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Singapore September 17, 2005 Español

Posted by Belle in : Singapore

We arrived in Singapore on September 15th. It did not take long to realize we were not in Indonesia any more. The marina, Raffles marina, was larger than many of the towns we had been visiting. We were all very relieved to know it had a pool. It was more than just a pool, however. It was a pool with two slides, a bar area inside, a Jacuzzi, and a waterfall. It was quite something. Dio was in heaven. Since we knew we were going to be in Singapore for at least two weeks, Wence found a swimming teacher to come to the marina and teach Dio and his new friend Luna how to swim every day for an hour or two. Dio loved it. I was not allowed to go watch. I guess mom’s are distracting. I can’t imagine how gasping in terror as your child is submerged by a complete stranger into water, water which you have been religiously keeping your son away from for over a year as the most dangerous thing that could ever happen to your child. How could my diving into the pool to save my poor, floundering fish as I karate chop some guys head as dozens of clients sipping Singapore slings and chow down on local Laksa watch from the balcony of the restaurant, how could that be distracting or disturbing. I heard that within two days Dio was really swimming, going underwater and kicking and everything. I guess it’s good to keep mommas away…sometimes. Maybe there is a reason that the word smother and mother, well, I have said enough.
The next day we went into the city on the MRT, Singapore’s subway. To call the MRT a subway, however, well, it seems wrong. The MRT is clean, new trains, new seats, new everything. Suddenly I realized I felt very uncomfortable on the MRT and I could not figure out why. The trains don’t lurch and heave all over the place, they slide along smoothly, quietly. Dio started screaming about something, and everyone’s head turned. That was it. The silence. It was too quiet. There was no talking, no small Peruvian flute players from the Andes, no Haitain drummers, no strange machine noises, no high heel strutting clik claking, not even the faint sound of an IPOD blasting through someones head phones. No complaining, no begging, no stories about feeding the homeless, no kids selling candy with the promise that 10 cents goes to leukemia research. Suddenly I missed the Brooklyn bound F train like I’ve never missed it before. At the very same moment that I noticed the NO EATING. VIOLATORS WILL BE FINED, Theo started mouthing my shirt, searching for milk. I looked around and wondered if mother’s milk fell under illegal food activity. I felt so naked all of the sudden. Theo started to cry. I began to prepare the boob. At first some people watched, I think not knowing what was coming, but as soon as they realized what was going on, they quickly turned away. Only a few moms smiled gently, knowingly. The Chinese men could not look at me. Because they MIGHT look at the BOOB! OH GOD! What would happen if they saw it accidentally? I don’t know. Something bad though.

That day we walked around the down town area, Raffles something or other. Everything is named after Raffles, an English lieutenant governor who helped secure trade routes in Singapore for the Brits from 1819 onwards. I was overwhelmed by how western everything appears. The architecture, the roads, the cars, and yet everyone is Asian, or Indian, or Malay. Walking down the street I realized we whiteys were the minority here. What an interesting feeling. Kind of like how I felt living on Wycoff street in Brooklyn. But I always knew if I walked up three long blocks to Park Slope, I would be in whitey land again. Here, you are always a minority. As we walked around looking for a place to eat, I noticed long lines of people waiting to buy moon cakes. Mmmmmmmmm. That sounded so yummy. A moon cake. What could that be. How does the moon taste? Sweet for sure! The lines were too long for me to wait. Later I thought to myself. Later we will sit down under a tree and have a taste of the moon.

We finally sat down at some little café. It was not really the food we were looking for, more western than all the exotic flavors we had been reading about, but good. Dio ate a bit and then entertained himself by running around, becoming one with nearby bushes. People seemed concerned that this little blondie was getting dirty and frumpled in the shrubs (don’t worry, it was far from the street).We found out later that Singaporeans are a bit overprotective with their children. Basically, they don’t let them do anything because they usually only have one or at the most two. They are so afraid they are going to get hurt. This was told to us by a woman named Ming we met in the marina. She was born and raised in Singapore. Let’s just say that being overprotected as a child kind of back fired on Ming. When she went to study music in the US, she went a little crazy trying everything she had been forbidden. Everything.

A few days later WEnce and I went into town to do some shopping. Singapore is the last large, westernized city we will see for a while, so we thought we better buy all those odds and ends we had been talking about before it was too late. Everyone told us to go to Orchard Road. I had imagined some small, quaint road with lots of little shops on them. Mabye some orange trees or something on the side. Totally not. Orchard Road is building after building of three to four story malls. Nice malls, with everything from Cartier to Toys R us, but still huge malls. It was a bit overwhelming actually. Especially coming from Indonesia where you probably will not find what you are looking for on any of the islands and if you do, there is just one kind, and one of them. Here, there was so much to choose from, I could not handle it. I went into shopper OD mode and could not think or make any decisions. But of course, ten minutes later I remembered my western capitalist consumerist roots and got over it and shopped until the kids dropped. And then shopped some more.

