Diary of a Globetrotting Family
Rainy Singapore days, and an unintentional unaccompanied minor
January in Singapore can be a rainy time, but we did not expect our last days in the island nation to be in various states of downpour. How would we get the most out of our remaining time in Singapore before going back to Thailand?
Rainy day Cloud Forest
The Year of the Rabbit began with rain.
Rain does not deter us from getting out and about. However, the incessant, albeit warm, rains of Singapore were not the soft drizzles of Oregon. Sometimes, thunderous monsoonal downpours drenched the city. Raindrops smacked on our sixth-floor windows with a sound not unlike a fat bug hitting a windshield at highway speed.
Even when the rain slacked off, it merely seemed like it was taking a breather. It’d be the sort of wet air that was okay for going to and fro, but you wouldn’t want to go for a hike on one of the city’s many urban trails. Or take the ferry to see the trolls and other attractions on Sentosa Island. Or wander through all the exhibits and grounds at the Singapore Botanical Garden.
Many of our plans for Singapore had focused on outdoor spaces. Some, fortunately, we had already done, such as checking out the Supertrees and their light show. But for our last couple of days in Singapore, it was clear we were going to have to take a fresh look at our plans.
So, on our next-to-last day in Singapore, we went big. And cloudy.
Into the forest
Near the southern end of Singapore, in Gardens by the Bay, two large, glass-domed structures arc high from among the tall green trees. Inside the domed Cloud Forest, we could both be inside and outside at the same time. While thudding rain cascaded down the glass, we looked up into a world of plants, waterfalls—and Pandora from Avatar.
Sculptures of people and animals from the Avatar franchise were all around the path that wound up from ground level, to the top of a rock-like spire. Inside, the kids could play in a simulator where they could fly like an ikran, the sort of dragon pterodactyls from the films.
The kids had not yet seen Avatar. As we walked, Jodie and I told Connor and Aster about the film, its characters, and the interconnected life of Pandora.
“We have to watch this movie,” said Connor.
Exhibits along the way told us about the plants and conditions that make up the unique habitats called cloud forests. From the top of the spire, a network of misters sent out a fine spray, and a freshly born cloud settled over the path. From taking plenty of foggy walks on our street in Eugene, the feeling in Singapore was at once familiar. Yet here, large, vibrant flowers bloomed, in pinks, yellows, whites, and reds. Down a rock face drooped leaves so big, you could swaddle a baby in one.
A particular favorite for us? Up near the top, a specialized garden showcased pitcher plants, sundews, venus flytraps, and other kinds of carnivorous plants we hadn’t encountered before.
All the while, outside, the hard rain pounded on the glass and washed the rest of the old year out of the city.
From the Cloud Forest, we took a break for lunch, then wandered to the Flower Garden in the dome next door. There, we explored microcosms from around the world, from California to Australia. Throughout the garden space, dragons, sloths, and other intricate animals had been sculpted out of pieces of wood, like driftwood. The cylinders and oblong pieces evoked bone, muscle, and life, as if each animal were merely paused in mid-action.
Leaving the safety of the domes, fortunately the rain had slacked off. We headed along the waterside path back to the subway station.
“My legs are tired,” Aster told Jodie as we walked. “They’ve been carrying around a little person all day.”
Back at our hotel room, the rain picked back up. We hunkered down in the room, relaxing, making a few plans for dinner—and, sure enough, watching Avatar.
A taste of India
“We’re in Singapore,” said Aster. “How are we going to India?”
As Jodie and I pulled our rain jackets out of the closet and finished filling water bottles, we chuckled.
“Many people from India had moved to Singapore over the years,” said Jodie, “and many of them settled in the same place.”
“It became known as Little India,” I said.
“But we’re not going to… big India,” said Aster.
“Not on this trip,” I replied. “Maybe someday. But today we’re going to get a taste of India and its culture.” I smiled. “And definitely its food.”
Jackets on and zipped, we crossed our street and began walking down the sidewalk toward the subway station. Traffic zipped past, and we were grateful that the clogged drain turning part of the sidewalk into a splash zone had been fixed the day before.
