Singapore, The City Of Design, Lights, Food, And Modern Architecture
The evening before we left Mumbai, the government of India, without any advance notice, canceled its two largest currency notes, the 1000 ($15) and the 500 rupee ($7.5) notes, in a surprise move to weaken the black market, which runs on undeclared, untaxed cash.
Luckily for us, we had only a few large notes that we had planned to spend at the airport, and with no knowledge of what had happened overnight, we tried to make a purchase at the airport.
The shopkeeper refused our money, and an Indian woman standing next to us told us that she had 40,000 Rupees in cash this morning, with nothing in mind to do with the money.
She had her taxi driver take her to a hospital on the way to the airport, and she used the money to pay the medical bills of two poor patients.
She told us that tourists are allowed to convert the notes to foreign Currencies, but only up to 5000 rupees.
We admired her generous and helpful spirit.
The new Indian regulations are harsh.
A person is allowed to change up to 4000 rupees ($60) in the bank to the new notes until late November.
The new notes cannot be withdrawn from an ATM, because the design of the new 2000 rupee bill, is too big.
ATM machines all over India need to be retrofitted to accommodate the new bills, a process that will take at least three weeks.
Currency notes can be deposited in the bank with no limit until December 31st, but there is a limit on withdrawals of no more than 20,000 rupees per week ($300).
Unable to spend the money, nor give it to a good charity since we were already past airport security, I made my way to the currency exchange booth.
The people ahead of me in the line asked to convert their rupees to British Pounds, Euros, US dollars, Australian Dollars, Canadian Dollars, but all were refused.
The exchange booth at the airport was already stripped of money, leaving them with only Dubai currency.
As a last resort, I asked if by any chance they had any NZ dollars, and to my amazement, they had some, not a lot, but enough for what I needed.
I quickly exchanged the now useless rupee notes.
This extreme measure by the Indian government is a desperate attempt to stop corruption and tax dodgers.
When we arrived in India over two months ago, we saw signs hanging everywhere, urging people to take advantage of a special amnesty period to declare unreported income, pay a flat 30 percent tax and make their money legal.
The campaign posters said: "We will not ask, and you do not have to tell how you got the money, just declare it, pay the thirty percent tax and make it legal."
I knew it would not work.
What criminal would trust the promise of the Indian government, and come forth and declare his wrongdoing in India?
They must figure that later they might face criminal charges or confiscation of all their assets.
So after the amnesty campaign did not work, the government took this most desperate act of basically canceling all of its large currency notes.
A few days later, I read in the newspapers that some farmers and rural people actually committed suicide, believing that all of their savings, which like most Indians they had kept in cash or gold, would now be completely void.
When we landed in Singapore, we bought a SIM card for our mobile phone and immediately checked the U.S. news.
I almost dropped the phone when I saw that Donald Trump had been elected president.
I was glad we were in Singapore, and not absorbing the polarizing and painful energies that are storming across the USA these days......perhaps like all politicians, he will back up from the terrible policies and promises that he made to his supporters, and will do less harm....
Singapore is a fabulous big city.
I feel as if I have returned home, although I am feeling less attached to a physical home of walls and roofs nowadays...
I love the vibe of this city, the scene, the cleanliness, the promise of a better future....
There is social harmony here, despite the wide diversity of cultures.
Singaporean culture is a fabulous mix of Indonesians, Malaysians, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Javanese, Indians and Europeans.
The place is sparkling clean, with beautiful design and futuristic architecture, and finally it's possible to drink the tap water!
If I ever were to feel attracted to live in a very big city again, it would be in Singapore.
Of course I am not alone in thinking that Singapore is a fabulous place with so much to offer.
Real estate in Singapore is very expensive, with houses in the better, leafy neighborhoods, topping twenty million dollars.
I love it that we do not need to stay in luxury hotels to get basic services, as in India. Our hotel is a small, twenty room place in the beautifully restored Chinatown area.
Unlike Chinatowns around the world, this one is spotlessly clean, with renovated houses and small boutique hotels.
There is a big temple with the Buddha's tooth in it, and a few bustling food streets filled with restaurants and hawkers' stalls that serve fresh, tasty food.
On the same street there is a beautiful Hindu temple and an old mosque.
In Singapore, the people and their religions mix well together and best of all, it is NOT a religious state.
The women dress in tiny short shorts, spaghetti strap dresses, and really short mini dresses and skirts.
Normally, I would feel that it is not very practical to dress in short shorts and tube tops in the city; after all, that is a way to dress when you go to the beach, but after India, I wanted to kiss these girls....
I wanted to say to them: "Rock on, sister!!! You go, girl!
I love the freedom to dress for the heat and the weather, and NOT to worry about what people might say or do.
