61. Many people hate good-byes. Often it’s sad, particularly when you know you probably will never see the person or the place again. As Ray Huberner boarded a plane at Manila International Airport, he told Peggy and me that he probably wouldn’t see us again. That turned out to be far from the truth. When Lino Brocka saw us off at the same airport, we suspected that we would never be back and never see him again, and it turned out to be true. The night before Lino treated us to a feast at a restaurant, and I remember enjoying Sinigang (Tamarind) fish soup. To this day it is one of my favorite soups. Thanks to Lino I learned to eat and like the marrow out of chicken bones and steamed bean spouts.
1. We had letters from home waiting for us at the American Express Office in Singapore. I acted as if I didn’t care about mail, but I read each letter several times. At unsettle times, like arriving in a new country, something settled and secure … like letters from home … was more important than ever.
We really enjoyed the multi-racial city-state of Singapore. (It’s an independent country. It’s an island that is 224 square miles … or was then … with a maximum width from north to south of 14 miles and a maximum length from east to west of 27 miles.) The city and its suburbs took up a great part of the island then, but there were still a few areas of virgin forest left. We spent part of an afternoon walking through one of these areas, with thickly growing trees and vines. We saw lots and lots of butterflies and saw a few very small squirrels. We heard birds but didn’t see any.
Singapore had a strange combination of people: Malays, Indians, Chinese, and the British were the most dominating. And they lived together on generally harmonious terms. There was an Arab part of town and a Chinese part, but not all of either of these people lived in these areas. So most public signs were written in English, Malay, Arabic, and Chinese; and many businesses had their signs in English and Chinese. English was usually the common language by which the different people communicated, but we ran into quite a large number who spoke only one of the Chinese dialects. But Malay was the official national language. (Malay is much like Tagalog. In fact, some of the words are the same. We knew a few phases and hoped to pick up more as we traveled through Malaysia)
Being in a country that was influenced by the British (instead of Americans) was interesting to us. The Chinese and Malays who spoke English did so with a British accent, and we heard a lot of words and expressions than what we were used to. One of the first things that struck us was that people drove on the left and the steering wheel was on the right side of the car. This led to signs like “Keep Left.” All seats in movies were reserved and the audience could enter only between shows, which we assumed was the British influence. A traffic circle was a “circus.”
Singapore had/has socialized medicine (although there were still private doctors). A couple of days after we got to Singapore Peggy needed to go to the doctor because she had a sore throat and to make sure that the amebic dysentery that showed up during her last medical in Manila was cleared up. Peggy called up the American Embassy, and they referred her to the outpatient clinic of a particular private hospital. But she couldn’t get an appointment there that day so she decided to take her luck at the General Hospital, which tourist information said was very good. When we got to the hospital, it turned out to be for emergencies only, but someone was able to direct us to a nearby outpatient clinic.
At the clinic Peggy got in line to “register.” We had to wait a while because it was during the lunch break. While waiting we noticed that everyone around us had a little card in his or her hand. We were the only Anglos in a room full of Chinese and Indians. That was when we realized that we were in a government clinic and that Peggy probably couldn’t get treatment since she wasn’t a resident of Singapore.
When we got to the first window … where there was a sign reading: “Pay 80 cents,” Peggy showed the man her Peace Corps form authorizing her to be checked at U.S. Government expense. He then simply filled out a card for her, gave her a number, took her 80 cents, and told her to wait upstairs outside door #6. Peggy’s number was 4 … the nurse was calling out the numbers in Chinese but she switched to English when no one responded to her 4. The doctor inside of #6 was an Indian lady. She was very nice and gave Peggy a container for a stool sample to find out about the amebic. She then sent Peggy downstairs where she was given two kinds of pills and a gargle. The next day Peggy went back, paid her 80 cents, and went to a lab and then saw the doctor who said that Peggy seemed to be clear of the amebic. And in a couple of days her sore throat went away … and it only cost us $1.60 Singapore.
While in Singapore we saw many men in bermuda shorts. It seemed to be a common denominator … that and cricket and polo … while the many different faces meant that many kinds of food were available. Chinese food was everywhere, but even it was quite varied depending upon what part of China it originated from. We ate quite a bit of Chinese food since it was easy to find and was often very cheap. We also enjoyed Malaysian “satay,” tenderized spiced chicken or mutton or pork barbecued over hot charcoal and eaten with a spicy peanut sauce. Sometimes we also ate in Muslim Indian restaurants. Most of this food was also hot. Peggy enjoyed murtaba, which reminded her somewhat of tacos, although the bread wasn’t so crisp. I really enjoyed/ enjoy hot spicy food, but she hadn’t developed a very great appreciation for it. Every now and then she enjoyed going into a Western place and getting a good ol’ ham sandwich!
At night many of the streets blossomed with little stalls selling food. Some of them had Chinese food, but our favorites were fruit stalls. At that time of year there were about 20 varieties of fruit available at these stalls, some of them … apples, oranges, pears, plums, grapes, watermelon … found in the states, but others were strictly tropical fruits.
We stayed in a fairly cheap Chinese hotel where communal toilets and showers were at the end of the hall. There were two kinds of toilets: a standard Western toilet; the other an Eastern toilet, consisting of a tiled hole, over which a person squatted. The Eastern one was really more sanitary because no part of the body touched the toilet. I learned how to navigate this one and preferred it because the Western one didn’t flush properly. We enjoyed warm showers … a rarity in the Philippines … by mixing hot and cold water in a barrel, then using a dipper to pour warm water over our bodies. It was actually a very pleasant way to bathe.
A welcome change from the Philippines was the absence of hordes of very poor. The government of Singapore built many huge high-rise complexes, with business establishments on the bottom floors and apartments on the upper floors. We didn’t know the arrangement, but we supposed the resident rented the apartment, but we knew however that there were no slums and very few beggars.
Peggy and Randy Ford