Category: China, 2012

Singapore: Modern Ways and Rinpoches

November 13

Off plane about 10:20. No line at immigration. Bags were among the first off. Met by my air conditioned car, with wifi. As we get close to Raffles( my grand, 125-year old hotel), driver calls the hotel to say we’ll be arriving soon. I’m met at the door by a young lady, who calls me by name and shows me up to my large suite and registers me up there, takes my credit card and passport for a few minutes, then returns with it. As I didn’t eat the stuff on the plane, I dine on the fresh fruit in my room. And all this for only about a gazillion dollars a night. (But it includes breakfast, soft drinks from the minibar, pressing of three items a day (non-cumulative) and free local calls. So, how can you beat that? To paraphrase a line from The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Guizhou anymore, Dorothy.”

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Excellent breakfast at the hotel, before I’m picked up by Esther Tan, who I’d been put in touch with through Jack Doppelt, a professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, where Rachel Tan, Esther’s daughter, is a graduate student (well, that’s how things happen, right?). Esther very graciously spends several hours driving me around, showing me Singapore and telling me something about its history. We spend most of the time in the car to avoid the humid 85-degree temperature, which is relatively cool for Singapore.

A modern, clean, apparently prosperous city of some five million people. Government support of housing is a big reason that people are relatively well off. Maintaining that prosperity as a small country without resources (it depends on Malaysia, from which it split off in 1965, for water) and dealing with immigration concerns are Singapore’s current challenges. Still a British influence, evident from their driving on the “wrong” side of the road.

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Went to a large shopping center, where we met Esther’s mother-in-law, Kay, and two friends, Get and Eunice, all of whom were entrepreneurs (retired, except for Eunice) and all of whom were lively and fun. They ordered about a dozen or more dishes, all of them different from the Chinese fare I’d had the past two weeks. Eunice does promotional work for clients so, of course, I talked to her about the books Carol and I have done. Will send her the latest, and be in touch.

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Stopped to buy a couple short sleeve shirts for my two days here. Then Esther and I drove, stopped for coffee and I was dropped back at the hotel for my late afternoon meeting.

We need a bit of background to set up that meeting. When Carol and I went to Bhutan about three and a half years ago, we met H.E. 9th Neyphug Trulku Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk who is the 9th reincarnation of one of the twenty five disciples of the guru who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. We hit it off with Rinpoche, seeing him twice while we were there. When we first met, I told him that I knew that Buddhists taught that life is suffering, and I wondered what advice he had for Cubs fans, who had not won a World Series in over 100 years. He thought and said, “You should not be too sad, think of the joy you have brought to other teams.”. I converted him to a Cubs fan, so that he would know real suffering.

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When I returned home, I got an email from Rinpoche (remember, he lives in a monastery up on a mountaintop and runs a school for disadvantaged boys) asking that I friend him on Facebook, thus becoming my only openly reincarnated friend. We maintained contact and a year and a half later I accepted his invitation to come to the annual festival at his monastery in Bhutan. He became seriously ill and, at 33 years of age, required a kidney transplant. This appears to have gone well, but needs to be watched carefully.

When I decided to go to China, I added a stop in Singapore, because there appeared to be a fairly good chance that Rinpoche old be there. Two months ago, though, I heard from Yvonne Eu, who works closely with Rinpoche in Singapore, where he does a lot of teaching, that he would not be there. A week before I left, though, Yvonne contacted me with the news that Rinpoche might be in Singapore after all. A couple days ago, we arranged to meet late this afternoon, including Yvonne, with whom I have had very extensive contact, but never met.

Two-hour tea at Raffles with Rinpoche and another rinpoche friend of his, Chung Trulku, from Bum Thang in Bhutan, joined for the last 3/4 hour by Yvonne. Rinpoche looks and seems quite terrific, a year after a kidney transplant. There were some scary moments before and during the process, but he appears to have pulled through very well.

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We talked about what is going on at the monastery. Some plans he’d had for renovation had fallen through, but he thinks others he’s working on may well occur.

We talked some about his illness. Over 80 people had volunteered to donate a kidney for him. One of his young assistants at the monastery, Sanjay, was the eventual donor.

He installed a new app on my iPhone, “What’s App,” which he said would allow us to stay in closer touch. Then he taught me how to use it. One of the things I love about Rinpoche is how seamlessly he moves between centuries.

He asked me how the Cubs had done, and I told him that he was a dismal failure. He said that it’s possible he may go to New York and, if he does, he’ll come to Chicago to visit. I told him that I thought a personal trip to Wrigley Field was necessary to get the Cubs on track.

We needed to break up around seven,but he’s coming back to the hotel for breakfast tomorrow.

Esther picked me up for dinner at Jumbo Seafood at Dempsey, a very happening part of Singapore, built on a former army base. (Singaporean men are required to serve two years in the army after high school and a month a year after that, which employers must allow in addition to vacation.). Dinner was terrific and unusual, including chili crab, scallops in a ring of yam and mocha pork ribs. Esther dropped me back at the hotel, where I blogged and tried to get a bit organized for my last day.

Singapore: Modern Ways and Rinpoches

  • Margo Oberman

    Arnie,
    I have greatly enjoyed following your blog these past weeks. What an incredible journey! Thanks for sharing your experiences with all. Loved the pics! I’m ready for the exam. Safe travels home.
    Margo

  • Spot on with this particular write-up, I really assume this website needs a lot more thing to consider. I’ll apt to be once again to learn far more, thanks for that info.

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