I actually look forward to my 10:30 bedtime—when I can finally close my eyes and shut out the reality of the true state of our nation. Believe me, I’ve had better nightmares. Sleep has become my nightly escape.
My real nightmare begins when I have become fully conscious, all washed and ready for breakfast, but not quite ready for the newspaper headlines. I already heard about it the night before on TV and Facebook, and made efforts to blot it out, but now it’s back as if it never left. And, just when I begin to hope nothing can get worse, it does. I drink my first glass of warm lemon water in an attempt to wash off the venom, hoping somehow to start afresh.
My husband and I, when things get too much for us, flee, I mean, fly somewhere, this time to Singapore, to get away from it all.
For all of four days, we experience life where everything runs and works right, in amazing order and efficiency. Our escape from all things hopeless and dreadful begins on the Philippine Airlines (PAL) plane where I’ve been wheeled up, owing to tendinitis and a spur in my left foot. First to board, I’m warmly and sympathetically received.
The three-hour-plus flight gives us time to watch a movie. Vergel opts for “Den of Thieves,” starring credible action man Gerald Butler. I choose “The Birdcage,” with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane (adapted from the classic French farce “La Cage aux Folles”) — it does not fail to deliver the laughs no matter how often I watch it, on film or onstage, via Broadway or our own Repertory. It has the same lasting effect on me as a collection of essays by Woody Allen; it keeps me laughing long after the movie has been watched, as the book long after it’s been read. My time-off has begun.
No rice shortage
We were in Singapore only in May, and, now, after a mere three-month interval, at the airport alone, I see more expansion and improvement. In the 30-minute drive to our hotel on Scotts Road, our neatly dressed driver gives us a knowledgeable update on the city he seems very proud of.
In the hotel everything is as efficient and comfortable as expected. The breakfast and dinner buffets are impressive, generous and varied. When we complain about a construction racket in the floor above us we are moved in no time to another floor and a much better room. In the transfer I misplace my cell phone and is quickly found and delivered.
There’s certainly no rice shortage for the 5 million or so residents in the island’s 700 square kilometers, no smuggling, no scandalous cases of corruption. People seem secure about their persons as well as their future, even if one or two mendicants turn up on the streets and a competent musician plays for small money in the underpass—as in New York.
We meet a few Filipino waiters and waitresses, separated from family but otherwise happy, and hopeful yet of a better life. They are mostly young and single, far removed from the politics of home and not showing the slightest curiosity about how Freedom and Justice and Truth are holding up back home. They are in safe Singapore and well-paid and well-treated, and nobody has to tell them hard work is part of the deal. The domestics who gather on their off days in and around Lucky Plaza, along Orchard Road, seem a tougher lot, with more challenges to hurdle, and for that they come across as do-or-die aggressive.
We get a chance to engage local seniors in light conversation, like the taxi driver and the wheelchair attendant (I have one in every port). Taxi drivers find their jobs exhausting and are a little worried about the competition Grab and Uber pose. The wheelchair attendants are content working in the beautiful and air-conditioned airport than anywhere else.
One attendant to a wheelchair is no luxury in Singapore, but in the PAL terminal upon our return I’m passed on from one to another and made to wait while one attendant disappears and another appears, panting and repeating, “’Sensya na po.”
Apparently a crisis has been caused by the arrival of a plane from London requiring 24 wheelchairs and attendants, a demand that, in a country of 105 million, could not be filled, though not for any shortage of hands. Thus the rigodon of wheelchairs and attendants, who somehow make it seem like fun and adventure.
The Singaporean government foresees its people’s needs, and leaves nothing to chance, or their imagination. Each citizen is given free education up to junior college, and good health care. Whatever of the past that gives the city character is preserved. Planted greenery—a whole forest indeed—and flowers abound. There’s little traffic because of a good public transportation system—cars have been made purposely expensive.
Couples have imbibed the good economic sense to limit the number of children to one or two. Their concern is population growth too low for their future workforce. The government now offers a subsidy for dating to encourage young people to marry and another subsidy for extra children.
Yet, there are still Singaporeans who leave their native paradise.
Far more of us like to get away, but for desperate reasons. Our sense of home for native land is so strong we probably would not leave until it goes up in flames, and we wouldn’t know how to deal with the catastrophe.
We wonder how close we are to that situation, if we aren’t there yet.