In April 2006 we traveled to Singapore for the 50th anniversary of the Singapore American School where Heath and I both attended.
Since we had such an early flight Thursday morning, we spent the night at the Embassy Suites near the Atlanta airport. Heath discovered he forgot the power supply for his laptop and had to go back home to get it. That was nearly a two-hour drive round-trip. While he was gone, Katy and I went down to the lobby to look at the fountains and we bought a soda in the gift shop. When Heath got back, Katy was already in bed with the door closed. He said, “Oh, you got a soda.” Then we heard this squeaky little voice from the bedroom, “That’s my soda!” We thought she was asleep.
Got to the Atlanta airport and on to San Francisco with no problems. We transferred to Singapore Airlines. Katy thought the Singapore Girl who greeted us was Mulan! It was a 777 plane with the seatback entertainment and really nice. The only problem we had was Katy stayed awake for 21 hours. When I finally did convince her to go to sleep, she didn’t sleep well at all and kept crying. We really set ourselves up for that by letting her watch three movies. I really thought she’d get sleepy and drop off. That obviously didn’t work out. The flight attendants (although they still call them stewards and stewardesses) were all real nice and doted on Katy. She loved the Snoopy toys she got. When I was a kid, you got a deck of cards and magnetic chess-and-checkers sets.
We had a one-hour layover in Seoul. We got off the plane, went downstairs, went through security, went back upstairs, hung out for a few minutes and got back on the plane. I have no idea why they made us go through security. It’s not like we had a chance to get our hands on anything between going through security in San Francisco and getting off the plane.
The flight from there to Singapore was pretty uneventful. I told Katy we were going to do some fun stuff tomorrow, “but we can’t do anything fun tomorrow if you don’t sleep tonight” and that convinced her.
We lost Friday crossing the dateline. We landed around 2 a.m. and got through the airport pretty quickly. We went to the main entrance to catch a taxi and Heath let me know I was within a hundred yards of a curry puff. That was the #1 thing on my list to eat.
We got to the hotel at 4 a.m. We stayed at the Goodwood Park Hotel. While we were getting our luggage all sorted out in the room, room service knocked on the door. I was a little confused about that. They had sent up a big fruit tray and some Chinese tea. We didn’t get to drink the tea, since we didn’t need any caffeine, but the fruit was great. We were really hungry.
We slept a little late and then went to the restaurant for breakfast. Katy had her first food adventure. They had a limited selection of cereals, so Katy had Rice Krispies for the first time. They had all types of foods. Asians don’t have specific breakfast foods like we do, so there were fried rice and fried noodle dishes, dim sum and chicken porridge.
The hotel was really nice. We had a junior suite, which was a nice-sized bedroom and a small living area. Katy slept on a pull-out bed in the living area. She thought that was pretty neat. Our king-sized bed was two twin beds!
After breakfast it was off to Plaza Singapura to hunt down a cell phone (they’re called hand phones in Singapore). And I got my curry puff while we were there. It tasted so good!
We took a taxi out there and the MRT (train) back. Katy loved riding in taxis. She had her own unique way of calling them. She’d yell, “Taaaxiiii, taaaaxiii,” then say, “Do you think it heard me?”
Jetlag was hitting pretty hard and we were tired, so we went back to the hotel. The lobby restaurant had a continental tea in the afternoon and the main restaurant had a local afternoon tea. We did the local tea and it was pretty good. They had an ice kacang machine and made Katy a small one. She also tried some different types of noodles and really liked them.
By then we were ready for a nap.
For dinner, we joined friends of mine, Deedee (Collins) McDonald and her husband, John, Francesco Zargani and John Stubbe for dinner at Newton Hawker Center. That was a popular place to eat when we lived there. Although right now they are in a temporary location. I imagine the original location is being remodeled, like much of the rest of the city. I did find one thing annoying. If you want to walk around and get a preview of the stalls or find your friends who are late (!) you just get accosted by people wanting to eat at their stalls.