A few minutes later, we emerged from the station, to a row of tall white tents running down the sidewalk in an unbroken row. Speakers filled the air with a catchy pop beat and voices singing in Hindi. Not even the rain could knock down the aromas of earthy spices. Gold and brass from sculptures and statues gleamed. Bright green fruits, bold orange marigolds, and deep red tomatoes glowed amidst the low gray clouds.
In the Indian Heritage Centre, we left the rain behind and instead wandered through the history connecting India and Singapore. Along with examples of metalwork, carved wood, and fashion, the kids tucked into a set of cool interactive activities, where they learned about fabric, food, and spices.
Will the kids like Indian food this time?
Just down the street, we ordered platters of crispy vegetable pakora fritters, bready samosas filled with spiced potato, a creamy chicken korma (which the kids liked a little), and a mutton curry, fragrant and intense. While the kids have found many foods in many cuisines that they like, Indian food has been harder for them to come to. The earthy spices may be part of it; that hasn’t yet been as much to their liking as to mine. But they tried a little of everything.
For getting a taste of Indian culture, it was certainly a start.
“So is Little India like India?” Connor asked me.
Aromas, vibrant colors, the flow of the languages, the passion in the music. When I think of what I enjoyed about visiting India in 2003, many of these things come to mind. But India is a place that you both enjoy and endure at the same time.
“It’s like the best parts of India,” I replied. India, of course, is far bigger, more diverse, and more complicated than any couple of blocks far away could ever try to represent. I was grateful that we got to give the kids at least a little taste.
Unintentional unaccompanied minor
The trouble began at 6:25 in the morning.
We were up, dressed, had eaten a little food, and were about to go to the lobby, bags and all, so we could check out, climb into our Grab shuttle, and ride to Singapore’s Changi Airport so we could fly to Bangkok.
Aster’s little squish pillow cat, Rovetta, and Apple, her horse from Mesquite, Texas, bobbed from their elastic straps as she put on her backpack. Connor started to put on his own, then he stopped.
Blockly, was the black and white dog equivalent to Rovetta. The kids had gotten them in Seattle, and ever since Blockly and Rovetta had been everything from helpful pillows to fun play companions.
Now, though, there was no sign of Blockly. We checked all over the room. I even pulled Connor’s bed away from the wall and lifted it off the floor.
“Wait,” said Jodie, “have you seen Blockly at all this week?”
The more we thought about it, the more we realized, even Connor, that we had not.
With downcast hearts, we got our packs on and rolled our two small rollies to the lobby. The hotel manager offered to check the laundry for Blockly, just in case. But we were pretty sure we knew what had happened. During our shuttle ride from Malaysia to Singapore, Blockly must have somehow gotten knocked out of his elastic band that secured the wee dog to Connor’s backpack, and it just happened that none of us had noticed.
As we rode to the airport, Connor sat in silence, looking out the window at the night-dark city we were about to leave. He was sad. At the same time, he was only but so sad. It sucks to lose something. Blockly had been missing for a week though, and this was the first time Connor had noticed.
I sat with a little sadness too, but also resolve and understanding. Connor hasn’t said much else about losing Blockly. I wonder how much of him feeling upset, was realizing that he not only left a cozy friend behind, but some of his childhood.
About your Bangkok flight
The check-in agent at Singapore’s Changi Airport stepped out from behind the counter, held up all four of our passports, and said she’d be right back. I tried to keep the worry out of my eyes as Jodie and I looked at each other, but we both knew that was never a good thing.
Behind us, the check-in line grew longer. I wondered how many of these passengers, like us, had tried to use one of the self-check-in kiosks, only to be told to go to the counter.
A few minutes later, the agent returned.
“We had to make some changes in our flights today,” she began.
Oh no. We had seen no alerts about delays or cancellations for our direct flight to Bangkok. Maybe something had just come up in the past few minutes. Jodie and I braced ourselves for the news.
“So we are putting you on a flight with Singapore Airlines instead,” she continued. “It’s still a direct flight, but it’ll leave about half an hour later than your original flight time.”
Oh. Well, that wasn’t so bad. Plus, Singapore Airlines is a pretty nice way to fly. As far as unintentional upgrades go, it could certainly be worse.
