Singapore. I was here a few years back. Never imagined it would be home one day! I am still to come to terms with the move but I know that it will happen eventually.
Our trip to evaluate schools for Akank, for which we had confirmed appointments, started like an adventure. Ramesh found out one evening before our travel that the visa stamped on his passport was invalid! Some last minute miracle made sure that we traveled as planned. Akank had already announced to the school that she was going away and she could not believe her ears when we told her that there could be a change in plan!
Thankfully, nothing changed. We reached Singapore as planned and at a early unearthly hour ( by Indian Standard time). Our flight took 3hours and 30 minutes and we left at 11.15 in the night .. By the time we settled down it was 12 midnight. Then at exactly half past 12 they began serving the drinks and by 1 the supper. Despite all the commotion and the heady mixture of alcohol and food smells in the cabin, Ramesh and Akank slept! I sat jammed in between them in economy class, wondering where to keep my extra long leg (they always feel that way in cramped spaces) . One leg I kept folded so that Akank could use it as a raised platform to lay down and the other was hurting under the load. I didn’t have the heart to wake Ramesh to ask him for a suggestion. I would have had I not heard him snore but then he was snoring, despite the whiny ( try listening to them when you are trying hard to shut the voices out) Singaporean in flight hostesses who kept politely offering the half asleep passengers “some wine beer or soft drink for you sir?”
When I sat fidgeting how to create calm in me, the idea of a blog entry about the night began framing in my mind. The harder I tried to shut the noises out , the clearer I was hearing them. My sub conscious mind kept recording the sights, smells and sounds of the night. When during my struggle to sleep and my fight to stay awake, I finally dozed off, no one can tell- cause everyone else around me had burped after the “midair supper’ and gone off to sleep. The airhostess constantly kept using the in flight PA system to warn us not to move when the plane was in air pockets. I also remember wondering why would anyone want to move after that delicious supper. It smelt that way even though I don’t really believe it was. I missed it anyway owing to my sleep or the lack of it.
So the day dawned early. We were picked up by John with whom we were to stay the next three days. When we got home, all scope of sleep was lost. First of all it was rude to tell your hosts that you badly needed to catch up on missed sleep and secondly, we had an important school meeting at 10. John dropped us off at OFS, to meet the Admissions officer , much before our scheduled time of arrival. We were met by the incredibly helpful Mrs. Elsie who talked to us about the school and took us on a tour of the school. We were suitably impressed and more so when she told us that the school will accept Akank as a student next year!
Another day that began at 9 in the morning and ended at 9 in the evening. We timed our drive to NPS well. We had a ten o clock appointment with the admissions officer at the school. It was a twenty minute drive from Lavender (where our hosts have a home). The friendly cabbie, Tanya some-surname-I –can’t-recall, who drove us back home last evening had helpfully suggested that we leave only after 9.30 in the morning to avoid the ERP. Tanya would have been happy that we did leave at 9.30 even though it wasn’t the ERP that delayed us but more like WUL (woke up late).
The cabbie we hired this morning was another localite who had not heard of the Indian school. NPS is only over a year old here, so I give him the benefit of the doubt and am not assuming he didnt know of the school because it was "Indian" . Why would a local Singaporean be racist?. But when we mentioned the address ( Chai Chee something), he was sure he knew where it was. Just to make sure we had the correct understanding of the place, I called the school, despite the cabbie’s constant assurances that he knew where the place was. At one point during my telephonic conversation with an uppity Indian front office help at NPS, I said aloud the name of the lane on which the school was located and the cabbie, Ramesh and the uppity- lady on the phone together said “Chai Chee Lane- Chai Chee Avenue – Chai Chee Road ” and I gave up. Finally, the cabbie took us right in front of the school and gave us the “ I- told-you-so” look.
