In the fall of my senior year in Manila, Dad announced that Ethyl was moving their office to Singapore. Was it political? There were stirrings of Marcos' downfall, although he didn't actually "fall" until the 1980's. Money? I can't imagine that it was cheaper to live in Singapore; Singapore is a modern, cosmopolitan city/state, unlike Manila, which, as much as I hate to say it, was a little late to arrive into the modern era. Part of me was excited to see a new place (as I always felt when it was announced we were moving), but the other, larger part of me was crestfallen at the injustice of it all. I mean, in the MIDDLE of my SENIOR YEAR?? For crying out loud! Couldn't we just stay in Manila another four months until graduation? Maybe there was an underlying mysterious reason that they never told me. Had my father been named "persona non grata" by the government? He was really in the CIA, wasn't he? Not just a humble businessman .. he was really a spy! (Of course not, that's just my imagination taking flight).
We spent Christmas at the Manila Garden hotel, with a pine cone Christmas tree. Christmas Eve I said goodbye to my teenage crush-of-the moment, a smoldering Eurasian boy who was half Belgian and half Filipino. Can you imagine how my little heart fluttered when he spoke French to me? But I digress.
We arrived in Singapore, another green, lush paradise, Hot and Humid (capital letters for emphasis - we were now even closer to the equator). We stayed at the Shangri-La hotel, in the lap of luxury for about a month before our furniture arrived. There was a 30 day quarantine for the dogs (we had three by that time) so we visited them daily at the very nice kennel at Jurong. I used to sit out by the pool at the hotel, where a man sold satay (chicken on a stick with peanut sauce) and a tropical drink with fresh pineapple would arrive at the snap of my fingers.
Mom and I explored the city ... Orchard Road shopping; the Raffles Hotel, reminiscent of the British colonial times, Arab Street, where the four cultures of Singapore converged: Chinese, Tamil (Indian), Malay and English. Shops lined the streets with colorful fabrics and exotic carved wood furniture spilling out onto the sidewalk. Huge burlap bags filled with spices and beans were for sale. We visited the food stalls in the median of Bukit Tima Street ... and lived to tell the tale. I went to Bugis Street with a visiting friend of the family, the famous late-night spot where the transvestites hung out. That friend was an Ensign in the US Navy, whose ship, the USS Kitty Hawk had made port in Singapore. One afternoon we took a launch out into the harbor to tour the ship. As we stood on the runway of the leviathan ship, sailor after sailor would come up to our friend, Frank, salute and ask some lame question. They had been at sea for 6 months and hadn't seen a woman, much less a blonde one, in a very long time. I think they were just hankering for an introduction. I loved it!
What to do with me? I had already completed my graduation requirements. I could have sat on a lounge chair for four months working on my tan ... but it was decided by the Powers that Were (mom and dad) that I would go to school! I was overjoyed by that decision. I attended Singapore American School with all the enthusiasm of going for a root canal. I sat through Algebra and Physics classes, staring out the window. I didn't make many friends. I was shy and filled with angst. Why should I? I was leaving. Little boys threw peas at me in the cafeteria because I was the "new girl". One guy even asked me to the prom, saying "No one else I asked would go." I told him where he could go.
Mom and I did take day trips, one across the strait between Singapore and Malaysia, to tour the Sultan's Palace. We ate at amazing restaurants. We went to a classic movie festival at the British Club. But overall I was miserable. I missed my friends. I was promised a trip back to Manila for graduation in May, and I tediously counted off the days. It stretched forward for an eternity. I buried myself in music; to this day I when I hear America, I can close my eyes and be in my bathroom, where I listened to the music getting ready for school, showering as quickly as I could because the water tank outside my window was the size of a small ice chest and the hot water only lasted five minutes.
In my next episode: graduation in Manila: a dream come true.