Fort Canning Park

There are a few places in Singapore that feel airless. They are hot and humid and feel a bit like you’re being sucked right into the earth. Fort Canning Park, although beautiful, is one of these places and despite its central location I’ve spent hardly any time there. One stroll on the way home from the National Museum many years ago and a memorable evening of Shakespeare in the Park have largely been it. There are other parks with far more air to visit.

However, it was because of Fort Canning’s convenient location that a few friends and I decided to meet early in the morning to take photos. Despite the heat, and it really was very uncomfortably hot even just after dawn, we spent a very lovely morning exploring.

My friends (who know such things) assured me that this is a famous Instagram spot . . .

. . . but there was beauty to capture everywhere.

It’s impossible to live in Singapore and not cross the street directly in front of Fort Canning Park but I didn’t know that old colonial history lived right behind the fence on the other side of a grove of trees. Now I know a little bit more about the city I’ve lived in for almost five years.

There’s also something majestic about the juxtaposition of nature that has watched over us for so long and the colonial legacy that Singapore both honours and works to overcome.

My favourite part of our walk was Sang Nila Utama Garden – it felt like we’d turned a corner and ended up in Bali.

And there’s so much more to see! First thing in the morning was definitely the time to be there in terms of light and temperature, but also because of the feeling of calm that settled over me having started the day in such a tranquil place.

It’s great to travel but it’s good to explore your own backyard, too.

Home Is

Home is people, not places. Home is joy and laughter and learning and love. In our homes we hold and care for one another, explore the world hand in hand, lift each other up. We can cry together because it means we can grow. We want to understand those around us and we work together to do whatever it is, whatever it takes.

When we’ve made a home, things matter. We, the human beings, matter. You, me, them, all of us, a family.

Home is an idea more than a physical environment. Home is together in security and in friendship. Friends are not born, they are made, and in homes we make choices. We can walk side by side, we can chase one another with glee. We can play. Look at the sunset, look at the trees. Feel the sand, the grass. What a world we can choose to build. What homes we can make.

Homes with an s.

And so they are, by necessity, but also because we dare. Because our hearts and minds grow larger as we live, and our connections to people near and far grow with time. When we are willing to live, to love, to be with others, we find homes. And in living, loving, being we share. We share hopes, dreams, anger, despair. For we are, all of us, mere travellers on this earth.

The idea of home is intrinsically tied with nature. Throughout history, we have navigated by stars, moss on trees, rock formations, sunlight, shadows, wind. Across time and space, people gather around the hearth. We find warmth and conversation around the fire, connection with others, connection with food. Where there is water, there are animals. With animals come people. People plant crops. Shelters are built. More people come. We create communities and in those communities, we make homes.

When all else fails us, the world itself is left.

Yet sometimes, we grow weary. We lose our way. We forget the signs or we search and search and can’t find them. And so we wander, wander in ceaseless patterns that we only recognize once we lie down to rest our minds. We stretch out our hands, pleading, but there’s no one around who sees us.

Yes, sometimes we work and work and are lost. I am searching but I can’t find you. Listening but I can’t hear you.

Breathe. And then.

In the morning, the fog clears. The mist lifts from the endless road, the path, the journey, the adventure. And isn’t it just?

There are mountains in the distance. They sing.

Welcome home.

Doi Inthanon National Park – Chiang Mai, Thailand – January 2018

A Few Words from Ms. Frizzle

Children from the 90s (and probably their parents) will likely recognise the line: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”. A bit of internet research told me that The Magic School Bus changed significantly when it was remade in 2017, the twentieth anniversary of its cancellation, and now I feel utterly ancient.

But that line, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”, brings the same smile to my face as it did when I watched the fabulous Ms. Frizzle, the red-haired elementary school science teacher with the wildest themed dresses, bring learning to life. In elementary school I was given the character of Ms. Frizzle for a school play and I could not have been more excited. I had a denim long-sleeved dress that I used to wear with tights (elementary school in the 90s, folks) and my mum pinned toy plastic fruits all over it to create a Ms. Frizzle look. An older student wrapped my hair in bright orange yarn that was a nightmare to remove. But Ms. Frizzle I was.

This came back to me earlier today when I was riding my bike to school. I was feeling extremely pleased with myself for replacing the tube in the rear tire with a tube I’d previously patched, a lifeskill that I had just performed independently for the first time. It might be embarrassing that I’ve only learned to do this at age 30 but I was just so tickled by it. It was a lovely sense of accomplishment and its impact on me led to more significant reflections on my role as an educator.

As a high school teacher, I’ve spent my career encouraging young people to try new things. At my current school, we have gone as far as making our Theory of Knowledge course pass/fail in order to encourage students to take academic risks without having to fear significant consequences. With this model, we can fully live our words: It’s okay to try something and it’s okay if it doesn’t go well because we can try something else next time.

In a broader context, it’s easy to talk about creating safe, supportive, inclusive educational environments. But it is essential (and much harder) to build them with honesty and intentionality. We can’t claim that it’s important to learn from mistakes, for instance, if we don’t allow students the chance to make them without repercussions.

Anyone who has ever learned anything has likely experienced a moment of doubt. Doing something new for the first time certainly has that potential and this can be confronting. Yet, we demand courage of young people far more frequently than we, the adults, are willing to accept for ourselves. And even when we expect the mistakes from young people, we are often not particularly forgiving when they occur.

The gravity of these thoughts are in sharp contrast to my experience in yesterday’s bike fixing endeavours, which ultimately extended to the brakes and the chain once I headed out for a test ride. It took multiple scrubs in the shower to get the grease off my hands, feet, legs, and arms (mhm true story) and I had to wash the freshly washed floor (I wish I were kidding) twice to get the black streaks off porous white tile. I giggled inwardly the whole time.

Imagine if more of our world could be like that.

We know that our early experiences socialize us to the world we live in and inform our understanding for a very long time. Some never learn to think beyond the black-and-white world of childhood, and others cast it all away without recognising its power or value. I think there’s a beautiful place to find in the middle when we have the opportunities to play in the sandbox with abandon, to make a mess knowing that putting it back together is feasible. Had I not been able to fix the bike, a few phone calls would have brought me to a friend’s house or to the uncle shop down the street. If I couldn’t scrub the floor to my satisfaction, they sell cleaning products for far bigger jobs than this.

And what this experience reminded me is that repairing and reconstructing is probably far more possible in most circumstances than we might think. A bit of courage and a lot of humility are appropriate here and this is all part of what it means to live fully. When the world seems too large to handle it not because it is, but because we have not put ourselves in a place where we’re willing to take the risks associated with trying to manage it.

“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” Ms. Frizzle taught. Worse comes to worst, we have to take the responsibility of cleaning up.

Amsterdam, Netherlands – April 2018

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Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by someone trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place