While any normal person might have had their fill visiting eight mosques/shrines/temples the previous day, I am far from normal. There were just a couple more temples in Chinatown that I wanted to see before heading to the airport. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple was less than a block from the hostel but we had yet to enter. After all, Buddha’s tooth, which was apparently discovered in 1980 under a collapsed stupa in Myanmar, could only be viewed at specific times. After breakfast, we walked over to the temple. We could hear chanting coming out of the back door of the building, so we went inside. In the main sanctuary there were a half dozen monks leading a few dozen devotees in chants. We watched this go on for a while, taking in the beautifully decorated alter and some of the 10,000 small statues of Buddha which lined the walls and were also scattered throughout the five stories of the temple. We then went to the roof, determined to slowly work our way back down to the first floor, taking in all of the sights as we went.
The roof was topped with an amazing tropical garden, which reminded us of being back at the botanic gardens. This area also sported a 15-foot tall prayer wheel that could be spun in a clockwise direction, the same way one is supposed to walk around a Buddhist temple, as you recall. Down a level, on the fourth floor, was the temple’s main attraction. We removed our shoes to enter the Sacred Light Hall, which was separated from the relic chamber by large plate glass windows which lined one of its walls. Peering inside, I couldn’t really make out a tooth per se, it being housed in a decorative golden stupa just far enough from the window to make tooth viewing quite difficult. The third floor had more of a museum quality. It contained various statues and other depictions of Buddha from all over Asia. I couldn’t help but notice that many of the places that were referred to in the displays- Angkor Wat, Bagan, Ayutthaya, Borobudur, were places that I had personal experience with. The second floor was devoted to a gift shop which we perused before returning to the sanctuary on the main floor. The chanting was still going on and would continue for the rest of the day. Overall, we agreed that the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple was one of our favorites in Singapore.
Still undaunted, we made our way to the Sri Mariamman Temple just down the street. Built in 1827, it ranks as the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Mariamman is Tamil for “Rain Mother”, she is the South Indian goddess of rain, or essentially Mother Nature. Mariamman is also worshiped for her protection from disease. We were grateful that, with minor exceptions, our three weeks in Southeast Asia had been disease-free. We were also pleased that, although it had rained a number of times, it had mostly done so at night and rain had rarely damped our plans or altered our itinerary. Speaking of our itinerary, there was still one more thing we had to do before leaving Singapore- eat some chili crab. The dish had been strongly recommended by the previous SIRT team but we had yet to partake of this Singaporean delicacy. We walked to the Chinatown Seafood Restaurant, already a favorite hangout spot for the students, owing to its central location amidst the hubbub of Chinatown as well as it propensity to stay open very late. There, Ade picked a giant crab out of a tank and we were soon served the crustacean stir fried in a thick tomato and chili based sauce. It was delicious- overall, the food in Singapore had been amazing, although a cheapskate like me would be quick to point out that it could cost almost ten times what we had paid for an equivalent meal in Indonesia.
After lunch, it was time to head to the airport. Due to my previous snafu, I would not be accompanying the students on their flight to Hong Kong, only delivering them to Changi International for their afternoon departure. We collected all of their luggage from the hostel and took one last MRT ride together as a group. As I bid the students farewell, I knew there was one last thing I had to do in Singapore before my own lengthy journey home. I rode the MRT back to Outram Park but then switched trains and got off at the HarbourFront station. When the students had arrived an afternoon before me, I had sent them on a mission to Sentosa Island, the beach-front amusement park/island resort in order for them to see the point where the Andaman, Java, and South China Seas met each other. My own destination was the MegaZip Adventure Park at the tip of the island. There, I could take a quarter-mile long zip line down to the beach more than 200 feet below and I could also test out their unique ParaJump ride. The latter involved climbing to the top of a 50 foot tower, having a cord attached to the back of your harness using a carabineer, and then stepping off the platform, trusting that their complex pulley mechanism will slow you down to a tolerable speed before you hit the ground.
I decided to try the ParaJump before zip-lining to the beach and walking back to the Sentosa monorail station. My wife claims that I truly can’t be afraid of heights- otherwise how could I zip line over 600-foot-deep chasms and bound across canopy walks 180 feet in the air in Costa Rica, or rappel into a 165 foot cave shaft at Moaning Caverns in CA during the Monmouth College on Rails train trip out West? I don’t know- my only answer is that she does not know the fear I have felt while doing these very things. I felt this same fear as I watched the people in line ahead of me attempting the ParaJump. Interestingly, exactly half of those who got attached to the cord couldn’t make themselves actually step off the platform and ended up requesting to be detached and then walking back down the tower stairs. I tried to picture stepping off the platform as some sort of metaphor for my overseas trips with students as well as, for that matter, my philosophy on life in general. Does a person ever really know exactly what they are getting themselves into? Sometimes you have to just dive into a situation in order to learn to deal with the unexpected. “Are you sure you have that thing attached correctly?” I asked the attendant. Then, without further hesitation, I stepped off the platform into the void in front of me.