Last month, my old Piscataway neighbor passed away. Jane Raven Orttung was the daughter of Henry Raven, a well known explorer. Their lives were in part depicted in the fictional account, Jennie, by Robert Preston, which was reviewed New York Times some years ago. Dr. Orttung herself was a researcher at the Alexander Library of Rutgers University, and was one of the few people who could legally travel to Cuba for research purposes. She was a lovely neighbor, and her extraordinary children were good friends during my childhood. For over twenty years she had a wonderful partner, who is a great man. I wish them all peace in this difficult time.
This week I find myself in one of the chief Asian powerhouses: Singapore. I visited this tiny but hugely influential country fifteen years ago, just after having read another Letter From Singapore in the New Yorker magazine. Back then, the community seemed smaller and the businesses were lots more cozier. Today, the community seems larger, and businesses are still pretty cozy.
Singapore is a nation state of paradoxes. Its small size would not lead one to believe that it is one of the chief trading centers in the region, with container ships constantly waiting to unload. That, by the way, really does seem to be one of the lone constants between now and 1993. The hotel I stayed in then, the Pan Pacific, was one of the taller buildings. Today it is in the shadow of many others.
The city itself is difficult to evaluate this week because of an extraordinary event. They are hosting their first Grand Prix on the weekend, which will be held on the streets at night. It’s a first for Formula 1 and somewhat controversial. What is not in dispute is that when F1 comes to town to do a street race, everything gets turned upside down. Tonight, returning from dinner, with many street closures in order to form the racing circuit, my taxi took me through the connected substructure of many buildings to get me back to the Mandarin Oriental. We needed a residence pass just to do that.
The hotel prices on Thursday night will increase from a seasonal norm of $300SGD to $1800SGD. This means I will be out of here on Thursday.
Singapore sports a cross of many cultures, including Chinese, Malaysian, Bengal Indian, Japanese, British, and yes, some Americans. This intersection leads to a wealth of cuisine entertainment and education options. There is a disparity amongst some of the groups, and to be sure, not everyone here is wealthy, but for a tourist it represents an interesting stop in the middle of the Pacific rim, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, not far off at all, and Australia, an almost reasonable distance.
The people here are extremely gracious and the service has been nothing short of remarkable. More on Singapore in a future note.
On this happy occasion, let us take a few minutes to discuss some of the benefits of living in Switzerland. To start with, people are polite to a fault. Our family has been treated with the utmost respect the entire time we have been here. In our town, people greet each other in passing with Greuzi, and they say good-bye when they part.
While the trains run with well known precision, what is not so known is that you can get virtually anywhere in Switzerland through the extensive network of not only trains but also buses. The trains are also kept clean not only by the SBB, but also by the passengers themselves. One need look only so far as the neighboring countries to understand that it is hard to keep the transit system clean, and easy to create a mess. The Swiss have worked hard. Most of what we need is close at hand. That includes two supermarkets, three bakeries, day care, two post offices, several banks, a pool.
Joanna enjoys swimming, and for a very reasonable amount she can do so nearly every day of the year. How reasonable? What we pay in a year here wouldn’t cover the cost of the service in California for a month. But don’t get the impression that Switzerland is a socialist state, for it is perhaps the least socialist state in Europe. We do not have a social healthcare system, but we do pay a very reasonable fee per month for insurance. When we want to see a doctor, we see one. Not a nurse, but a doctor.
While I have come to realize that there is no perfect place, Switzerland is even attempting to do away with some of the things I would think of as flaws. Smoking here has dropped dramatically, even in the time we’ve lived here.
So here’s to you, Switzerland! Maybe next year I’ll recite this auf Deutsch!