instructions I'd receieved from Wihel, the accountant at the Southeast Asian Union Mission office who was coordinating our lodging, and so when the taxi drivers approached, we jumped into cabs without a second thought and we were off. I would later wish on several occasions that I'd taken that moment of orienting myself.

The first complication had nothing to do with our hasty departure from the airport however. We arrived at the Union office without incident. We found the open entrance gate, as described in Wilhel's last e-mail to me. We found the door labeled "Sprinkler Valve Control" and it was unlocked, as described in the e-mail. But inside we found no key or instructions on how to find our room, as we been led to expect from the e-mail. We searched everywhere in the sprinkler room, tried the doors, but it was clear. We were stuck. On the streets of Singapore at 3 o clock in the morning. Fortunately, Singapore is probably the safest city in the world so we werent' scared. Just really tired and very frustrated.

I walked to a nearby Esso gas station where a kindly cashier let me use her phone. I'd neglected to get an emergency contact number for Wilhel, so in desperation I called the only people I knew in Singapore, our old friends, the Farrises. Terry and Liane Farris lived in Saipan for about a year back in 2003-2004 and their four kids were all students at our school. Liane Farris picked up her cell phone, and after a little phone tag, she was able to track down union treasurer Clyde Iverson, who was able to come over and open the building for us. We're still not quite sure what went wrong, but apparently there were a lot of people staying at the Union guesthouse and somehow, we got lost in the shuffle and the key and instructions were never placed for us. Furthermore, someone was already staying in the room reserved for us, so for the first five hours of our stay in Singapore, the boys and I slept on cushions on the marble floors of the elegant lobby of the Union office and Babs and the girls slept on the floor of a multipurpose space upstairs.

At around 8:30 our guest apartment was free and we moved in, and settled down for some more rest. The apartment was small, but clean and modern. The girls slept on four single beds in the one bedroom. The boys and I slept on futons in the living room. It was not luxurious, but it was comfortable, and with some strictly enforced cleanliness rules we were able to keep the place clean and organized even with the cramped quarters and one bathroom.

After spending some time consulting with Wilhel and getting some valuable information from her about how to get around in Singapore and where to change money, at around 1:00 P.M. we struck out to find some food and get our hands on some Singapore dollars. This was the first time I wished we'd taken our time in leaving the airport. Because we hadn't changed money at the airport we couldn't board the bus that would take us from our lodging to Thomson Plaza, the nearest shopping center with food and a bank. So we had to walk. And a long walk it was, through the sweltering Singapore heat, with the traffic thundering by on the road, and the exhaust fumes choking us. The students learned early on to hate walking in Singapore.

Around 3:30, we left Barbara behind at the Thomson Plaza shopping center--she wasn't in the mood for more cold weather--and I took the kids via bus and train to Snow City, an indoor snow experience. Essentially, it was a giant warehouse, supercooled to below freezing full of 100% genuine (albiet machine-made) snow. There was a huge slope you could slide down on inner tubes, and bins of snow for making snow men and having snowball fights. Most of the kids had a blast, though the Treasurer and Micronesian Queen exited the warehouse after about 15 minutes. I guess they couldn't take the heat. . the cold.

While Snow City charged top dollar for their employees to take pictures inside, pictures out in front of the entrance were free of charge!

Unfortunately, we arrived at Snow City after a 40 minute train ride to find that the next session wouldn't begin until 6:45. We were supposed to meet Barbara back at Thomson Plaza at 7:00 P.M. This was the second time I wished I hadn't left the airport in such haste. I would have probably tried to rent a cell phone if I'd had a moment to think, and a cell phone would have been very useful right then. As it was, I could think of no way to reach Barbara to let her know we'd be significantly late. Even worse, I'd left all my contact numbers in the apartment, so on the off-chance Barbara had gone back to the lodging, which she had said she might do, I couldn't reach her there either. So we ended up not getting back to Thomson Plaza until around 9:30 where we met a furious Barbara who was certain someone had ended up in the hospital. She was just getting ready to call the police!

On that unhappy note, ended our first full day in Singapore. We hoped the trip would get better, and fortunately it did.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The third day of our trip, the second in Singapore was Sabbath. We slept late but that was okay because church was just downstairs on the main floor of the Union offices.

We met Terry and Liane Farris and their kids at church, and after church Terry treated us to lunch at the American Club, a swanky joint where weatlhy American ex-pats--CEOs and such--go with their families to hobnob with fellow wealthy American ex-pats. Terry's job as a wealth manager at one of the world's largest banks allows him and his family into this rarified world, and we were glad to come along as tourists.

After lunch, we went over to the Farris home for awhile and then took the kids to a park where they could ride bikes or rollerblade, while Liane and Barbara chatted, and Terry filled me on the fascinating world of philanthropy, his area of focus in the banking world.

The Farris continued the grand tour, taking us to see their kids' school was was amazing, not so much for it size (it was huge, with more than 3000 students) but for its opulence. Somewhere between the full gym, the Subway outlet in the student center, and the massive track facility, it occured to me: "I could live in this school!" before we headed to dinner at one of the ubiquitous hawker stands that can be found everywhere in Singapore.

We ended the evening with a visit to the Night Safari, a kind of night zoo where you can see all the nocturnal animals. Somehow they're able to light the place in such a way that you can see the animals without the place looking like it's lit up like a football field.

A fun day. It looked like Singapore wouldnt' be a string of complications after all.

A big thanks to the Farris family for treating us and carting us around all day long! We miss you guys!

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