We start for the airport at 5:30am, missing the worst of morning rush-hour. By 9:30, our flight leaves for Singapore. It’s a short commute – less than 2 hours. Singapore sounds so subdued after Jakarta, and cars drive between lane markers. The shuttle takes us to the YMCA, one of the most reasonable hotels. Scripture verses line the halls and hang over the bed.
We’ve forgotten how humid the island is: we are sweat-soaked in a few minutes, but the breeze steadily wicks off the moisture. It’s 30o+ (90s) and the humidity is 85%. We walk to Plaza Singapura and Tim Ho Wan, a dim sum standout we love. We like the familiar things we’ve ordered and are less impressed with the chef’s recommendations on the menu. We also find an Aveda store. Somehow, the hair product I’d specially purchased for our move didn’t make it into my suitcase. W treats me to a replacement at the shop.
After a breakfast buffet at the YMCA, we walk a mile to the free city bus tour that came with our plane ticket booking. The tour starts with a half hour in Little India. Not many shops are open at 9:30am, but the colorful fabrics tickle the eyes while the fragrance of flower garlands (for special occasions and idol offerings) pleases the nose. Singapore is a real mix of old and new: a glass diamond-motiv skyscraper rises across from colonial-era two-stories with wooden shutters.
Our tour guide Janice points out Arab Street and the Muslim quarter along the way. Apparently the shops – known for their carpets and baskets – don’t open until much later. The Raffles Hotel “is yours for $700-7000 a night, but not part of the tour expense. On your own dollar-la,” she laughs.
The Chopstick Memorial, for stakes pointing to the sky, reminds Singapore of the atrocities of the Japanese during WWII occupation. The four chopsticks represent the Chinese (now 77% of Singaporeans), the Malays (14%), Indians (7%) and the others (2% including Europeans) caught by the conflict. “We remind Japan that this should never happen again. They come to visit and take pictures. We hope they will remember.”
Janice gives other interesting facts: (skip down if this doesn’t interest you)
- · 5.5 million Singaporeans live in their city-state of 42km (28 miles) east to west, by 23 km (14 miles) north to south.
- · High-rises house 90% of inhabitants. 80% own their homes. Flats that sold for $125,000 20 years ago now cost $450,000 (for approx.1000 square feet, 2-3 bdrm/1-2 bath.)
- · The higher up the flat, the more air flow for ventilation and hanging laundry on a bamboo pole outside the window. So each floor adds $2000 to the cost.
- · The ground floor is open for gatherings of neighbors and traditional events: Chinese hold their funeral wakes here. The cleansed body is brought in a coffin, then after the feast, is cremated and a table put into the Chinese temple. Malaysians hold their weddings here for hundreds of guests. “The Malays show us the importance of community and family. Chinese are more interested in self and prosperity.”
- · Leases are 99 years (like Hong Kong for the British). After that, the flat returns to the high-rise owner or government.
- · Because of the housing demand, you submit your name and preferred apartment area, block, and floor. The wait is about 10 years and selection is somewhat by lottery.
- · Parents stay in the flats to pass them on to their children without the high inflation. Rate.
- · Wages are garnished at 17%; your boss adds 3% of your salary. The government holds that money into 3 accounts: 1. Savings (retirement, etc.) 2. Special funds for housing, etc.; 3. MediSafe (or similar name), which pays medical costs. We pass hospitals for the rich and others where the government subsidizes care. A baby costs $3000, but the third child (for a mother under age 28) is free. Why? The government is trying to boost the population to a sustainable 7 million, but upwardly mobile women resist having kids and staying home to raise them. BTW: If you can’t pay, the family is expected to do so.
- · Retirement age is 70 and there is no government pension or welfare system. No begging is allowed. If you run out of retirement money in your #1 account, your family takes care of you. The motto is “never be lazy,” so the elderly work and sell little things on the street if that’s the only way to eat.
- · The National flag hangs from balconies for the month before National Day (August 9). The crescent moon represents a young country (established by separating from Malaysia in 1965), the red stripe represents (strength?), and the white stripe, purity. A big cloth flag costs $5 from the high-rise council and is stored year after year between celebrations.
- · Sir Raffles, a British governor, is considered the founder of Singapore. He paid $5000 to Malaysia for the island and brought in foreign investors, erected the Palace Mosque, and established the global trade that put Singapore on the map. There are no natural resources here. It’s resource is its people and their ingenuity.