We ordered murtabak and I finally had the watermelon juice I wanted. The drink stall didn’t have any watermelon but I was so disappointed he wen to a fruit stall and bought some watermelon to juice. I believe my words were “I came all the way from the states and you don’t have any watermelon juice!”. Katy used chopsticks for the first time and did a pretty good job. The way the stalls work (for anyone reading this who doesn’t know) is there are dozens of stalls offering a variety of foods and drinks. Each table has a number, so you go around to the stalls, order your food and give them your table number. They deliver the food, then you pay for it. So Deedee went off and dish after dish appeared until finally there was no more room on the table. It was a fun evening.
And for all you Cavalier people reading this, we had a Cavalier sighting. Someone had a Blenheim on a leash that looked like it might have been a puppy, or was just a small dog. Very cute.
Katy had another adventure. She needed to use the restroom. I thought she was out of luck until I saw a small concrete building at the end. We walked over there and then walked back. I said, “We have finally arrived in Singapore. It costs 10 cents to use the bathroom.” It turned out there was no one to take our money, anyway. It was a “squatty potty“. Katy wasn’t really bothered by it.
Sunday morning we got up and joined Deedee and John for church. Steve Findley, who was the youth minister at International Baptist Church for my junior and senior years, is now the pastor of a church in Singapore called Community of Praise Baptist Church. They usually meet in a hotel, but that week were meeting at a local Bible college. Still suffering from jet lag, Deedee and I were a little worried when he mentioned the service goes for 90 minutes to two hours, but we had no problem staying awake. Steve has always been really interesting in his teachings. Katy went to the children’s class and really enjoyed herself. I thought it was funny when I asked her if she had a snack and she said, “Yes. I liked the ice cream but I didn’t like the biscuits.” I just imagined the teachers saying, “Some biscuits for you?” (For those who don’t know, a biscuit is a cookie. And Chinese cookies are not very sweet at all.)
On the way out of church, we decided to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Katy fell down the stairs, scratched up her leg and cried the whole way back to the hotel. We had planned to go swimming that afternoon, but she didn’t feel like it after that. She and I hung out at the hotel, while Heath went to get a cable to make his computer work since he had to do some work while were there.
Sunday night was the first reunion activity. There was a cocktail reception by the pool. There were lots of people there. I saw several of my former teachers: Senor Norman (fifth-grade Spanish), Mrs. Goyoaga (primary and middle school math), Mrs. Peterson (fifth and sixth grade social studies) and Miss O’Keefe, who told me it was safe to call her Mary. She taught high school French and I never had her for a class, but I worked on some extra-curricular things with her.
I also met Barbara and Becky Louden’s mom and had a nice long chat with her. She is still living in Singapore. I saw Beverley and Gwen Nicholson and their parents. Gwen is no longer the little girl I used to babysit! I also saw Joe Barker and his mom. Maggie, his sister, wasn’t able to attend as the first grandbaby is on the way!
We had lots of good food, as well. We had satay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satay) and naan with curry sauce that were both very good. On a food note: the sodas are much sweeter because they are made with real sugar, instead of corn syrup like they are in the states.
Monday morning we went on a “Memory Tour”. It was guided bus tour around Singapore and included past locations of SAS. We decided to sit in the back row, so we could all three sit together. I was in the middle and on the other side of me was Ms. Peterson and one of her friends, who turned out to be Ronette Field, my first grade PE teacher. I don’t even remember first grade, but she recognized my name.
We went to the Ulu Pandan campus. It’s been empty for three years, but it was opened up for us and we got to look all around. We saw the pool, soccer field, cafeteria, playground and football field. The sandpit was gone from the playground and it was all grass, but the kindergarten trike track was still there. We found the student store. We were gone so long, Heath thought he was going to have to come get us. If the stairwells hadn’t been closed off and we could have gone upstairs, we might not have come back! When we got back on the bus, the tour guide said she didn’t have the heart to tell us “only 10 minutes”. I found out later from Susan Studebaker, an alumnus who lives in Singapore and did a lot of the planning, that the property has been completely neglected for the past three years and had really grown into a jungle. Then, the Thursday before the reunion, all of a sudden, crews were out cleaning it up. The government owns the property (SAS only leased it) and she thinks Lee Kwan Yew, who knew it was on the tour, arranged to have it cleaned up for us.
We went to the location of the King’s Road campus. It’s been torn down and new houses built, but we still took a few minutes to look around. Heath was excited to show Katy the house he lived in on King’s Road. We also drove by Rochalie Road, where the original school was in 1956. That bungalow has long since been torn down.