I love it that so many attractive women walk in the streets scantily dressed, and nobody, absolutely nobody, stares or gawks at them.
I love our small and obscure hotel.
It is not pricey, and it's located on a street that has a lot of nightlife, which can be a bit noisy on Friday and Saturday nights, but I am happy not to stay in big luxury hotels any more.
The Club Hotel has no lobby and nothing luxurious about it, but the rooms are well designed and very modern, the bathroom is large and beautiful, there is hot water and good bedding and it is located in a beautiful historic building, away from the high-rise district.
This city is full of culture.
There are concerts, music and events around the clock.
This month alone, there is the Singapore Biennale, the Singapore Eco Film Festival, The French Film Festival and the German Film Fest.
There is great food everywhere.
And when I say great food, I truly mean it.
The food in most restaurants here is way beyond the taste level that you get in NYC, LA, San Francisco, or any other city in the USA.
There are great restaurants serving all kinds of great cuisine, small historic eateries, trendy cafes, and fresh and cheap street food sold in hawkers' stalls across the city.
There are so many street food stalls around the city, that they have created covered hawkers' food courts, with tables and chairs, toilets and many delicious choices....
At one such place near our hotel in Chinatown, we start each day with a plate of fresh fruit and a large smoothie made from Dragon Fruit, Mango, Pineapple and lemon.
We have walked everywhere, using the MRT (subway system) only after we've walked fifteen or twenty kilometers, or during very rainy parts of the day.
The city is innovative and modern, orderly and civilized.
I have seen no homeless people and no obvious drug abusers.
The overwhelming majority of people drinking in bars were Westerners.
For the most part, I noticed how at ease the Asian people were in their smooth skins.
The do not seem to struggle too much with life in a human form.
The body was never meant to be a burden.
It was designed as a sensory tool for pleasure and communication.
It was never meant to hamper our experience in the material world, nor be the main focus of our lives on earth.
So many Asians have realistic expectations of what life in a body is, and are happy with the joys of daily life, the blessings of good health, the fun and laughter you can have, a good book, a touching movie, the warmth of friendship, the taste of good food and nourishing drink, music, design, a lovely place to live that you can adapt to your taste.....
So many Asian people seem to be at ease in their bodies, and it clearly shows in their spotless skin and faces.
Without a doubt, most of them are lean, hard working and without self entitlement.
If you want to have something- you've got to work towards achieving it.
I felt inspired just observing the auras and energy fields of many people.
As an artist, the city is endlessly inspiring to me.
The modern architecture, the contemporary art, the design, the fashion and the beautiful gardens, inspire me to create so many art projects....
Since the last time we visited Singapore, the city has created a huge green space called "Gardens By The Bay."
It is a massive complex of three big gardens with ponds, green houses, bridges, walkways and beautiful sculptures.
Perhaps the most iconic part of the gardens is the massive and very tall "Supertree Flowers."
These flowers tower so high into the sky, that they are connected via a sky bridge.
At night, the tall flowers are lit with changing colored lights and patterns, resembling fireworks.
It is truly jaw-droppingly beautiful.
There are also two big greenhouses designed like futuristic igloos, filled with beautiful gardens.
The Singapore Botanical Gardens are a UNESCO world heritage site, and as you walk through them, you completely forget that you are in an urban area.
We spent a whole day walking in the botanical gardens, and learnt so much about the wisdom and beauty of the plant kingdom.
Nature is so magnificent, so endlessly beautiful and wise....
Take for example the dangerous Keluak, a very rare tree that is able to release cyanide when it is threatened or bruised.
A mixture made from this tree was used by the natives to temporarily stupefy fish when it was thrown into a river or a lake, making fishing a much easier task.
The Monkey Pot ("Sapucaia") Tree has pods that are as big as coconuts.
It is a massive and giant tree.
Inside these brown pods, there are very tasty black nuts similar in size and flavor to the Brazil nut.
Monkeys put their hands into the pods and often are unable to release their hands, unwilling to unclench their fists filled with those tasty nuts.
The orchids in the garden are breathtaking, so gentle and intricate with their bespoke beauty...
The orchid is by far my favorite flower; it has a regal appearance, and I always keep a fresh flowering orchid plant on my dining room table.
At the Eco Film Festival that took place in the newly built Art and Science museum, we saw three documentary films that are worth mentioning.
The Eco Film Festival focused on environmental issues that our planet, and all life on it, MUST face with creativity, wisdom and expanded, unified hearts.
We simply cannot keep on believing that we are separate from one another, or from the environment around us!
We MUST understand that the earth is a living, breathing organism and that our very existence in human bodies is totally dependent on the clean air, water and food that our earth can provide.
