Category Archives: Singapore

Away with your senses!

With the exceptions of certain foods and things that are dumb, I’m willing to try anything once. When my friend and meditation teacher first mentioned flotation a few months ago, I was curious. I listened to what he said and did a bit of reading. I started asking around and learned that a couple friends float regularly and love it. I’ve been exploring states of mind for the last year with increasing interest and flotation just seemed to fit.

So today, I headed to Palm Ave Float Club to learn what I could learn. I didn’t really have expectations going in and was there out of sheer curiosity. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t take pictures so do click the link if you want to see what it was all about!

Because I’d read the entire website and had a chat with the woman who called me the day before to confirm my float, I knew the rules – no caffeine up to three hours before, eat a light meal, no shaving or waxing the body, bring conditioner. For once in my life, I followed directions and I’m glad I did. Since this was my first float, the staff conducted a brief orientation to help me understand what was about to happen. I was shown to a private room with a shower and float pod. My “shaman,” as she was called in my confirmation email, explained that I’d be floating in about 500 litres of water with 600 kilograms of Epsom salts (hence not shaving). Before getting into the pod, I would shower and then put in earplugs. I was reminded to close the lights in the room before getting into the pod. There’s a light in the pod, as well, so I’d still be able to see. (My eyes are so poor, however, that once I took off my glasses I was pretty helpless anyway.) The shaman showed me how to close the lid of the pod and explained the two buttons on either side – the green one turned out the pod light and the red one was in case I needed help at any time. (Not like the colors would matter once the lights were out.) She showed me a spray bottle and wash cloth, explaining that sometimes salt got into the eyes. Music would play for the first ten minutes and last five minutes of my float. I’d shower when I was done and then I was welcome to relax in the beautiful, beach-like lounge overlooking Kallang River. I’d spotted some mindfulness coloring books in there when I arrived.

The shaman left me alone and I took my shower, inserted earplugs, and turned off the room light. When the music began, I stepped into the pod and found the water to be body temperature, requiring no adjustment at all. It reached about midway up my calves. I’ve been in the Dead Sea a couple times and was not surprised by the sensation of buoyancy when I settled into the water, but did spend a few minutes adjusting my arms, first clasping them behind my head and later letting them rest by the sides of my ears. As instructed, I closed the pod and got comfy before pressing the green button.

Black like I’ve never experienced before. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed and when I deliberately blinked to test it, I found that it made no difference. Though there was music playing in the background, I realized that I could hear my breathing and the blood rushing in my ears. Through the blackness, I saw spots in front of my eyes and felt myself falling backwards, a passenger on a dark roller coaster running in reverse.

I was certain I would fall.

And then I remembered to breathe. The shaman had asked if I meditate and told me to utilize whatever meditation techniques I normally do. I started counting breaths. Breathe in. One. Out. Two. In. Three. Out. Four. Get to ten and restart from one. And then do it again. And again.

The music stopped. In the silence that followed, I lost the breath and the count more times than I had it.

I was distracted by thoughts that passed through my mind, but they found nothing to cling to and just melted into something else. I remember a moment of, “Oh, interesting” when I thought of a recent interaction that had made me uncomfortable. But it, too, faded as soon as I’d grasped it. I don’t specifically remember anything else, but I know I didn’t write this blog post in my head, which is a common distraction when I know I’ll be writing about an experience.

My breathing was loud. The rushing in my eardrums heavy. I could hear my heart even though I couldn’t feel my body. It was weightless, perfectly irrelevant to me, and had disappeared. It was eerie, like what I imagine it would be like to be in the womb. There’s nothing there. Nothing at all. Just the blackness and the breathing. Just count the breaths.

I think I drifted off to sleep at some point, or entered some state of unprecedented relaxation. When I came to, I was disoriented and confused and heard that my breathing was off before I understood. As I counted myself back, I thought, “This is all there is.”

A few moments later, or so it seemed, the music started again. I felt for my body and pulled myself into a seated position, wondering what that meant. This is all there is.

What is “this”? All what is?

In retrospect, I should have taken longer to situate myself before getting into the shower, but the strange lapse of time, odd premonition, and unfamiliar environment made me hurry more than I would have liked. Next time, I’ll spend the last five minutes still in the pod and wait until the music is over to get out. There’s a learning curve, another staff member assured me, offering tea as I relaxed in the lounge.

“How was it?” she asked.

“Fascinating,” was the best reply I could come up with.

She smiled and told me that getting used to floating takes a few tries, and I expect this is true. I noticed a few other things, though, that seem worth mentioning here. Firstly, upon getting out of the pod, I didn’t immediately put on my glasses to get my bearings like I usually do. Being a little confused and unable to find myself just didn’t seem like a problem. It didn’t throw me the way it often does.

