I fell in love with Singapore when I was 22 years old. I first visited the special island in a planned 3 day layover on my way to Australia. I followed my big brother's advice, who visited the unique urban city-country several years before me. When they stamped my passport in the airport on my way out, I knew I would come back. I didn't realize I'd come back again and again, six times actually. As a bachelor, as a married plus one immigrant in Australia, and as a father of three on my way back home.
From the very first moment I loved the energy of Singapore. The place blends the eastern and western cultures so harmonically.
I found the people very friendly and the well spoken English contributes to the high level and depth of the communication, and of course to the orientation.
The diverse ethnic groups of Singapore, the Chinese, Malaysian, Indians, and others sparked my imagination and colored it.
As an Israeli traveler , I often feel unwelcome or to the least "enjoy" a cold shoulder. In Singapore my background served as an ultimate traveler's "coefficient", as I did indeed feel welcome; from a small-talk in a taxi drive to a deep conversation in a bar. Young and bold, Israel's military helped to build and train the young and determined Singapore army and intelligence forces. In these chats, I enjoyed the fruits my ancestors have picked for me.
In my repeated visits I returned to certain sites in which I felt "home": the marvelous botanical gardens, and famous zoo.
In later visits, with my growing confidence, my curiosity led me to more backdoor locations. The Curious George in me wanted to experience life from the locals' point of views. So I began warming up this off the beaten track muscle. In one visit, I ended up wandering between apartment buildings, looking at the kids playing and riding their bikes.
In others, I spiced my senses in Little India and witnessed how people carry their original homes like turtles, wherever they go (a year later I will do the same as an immigrant in Australia).
One of the most interesting sites, and which left a strong impression on me, was the Birdmen of Kebun Baru. The place hosts Singapore’s Kampong (“village” in the Malay language) Culture. It's a meeting point for locals who share the same passion and cultural habit: growing birds.
When I first arrived at the site, the environmentalist in me judged them for caging the poor birds. However as the minutes passed, and the meditative mode took over, I observed them with nonjudgmental eyes and started to see the clouded beauty. I witnessed the inner silence of the bird-men while opening the cages for the birds, or while hanging the cages symmetrically. Slowly I found myself merging with their rhythm and began documenting some moments.
I left the place after an hour or so.
My takeaway lesson was born in the meditation to follow: I have a tendency to judge and meditation often helps me to break and dissolve complex moments or experiences into unseen aerosols. These bird-men live in one of the most crowded cities in the world, and this ceremony helps them to maintain a relationship with nature. It helps them to practice a cultural spirit rooted in their past.
From this day on, I try not to judge a habit which at first glance seems wrong, as it may be tied to a cultural root which is different than mine.