Then the bus drops us off at Marina Bay with its spectacular views of hotels and shops on reclaimed land. The financial sector with its banking skyscrapers loom above us. At the harbor, the Merlion spouts water, a national symbol of strength of a lion and the water around (fish). We snap pictures and grab an ice-tea at the 100th Starbucks store.
Chinatown is a warren of alleys and streets, mixing stores and small vendors. Tourists and citizens alike buy specialties here. We revisit a restaurant shop: I’m looking for dishes and cutlery at hotel quality and wholesale prices. I find Swiss cutlery for a fraction of retail and order it for pickup tomorrow.
We pause for 20 minutes at Singapore Gems, a factory of craftsmen cutting gemstones. They create pictures with semi-precious stones, from small (3X5”) to large (4’X6’+), build castles, carve statues, and make jewelry. The men hunch over spinning wheels without breathing masks, the stone dust flying into the air. I wonder how heavy the dust in their lungs.
Our final stop is the Botanic Gardens, featuring Singapore’s national flower – orchids. Janice points out a strip of jungle that Malaysia owns, now being purchased back by Singapore’s government.
In the gardens, we wander between towering flowering trees, our “houseplants,” ferns, and orchids of every imaginable size and shape. Some orchids are wired to trees, some staked into hedges, and some ground-hugging. I love the fragrant garden best, lingering over the sprays of perfumed flowers. W’s in his glories, snapping photos on every side.
We put another 26,000 steps on our foot soles, starting in the morning by picking up cutlery in Chinatown at a restaurant wholesaler. In the shops, it really hits home what we had accumulated and distributed (as well as given away.) Each of our children took a major appliance: Vitamix, Cuisinart, KitchenAid, and Bernina sewing machine. We couldn’t replace them here on a mission budget.
We have an indifferent wanton noodle lunch in the early afternoon. W finds a cordless phone and the shampoo I like (different water here). We trudge all over the downtown area in computer malls, electronic stores, shopping malls, and vendors who line the streets. By 4, we’re almost done in – the very hot and humid weather wears us out and we’re ready to get back to the YMCA. We pick up our luggage from behind the hotel counter, flag a taxi on the street (saves $2.50 booking fee), and are on our way to the airport.
For supper, W orders Texas Chicken and I try again for wanton noodles (ok, but not great). We walk through immigration, hand over our entry visas, and are on our way home to Indonesia by 7:30pm. I’m sitting by a 20-something from Czech Republic. She’s in Jakarta with her boyfriend, and says her mom is having a hard time back in Europe. “When I first came, my mother thought, ‘Only a few months, then she will be back.’ But now that we are here 14 months, she misses me more.”
She gives us the funniest one-liner yet: “Indonesia is so … Indonesian.” Ok, what does that mean?
We have no trouble with our entry kitas (visa). W spots a counter where it is activated and we are shooed to the luggage retrieval without further ado.
There’s supposed to be two custom zones: red zone (things to declare) and green zone (nothing to declare). I don’t even see a red zone. We’re under the limit of what we can bring in, so we follow the pack to the security scanner (“hand luggage only, ma’am), and out the airport door to the curb.
We wait an hour in the Blue Bird taxi queue. Various independent taxi drivers come by, soliciting tourists by promising great deals and no waiting. Every guidebook warns against them. So we wait.
Our Blue Bird driver debates with the next taxi driver, trying to get out of taking us. We find out why about 1 km from the airport: the driver has no idea where he’s taking us. We have him call B’s but his pre-paid phone has no minutes, so W texts Livia, who calls back and gives him directions. He drives off happily, without further trouble. We’re home in an hour – and upstairs in our flat by 11:15pm. By the time we unpack, hand-wash a few things, repack for Bandung, and turn off the lights, it’s well after midnight.
Stefano and Livia B pick us up at 8:30am. We get snarled behind an accident or two plus traffic for the beginning of the new school term. Cars turn their hazard lights on to go through tunnels and to warn those behind them that they’re coming to a sudden stop on the highway. Stefano impresses us by negotiating the ins and outs of Jakarta congestion and the freeway, getting us to Bandung by 1:30 (120 miles?) The countryside landscape stuns us with its beauty, the hills terraced with gardens and rice paddies, Dutch train trestles built in the early century, and blue-green hills in the distance.