Wences had been reading Lee Kuan Yew’s (Singapore’s former Prime Minister) autobiography and had decided he needed to meet this guy. But this guy is not the mayor of Kupang. He was very difficult to get to. Finally wences got desperate and started emailing all kinds of people he knows to see if any of them knew him or someone who knew him. He had no luck. My father, totally dumfounded at the request of meeting a dictator, got us a meeting with the head of Disney in Singapore as a trade off. We met Raymund Miranda and his colleage Bob for dinner at a place called No Sign Board. They were really nice, ordered dozens of delicious plates for us, and gave us great ideas of things to do, contacts, and good conversation. Raymund has two girls so I got the number of his pediatrician so I could get Theo his next round of shots.

When we went to the doctor a few days later, Theo had developed a cough. It did not seem anything worse than what he had had in New Zealand and since every time I took him to the clinic for his cold and cough in New Zealand the doctor would send me away with a bottle of saline solution, rolling his eyes, I did not think it was anything serious. As soon as the doctor heard his cough, she stopped preparing the shots and started listening to his chest. Within minutes of our arrival, she had informed us that our child was breathless and in need of serious medical attention. She recommended putting him in the hospital for three days for nebulization, medication, and this horrid practice they call physio which basically is when they shove a plastic tube down the nose and throat to suck out mucous. I was a bit in a panic and wanted to start the treatment immediately. Having just gotten over pneumonia, I was afraid maybe he was getting it. It turns out he was. After three days in the hospital we found out that Theo had pneumonia. Poor little angel. We had to stay an additional ten days so he could get a strong intramuscular shot of antibiotics. We would leave the boat at 9 30, go to the doctors office for a nebulization, go to the emergency room for his shot, then go upstairs for physio. I hate physio. It seems so aggressive to me. And poor Theo would just scream and look at me. God I hope he cannot remember any of that.

It was hard for me to enjoy much of Singapore after that. Wence made sure, however, that my only memories of Singapore were the pediatric ward of the Glen Eagles hospital. He arranged for a beautiful birthday dinner in the city’s tallest building with our friends Eric and Nicole, the best Laksa hawker stand lunch, sushi on a conveyor belt, the Singapore Zoo’s night safari, dinner on a trolley car overlooking Singapore, fun stuff. No matter where we were, we did not have a bad meal in Singapore. Even the hospital food was good. We were ready, however to leave. Of course the day before we were to leave Dio started coughing. A bad, cough. I noticed he was wheezing too. What is going on with my kids! We took them back to the doctor. She wanted to admit him to the hospital right away. Somehow that seemed a bit too extreme. We okd one physio so that they could get a culture and send it to the lab to see if he had pneumonia. The screaming was enough to know that putting Dio in the hospital for three days, where they would do THAT to him twice a day, without being entirely sure that it was absolutely necessary seemed wrong. We told the doctor we wanted a second opinion. She was a bit pissy, but what is she going to do? I tried to explain to her that we were not hospital people. I had chosen to have my sons in our apartment in Miami and a birthing center in Auckland because I do not like hospitals. I could see that at that point, she was sure I was insane.

How the hell do you find a good pediatrician in a city where the only person you know sent you to the one you are running from? We started asking women on the stree who were pushing strollers. Apparently the hospital where we had to go for Theo’s shot had a pediatrics clinic. We went there, spoke to a nice elderly Chinese doctor who seemed much more reasonable. He did not make me feel like my child was going to die on the spot if I did not send him to the hospital, which the other one had. He even told us we could buy our own nebulizer and bring it with us. Which she had told us we could not do, since we needed to be trained. Well, any idiot can give a nebulizing treatment. It’s true that not everyone can read the signs of breathlessness, but we could spot the wheezing, so any attack, if one were to come, we could handle. I was scared to leave Singapore with the kids sick, but I was scared to put Dio into the hospital as well. Wences called a friend of his, Jonathon Malka, who is a pediatrician in New York and told him what was going on. The first doctor had called our kids asthmatic. None of the other doctors would go that far, since they are both so young. But they are having asthmatic like symptoms. Since we had the nebulizer, we now had everything we would need if there was an emergency with these asthma symptoms. We had everything they would have in the hospital. We made sure we had all the right medication for the nebulizer, antiobiotics, and left.

So long Singapore!