wandering geylang road: singapore




singapore is one of those places that i have passed through many times on the way to and from europe, but always just passing through. i have never stopped and had a look around. so, on this trip i thought it might be nice to pause for a time and wander- but my plan was foiled – mostly because a long delay leaving madrid meant that by the time i arrived in zurich to catch my connecting flight, i had already missed the boat, so to speak. this threw the whole plan out of whack, leaving me with very little time to wander…….

…..the last few days in madrid are exhausting. it is soooooooo hot and i am absolutely buggered. out of steam. on my last night, peter and i stay up for most of the night talking and listening to music. i am knackered, but i can’t sleep…..i swing in the hammock for a couple of hours, drifting into the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, but that is about it, in terms of rest. this means that by four o’clock the next afternoon when i leave peter’s to go to the airport, i feel that i am in some sort of a lucid dream as i walk down the steaming hot asphalt of the paseo de extremadura with my backpack on, towards the metro. everything is surreal. i travel to the airport, go through all the rigamarole, and park myself on a seat at the gate, waiting for the plane. tick tock tick tock tick tock. i sit there, whatsapping with a number of different people, killing time………………….hmmmmmmm…………………now, i just want to get on the plane and get going. airports are such strange transitional spaces. people move. time ticks. but you never really go anywhere. not until you are on that plane. tick tock tick tock tick tock………………speaking of which, where is it?…………………………it comes about 45 minutes late and then sits on the tarmac for about another 20 minutes or so before finally taking off. it isn’t until we are arriving in zurich that i realise that my connecting flight south is already gone. for the first time in a long time, i feel a deep irritation flashing up inside me, fuelled by a sensation of impotence at not being able to do anything about it. i can’t start walking to singapore, can i? so, the night is spent at a cookie-cutter ibis hotel near the airport. in a bed with white sheets, which is nice. actually, even sleeping with sheets is nice! despite this little touch of home, i am not feeling very perky. i am pissed off. and i am also pissed off with myself for being pissed off……….better to just shut my eyes and end the day……..

the next day  sees a shift in my fortunes, and thus, my mood. i get put on a singapore airlines flight (yay!), i am given an emergency exit (yay!yay!), and the flight leaves without too much delay (yay!yay!yay!). despite the little glitch, things have worked out better and i am more comfortable than i would have been otherwise (on the original flight), which is great. the eleven and a half hour flight goes quickly. i nap, i watch movies, i think about certain people and situations……i begin to swim once again in feelings of excitement, releasing myself once and for all from the fear of ending that has been sitting under the surface, like a microscopic thorn. inevitability can be liberating, if you only just let it be. it is interesting to observe that overseeing all of these thought processes is the lighthouse, shining brightly. it will all be fine.

singapore is hot and steamy. it doesn’t make any difference that it is 6 am and the sun is only just getting up………….uffffff…….on the shuttle bus from the airport, i watch out the window, but i don’t see anything. all i can think about is getting into a dark space and closing my eyes for a couple of hours, which is what i do. when i wake up six or seven hours later, i am now carrying a full set of louis vuitton under my eyes, i look like shit…..the latest trend in jet lag looks. steamer trunks. so i shower and wrestle those bags into submission with freezing cold water on my face and body. the time travel you do when you jump from north to south really hurts, but all you can do is just push through and try to reconnect with the sun’s rhythms somehow, as quickly as possible. cold showers and sunshine.

i get dressed and head out to the street. it is eid and the streets are absolutely packed out with people shuffling to the soundtrack of cars and assorted street sounds. my idea is to simply walk along geylang road until the end, turn around and walk back. see what happens. geylang road runs through the middle of little india in singapore and is a space that is pumping with markets, restaurants, food stalls………i feel that i am literally wading through the air as i walk. the air is thick, dense, moist, heavy. i feel it pushing against every centimetre of exposed skin. as it makes contact, sweat oozes in the hopes that it will be able to cool my body down, but it is never given the chance to evaporate, so it just sits there on the surface of my skin, clammy and sticky, unable to go anywhere.

i feel invisible because i am white. of course, i am a part of this landscape, and as such, i am being observed. but, i can probably do what i want, commit any number of cultural faux pas, and i will be forgiven, simply because it is understood that i just don’t know any better………………there is a masochistic part of me that loves to imagine a condescending attitude being directed at me by strangers ~it seems poetic that it should be that way. i walk past another couple of white people and we don’t look at each other. there is no acknowledgement. are we also respecting each other’s invisibility? i am not interested in them and they are certainly not interested in me. i/we am/are only here to immerse myself/ourselves in the sounds, smells, foods, and language of this place, trying to understand something…..but, do we ever really understand anything? it seems to me that all i really understand here is my own tendency, as a white person, to engage in comparisons with the other. in order to resist this, as i walk, i practice observing. i practice seeing with my eyes and not allowing the images to penetrate behind my eyes into the mental space. i go to a food stall and order and eat something without having much of an idea of what i am ordering or eating. i break down flavours into those that i recognise and those that i do not, and leave it at that. i listen to sounds for what they are, from the perspective of simple identification. i can no longer hear myself or my footsteps. as i walk, i feel myself disappear into the decibel chaos of geylang road. all that i am, and the traces that i leave as i move, are now simply merging with the five million other sounds on this street.

after a while, i decide to double back a way through a more quiet, suburban area.. here, i can hear birds singing, and the relative silence means that sounds coming from inside houses, the sounds of family life, waft through walls and out onto the street, floating gently into my ears……………… these sounds contrast with ,and balance out, the parallel soundscape that is pumping on geylang road………this release of tension makes me feel tired. the darkness of my hotel room is calling to me as i walk now…………..making my way back…………i feel good. crusty and jet lagged, but good……..

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