We’re meeting friend R (the friend of friends A&M). But first, to lunch. R tells us about Maxi’s, a restaurant near the language school (IMLAC) and our hotel. Oh my! For the price of an American burger, in a beautiful setting – surrounded by trees and plants – we order an amazing meal: lamb chops for me, tenderloin with egg, mushrooms, and cheese for W. (Livia notes that it’s much cheaper to eat here than in Jakarta.)
Friend R and two other fellows meet us at the hotel after we eat, showing us two good-sized homes. One has been available for a year and needs a lot of work. The other is much too big for students like us. Maybe it would be more appropriate in a year, once study groups are established and we have lots of company. They promised to look for an apartment that is closer to our needs and budget.
We find IMLAC just down the street from the hotel. The office is closed, but we’ll come back to register after breakfast tomorrow. The buildings are worn but sturdy. The time-cards of at least 20 students are filed by a time clock. Maybe we have to punch in and out of campus. We land back at the hotel for a 2-hour rest, walking by the fish pond, where 1-2’ koi swim lazy circles under the walking bridge. Their mouths gape open and shut beside the path as we lean over them: they must be accustomed to being fed at that spot.
We end up in the Braga district, the street lined with shops full of art, both paintings and reproductions. The restaurant we want to go to is full, with a long waiting list. While we wait for them to call us with an open table, we stroll down the street. The tables are full of people breaking their fasts, but we find a Bangi Kopitam (restaurant chain) with an opening. The guys order dim sum; L has roti prata (flatbread) with curry, and I have kwei teo Bandung, a combination of prawns, chicken, egg, and flat rice noodles. Yummy. My jeans are still too tight to foster an appetite so I eat half.
We wake for the first time In Bandung. We pray over the government, police, religious and political leaders, neighborhoods, and our home-to-be. We pray for the churches and people that support us, and the church sponsoring our plant and the church-to-be. We pray over our parents, children, grandchildren, extended families, and friends.
We open the balcony doors to a balmy, sunny morning. And we decide to take another look at the first house we saw. The layout is excellent. The grungy furniture and bugs would have to go and it needs some maintenance. We’ll see it once more tomorrow.
We go to the language school after breakfast. Each of 9 sections runs five days a week for four weeks, with a week off before the next module. Looking over the info, we’re in sticker-shock. Because of our working visa, class costs are more than double the student visa rate: we’d be spending thousands more than budgeted.
We visit another language school in town, designed for Christian workers. We have friends (also professors) who will be enrolled in August. The cost is less: there is no penalty for our visas and the classes are tiny (2-4 students per tutor). Our Indonesian friends help us check out the first semester’s text-workbook: it’s a challenging program designed for conversation, as well as the ability to give a testimony and preaching in Bahasa Indonesia. The schedule of two semesters may be more conducive to starting small groups = four days of coursework weekly for 16 weeks, with a month between semesters. Something to think about, anyway.
We have a wonderful lunch at Roemah Enak Enak, our first taste of Sundanese food. The side dishes and 4 main courses are under $20. And it’s outstanding food! My boneless barbecue ribs in peanut sauce compliment the red rice and mango juice perfectly. W has chicken and white rice before we share an amazing dish of “young coconut” that tastes like dessert.
Our vehicle get stuck in traffic on the way to visit Augustine and Sumathi, friends we met in Cambridge 10 years ago. They moved to teach in Bandung in April. On their way out the door, they delay their errands to wait for us. They meet Stefano and Livia. We share hugs and happy conversation all around, looking forward to living in the same city again.
We go back into traffic and then B’s introduce us to the Indonesian pastor of a downtown church and his family. They serve us tea, then we pray together and talk about our hopes for partnership. It’s wonderful to tour the church and talk about hopes for future work together. We have different constituents: they’re a Bahasa Indonesian group; we’ll be reaching out to English-speakers.
It takes until evening to reach the hotel again. It may only be a few miles away, but traffic is backed up through downtown. We make a quick stop at a grocer. I have a chocolate bar from Canlis (Seattle) in my bag. We split it and Earl Grey tea from Trader Joes with B’s before bedtime.
In the next room, a big family is eating and screaming as the kids fight and chat together. Guess it's earplugs to make sure we sleep tonight.