January 31, 2013
In Christchurch our gigantic pile of luggage is checked in without a hitch, leaving just enough time for a last flat white and some scones with salty butter. An older New Zealand farmer accompanying his young Asian wife to the airport, determined to share his stories about sheep raising and marriage to a Singaporean beauty, joins us at the table. The similarity between this couple and our hostel parents Brian and Therese from the Youth Hostel at Opoutere – Day 117, is quite astonishing.
New Zealand’s first generations of male immigrants had little alternative to advertising in British papers for ‘mail order brides’. Now, although the country currently suffers from a ‘man drought’ – there are 50,000 more females than males in the 25-49 age group – the men still have to advertise for mail order brides in the tradition of their ancestors because Kiwi women, who are better educated than their male counterparts, no longer want to ‘marry down’. They prefer to live and raise their children alone, leaving the men to browse the internet in search of partners. Financially stable Kiwi men, known to treat their wives with respect, are looked upon as a good catch by women unburdened by the idea of a love marriage and stemming mainly from Thailand, the Philippines, and Ukraine. Building a solid future with an older man interested in a serious partnership is vastly preferable to staying in abusive relationships with lazy men of their own generation and nationality. Many Asian women bravely start new lives in New Zealand, loyally sharing their prosperity with extended family members at home. Goodbye New Zealand!
The eleven-and-a-half hour flight to Singapore is surprisingly pleasant. The inconvenience of being cramped into small seats is more than compensated for by the solicitous care the doll-like Asian beauties, floating gracefully through the isles in traditional style clothing, bestow on their passengers. The contrast between the flight attendants on Singapore Airlines and their Western flight counterparts, who have few qualms about letting passengers feel resentments which seeps into all of their gestures and rude manners – the way they reproachfully slap down the plastic food trays is just one example – is an eye-opening, pleasant experience. Fascinated by Asian hospitality, we observe the Singapore flight attendants deferentially placing foil-covered plastic trays of food warmed in the microwave oven, bowing gracefully and making each passenger feel like a guest of honor.
The ‘Singapore Girl’ – originally chosen exclusively amongst Singaporeans and Malaysians, now includes a wider range of Asian beauties from China, India, Japan, Korea and Taiwan – is trained to treat passengers with respectful deference and seductive servility. We lean back in our seats, reveling in our first experience of Asian service from flight attendants attired in colorfully patterned uniforms that clearly signify rank:
– Blue – Flight Stewardess
– Green – Leading Stewardess
– Red – Chief Stewardess
– Burgundy – In-Flight Supervisor, while looking down over the endless expanse of the Australian desert; riffled sand in subtle shades of reds, purples, tans, browns, bare of vegetation, interspersed by a fascinating network of waterways, majestically spreading from horizon to horizon.
The plane, as it descends towards the runway in Singapore, crosses the second largest port in the world, (after Shanghai) a harbor teeming with container ships that look scarcely larger than children’s toys, and following a logistical pattern that, while incomprehensible to the observer from the air, is not without its aesthetic appeal.The plane, as it descends towards the runway in Singapore, crosses the second largest port in the world, (after Shanghai) a harbor teeming with container ships that look scarcely larger than children’s toys, and following a logistical pattern that, while incomprehensible to the observer from the air, is not without its aesthetic appeal.
Shocked by the proposed cost for left luggage at the airport, and too exhausted to haggle with the employee, we quickly check our bikes and a huge bag in for two days, resolving to settle the issue once we’ve had more sleep. At the information desk we learn that our hotel which is located in the middle of Chinatown is not being serviced by the airport shuttle because of the Chinese New Year’s celebration. We grab a taxi instead, and are soon speeding past stunningly modern buildings on a smooth clean highway, separated from the other traffic lane by well-cared-for flowered beds and exotic green trees. In the city center, where the traffic comes to a standstill and pedestrians progress quicker than the vehicles stuck at traffic lights that repeatedly change color without inching forward, we exit the taxi. The air is thick and humid, the sidewalks crowded, the buildings high and oversized, all causing us to feel lonely and disoriented and homesick for the wild empty landscape and crisp cool climate of New Zealand.
The Scarlet, I read in a pamphlet at the check-in desk, has a sensual atmosphere created by its sultry use of scarlet and black. Oh la la, where are we now?
A friendly Vietnamese clerk efficiently checks us in, and leads us at a quick trot through a labyrinth-like maze of slanting hallways that curve up and down hill, following the landscape on which the hotel is built, to a room so small that to access the bathroom, crammed into a closet-sized space, we have to turn sideways to squeeze past the bed.
Although the bedcover and wall-to-wall crept are scarlet, and an opulent pile of black and scarlet cushions decorate the bed, the atmosphere is not one of sensual sultriness but rather of claustrophobic airlessness. The floor-length scarlet drapes cover a blank wall devoid of windows. Christof arranges for a room change. At 2:00 a.m. New Zealand time, we finally fall into bed shaky from exhaustion, with a view of a parking garage in a high rise building across the street.