Singapore does not have seasons, per se. Someone I can’t remember said it best: “it’s either hot and wet, or hot and dry.” Which is very true; in the summer, it rains every now and then but mostly maintains a steadfastly humid atmosphere, and in the winter it rains nearly every day, making it very humid.
But there are certain spots in the island where this sort of thing doesn’t matter, and no, I’m not talking about the airconditioned interior of the newest shopping centre. Try the Botanic Gardens instead.
I’m not much for plants, really. In fact, botany and statistics are probably my two most loathed subjects in the world. But as long as I don’t have to study the plants, I find it completely enjoyable to dwaddle along the pristine pathways of Botanic Gardens. There’s actually a very nice brook or river or something that gurgles its way along three levels of the park, and that, combined with a clear sky and the incredible greenery around you, is really something.
The first place we landed up at was the Swan Lake, which I thought was kind of funny; the atmosphere certainly wasn’t anything like Tchaikovsky’s classic. Instead, about a billion children toddled along the edges, watched by overprotective parents. People tried to feed the fishes or the swans or both with bread – we passed two women and their children squealing along the lake edge (“No, don’t throw it into the water, give the bread with your hand! Ooooooh!”) and my dad muttered, “Wait til that swan pokes your hand with that vicious beak of his. I bet it’s one of those vampire swans, the ones that take a chunk out of your hand.” As a matter of fact, there is a pretty alarming sculpture of five swans taking off in flight in the middle of the lake, which my dad described as a monstrosity (I can only account for this behavior by noting that one of my uncles was visiting and was actually the reason for us walking down to BG).
There are spots inside Botanic Gardens where the noise fades away, where you are surrounded only by towering trees and a rough stone path. They’re not that many, because honestly it’s not a huge park (given the size of Singapore, it’s a miracle they maintain this much space for non-industrial, non-housing related activities) but they are there, and it’s lovely to find them.
But I think the next spot we discovered was the best – the Symphony Orchestra Stage. When it comes to prettifying a place and attracting all kinds of people to it, I think Singapore does a fantastic job. They didn’t intend for BG to just be somewhere you take your kid for a walk in the stroller – it’s somewhere to be educated, it’s somewhere you can have a picnic, it’s somewhere you can come with your family and see flowers and enjoy the outdoors. So they’d also roped in this guy from Poland, who was playing Chopin to a remarkably responsive crowd.
From the brief glimpses I got of him, he was the real deal – fingers flying over the keys, plunging into them and the music. I’m absolutely no judge of Chopin or most other music, but I did enjoy what I heard (whatever it was).
Equally enjoyable was just watching the people around us, many of whom had brought huge mats and, of course, food with them, and were picnicking under the almost-twilight, surrounded by Chopin and greenery. There were the requisite oblivious couples, families with dogs, families with hyperactive children, families with both dogs and children, an Indian family quite close to us whose sons had lit up in defiance of the No Smoking signs everywhere. What was really impressive was the – I don’t know how else to put this – complete Singaporean-ness of the crowd. It’s true that there were way more Caucasians than the national average, but there were Chinese, Malays, Indians all sitting under the same canopy of sky, listening to the music. And they seemed to be, against all my own expectations, enjoying themselves.
I think it’s a misconception that an apparently peaceful multicultural country’s citizens will automatically coexist and mingle and all that. I don’t think I’ve seen very much evidence of this, to be honest. This might seem unnecessarily antagonistic of me, but I’ve never really felt at home in Singapore, despite the fantastic family and friends. It’s an awfully convenient place, but I think the point is that Austin feels far more like home – I make my own friends, I live by myself, I “cook”, I take care of my own life. Perhaps that’s the end of it, but I’ve also encountered a much more open society in Austin. Here, I feel like I’ve spent my life seeing people dodge each other’s glances in the shopping centers, the MRT trains, the restaurants. I learned to be polite properly only in Austin, where a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you’ or an ‘excuse me’ are all forms of human interactions as well as sociably acceptable responses.
At the Botanic Garden today evening, though, I could feel some of that dissipating. Especially when, at the end of the performance, the crowd around the stage erupted in applause, united in their appreciation of real talent.