While so many Americans seem to be concerned about the effects of immigration, abortion, about getting tax breaks, about race and economic issues, they must realize that the environment is a MAJOR issue that can no longer be ignored.
If Donald Trump has his way and revives the coal industry in the USA as he promises and has pledged to do, we will go back to the dark times of the black lung era....
His actions will darken the world's sky.... only this time, LITERALLY, not metaphorically....
The short documentary movie, "Net Impact," focused on the problem of discarded old fishing nets.
A village in the Philippines started to create floor tiles made of those old nets, which can be used as convenient and rather attractive carpets in public areas.
They can be easily installed by placing them next to each other and removed or easily washed when needed.
The Interactive Art Installation Project, "Net Impact," was a collaboration between Artists and this local initiative, to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in coastal communities.
The second festival movie was a full length documentary called "Breathing Earth, Susumu Shingu's Dream."
A 79 year young Japanese artist, Susumu Shingu sculpts the winds and, along with his wife, dreams about creating a wind-powered community, for his lifelong dream of a Breathing Earth.
It was a sweet and touching film.
"Demain" (Tomorrow), is a French documentary film that identifies initiatives to solve environmental and social problems, that have proven themselves successful in ten different countries around the world.
It shows examples of solutions to the environmental and social challenges of the twenty-first century, in agriculture, energy, economy, education and governance.
I am happy to report that the theater was packed with people interested in this subject.
At the SAM (Singapore Art Museum), we saw the Singapore Biennale, full of amazing art installations.
One of the things that I loved most about this exhibition is that we actually saw art by Asian artists.
It bugged me a little that when we flew to Portugal and Spain, we saw an exhibition by a Brooklyn artist, dealing with decades-old issues in the USA, and nothing about what contemporary society in Spain or Portugal is dealing with.
There are fabulous artists everywhere, but modern and contemporary art museums seem to embrace what is tried and proven and is considered contemporary by other museum curators around the world, instead of really promoting the art in their own countries and encouraging artists to express their criticism and vision for their own cultures.
But here in Singapore, I was in heaven.
There was such wonderful art, and truly inspiring visions.
One installation was a room full of tens of thousands of sticks of fragrant incense, all tied together from ceiling to floor, like flowing curtains upon curtains.
The artist wrote that it is a reflection about our personal process of shedding the old and forming new layers of identity all the time, trying to be as pure as possible as our true core truly is.
The only worthy goal in life is to discover who you truly are, and let your own light, your own special fragrance, blend with billions of other people's fragrances, and that all of us together, create a beautiful, sweet aroma here on earth.
A few artists made visually stunning installations about European nutmeg barons, made rich by exporting nutmeg and mace all over the Western world.
One installation showed old wooden boats that used to be rowed by hundreds of slaves, with hollow baron's robes made from gold plated nutmeg seeds standing at the helms.
Another installation illustrated the true and unbelievable story that the Dutch government, in 1667, traded the island of Manhattan, NY to the British, in exchange for the obscure little island of Pulau Run (also called "Rhun"), which is one of the smallest of the Banda islands in Indonesia.
The Dutch believed that they got the better deal, because at that time the nutmeg and mace which grew on Rhun island was worth as much as gold.
There were installations about the effects of capitalism and colonialism, the history and the past of the natives, and our struggles in the personal search for our true identity and spiritual nature.
There were wonderful works by artists from Laos, Burma, Bangladesh, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and India.
We saw moving works about the conflict in Kashmir, works I wish were exhibited in India...
I will attempt to describe some of the good food that we ate in Singapore, but I will only be scratching the surface.
We tried the famous Singapore breakfast of Kaya toast with Kopi or Teh, a traditional Malay breakfast of coconut jam, called Kaya, spread on whole wheat toast with no crusts, served with coffee or milk tea.
It was a bit sweet but very good.
This breakfast is always served with runny eggs steamed in bamboo baskets, that are eaten with soy sauce and a spoon.
We had a delicate dish of steamed dim sum filled with red bean paste with chocolate in the center, in Din Tai Fung restaurant.
Normally dim sum is a salty dish, but this was surprisingly delicious.
We had delicious Ramen noodles in Kanshoku Ramen bar, cooked in a truffle broth that was served either with or without soup - it tasted heavenly either way.
Anyway.... this is just a short glimpse into what we did in the nine days we stayed in Singapore.
We did much more, walking through many neighborhoods, seeing more art in different venues and everywhere, enjoying delicious food.
One morning we woke up to the news of a major earthquake that shook New Zealand.
As I publish this post, we are leaving beautiful Singapore and flying back to New Zealand.
From now on, we will return to Singapore more often.
Every time we feel the need for a city-fix, to blend our consciousness and be inspired by others, or to enjoy good culture and great food, we will return to this great city to be inspired again...