We went all over the island and just really got the grand tour. We went up Mount Faber and visited the Danish Seamen’s Church (formerly the Bell Mansion). We went by Clifford Pier and when the tour guide mentioned it, Katy said, “Clifford is the big red dog!” Clifford Pier is being torn down, although the building will remain as a historical site, and there was a farewell ceremony for it while we were there.
Monday evening was the dinner-dance at the Orchid Country Club not too far from the new school. Matthew and the Mandarins played. Matthew Tan is the original “Singapore Cowboy” and is really good. We had an 8-course (or so) Chinese dinner. Some of the courses were shark’s fin soup (I always wanted to have that), some type of fish with the head still on it, fried duck and pineapple rice. It was a really fancy meal and I don’t think I’d ever eaten some of the things we had.
One neat thing they did was have all the people who had enrolled in 1956 stand up. There were probably about eight of them.
I saw Mrs. Menon (my fourth-grade reading teacher and the only teacher to ever give me an unsatisfactory on my report card – I earned it!) and Magdaline Lie, who was the head librarian at Ulu Pandan for probably as long as I was there.
In the morning was the formal commemoration ceremony. Prior to the ceremony, we went on a tour of the high school part of the campus. They had a timeline of the school up with some pictures and I noticed that Brian Lahan, who had taught English and then was a counselor (he was my counselor in 11th and 12th grades) was principal for a few years. I’m sure he made a great principal. The high school is newer than the rest of the campus. The government asked the school to expand to serve a larger number of students, so they added the high school and early childhood center for three and four year olds. Originally, the high school was just a bunch of classrooms attached to the middle school end of the building. The booster club has a booth selling school items, the PTA has a nice office and I think SACAC does, also, so everything is very convenient.
Before going to the commemoration ceremony, we had to go through security, portable metal detectors and all.
The highlight of the ceremony was a speech by Lee Kwan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore and now the Minister Mentor (they keep thinking up new titles for him). His grandson attends SAS. He explained that his grandson has dyslexia and had trouble in the local schools, but that SAS was really able to help him.
Lee pointed out that SAS started when a bunch of businessmen and their wives wanted a school for their children. They set up the school on their own. He said when Singaporeans move overseas and need schools (or anything else), they look back to the Singapore government to provide it. He said he wanted to get Singaporeans to be more independent in that matter. “But how?” he asked. He also mentioned that his wife reads the Singapore American newspaper regularly and was impressed with the community’s “Living in Singapore” book. The book was first published in the ’70s, my mom’s probably got the first edition. It has everything an expat would ever need to know about moving to and living in Singapore. He pointed that out as another community effort.
Following the ceremony was a reception in the gym. I saw Gina Toriyama and her mom. Actually, I had seen Gina on Sunday night, but she wanted me to meet her mom. When she was in kindergarten and I was in the eighth grade, I was a student aide in her class and she used to sit on my lap during show and tell. She didn’t remember me at all, but I was glad to see her and to meet her mom.
While wandering around the reception, I noticed some white orchids and a little pamphlet on each table. I’ve forgotten the name of the orchid, but it’s “something Rochalie.” It’s a new hybrid commissioned especially for the school. The orchid is the official flower of Singapore and to have your own hybrid is a really special thing. We’re supposed to get more information about it later.
That afternoon, we went to Holland Village, which was high on my list of things to do. As we were walking around and looking at the stores, we went by the tailor shop where you can have school uniforms made. The seamstress recognized me. She and her mom, who started the store, made my uniforms for years. Lots of the same stores were there. We bought souvenirs at Lims Arts and Living, which has expanded and taken over the Chinese Emporium space and third shop across the hall. The clothing store was still there and it’s expanded. Robinson’s Shoes and the eyeglasses store where I used to get my replacement glasses were both there. I was disappointed that Global, where I bought all my school supplies, was closed. I wanted to show Katy all the pencil cases. The second-hand bookstore where we bought and sold many used books that had been at the very end of the bottom floor moved upstairs into a much larger store.