Secondly, floating left me in a deep state of relaxation, not dissimilar to visiting the onsen or getting a facial or manicure. As a result, I was largely useless for the rest of the afternoon and wanted to do nothing more than sit and read over a cup of coffee. (Which is exactly what I did.)

Thirdly, I’m still curious. I want to revisit that sensation of falling backward, pitching into unseen space. I want to follow it instead of finding a way out of it. (After all, Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind was the catalyst for booking this float.) I want to understand the realization that arose, fully formed but incomprehensible right now. Is there something to it or did the mind just do what the mind does when it dreams? I want to spend more time being nothing. It’s freeing.

I’ll be travelling for the summer but I’m already looking forward to floating again. Though I don’t know what it is yet, I learned something today. And that’s the whole point.

Along Geylang Road

Sometimes Singapore feels like the rest of Southeast Asia. I live in Geylang, a neighborhood heavily steeped in Malay culture and historically also Singapore’s red light district. When I tell Singaporeans where I live, they’re often initially skeptical and it usually takes a second before people remind themselves that “it’s a lot better now.” And when that takes too long, people are usually satisfied once I qualify “I live in Geylang” with the specific intersection and local landmark across the street. It’s kind of like talking to people who have only experienced the New York City of the 1980s or who once visited a cousin on Staten Island (sorry, Staten Island).

Due to its Malay history and heritage, Geylang Road is also home to the Hari Raya night market that lasts through the month of Ramadan, similar to the Deepavali market that I always like visiting in Little India. I watched lights appearing for a week before the market started and wandered down the street last Sunday night to see what there was to see.

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(Spoiler alert: There was a lot to see!)

The night market sells everything, as night markets do. Most of it was inside tents and pavilions under absolutely garish floodlights. There were stalls selling clothing and shoes . . .

. . . home goods . . .

. . . henna and other accessories . . .

. . . and fun decorations. . . .

And then there was the carnival for kids with a range of prototypical carnival rides like a carousel, little roller coaster, flying animal rides, and bumper cars. The whole thing reminded me of the summer fairs at home, though without the prizewinning animals on display.

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And, of course, there were lights everywhere, including the interior of Geylang Serai Market to match the exterior festivities:

My favorite part, though, which is true of every market, carnival, fair, or general mass gathering of humanity, was the food. I was too busy with my camera to buy anything but I loved the sheer variety of offerings. One learns a lot about a people and culture from food choices, and I loved the diversity of offerings at the Hari Raya night market. Globalization at its finest.

Shout out to these two guys who saw me taking a picture of their sign and couldn’t help but wave hello:

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One can say a lot about Singapore – that it’s sterile, repressive, oppressive, and dictatorial are common criticisms. But Singapore is also a place where different groups are allowed to celebrate who they are and invite everyone else along with them. In my experience here, though taxi drivers and older Singaporeans often tell a different story, there’s a real love of multiculturalism here. Perhaps manufactured, perhaps gilded rather than golden, but it’s there. And I’m glad.

Ramadan Mubarak, from Geylang Road.

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Singapore Things

(Not to be confused with the famed Singapore Sling, which I have yet to try, mostly because I don’t like pineapple juice; some fruits should just stay solids.)

One of my favorite neighborhoods in Singapore is Kampong Glam, the center of Malay history and culture here and, historically, home to much of the Muslim community. Today, it’s a mix of Malay culture, upscale Middle Eastern restaurants, vintage clothing boutiques, and every variety of café with every possible gimmick (cats included). There are also vibrant murals adorning the walls of the heritage shophouses, which are a huge draw for tourists and locals alike. I took the photo below of one of my favorite murals while sitting at Juice Clinic, a very affordable café/bar with all sorts of food and drinks. The hands on the left are part of a different piece of street art, one that creeps me out a little every time. And yes, the sky opened up and a typical tropic rain ensued.

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Just on the outskirts of Kampong Glam is Parkview Square, an Art Deco building designed in the style of 1920s New York City that looks unlike anything else in Singapore. Singapore is fairly well split between preserving heritage and embracing modernity, but Parkview Square doesn’t fit into either category.

In addition to embassies, offices, and a contemporary art museum with free entry!, Parkview Square also contains Atlas Bar in its elegant main lobby. They serve lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea and are known for their collection of 1,000 types of gin and 250 types of champagne. I have yet to be there when Atlas is open, but rest assured that I am looking forward to that moment.

Looking for something to do this weekend? Wander through Kampong Glam. Chances are, I’ll be there, too!