Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Even my knees are laughing

I saw a monk on a moped this morning. I was just minding my own business, sulking to the bus stop, cursing the hands on my watch that were mockingly informing me that it was 6:37 a.m. and, even without the sun, the temperature was approaching 90 degrees, and I would soon be at school invigilating exams for hours on end being mocked by these same watch hands and plagued by this same heat. And I saw a monk on a moped.

Sometimes I think God has a pretty good sense of humor. I mean here I was with the worst case of early Thursday morning blues, and God decided to send a monk on a moped, a hot red moped at that, screeching around the corner for the sole purpose of cheering me up. Or at least that’s how I like to look at it. God was sitting up there on his big white thrown, probably eating a far better breakfast than the granola bar I was munching (probably some eggs on toast, hash browns, and blueberry pancakes with warm maple syrup), and He decided I needed a little reminder that I was on the adventure of a lifetime in Asia going to a school I love with colleagues and kids I love even more. I may be invigilating exams today, but I’m invigilating exams in Singapore for gosh sakes. Not only that, but I’m also planning a weekend trip to Malaysia for gosh sakes. So, God sent a monk, in a robe, on a hot red moped, with his long white beard flowing in the wind screeching around the corner in front of me.

I chuckled. The chuckle turned into a giggle. Before I knew it my giggle turned into full fledged laughter…we’re talking the kind of laughter that boils up from deep in the heart of your belly and then bubbles so your shoulders start to shake; you’re no longer breathing, because the laughter is replacing every other natural function and is taking over every square inch of your body…I mean even my knees are laughing. Minutes earlier I had been glumly making my way to the bus stop, cursing everything from the high heels I was wearing, to the hands on my watch, to the stick that I was sure the tree dropped for the sole purpose of tripping me.

Then, the monk. And here I was laughing so hard there were tears starting to well in my eyes. I was literally laughing out loud now as I thought about the funny little way the monk perched himself on the moped’s seat, robe arranged just right as he straddled the bike, bald head glistening in the heat, and, oh, that long white beard flowing out behind him so it almost became his own cape. People were starting to look at me now. I haven’t laughed like this in awhile, at least not alone. Maybe I’m delusional from lack of sleep and minimal breakfast. Maybe I’m approaching that overly emotional time of the month. Or, maybe I’m just feeling all emotions particularly intensely this morning; the over stimulation tends to do that to me in Singapore. But then I think about the monk again, and I’m overcome with yet another fit of laughter. No, I don’t need to justify this laughing attack by anything except to say that that monk on the moped was seriously, ridiculously funny. So I look around at the starers, and keep right on laughing my little heart out all the way onto the bus and out of sight. “I’m not the crazy one people! Didn’t you see! A monk on a moped!”

I definitely have a lot of these “monk on a moped” moments in Singapore, more in the figurative than the literal sense unfortunately though. It’s like I just start to get in a grove and feel really comfortable, and then the universe decides to remind me I’m in Asia with something totally unexpected or out of the ordinary, and I realize “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” A situation that might be considered mundane at home becomes an obstacle. Completing an everyday task becomes a small personal triumph. I’ll pause now to offer explanation by means of examples.

Our washing machine is full of water. Not only is it full of water, but until I rung them out with my bare hands over the balcony, it was also full of my towels; towels that probably won’t dry for at least 72 hours seeing as the ones that don’t miss out on a spin cycle still take at least 24. Yep, our washing machine will not drain on the exact day I am out of socks and desperately need to clean a load of whites. And here’s the real kicker: I can’t even walk upstairs to my house mother Judi’s room and ask her to please call someone to fix the sorority washing machine immediately...please.

Now, I’m perfectly aware that living in a sorority house isn’t exactly the “real world,” but living in Asia isn’t exactly the “real world” I know how to function in either. I’d like to see you try to call the building maintenance line from your apartment in Asia and try to explain to the woman on the other end of the line, who is very nice but barely speaks any English, that your washing machine won’t drain, you live at Blk 210 room 04-214, and you won’t be home from work until three. In case you ever need to know though, this is how it goes:

Me: “Hello. My washing machine won’t drain and I was wondering if you could please send someone up to fix it after three today.”
Her: “What?”
Me: “My washing machine is broken”
Her: “What?”
Me: (sigh…what is the simplest way to explain this)…”Washing machine dead.”
Her: “Oh ok! What room?”
Me: “Blk 210 04-214.”
Her: “What?”
…and it goes on like this until I say the numbers individually, very meticulously, and slowly. Then she asks, “What’s problem?”
Me: “Washing machine dead”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point. But, I think after a few more exchanges like this she knows “what’s problem” and where I live. Now I just have to tell her that I won’t be home from work until three, so please don’t send anyone until then…easy enough…right.