We went into Cold Storage to hunt down some chocolate rice. I remember thinking Cold Storage was so big. It seems so small now and the baskets were tiny! We walked down the “old section” which is almost all restaurants now. The original Burger King is still there and so is Joo Ann Foh photo, where we got all of our film developed. When my parents were in Singapore 10 years earlier, the owner recognized my mom.
For dinner that night, we went to a prata house. They are very popular now. The food was good, but we were really too tired to really enjoy it.
In the morning we went to a program called “SAS Revisited”. We looked at a PowerPoint presentation of the history of the school and talked about different things. We heard about one superintendent from way back who thought teachers shouldn’t stay more than two years and one more recent who wanted to cancel Thanksgiving holidays. When I first started, we had no Thanksgiving holiday, but once it was there, you could hardly take it away!
We also found out (although I think I already knew) that the school was going to be called the American School of Singapore, but the initials didn’t work out too well!
Kathy Tan was one of the panelists. She was one of the earliest students and then returned as a teacher. She taught my brother and may well have taught me, as well! She talked a lot about the IGE (individually guided learning) program at Ulu Pandan. The thought was that since students had come from all over the place, they should have a program designed especially for them. That’s a good thought. Then they decided to expand it and let the students do what they wanted when they wanted. That was a bad thought! Mrs. Tan said the teachers looked around one day and there were no students in the classrooms, but the cafeteria was filled with students. She said parents were pulling their kids out of the school left and right and sending them elsewhere. She mentioned that each learning community had four grades of children at a time. I only ever remembered there being two grades per community. But I do remember when I started in third grade in Saturn, everything was real chaotic (a common complaint) and I never knew what was going on. Then I moved to Neptune and things were much more orderly. Lots of changes were being made at the time.
Also we learned that the building plans for Ulu Pandan were lifted directly from a school in Connecticut. The school was designed to expand and contract as the weather changed. Well, since the weather doesn’t change that much in Singapore all that happened was the water never ran off properly and that’s why there was always moss on the outside of the building. It probably also explains why the carpets and bulletin boards were always vaguely damp.
The session ran long, so I went to hunt down Katy where I was supposed to pick her up from being babysat. I missed something interesting. Heath said they discussed Michael Fay (of the vandalism and caning incident). It couldn’t be made public because it was private student information, but three days before his arrest, the school board voted to expel him. He had been in so much trouble up to that point, they wanted him gone before something really big happened. Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to act on it before the “something big” happened. They also discussed the drug busts of the ’70s. The newspaper reported that 200 students were arrested, or at least accused, but considering that was half the school, the number was probably exaggerated. But many students were arrested just shortly after SACAC received acknowledgment for their anti-drug work. Also, the ice cream man who sold ice cream to the students was hanged for trafficking drugs. Apparently he was selling more than Cornetto’s and Lion Sticks. Heath said it wasn’t the ice cream man he remembered.
After the program, we went to the cafeteria for lunch. Mr. Ho always has chicken curry on Wednesday, so we ate that. Katy ate a grilled cheese, which was something else I ate a lot of at school! One of the cafeteria ladies recognized me. They have an expanded menu, but they still have all the old favorites. However, the school is now so large so that everything is under heat lamp rather than being made just before or when you ordered it.
Heath stayed for a “Business in Singapore” presentation and then had to go to work for the afternoon. Katy and I ran around by ourselves. Before leaving campus we spent 45 minutes wandering around trying to find the intermediate school library. I wanted to look at their collection of memory books from Ulu Pandan. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the ones I was looking for. The librarian, Elizabeth Ng, had been the librarian at Ulu Pandan and she recognized me right off. The school is huge and I thought we were going to get lost and never be found. No one gave very good directions and there are no maps. The newer part of the school is pretty nice, but the older part really isn’t. Since they have classrooms on both sides of the hall, the hallways are really narrow and dark. You don’t get the open-air feeling that you did at Ulu Pandan and Kings Road. On the other hand, they probably don’t get wet going to class!
When we finally left, we shared a taxi into town with Ms. Peterson and a friend of hers. Ms. Peterson mentioned that Mrs. Goyoaga’s husband used to be a Franciscan priest and speaks 10 languages. I thought that was so interesting!
