Friday, November 13, 2009

One with Singapore

One night that so vividly remains in my memory when I think of moving to New York City 4 years ago was my first night there. I had "set up" the room I was subletting as good as I possibly could, having only shown up there with 3 suitcases, one of which had a blow up mattress. I had unpacked my clothes into little piles along the wall, inflated the mattress and made it up, and pulled out my laptop. The ceiling in that apartment was huge because there was a loft and it just made the nearly empty room seem even more cold and lonely. I sat down on the air mattress and looked around thinking, "What have I done?" I just felt like I didn't belong in that city, in that apartment, in that world of New York City.

When I took the subway, I would always manage to get lost or board the train going in the opposite direction. I felt like I was constantly looking for a friendly face to ask which way was what! One day when I was looking for an audition, it had started to pour down rain and my umbrella had flipped inside out and got so mangled I just pitched it in the garbage. New York City garbage cans were often full of umbrella carcasses on particularly rainy and windy days. I had been walking around the same 3 blocks, but it seemed like whenever I reached the street corner, I realized I should have gone the other way so I'd turn around and reach the next corner and still somehow be wrong again. It seemed impossible and I literally stood on the street corner, in the pouring rain, not even caring anymore, just wanting to go home and about to cry. Someone felt sorry for me and said, "Where are you headed?" Then they pointed me in the right direction. (And who says New Yorkers are cold?) I remember thinking I had never felt so alone, while constantly surrounded by people.

Eventually, I learned the subway route. By the time I left I could tell you the order of pretty much every stop on all the trains in Manhattan. I'd hop in a cab and tell the driver which roads to take to get to my destination the fastest. I felt confident walking down the street and didn't have to stand on the corner and stare at the signs when I came out of the subway so that I could get my bearings. It wasn't until about 3 months into living there that I felt like I belonged there, though. I was on the subway platform, listening to my ipod, on my way to work when a young woman came up to me, looking worried, and asked if this was the train she took to get to Union Square. In the few months prior, if someone asked me how to get somewhere (which they rarely did, because I looked lost and vacant most of the time) I would say, "I'm sorry, I'm new here. I'm having trouble figuring it out myself." But the flip had switched. I knew where I was. I said, "No, you have to go to the other platform. Just take the stairs up here, and make a right." As she walked away, I felt this new ownership of New York. I became a "city girl." I loved it.

Moving to Los Angeles had a different feel because you are always in your car. I had a navigation system so I became much too reliant on that. I definitely believe that I didn't know LA as well as I should have by the time I came to Singapore because I was always staring at that stupid Garmin instead of looking out the window and figuring it out. But, it saved me a lot of hours of getting lost and missed auditions, I'm sure. I never quite felt "at home" in LA though. I think California is beautiful and I love the weather, but I don't know if it's really fitting to my personality.

The past couple of days I have been gloomy. It's partly the weather, and partly that I haven't really started rehearsals yet. Everyone else is well into their rehearsals so I feel left out. I had my first fitting today and as I was transferring trains a frazzled looking Australian mother with her small daughter stopped me. "Excuse me, miss," she said, "I'm looking for the train to Clarke Quay. Can you help me?" Instinctively I wanted to say, "Uh, no, sorry. Just moved here 3 weeks ago." But I realized I knew the answer! "Yes, just take that escalator down to the purple line. You'll want to get on the train heading to Harbour Front. It's just one stop." The mother breathed a sigh of relief, "Thank you!"

I walked off and couldn't help but smile. I don't think she realized that she helped me a lot more then I helped her. I know I have a long way to go before I feel like I completely belong in Singapore, but in that moment I felt like I took a big step in the right direction.