“And it’s good to be here… ”
–Digable Planets, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
I found myself singing this song as I buttered my toast yesterday morning, standing in our kitchen with the Stockholm spring sunlight streaming in the windows. Yep, we’re home! And it’s good to be here, after our self-styled round-the-world tour.
Five months is a long time. And yet, as Matt and I were returning home to Stockholm last Friday, we both felt that we had not been gone long. Well, to be accurate: Matt said he felt like he hadn’t even left, but I felt a bit of a homecoming feeling.
Winter has become an alien experience, after all the heat and humidity of the southern hemisphere. Three months in Australia left us tanned and well-hydrated (one of our colleagues says that humidity is the best cure for wrinkles!), and now that we are here in Sweden, my brown skin and sunspots look odd, and my skin is drying out in the end-of-winter cold…
Our short stop in Singapore at the beginning of our trip home was an education in what humidity can truly be. No wonder that shopping is the main past-time there: the malls are all air-conditioned refuges, with consumer opportunities as a side benefit.
We were in Singapore for just over two days (see the slideshow at the end of this post for some photos). The first day, we managed to travel from mall to mall, starting at the Mustafa Center in Little India: acres of inexpensive clothes, kitchenware, electronics — you name it, they seemed to have it, in separately run kiosks that bleed into one another on the massive sales floors. We only managed to see a small corner or two (and to buy Matt a new suitcase after an hour of browsing the luggage shops) before tiring — and heading off to the next mall: the upscale I-ON on Orchard Street. We had dim sum at the elegant wood-paneled food court, and coffee at Starbucks, and ogled the expensive luxury stores (Izod et al.), before we got back on the subway and stepped outside again at the mall in Chinatown. Towering above the mouth of the metro, People’s Park is a collection of tiny hole-in-the-wall stands selling clothing and cloth in a cement building, and a food court in another — we did not explore the whole thing, and we missed the live frog stand, as well as tourists’ Chinatown, with quaint old architecture several blocks away.
The next afternoon we spent outside, lost in Singapore’s beautiful botanical garden, and we were exhausted and thirsty by the end of the afternoon — so we tried the legendary Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel. I can only say that we ate really well for about $3 at the Botanical Garden’s food court, and spent more than ten times as much for two drinks at the hotel … at least when we spent that much on drinks at the Ku Da Ta (coup d’etat), the giant three-towered hotel topped by a boat on the filled-in land at the edge of the downtown area, we got a great view at sunset that was worth the high price!
We left Singapore’s swelter for a short visit to Japan and cool spring temperatures for the last few days of our trip home — spring there was a reminder of what we’d missed while we were in the southern hemisphere. Gray skies, cold rain. I broke out my wool sweaters.
Our trip to Japan was also food- and shopping-centric, with some cultural tidbits interspersed: we had dim sum in Yokohama’s Chinatown, we visited the large outdoor Buddha in Kamakura, had udon noodles for lunch there, and then on to visit a shrine with a boddhisatva dedicated to miscarriages — something I studied decades ago in an undergraduate religion course, and it was fascinating to see in person. (Again, check the slideshow for photos, including cherry blossoms!)
Our hosts were extraordinary, and the entire trip was memorable (homemade tempura! packed Tokyo trains!). The high point, however, may have been our supper of sashimi at a local fishmonger’s-turned-restaurant that was out of this world. (Yes, I ate fatty tuna that is a rare and expensive commodity — not only because it melts in your mouth, but because the species are being overfished, though I could not regret it at the time: it was too amazingly delicious.)
I love these kinds of travel experiences: seeing how people live, what they eat, how they travel, what kind of service they expect… even seeing things that people rarely do, except for special occasions. We tried to pick up gifts and trinkets for ourselves and family and friends along the way, but tchotchkes cannot capture all of what we saw and did and understood better only after being present in these places — say, the history of Singapore in World War II and its present-day multiculturalism (and the same for Australia — did you know that Darwin was bombed to bits in 1942?); Japan’s industrial cities like Kawasaki and the graciousness of its people; all of it. I wonder what I will remember of these places in years to come.
And now we are finally home. Unpacking our boxes was like going shopping; oh my word, I cannot believe how many clothes I own, and how much stuff we have packed in our apartment. I am drowning in clean underwear and new shirts, after wearing the same clothes week after week, and thank goodness I found my jeans and wool socks almost immediately — it’s cold here! And it’s *so* nice to be here, in Stockholm’s spring sunshine…