En route home from the office on a particularly mindzapping Monday, I decided against reason to brave the sauna-like Sinaporean evening, and take the long-way around home. I was feeling perplexed and homesick, lost in the dogtrack of my mind, when I crossed the street and looked up to find my surname reflected back at me, Smith Street, with Chinese letters etched below.
I had unwittingly stumbled upon Chinatown, one of Singapore’s most lively, bustling and smelly neighborhoods. I navigated the pac-man maze of gaping tourists, teenage girls and families out for a delicious evening meal of broiled shark fin or fried pork belly, and turned a corner onto a small alleyway of touristy shops.
Pondering some postcards, the traditional chinese music cued to the distinctive twang and bass drum pick. Speakers blared “Almost heaven, west Viriginia….” I immediately smiled, reminiscing about the drunken, karaoke filled night where a rowdy gaggle of Googlers couldn’t find “Country Roads” on the bar’s song-list, so proceeded into soulful acapella trio of country awesomeness (plus, this happens to be one of the only recognizable-to-others songs I can play on guitar, so naturally I love it).
I bopped my head, mouthing the words as I walked to the register, when a 5’2” Chinese man appeared in front of me. His teeth were worn down, back stooped, and face weathered, but he was dressed impeccably and had a warm smile, a welcoming demeanor.
“John Denver! Good song, America!” he proclaimed, then proceeded to sing the next bar (heavily accented, but not missing a single lyric). As the chorus started, he took my purchases and with a smile looked up at me, sweetly but firmly insisting “SING!” I paused, stunned, as he stared at me expectantly. But…when in Singapore.
“Country roads, take me home, to the place, I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home Country roads.”
We finished the chorus together (I’d like to think with a bit of harmony on my part), and at the end he was clapping and laughing.
“You good sing. You pretty, and you good sing,” he said with a grin, hands a flurry of change-making activity, back to elderly business like Chinese shop owner ringing up my three for a dollar wares.
I turned to walk away, laughing incredulously. I just sang a duet with a 85-year-old Chinese man, in the middle of huge crowd.
As I headed back down the street (of course humming the rest of “Country Roads”) my stress faded away. I stepped off the red lanterned block back onto the faceless concrete streets feeling refreshed.
I was still going home alone to an empty apartment, five thousand miles from everyone and everything that matters most. Yet in the unlikeliest of places found a lovely reminder that you can always come home to joy, to belonging, and to yourself, no matter where you are in the world.
That connection is never more than a fond memory, a smile, and a cackle of country tune duet-induced laughter away.