Singapore Adventure

Friday, November 04, 2005

White Knights
by venitha

Nowhere do the ever-present, heart-rending, mushy, sappy love songs surprise me more in Singapore than in its cabs. Cabs driven by men, mind you. I had naively assumed that this drippy penchant was unique to Singapore, where it, along with several other oddly unmanly behaviors, leads me regularly to think that someone really needs to add testosterone to the water supply. But more on Jim's man-purse later.

Penang, unfortunately, is likewise afflicted with cloyingly sentimental music. We climbed hot and sweaty into a cab outside the botanic gardens after hiking down, and I do mean down, I mean relentlessly, steeply, I-feared-endlessly down, from the top of Penang Hill. I settled with a sigh of relief into the comfort of the cab's air-con, leaned wearily back against the plush headrest, and closed my eyes to Sometimes When We Touch.
And sometimes when we touch
The honesty's too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide
I wanna hold you til I die
Til we both break down and cry...

Without warning, I was swept back to 1986, fall of my freshman year in Madison, where my roommate Tammy's wistful and insipid musical tastes, inspired by tragic, woeful, I-feared-endless romantic angst, sparked in me the sarcastic and pragmatic attitude I've spent nearly twenty years now perfecting. Tammy died recently, at too young an age of too virulent a cancer, and has lurked mournfully in my thoughts of late. And on this sweltering sunny afternoon, this melancholy longing music she so inundated me with waltzed effortlessly past my cynicism and caressed a nostalgic chord I didn't know was there.

If there was another time in my life to compare with how I feel in Singapore, it's that first year in Madison, when I was so out of my element, so struggling to find my identity, so desperately wanting to be saved, to be rescued, to be whisked away by a handsome knight in shining armor on a strong and speedy white steed. He'll pull me up gracefully behind him, and I'll lean closely and intimately against him, my long flowing tresses curling seductively in the light, cool breeze. He'll whisk me off to his secluded castle amidst majestic mountains, where there will be no frizzy hair, no sweat, and piles and piles and piles of chocolates.

As the chorus of Born Free swells, our driver draws a screeching needle across the record of my reverie by slamming on the brakes, narrowly missing the lorry in front of us. My eyes now wide open, I am jolted back into my practical and down-to-earth self. And I am glad. True, I am stuck in a less than ideal situation, but I am also strong, independent, and perfectly capable of rescuing myself.

I hear the thud of a horse's hooves and spy a glint of armor from the corner of my eye, but I'm no longer a child, captivated by a fairy tale and the fallacy of happily ever after. I look in the opposite direction instead, at Jim, a white knight, man-purse notwithstanding, to complement a frizzy, sweaty, chocolate-deprived heroine like me.

Jim reaches out, palm up, with a silent offer to take my hand. I draw a slow, meandering path down his lifeline with my pinky, but then roll my eyes at his tender look, and move my clammy hand back to my lap. Even in the arctic comfort of the taxi's air-con, I am way too sweaty to hold hands. And I am really sick of this gushy music.

As if reading my mind, our cab driver comes mercifully to my rescue and changes the station.