Katy and I went to International Baptist Church, the church I grew up in and visited with Esther, the secretary, and got a tour of the new building. Since they can’t build up (even though there are high-rise flats all around the area), they went down by building a two-level underground carpark. That left much more surface space for the building. After that we got a taxi and went and visited the house we lived in when I was in high school. I gave the driver directions following the route I used to walk home from school. He was pretty impressed that I remembered the way after 20 years! The house is for sale and the owner (who we rented from) was there as she had just shown it. She let us come in and take pictures. Right after we moved out, they remodeled. They knocked out the side wall and expanded the downstairs, making a huge kitchen and turning our old kitchen into a pantry. Upstairs, she took out the balconies to expand all the bedrooms, added an office to the master bedroom and a loft above the hall bathroom. It all looked very nice. I looked through the real estate ads in the paper to see if I could find the listing. None of the listings had house numbers, only street names, but I think I found it and the house is going for S$4.5 million (about US$2.8million). Everyone said houses were expensive but I had no idea they were that much!
I took Katy back to the hotel and she had ice cream by the pool and then went swimming. She really got spoiled with that snack by the pool deal!
When Heath got back from work, we went to Lau Pa Sat by Raffle’s Quay for dinner. On the way out of the hotel we ran into Anita Norstrom who was on my cheerleading squad when we were in middle school. Her mom was our coach. I had no idea she was coming, so that was a big surprise. Then we were off to dinner. We had satay and when I ate the last piece Katy started crying. “You ate the last piece.” I told her we could order some more and she cried more and said, “I’m not hungry”. She was really tired. I got an ice kacang for dessert and her eyes got really big when she saw it. She quit crying long enough to eat some. We also had chicken rice that was very yummy.
There were no school activities in the morning, so we decided to play tourist and visit Chinatown and Little India. While at Chinatown, we ran into Susan Findley, Steve’s wife. I was glad to see her as I didn’t get a chance to see her at church on Sunday. After visiting Little India, we planned to go back to the hotel for lunch. However, we walked through the hawker center and Heath walked straight into a stall selling fried bananas. So he got a fried banana, I had another curry puff and Katy ate a chocolate donut! We decided to have snacks for lunch, so I had a spring roll as well (my only one – yummy!) and Heath had a curry puff and a samosa. Not a well-balanced meal, but our favorite snacks.
In the evening was the Memory Garden dedication and the big community-wide celebration of the school’s anniversary. The Memory Garden has plants and a memorial wall in honor of students who died either while enrolled or within four years of leaving and teachers and staff with 10 or more years of service. Plants were planted in memory of two of my classmates, Matt Weber and Scott Seator. Matt was killed in a car accident in San Antonio the summer after graduation. I had no idea about Scott. That was a shock.
The parade and barbecue were held at the football field/track. The school set up its own hawker center with booths by Mr. Ho (school cafeteria), the American Club, a pizza place, some restaurants selling local foods and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Ben and Jerry’s was everywhere in Singapore. I had one of Mr. Ho’s sugar donuts for dessert. At Ulu Pandan, in primary school, every Wednesday we had his sugar donuts for our morning snack. They aren’t a Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme, but the memories made them taste wonderful!
Following dinner was a parade of alumni and students. We marched in groups of 10 years, starting with 1956. My group was probably the noisiest! After the parade, current students, one from each grade, spoke a little bit about being a student at the school. Then the time capsule buried in 1981 was opened. The person who had been the senior class president in 1981 and helped to bury it was on hand to open it. That was really neat. Then we had a big fireworks display. I’m sure the people in the flats that border the school just loved that!
The reunion was over and most people left. The hotel had a whole different feel to it. After breakfast, we went to the Singapore Zoo. There really aren’t words for how nice the zoo is. One guidebook said it looked like the kind of place where animals go to take a vacation. It’s very lush and tropical. It uses what is called a wet/dry moat system so most of animals are separated by natural barriers, not cages. Although the big cats, except for the white tigers, were behind glass. The orang utans had an open play area. A guest at the zoo wondered what kept them just for wandering off. A good deal of them were born there and the others have lived most of their lives there. It’s home and they really aren’t going anyplace. Ah Meng still lives there. I was a little disappointed that they weren’t doing pictures with Ah Meng. I had my picture taken with her when I was little and wanted the same for Katy. We saw the polar bears, one of which was born there and is the only polar bear born in Asia. Katy really liked the kangaroos.