Well, not really. And so the conversation goes and goes until I’m finally able to convey that I won’t be home until “tree,” which is how she, along with the majority of Singaporeans, have learned to pronounce “three.” (In fact, even my jazz dance teacher counts the music, “one, two, tree, four” and so on.) As frustrating as it may be at the time, though, little occurrences like these result in the most overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. I mean, all I really did was tell someone my washing machine is broken and asked them to come fix it, “after tree please.” But a task that would be simple and unfulfilling in my “normal” life, becomes a beautiful connection with another human, who may not understand me nor I her, but for a few brief moments we’re able to communicate. A monk on a moped moment.

Another example of this phenomenon occurred at work this morning while I was invigilating exams. Invigilation is a very common thing that occurs everyday in U.S. classrooms. Basically, the teachers walks around the classroom watching the test-taking students and giving the evil eye to any student who looks like he/she might cheat, is thinking about cheating, or has ever even considered cheating in his/her life. And so I went about my invigilation as any teacher anywhere in the world would, walking around and glaring at students. But it wasn’t long before I was shocked back into Asia mode. When I went to my second invigilation for the morning, I realized there were 39 students instead of 40 in the classroom. The teacher in the room told me a boy had been taken out of the exam because…brace yourself…his hair was too long. Yep, you read right. This boy’s sideburns weren’t up to protocol, and he was taken out of the exam to have a haircut before he could complete the test. By whom? I’m not really sure, but let’s just say, I doubt it was a professional stylist. Definitely a “monk on a moped” moment, though not necessarily a positive and definitely not a laughable one. But, TIA after all.

While there are definitely some striking differences between my mother culture and this new culture to which I’m adjusting, some things just don’t change. Like?...Monday night football of course. On Monday evening, I spent an enjoyable, though not quiet or relaxing, evening cheering on a local Singaporean soccer club complete with eight of my guy friends, a small but loud, die-hard fan section in which everyone was dressed head to toe in the team’s signature green color, and drums, cowbells, foghorns and, what else but beer. Yes, surprisingly similar to American Monday night football with a twist.

And Monday night football night was quickly followed by Theatre Tuesday. Before meeting the group of eight PiAers who I was joining to see “Defending the Caveman”, a Singapore Reparatory Theatre production, I arrived a bit early to explore the theatre district. During my wandering I stumbled upon (and by stumbled I mean searched out like a hound dog following an irresistible scent) a little chocolate shop that my mentor, Yui Yun, said serves the best hot chocolate in Singapore. Waiting for my friends, I sat along the waterfront and watched the runners with their dogs zigzag along the river and over its many bridges all the while enjoying the richest, most decadent cup of hot chocolate I have ever tasted…hot chocolate spiked with hints of coffee and amaretto and so thick and creamy it remains coated on the spoon until you lick it off. This stuff would give even the Swiss a run for their money. After the sensual experience of letting warm melted chocolate play on my tongue and coat my throat with its sweet nectar, how could I not feel completely pleasured and satisfied? So it was with this demeanor I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the light comedic theatre production which was to follow. “Defending the Caveman” was a one man show comprised mainly of cliché jokes about the relationships between men and women, and although predictable, funny none-the-less.

Wednesday night held yet another fun activity. Jacob and Stephanie came with me to try a hip hop class at my new dance studio. While it was a great class at which I definitely improved my crunking and pop-and-lock skills (as much as one can in one hour and with years of graceful ballet habits so engrained in her body that it refuses to “crunk” in certain ways), the best part was experiencing Stephanie’s first hip hop class and Jacob’s first ever dance class with them. Now, comes the part of trying to convince them to bust out their newly acquired moves at a club this weekend…something tells me this won’t be hard.

While I’ve spoken quite a lot about my extra-curricular activities this week, I realize I haven’t spoken too much on the lines of school. A few notes: This week has been an unremarkable week as I’ve primarily observed lessons designed to review for exams. Exams started today (Thursday), and so my classes have been canceled, and my time has been devoted to invigilating exams. Next week, marking of the exams begins. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but Singapore is an exam oriented society.

So with all this free time until I start marking for hours on end next week, I’ve decided to busy myself with extra activities this week. Friday looks like it will be a night out on the town. We are planning a trip to Malacca, Malaysia for Saturday and Sunday. And, before I get too far ahead of myself, tonight is a “Big Lebowski” movie party complete with White Russian mixers and all. Off to hang out with The Dude.


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