SINGAPORE – Joining The Tattoo promises me not only the opportunity to be the journalist I long to be, but also the chance to meet people from all over the globe. Literally.
I had not expected to meet anyone from The Tattoo so soon because I had no plans to travel anywhere for the year.
So imagine my surprise when I received an email from fellow Tattoo writer Niki Modi from India, regarding her forthcoming holiday in Singapore!
I’d never had any form of contact with her prior to the e-mail – in fact, the meeting would not have taken place at all without the help of our friend, Teague Neal, a Canadian member of The Tattoo staff.
Teague referred Niki to me when he learned that Niki was bound for Singapore for a recent holiday.
Of course, I had no qualms about helping her navigate her way around the city of Singapore. Right from the very first email I got from her, I knew she was an absolutely sweet and amiable girl.
Plus, I am always eager to showcase the beauty of Singapore, which is non-existent on the world map and is always mistaken for a place in China. (It is actually located at the southern tip of Malaysia, in South-East Asia).
I wrote her a long list of my favorite shopping malls and places of interest to visit. Since I’m a shoppaholic myself, she had definitely come to the right person for advice on this subject.
When she suggested meeting up, of course, I was all for it!
I love, love, love meeting new people from all walks of life. And meeting someone who writes for The Tattoo was exciting, too.
I brought a close friend of mine, Cheng Chai, along. We were half an hour late because we (shamefully) had a hard time navigating the area ourselves.
Neither had we been to the Oriental Hotel, where Niki and her family were staying. I was actually a little flustered at the way things were turning out, because I had meant to be early.
Kathump, kathump, kathump, went my heart. We sat down by the fountain side and waited for Niki.
Suddenly, a pretty Indian girl came up to me.
“Are you Geraldine?”
And so, I met Niki.
We had no trouble kicking off a conversation as we walked to a nearby McDonalds.
Niki is not only extremely friendly, but she struck me as a very strong-willed girl who is proud of her culture and heritage. Meeting and talking with her was extremely refreshing, especially when I found out many other things I had not known about India before.
I found out there are NO McDonalds outlets in Calcutta, and that they are currently building one. (I thought McDonalds was everywhere! At least it is in Singapore.)
Another thing that I admired about her was also her passion for studying.
While Cheng Chai and I were complaining about the eye bags we had from all the late nights of studying, Niki, on the other hand, talked enthusiastically about her plans to enter a prestigious university in India to study science and showed a passion for the subject.
I guess Singaporeans tend to take compulsory education for granted, without ever realizing that there are people out there in the world who long for an education but never get the chance to get one.
The most interesting thing that I found out from Niki was her culture’s strict adherence to traditional values and conservatism, as well as how Indians still follow the tradition of having arranged marriages, though not as strict as in the past.
For instance, Niki is extremely close to not just her family, but all her relatives and extended relatives.
For me, having 14 aunts and uncles and more than 30 cousins, being able to maintain a close-knit extended family is almost impossible, while Niki – whose cousins were also with her in Singapore – goes on holidays with (almost) her entire family and relatives.
Her parents are also rather strict with curfews and her mingling with boys, and as different as it was from my life, I still admire the way they are able to stick to their traditional values (with pride, too) in the face of this age of globalization, as societies get increasingly integrated.
For dinner, Niki’s family took Cheng Chai and I to Little India. I love Indian food, but Cheng Chai, having been a strict vegetarian all his life (even keeping away from onions), had never tasted Indian food, which is primarily vegetarian.
Niki, her older sister and her cousin were extremely generous in giving us helpings and ordering the food for us, because we couldn’t read the menu.
It was delectable! In fact, after dinner, Cheng Chai declared his newfound love for Indian cuisine.
All the way back home, Cheng Chai and I gushed non-stop about how extremely pleasant Niki and her family were.
They were more like the hosts rather than the tourists here, and the entire evening was fantastic.
In fact, I’m looking forward to meeting Niki again, this time in India for her sister’s wedding!
Geraldine Soon is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.