Tag Archives: Garden

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.

What I’ve Learned from Plants

We had a beautiful rain Saturday night, a rain that I caught just at its hinted beginning while on my bike, a rain that I felt even while safe on the balcony. The rain cooled the earth, soaked into the soil, and was then gone from the sky, moving across vast oceans.

The following morning I was delighted by some new shoots from the seeds that I planted last week. I watered them, noting how the plants closest to the edge of the balcony were still a tiny bit damp from the rain. After a trip to the nursery for fertilizer and potting soil I cleaned up some dead leaves, planted new seeds, and basked in being part of the cycle of life. 

I used to get upset when my plants dropped leaves, used to ask what I was doing wrong. But I have learned a good deal over three years with this little garden of potted herbs and leafy, occasionally flowering plants. I have learned through the experience of people who have brought plants to life for much longer than I, and I know now that plants are hardy and wise. It is a pleasure to watch as older leaves fall to make room for new ones and to know that when herbs go to seed, they grow again. 

Sometimes the plants need more water or more space, but sometimes it is less water and bit of coaxing. They have taught me to be patient, to watch, to listen, and to look. These are active processes. Plants require that we care and cultivate and nourish. These are verbs. Verbs are actions.

And I wonder: If we cared as much for people as we do for our plants, if we cared as much for the Earth herself, what kind of world could we build?

These are the reflections brought to my mind on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement that comes ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, on the Jewish calendar. This new year is one that needs us to take action, to care, cultivate and nourish, to love. Many of us need to heal, need this year to be better than the last. 

What if we gave more to the people in our lives than we took? What if we expanded this awareness to acquaintances, or people we know only by sight, or simply the people we pass by in our daily routines? 

Do we dare go further? 

Could we act with awareness of people we’ve never met in places we’ll never see, people who have names we’ve never heard and speak languages we didn’t know existed? 

And further still, to the Earth herself?

A new year can be seen as an opportunity for deep introspection of who we are, who we want to become, and the world we want to create. My dreams for this world are simple in the sense that they exist in color and are textured with wind and water, mountains and stars. Any child could draw this, and then might add the people that I see smiling and holding and loving. 

But these dreams are impossible if I’m dreaming alone.

The solemnity of the Jewish calendar at this time of year, the emphasis on the collective and on one’s responsibility within it, reminds me that every time we water a new seed, smile at a stranger, hug a loved one, or share food with others, every time we partake in creating a better world, we are no longer dreaming alone.

Shalom aleichem, peace be upon you.

Some of my plants – September 2020

Searching for Myself in a Cup of Coffee

It should come as no secret to the careful reader that I am struggling here in New York. In addition to missing everything about living in Singapore, except for the humidity, I’m finding it very difficult to adjust to being alone, being in a new place, and being back in the US in general.

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View of the West Side from Engineers Gate in Central Park

In an effort to feel more at home in New York, I’ve been spending a lot of time in cafés to read, write, and people watch. Coffee makes everything better, and usually so does being a quiet observer among strangers. Having a legitimate reason to look around makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself, which is an important shift in perspective when I get too stuck in my own head.

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I think I’m mostly doing what that cat is doing. Watching and waiting.

A good deal of my coffee drinking has been at B Cup Café. As I’ve written before, it’s really close to my apartment and plays great music. It also serves good coffee and excellent shakshuka. I’ve been there at least four times, which practically makes me a regular. Based on my own habits, anyway.

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However, I’m bad at sitting at the best of times and caffeine doesn’t help. So I’ve also been wandering around the East Village and taking pictures of everything colorful in an effort to improve my mood and general outlook. That’s a thing, right? Color therapy? I’m not sure if it’s working but I did find some delightful street art:

The East Village is enjoyably quirky in a number of other ways, too. Examples:

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The most exciting part of my wandering today was green space! Neighborhood parks are so important in building community, and seeing them always makes me happy. More than a few parks have started decorating for Halloween, too. I passed by one of those today, as well as a couple parks that aren’t quite on the decorating bandwagon (yet?):

Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of my reading and writing (including this blog post) has taken place at cafés. I’m at Think Coffee at the moment, not because I actually wanted the coffee but because I’m also not good at being home for more than a few hours at any one point during the day. Again, I tend to spend too much time in my own head that way. I do a heck of a lot better at work, which often makes me feel more comfortable than I do during the weekends. (I know. I know, I know. Famous last words.)

I realize I’ve been saying “I’m not good at” fairly often lately. Maybe that’s part of the problem at this point. I don’t know anymore what I am good at. Learning. I guess I’m good at that. At least, I try to be.

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A little light reading, courtesy of the New York Public Library. Croissant sandwich and coffee from Petite Shell on the Upper East Side.

If you’re looking for me, I’m probably in a coffee shop. If not, chances are I will be soon. I always take my coffee black. Thanks for asking!