I may have mentioned previously that I’m one of the proud singers of the Pembroke Chapel Choir, run by our beloved Senior and Junior Organ Scholars, Laurence Lydon-Jones and Sam Baker respectively. Our wise-AND-wacky chaplain, Andrew Teele, also must be mentioned for his awesomeness. All and any Oxford students who might be reading this post are warmly invited to Evensong/soon to be Mid-Afternoon Song services on Sundays during term time!
Every Sunday of term, we rehearse in the late afternoon - with a cake break somewhere in the middle of rehearsal! Very important, deserves mention - give the Evensong service, then adjourn to the Senior Common Room for a glass of sherry or orange juice (your choice). The evening then finally comes to a close with dinner, just for the choir and service attendees in the Forte Room, adjacent to the main Hall, where the rest of Pembroke has dinner.
It’s one of my most social times of the week, and therefore one of my favourites, of course, not only for the music, but for the company and conversations. Contrary to popular belief, the weekly slice of some variety of cheesecake is not the highlight - we’ve unsurprisingly gotten tired of it. (Anything but cheesecake, please!)
Tonight, I sat at one half of an 8-person table, circled from right to left by Ellen, Adam, Mike and Mike’s wife, Fiona. All five of us were markedly experienced and interested in international cultures - Ellen is from central Pennsylvania and spent her summer in Florence learning Italian; Adam is a “farm-boy” (He has sheep! And pigs and chickens!) Japanologist (thus having spent a year in Japan/travelled about East Asia) from Surrey; Mike and Fiona live in Swindon, spent quite some time in the USA, and their daughter is headed to Japan in March; I’m from Singapore, attend university in Greater Boston, and have visited Japan a couple of times - so we spent much of our conversation sharing about Japan, the USA, Britain and (hurrah!) Singapore.
Mike and Fiona were very generous with their Britain & Ireland travel suggestions (the list: Edinburgh, York, Blackburne-Blackpool, Brighton, Cheltenham, Harrogate, Dublin). We learnt a lot about Japan and Japanese generalities from Adam (naturally), such as the slips/passes that train stations give out when their trains are even ONE minute off-schedule, so the workers can pass those to their bosses as proof that they were late because the train was late (!), the typically low alcohol tolerance of the Japanese, comfortable youth hostels, Starbucks being everywhere, and the myriad of Japanese dialects and regional accents, with one especially for old Japanese men (they all sound the same, and are similarly incoherent!). Ellen explained Pennsylvania Dutch to us (mix of German and English, NOT Dutch! ‘Dutch’ was a misappropriation of ‘Deutsche’) and about the Amish community, how different sects have different customs, how those who sell milk are mandated by federal law to refrigerate their milk - so they do have electricity in their barns and may hence possess higher-tech items such as laptops and mobile phones (they just don’t use them in their houses) whilst the Amish who don’t deal with milk won’t, how the Amish are sometimes confused with the Mennonites (who dress similarly but have different rules, may be more “relaxed” about the social activities they’re permitted to pursue).
Here’s my contribution:
"Everybody should come to visit Singapore!"
"Isn’t Singapore the place where they’ve completely banned chewing gum?"
And to my surprise, I got this response:
"That is such a good idea."
I’m being honest here. And this wasn’t just a single person either - a discussion arose about chewing gum, how remnants of it are found everywhere, on every single slab of pavement, how the British government spends millions and millions of pounds cleaning up chewing gum every year, how when you go to Disneyland/world you’ll always see the poor cleaning staff having to scrape it off the floor - and a general agreement was reached on what a brilliant idea it would be to just ban it and save all that financial cost and effort.
It suddenly occurred to me that I never got this response in the USA, nor do I really ever expect to. Banning something like chewing gum - very fundamental, for some of my dearest friends! - would just be unthinkable, on any level. It’s essentially a curtailing of freedom of consumption, is it not?
In Singapore, we don’t even think/talk about it anymore. It just kind of is. When we want gum, we take a drive up the causeway, and bring some home from Malaysia. The ban doesn’t stop us from consuming it; it just makes us conscious of it enough to not throw it on the ground, leave it stuck under desks (one of the things I DON’T miss about dear old Tufts), or between MRT/T/Underground doors. Best of both worlds!
Funny how even chewing gum can be a legitimate thinking/talking topic.
Love Sunday meals with the choir!