Unfortunately, the last-minute wrangling was shifting dozens of passengers. After heaps of waiting, some quick walking through the terminal, transferring to another terminal, and more waiting while a Singapore Airlines ticket agent sorted out the new reservations, we finally were handed four boarding passes.
We were on the same flight. And we were in the same cabin. But Jodie or I weren’t anywhere close to either of our children.
I need to talk with you about my daughter
At gate 54, the gate agent handed our boarding passes back to Jodie and shook his head.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, “but this flight is completely full, and there’s no one I can switch around.”
“We’re okay with our son where he is,” Jodie had explained. Connor was going to be just a couple of rows behind me, and I could turn around and check on him. Plus, at 11, he understood about being safe, and talking with a flight attendant if there were any problems.
At 8 years old though, Aster is a different story. Her sitting on her own did not sit well with us.
“We always try to keep families together,” the agent continued. I could try to play up a bunch of drama here; I’m sure that, from one standpoint, it would make a better, more riveting story, but I just don’t play that way. To the gate agent’s credit, he had spent the past few minutes looking up and down the seating chart for possibilities, and he was visibly upset that he hadn’t been able to move Aster closer to one of us.
Traveling kid on board
“I’m going to have a word with the flight attendants,” he added. “Please talk with them as well when you get on board. I couldn’t figure something out, but they might.”
On board, Connor settled down behind me, and I started getting my things set up in the middle seat of the middle section of the cabin. Jodie was ahead of me, also in the left section of seats. But Aster was way off in the right section of seats, farther up the cabin, and I couldn’t even see her.
I could see Jodie, though, talking with the flight attendants.
A few minutes later, Aster giggled as she crossed through the middle section. She stood in the aisle and waited patiently, while a person in the middle seat, right in front of Jodie, got out, smiled at Jodie, and then crossed over to where Aster had originally been seated.
Sometimes, airlines screw up, and sometimes they screw up in ways that deserve plenty of flack. But with communication, effort, and some persistence, sometimes they also make things right. The folks at Singapore Airlines didn’t want our eight-year-old daughter sitting on her own any more than we did. To their credit, they figured out a way to seat Aster near Jodie. And all of us—including, I believe, the flight attendants, and especially Jodie—were much more at ease as we taxied back, headed to the runway, and took off for Thailand.
Questions from their ages
“Daddy,” said Connor from one side of me while Aster walked on the other side of me, “what would you choose: Never eat anything spicy again, or never drink coffee again?”
As we walked by the various hotels and condos near the shore of Hua Hin, Thailand, the nearly full moon hadn’t yet cleared the rooflines. We could catch a silvery glimpse whenever our strides took us past the gaps between buildings.
Lately, I never know when the questions will come to me. Somewhere around LEGOLAND Malaysia and Singapore, both Aster and Connor have become fascinated by questions of difficult choices. Where it began or what prompted it, I have no idea. Connor and I might be walking from our hotel room to the nearby 7-11 in Singapore’s Chinatown. The four of us might be heading to a subway station. We might have just put away our LEGOLAND passes, cleared the gates, and discussed whether to head toward Technic or City.
A dad-and-kids walk at night. Chatting with Aster during a quiet dad and daughter moment. I don’t know when the questions will happen, but after a couple of days in Hua Hin, Thailand, all I know is that the questions will come. I also know that I will have no idea what they’ve got in store for me this time.
“What do you choose?” Connor asked again. “Would you rather never eat anything spicy again, or never drink coffee?”
Right then. Enough stalling.
“I would never eat anything spicy again.”
Aster gasped. “You’d give up spicy food?”
“Oh, it wouldn’t be easy,” I replied. “I love spicy food. But there are lots and lots of flavors in the world that I love. However, there is nothing like coffee.”
Growing kids ask bigger questions
These are not the high-stakes questions that steer the world on the tricky course of yes and no. But these questions are signs of each child thinking more about choice, about what other people want or consider, how to deliberate and, you hope, make a good decision.
Though now and again, it’s also just fun for a kid to see if they can stump their parents.
One evening in Hua Hin’s outdoor Tamarind Night Market, we sat at a square concrete table, on concrete stools that look like dice with dot numbers.