Despite the delayed start we reached the school campus ten to ten and had time to mull over what we needed to find out from the admissions department at the school. Akank got restless after ten minutes of the noiseless calm in the lobby. To break the monotony of the no-sound-discomfort, the two of us shared a laugh which was not appreciated by Ramesh and he glared us with eyes that spelled out Q.U.I.E.T. When the lady finally met us, it was ten past ten and she blamed it conveniently on the tremors. The earthquake at Sumatra has left Singapore shaking intermittently. She was constantly interrupted with phone calls from the concerned parents and the wise government official who clearly knew that the children were safer at the ground level school campus than the high rise apartments that they called home.
It turns out that NPS evaluates children for their logical reasoning, math and English skills before confirming the admission of the child into the school. We fixed a time that we could have that done at Bangalore at their head office and after a quick tour of the campus, left with a friend who lives on the East Coast. We drove with him towards his condo to meet with his family and also to get an idea as to how condo’s on the East Coast compared to the other Condo’s that we had seen on the first day in another part of Singapore. After a hot pizza that their Filipino maid dished out, we were well on our way to the afternoon half of the adventurous day that we spent condo hunting. More like condo evaluating before the hunt begins in March next year. Priming before the kill so to speak.
We viewed a few incredible and some not so incredible condo’s till about five in the evening and got home to freshen up before we left for Sentosa Island for an evening show called “ Songs of the Sea” What a finish to another unbelievably busy day…..
Tomorrow we meet another school. Ramesh ahs an official lunch meet with his “new ”team. That leaves Akank and me to spend time with Corinne our hostess. She has promised to take us to a few places in the local MRT.
We had a meeting with the third and biggest (in terms of size of campus and name and goodwill in the International Schools list) schools in Singapore at ten in the morning. We had been looking forward to this meeting particularly from the beginning of our visit. Akank’s name was already registered in their famous wait list. I was quite proud of the fact that we acted quickly for a session that would start almost a year from now and was certain we made it to the queue before everyone else did. But when we were told that she was wait listed 123 in a list of students for Grade 6 in the year 2010, our soaring spirits came crashing down. We found out yesterday that the first application for grade 6 for the session starting August 2010, was submitted in Early 2006! Anyway we still went ahead with the meeting that lasted an hour. We were told in very certain terms that we could stop hoping for a miracle for an entry into Grade 6 in year 2010 and maybe try again the next academic year for the next grade. Their system allowed automatic transfer of the names of students who did not make it to the current grade to the following years wait list. That still did not guarantee a seat. One can only sit and hope. And only after you have registered to be on the wait list with a fee, a commitment that you are serious about the school. And the fee , a non refundable deposit that does not guarantee you a seat, could be a reason why many people will not even look at the school.
We were however very impressed with the campus and commendable facilities on campus, the profile of the teaching staff and the alumni. The children wore colorful clothes that day, it being a ‘mufti day’. To Akanks eyes it could have looked like a page out of the HSM stories that she often spends time reading.
After school, Akank and I got back 'home' to the Springates residence while GSR went to lunch with his new colleagues. So that left us to fend for ourselves for lurnch. And we did. Corinne treated us to a sumptuous Indian lunch of Rotis, naans and paneer makhni at a restaurant at "Little India". Like the name suggests this is a part of Singapore where Indians have businesses to run. So the Singapore government lets Indians be …Indians. That tells you how clean, organized. quiet and Indian the place is. You have to experience Little India. Words won't do any justice to the place. You have to live in it, breathe in it and walk in it.
We got back from lunch and a short shopping stop we made at Mustafa – another name to experience and not merely talk – and got home early to pack and be ready to leave. We were at the airport at half past six and had two hours before our flight to Chennai took off. We had offered to carry some luggage back to India for an old friend of mine from school, so we waited for her to come by to drop off her bags. Along she came with her bags and gifts for us an hour later. When we had said our goodbyes we left Singapore on time. We dined and wined ( I had a Singapore Sling! – a mixed concoction of dry gin,Dom Benedictine, cointreau and cherry brandy shaken up with lime and pineapple juice and a dash of Angostura bitters and Grenadine) and watched Denzel Washington and John Travolta in "Taking of Pelham 123". Dont know if it was the Sling but Denzel looked rather cute.
By the time we got home it was past 11 in the evening and all we had time was to say our prayers that we got back home after a successful trip and catch up on some precious sleep!