Culture Surprises: Singapore (1/3)
Maybe, travelogues would have been very interesting and useful few generations back. Those who went abroad also wouldn't have got enough time to write about their travel experiences. Work would have been their only priority. Because, their families depended on them for the money they earned by doing it sincerely. Most of those who went as laborers settled in those countries and their descendants are well off in the same places now. Not many people would have been fortunate enough to visit as tourists at that time. Our people who lived there also would have given grand reception to such tourists with lots of love and affection - with an excitement that someone from our country has come. Only the first generation settlers would have that excitement when they see a countryman of theirs because they would share a lot of commonalities with each other. At a time when there was no much communication facilities like now, the travelogues, written in order to share their experiences and to let the other countrymen know the lifestyle of our people in the foreign land, would have been very interesting for those who could not go there and informative for those who wanted to go there. They would also give a good introduction about the new culture to the people back home.
After the IT revolution, in each house at least there is one person abroad . Those who have gone like that are going out every weekend to take photographs in different places and different angles and are sharing them with people back home on weekly basis. They tell a lot of stories about the other country when they come back home. Thanks to them. The interest for those stories are going down these days. People these days run away from foreign returns to avoid hearing their irritating stories. Keeping all that in mind, I am not sure how successful this post would be. So, let me try my best to write without that stink. At the max, some of you may say, "Hey! You are seeing all these only now? We have been there and done all that long long ago!". The disclaimer for those of you who have seen enough foreign countries ("foreign is not foreign to me" types!) - "This post is not meant for you!".
Here you go... The plane has taken off from Bangalore Airport...
It's more than a year since I wrote about flying westwards. Got four different opportunities for that and all of them slipped my hand one after the other for one or the other reason. Starting from Switzerland, then England, then US, then Netherlands and finally I was put in no man's land. Starting off with a dream to fly westwards, I ended up looking upwards - at the ceiling. Suddenly, got a call to get ready to fly eastwards... On the other direction... Got ready in hurry and packed up to Singapore. When I started, I was not sure of the duration of the stay. It was like 'it could be two weeks... it could be two years, too!'. There was no light at the end of tunnel, which was good. Though I said two weeks to every one, I was praying inside that it should become two years. But, I actually had to come back in ten days without even having enough work for two weeks.
Anyways, at the end of the day, I was happy for one thing. No astrologer can tell me now that I don't have the abroad line on my palm or there is something wrong in my birth chart. Even after taking off, I couldn't believe that I was going to be in a foreign land when I land. Only after landing there could I breathe a sigh of relief - "No problem on the palm! No problem in birth chart!!". I am sure you would have experienced this disbelief during your every first experience too. I felt it when I went to Chennai for the first time. I felt it when I came to Bangalore for the first time. I felt it when I got a job for the first time. I felt it when I got married (for only once!). You have that tension until it gets over completely or you get over it completely. Luckily, it was not a love marriage. That would have added more fuel and made it a bigger tension. Now the next worry has started - This shouldn't be the only opportunity I ever got to go abroad forever. Such a greedy creature... :)
Singapore has always been a fascinating place from childhood. We feel more privileged there than in any other place. Tamil is one of the official languages there. It is one of the three countries that have Tamil also as an official language on this planet. There is a lot of Indian crowd. It has been under the control of Chola kingdom at some point in time in history. That is the place where Subhash Chandra Bose formed Indian National Army (INA) to fight against the British in India. Someone with an Indian origin is being their President for a long time there. I have heard all these long back. Even then when I went there and saw it first hand, I could feel very proud about all of them. Just like how our Malayali cousins went westwards and conquered the gulf world, Tamils have sailed eastwards and settled in places like Singapore and Malaysia for generations.
When the flight was landing, almost all passengers were peeping through the windows to see the giant lights of Singapore. Since I was sitting in an aisle seat, I could not see them very well. However, from whatever I could see, I felt that we could see this kind of lights while landing in India itself these days. When we reached, the talkative boy who was sitting behind asked his mom in Kannada, "Ma, Singapore is in Andhra Pradesh only, no?!". I was thinking it would have been more apt if he had said Tamil Nadu though that also would have been wrong. A little more sensible wrong question! Somehow something has made him think that Singapore is a place in India. What made him think so? One reason could be the travel time. Maybe, his dad would have taken more time to reach when they drove down to some place in Andhra Pradesh recently. Another reason could be the kind of faces he saw on the flight. More than 90% of the faces are Indian faces. Then, why would he think that he was going to a foreign country?
Changi Airport welcomed me in two languages that I know. We have also built airports in international standards these days now. So, couldn't see much difference inside the Airport. Looked around for Indian faces and I could also see some of them here and there. Thanks to the AC. It was cool as long as I was inside. When I stepped out, I could realize, 'Yes. It is as hot as Chennai' as told by many people though it was midnight (By the way, I don't think there is anything else that is common between Chennai and Singapore!).
When I came to the taxi stand, there was a dedicated person helping taxis and passengers to board in the right order. Even in that midnight! That said how systematic they are as a country. I have heard that many taxi drivers are Indians in London and you could even speak to them in Hindi or Tamil. Likewise, I was thinking that most of the drivers would be Indians in Singapore as well. I was even expecting an Indian driver on my first taxi. But, there was a small disappointment. It was a man with Jackie Chan face. Even in my later trips, all drivers that I saw in taxis were either Chinese or Malay. Couldn't see even a single Indian driver in those 12 days.
Another important thing - Just like how all players in West Indies cricket team used to look the same in childhood... all Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Nepalis and even our own countrymen from North East used to look the same till sometime back. I could see that that confusion is not there now. Even in theirs there are all types of faces - round faces, cone faces, square faces and shapeless faces. But, I still can't make out their nationalities.
My first road journey in Singapore started at the midnight... (Contd... in 2/3)