“Daddy,” said Aster, “would you choose to only have a sip of black coffee again, or have unlimited coffee with cream?”
I’m a long-time fan of good, hot, black coffee. No sugar, no cream. All I need is a mug.
“And Mama,” said Connor, “what about you? You can either have only one sip of coffee with cream ever again, or you can have unlimited black coffee. Which do you choose?”
What’s especially wonderful about these questions, is sometimes the parents get to stump the children.
Watch who yer asking, kid
I grinned at Jodie. She caught my gaze and immediately grinned back.
“Daughter,” I began, as I locked eyes with Aster, “I will have the unlimited coffee with cream.”
“And I,” said Jodie to Connor, “will gladly take the unlimited black coffee.”
Each child chuckled. “Here you go!” They swooshed hands full of imaginary vats of coffee toward us. “We got ‘em Aster!” shouted Connor.
Jodie and I graciously accepted their gifts. Then we mimicked handing them to each other.
“Here babe,” Jodie said to me. “Have unlimited black coffee.”
“And for you, my love,” I replied, “Unlimited coffee with cream for you.”
The children bounced on their seats and pointed at us. “Hey!”
We shrugged. “Remember,” I said to the kids, “Mama and I are a team. We always find a way.”
The snowman and the hammer
Connor is especially fond of holding these wee Q&A sessions with me.
“What is your favorite anything in the world?”
“Even more than Thailand?”
Some questions are easier to answer than others, such as being asked if I would give up mangos or coffee. Mangos are my favorite fruit, but there’s lots of fruit in the world. Some deliberations cut closer to the bone, such as when Connor asked if I would give up rather give up coffee or writing.
Hard, yet also easy.
“I would give up coffee,” I said.
“Why not writing?”
“Because writing pays the bills!” said Jodie. So true. As much as I love coffee, it is a satisfaction stream, not a revenue stream.
“Plus, writing is who I am,” I added. “It’s something I love, and I love to do it for a living. I love drinking coffee. I wouldn’t want to give it up. But I absolutely had to, I would.”
Other questions are simply informative, such as when we were watching CNN 10, a news report made for kids.
Aster leaned toward the screen. “Why does that snowman have a hammer in its mouth?”
Jodie and I burst out laughing.
“That’s not a hammer,” I replied. “It’s what’s called a corncob pipe. I don’t think you’ve ever seen one.”
The kids ask us many kinds of questions. Some are straightforward, and get straightforward answers. Others are silly, or deliberative. Still others give the children a hint, I hope, of the depth of existence, possibility, and the human mind and heart.
“Daddy,” said Connor one morning as we left 7-11 in Singapore, laden with breakfast. “What is the definition of lonely?”
I didn’t even have to think about it.
“Anthony,” I replied, “before he met your mama.”
Country of my heart
Of all the questions the children ask us lately, some indeed are harder than others. Sure, they ask questions that are silly, ridiculous, random, or that don’t even seem to follow any sort of logic outside that country of a child’s mind, the land that we adults so quickly can forget how to navigate.
While we were in Singapore, Connor asked me what my favorite travel country is.
“Japan,” I said, with a big grin.
Connor leaned back, clearly surprised. “It’s not Thailand?”
“It’s really close,” I said. “But Japan has consistently potable water, and in Thailand we need to filter. If Thailand could get the drinking water thing sorted…”
To the heart
A few days later, our Singapore Airlines flight continued its descent toward Bangkok. Before we knew it, we had cleared immigration and customs, had found a wonderful restaurant in the airport, and I was tucking into a bowl of savory, rib-sticking rice porridge with pork meatballs.
I took one bite, savored it, and looked at my son. I’m a deliberative man, thoughtful, considered, and intuitive in much of what I do. I also know when I’ve screwed up.
“I was wrong,” I told him. “When you asked me about my favorite country. It’s Thailand. It’s fun, delicious, and vibrant. And it goes to my soul like no other place.”
He’ll make of that what he will. After all, much of what we do as parents is simply to offer up our own experience and example, so our children can make of it what they will or won’t. But Thailand is my favorite country to travel in. It’s the country of my soul, the land of my heart. No matter how often we come here, I will always look forward to coming back.