Singapore Adventure

Friday, April 14, 2006

So Nice
by venitha

After struggling through the jarring juxtaposition of Sun Liang's oil paintings, lovely and soothing from a distance but obscene and disturbing closer in, an intrepid sightseeing trio emerges on floor two of the Shanghai Art Museum to a stark white room of the strutting haute couture of Giorgio Armani.

"Wow," I say.

"Wow," Rohit repeats from his stroller.

Deepali's mouth is open, but she is speechless.

My jaw drops, too, as I enter room two, as black as room one was white and alive with brilliant glittering evening clothes. Rohit abandons his stroller in favor of mingling with the invisible models, and he gives up parroting me in favor of imitating many, many Singaporeans: "This is so nice."

This vapid and far-too-common-in-Singapore phrase, delivered with passionate urgency by a four-year-old, breaks Armani's spell, and I smile down at Rohit. "This is so nice," he repeats slowly, looking me straight in the eye: he really really means this meaningless sentiment.

Deepali catches up with the stroller, and I drop my backpack into its seat as Rohit eschews riding in favor of driving and careens off into the blackness and the unexplored environs of room three, surely also quite nice.


"He kept saying, 'This is so nice!'" I tell Deepali later, unable to mimic the Singaporean delivery with anything near Rohit's mastery. "Everything is 'nice' in Singapore. 'So nice.' 'Quite nice.' I keep wanting them to unpack their adjectives." While Schoolhouse Rock's lessons aren't emblazoned on Deepali's mind as they are on mine, she knows what I mean, and later at dinner, she takes away the black crayon and hands Rohit yellow and red adjectives. "No more 'nice'. Say it's tasty or it's spicy or..."

"Or it tastes like chicken or it's as comforting as warm soy milk on a cold and rainy Shanghai day," I say, giving him blue and orange similes.

"Or it's almost Episcopalian in its predictability." Jim, predictably unpredictable, scribbles wildly outside the lines. Amol and Deepali blink blankly, Dave Barry as foreign as Schoolhouse Rock. Rohit giggles.

I shake my head in admiration and catch myself before speaking aloud the appropriate response: Bat urine. If I give him this big fat glitter marker, Rohit will lose all interest in the crayons, and besides, Chinese beer isn't that bad.