Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Facing my demons on Orchard Road

Note: I originally drafted this post during my second week of the past summer session. However, the session took off, an exciting experience with an illness and detained medication ensued, I got well as the semester, like a roller coaster reaching the track peak, plummeted onward with momentum, and final projects came pouring in. In short, this post got lost in the shuffle. But I found it recently, and felt it was still worth posting. Enjoy!

Try as I might, I've never been able to adequately capture the Orchard Road 
experience with my own amateur photography skills. This photo does it justice. 

Click here to be taken to its original source, a great article on the Singapore Sale.
I’ve lived in Singapore for three years now, and I have yet to spend a lot of time on Orchard Road. 

Famous for being Singapore’s 5th Avenue (and while I’ve never been to New York’s counterpart, I’ve heard Orchard rivals even that), it’s alive with sights, sounds, commercialism and community; however, I’m not much of a shopper and I’m not fond of crowds, so when I need to buy something, I head toward quieter gift-shopping areas (Tanglin), places with a bit more culture (Chinatown or Little India) or malls that cover more territory and disperse the crowds (VivoCity). 

But I moved to Treetops in January, which is situated nicely off of Orange Grove Road, a small offshoot that has a very tropical-escape feeling to it, and is also halfway between the hub-bub of Orchard and the quieter elegance of Tanglin. On Friday, a mere six days after arriving in Singapore for the concentrated summer session, I decided to head out.

Let it be known that my downfall is directions. I’m famous within my family for once getting lost at the Four Corners of Orchard Park, a classic “small town Americana Main Street” environment. I am pleased to say I’ve grown up a bit since that childhood incident, but even still, directions are simpler in a small town.
“I’m looking for such-and-such – can you point me in the right direction?” 
“Y’know the yellow house on the corner?” 
“Well, go two country blocks, pass the horse farm and turn left at the first stop sign you come to…”
So plop me down on Orchard and it’s just bound to be trouble.

I did some shopping at Tanglin then headed up Orchard to go to a favorite stationery shop (Typo). At this point, the burst of energy that came with my jetlagged early wake-up had evaporated like the morning clouds, and now I was tired. Tired, hot, and frustrated that the shop didn’t even have what I was looking for. So I started back.

And got lost.

Supremely, irrevocably lost. For about an hour. My overheating smartphone burned my hand as its battery drained and GoogleMaps resolutely attempted to set walking directions that would lead me head-on into traffic. The combination of jetlag and heat exhaustion made this a powerfully emotional experience, and the only thing preventing me from sitting on the curbside and weeping was my last remaining shard of pride and the fact that I had perspired so much at this point that I don’t think I could have produced tears if I had wanted to. Swallowing a painful lump in my throat and with it my shame and feeling of profound failure (I’ve lived here three years and I’m LOST?), I hailed a cab, took it back to my apartment, and stayed in busily prepping lectures and activity materials for two straight days.

On Sunday, a student surprised me with a ticket to see Singin’ in the Rain at Marina Bay Sands Theatre (read about that delightful experience here). Leaving MBS, I decided to take the train back and get off at Orchard Station. Little did I realize, it would put me right back at the scene of the crime. 

But it was night; it was cool(er), I was relaxed, and after popping up out of a few underpasses and realizing I was heading in the wrong direction, I found the correct one and was on my way. On my way, walking back to my apartment, feeling on top of the world. 

But would I find it again in the heat of the day?

On Wednesday, there was some construction going on at my apartment, so to escape the noise, I took a bus down to 313@Somerset for lunch and a visit to a different Typo branch. I took the train back to Orchard, popped up out of the correct underpass, and walked back with nary a care in the world.

It seems like a small victory; maybe even a foolish one at that. The foreigner figures out how to escape one confusing city block. Big deal. But in the three years I’ve been in Singapore, I’ve chosen to live in three different apartments in three very unique neighborhoods on this small island-city. I could have gone for the same, safe experience each semester (and I did for two of three years), but I opted along the way for something new and with each new environment comes a new “starting over” period in which one stretches one’s wings, bumps about a bit, but eventually, hopefully, figures out how to get airborne. 

And with each small success, my heart is all of a flutter.


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