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Diplomacy in Singapore, Lucie-style

23 Oct

I got into Singapore the day before yesterday and was walking down the street with all of my stuff.  I didn’t think I looked particularly lost, but I did have a map over my head because it was raining.  When I meet the nicest people I’ve ever come across in my whole life.  They are 4 women, of 4 different nationalities, who stop and ask if they can help me.  They then look up the location of my hostel on their phones, take me to the bus stop and show me which bus to get on, and then one of them gives me her bus/metro/public transit card.

Can we take you out to dinner, they ask?  Can I show you around the city tomorrow, says one?  I get their numbers, and I get on the bus.  I flash the bus/metro/public transit card: it has $20 of credit on it.  What the banana leaf.  Who is that nice?

So last night, I meet up with 2 of the women: Cheryl (Malay-born) and Rachel (Australian-born).  We eat cheap hawker food and then go for drinks at 1-Altitude, the swankiest rooftop bar in the city (indeed, the highest al fresco bar in the world…).

Cheryl and I wait for Rachel.

Then we get hawker satays.

And then to the rooftop!

Rachel, me, and Cheryl on the rooftop.

Me on the rooftop — you can see the view better in this one.

Inevitably, I soon come across Graham, a London-born foreign exchange banker who is tall, almost-30, and good-looking (though a bit boyish for my taste).  He’s wearing fancy jeans, a patterned dress shirt with the sleeves casually rolled up, and expensive Italian (?) crocodile (?) shoes.  And drinking a mojito with half a mint bush in it.  [I really wish I had a picture for y’all.  I won’t let you down next time, I swear!]

Meanwhile I’m wearing hiking pants that haven’t been washed for 2 weeks and a t-shirt that has a hole over the boob so I have to wear my black bra so the hole’s not conspicuous.  I also have on a pink running watch stained brown by sweat and a backpack full of, among other things: jungle-grade bug spray, Percocet, a headlamp, a SteriPEN, and a giant orange safety whistle.  Let’s also not forget my ankle brace from when I fell off the curb and flip flops with a broken strap.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Graham:  “Where are you from?”  [Note snooty British accent.]

Me:  “Amer’ca!”

Graham:  “Obviously.”  [Rolls eyes.]

Me:  “Have you been…  to ‘Merica?”

Graham:  “Yeah.”  [Note indignant tone.]

Me:  “Did you love it?”

Graham:  [Hesitation.]

Me:  [Reassuring smile.]

Graham:  “I liked America.  I didn’t like the people.”

Me:  “Well, cut us some slack.  You know, it can be tough being the shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

Graham:  “I don’t even know what to say to that.”

Me:  “How about… God Bless America?”  [Breaking slightly into song.]

Graham:  [Silent smirking.]

Me:  Lord Graham Cracker?  [In mock-snooty British accent.]

Graham:  “Why are you calling me a graham cracker?”

Me:  “I’m just making reference to the fact that you may need roasted marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate melted onto you to make you palatable.”

So that went well.  I will not be Lady Graham Cracker anytime soon, but at least I got three $16 beers out of it.

And motivation to finally vote.

Outside a restaurant in Singapore.  Hmm… the Obama Burger or the Romney Meatloaf?  I guess the vegetarians are out of luck.

So I woke up today and live streamed the end of the final presidential debate.  And then I printed my absentee ballot (yes, I finally got it) and took it to the Embassy:

Go ahead, make fun of me. We all know I sweat a lot and in huge beads.

Wild Thoughts

21 Oct

After the disaster that was Fifty Shades, I rushed to the bookstore and prayed to the gods of the bargain shelf.  They gave me Cheryl Strayed’s gutty memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It is powerful.  It’s sad.  It’s haunting.  And I don’t know exactly how I feel about it.  Or how I feel about her.  But it’s touched me.

Cheryl is 26 when she begins her 1,100-mile hike through California and Oregon.  She says she’s at a “low and mixed up” point in her life; she’s better described as majorly f***ed up.  The death of her beloved mother – “the love of her life” – 4 years prior has destroyed her.  Having abandoned her bedside promise to finish college, she is waitressing… and shooting heroin into her ankles and having lots of indiscriminate sex (including with all 5 of the line cooks in the course of 1 month), which, coincidentally, leads to the end of her 7-year marriage and an abortion.  On top of it all, as if to prove the point, in the wake of her divorce she’s changed her name to “Strayed” in a cliched stab at self reinvention.

Cheryl starting on the Pacific Crest Trail at age 26.

To say the least, it’s gritty, and it feels real and it feels raw in a way that makes Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love seem downright silly.  This is not an indulgent book-advance-funded quest for enlightenment.  The ethos is pragmatic self-reliance.  God, she says, is “a ruthless bitch.”

Nothing at all extraordinary happens to Cheryl on her long hike.  She meets some interesting people and has some scary moments, which she conveys sharply and vividly; but in the end, they barely matter.  It’s the whole of it that’s compelling.

Her story is both deeply sad and strangely beautiful.  I guess that’s life.

Yesterday, I arrived in Singapore, and I bought a mini-bottle of Cab Sauv from 7-Eleven, and I snuck it into a movie theater to watch Taken 2.  And the thought invaded my head yet again: “what the dragonfruit am I doing here?”  I should be at home – taking hot showers – practicing law – building a life – going on dates — paying my student loans! – decorating an apartment.  Not halfway around the world, at the movies, alone, drinking bad wine from the bottle.

But Wild helped.

If Cheryl’s trip is about about piecing together a life that has come apart, then mine is about coming to terms with a life that has never really been put together.  It is about allowing myself, finally, to acknowledge my own brokenness.  To pick up the pieces and to feel, for once, the sharp edges.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that at the end of it all, when I find my way back to my Dad’s couch, the ending of my story is going to be the same as hers:

Nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

Cheryl completed her big hike in 1995; she published Wild earlier this year.  17 years later.  And that’s how it will be with my story.  Changed forever in ways that only time will reveal.