It sprinkled off and on all morning and by the time we left, it was pouring down rain. Luckily, though, people were still arriving, so there were plenty of taxis.
We were so wet and tired, we went back to the hotel for room service. After we got rested and cleaned up, we went back to Holland Village, so I could buy a few more things. I really liked being at Holland Village. It was just like being back at home!
That evening, we went back to Newton for dinner. Katy found her appetite and ate seven pieces of satay. That is a lot of meat! I had char siew pork that was one of my favorite dishes. We also had mango from the fruit stall. It was so flavorful and juicy and had no strings at all. I’ll never be happy with Mexican mango again.
Our flight wasn’t until late afternoon, so we were in no hurry to leave. After breakfast, I wanted to walk down to Metro department store. They used to have a lot of variety of items, but now it’s all upscale clothes and make-up, so I didn’t find anything. Although they do have an expanded children’s department. I enjoyed the walk down Orchard Road, though.
We checked out of the hotel and got to Changi airport with plenty of time to spare. We walked through a souvenir shop and bought Katy a fan and through a couple of candy shops. They had a big display of M-n-M items but everything was so big it wasn’t practical to carry on the plane. We stopped in the food court for a drink and I had my farewell glass of watermelon juice. It wasn’t that great, I think they just put watermelon in a blender. The way the airport is laid out, security is at the gate, so we didn’t go through security until the last minute. We had to show our passports to the screener, walk 20 feet and show our passport again, then show our boarding pass at the other end of the gate, then again on the plane. It started to get old!
The flight back was much smoother. Katy slept and high winds from Taipei to LA meant we had a bumpy flight, but it was much faster. We bought Katy a Singapore Girl doll from the inflight shop. She really enjoyed playing with it. During a quiet time on the flight from Taipei to LA, I took Katy into the gallery to have her picture taken with one of the flight attendants, and her doll. The inflight shop also sells “kebeyas” — the uniforms worn by the Singapore Girls — in child sizes. The attendant Katy had her picture taken with was telling me a little girl came on board wearing one and she was ready to be put to work. They kept telling her there was nothing she could do, everything was too heavy for her. She kept pestering them and finally they gave her a tray and told her she could collect the empty cups after beverage service. So she walked down the aisle telling people, “hurry and finish your drink!” So everyone was downing their drinks in a hurry so she could collect the glasses.
We arrived in LA about 7:30 and spent the night. Katy had a fit at the airport because she wanted to take a taxi. I think that was her favorite part of the vacation. Sunday we flew back to Atlanta and were home by about 9:30. I, for one, was glad to sleep in my own bed!
Notes on trip:
Singapore is on at least its third currency design since I left in ’87. The new notes are really neat, they are made from plastic. The penny was phased out and the dollar coin added. For paper money, the $1 and $20 were dropped and the $2 bill added. It works pretty well, although I think it would have been more practical to keep the 20 and lose the 50 since you end up with a pocket full of 50s that taxis can’t take.
The MRT system is very nice. I rode it in 1988 when it was just one short line. It covers the central part of the island well now. They are building a line out toward Holland Road area. We had to stand in the street to catch a taxi on Farrer Road because the sidewalk is all torn up for construction.
Asians really dote on kids. Everywhere we went people wanted to hold, touch and feed Katy. At the school, a secretary gave her some cookies and chocolate spread, then when I picked her up after our program, she was in the counseling office charming all the secretaries and eating licorice. When we visited the church, Esther took Katy right down to the kitchen to find a snack.
Jim Baker, SAS alum and teacher, has written a coffee-table book about the history of the school. I submitted some information and have two quotes in it. I was flipping through it last night and read the section on alumni. The man who started the Jamaican Bobsled team is a 1965 graduate of SAS. I had no idea. He was a graduation speaker one year.
I had a few disappointments while I was there. Rambutans were out of season, I couldn’t find any toy Chinese dishes for Katy. Also, I missed seeing Coach Bava. He was scheduled for the history panel on Wednesday but couldn’t make it. To make matters worse, I found out he was at the dinner on Monday and I didn’t see him there. But all in all, it was a good trip!