If I had to pick one place in Asia that I would call my favorite, it would without question be Sentosa Island, off the coast of Singapore. Formerly a military base, it was turned into a tourist attraction in 1972, just five years after Singapore became an independent nation.
At only one degree north of the equator, Singapore is a hot place. Hot and humid. Really hot and humid. But its residents are, as a whole, the happiest people I’ve ever met – and I’ve never been challenged on that.
But Singapore has got a bad rap in the minds of most Americans because of its tight relations with Communist China, and because of its strictly-enforced laws, which include caning for some offenses. Corporal punishment may or may not be why Singaporeans are so polite, friendly, and proper, but I think they’re just reflecting the common social priorities of this very developed little country.
Anyway, I was on Sentosa one Saturday with a Singaporean friend and business associate, guy named Anthony, who always physically reminded me a little of Mick Jagger. Anthony had a sense of humor rivaling that of anyone I’ve ever worked with. He had the ability to crack me up without saying anything, and I was able to return the favor.
We’d taken a ride on the monorail, gone to Underwater World, a most incredible place with great air-conditioning, I should mention, a very important thing when it’s 95 degrees with a THI near 190. From there, we hopped back on the monorail and made our way to the other side of the island, where Anthony wanted to take me to see this park.
Anthony had told me the park had a free-roaming monkey population — a few different species — who occasionally threw stuff out of the trees, but were otherwise well-behaved and fun to watch. And there was both shade and fairly open space, as opposed to jungle. “Just be careful,” he said, “not to call him ‘monkey’ or you’ll f**king piss him off.”
I asked him who. He said, “The monkey. He’ll get pissed off.” Just hearing this sent me into almost convulsive laughter.
When I stopped laughing and had washed off my face in a nearby water fountain, because by then I was sweating puddles, I asked him, “Dude, do you honestly expect me to believe that?”
“Yeah, Big Guy,” he says. He always called me Big Guy, but in good fun. Mostly because he weighed like 130 pounds and I weigh like 130 kilos. I didn’t mind – I outweighed everyone I ever met in Asia, although to be fair I never did meet a sumo wrestler (although I did actively look for one at Narita Airport once). “If you call him ‘monkey’ you will piss him off. Just be careful of that.”
Well, we walked another hundred yards into the park, and came to a row of benches, behind which was a wall. On top of the wall sat a monkey. He (or she) had what seemed to be a friendly look on his face, and he appeared to acknowledge our presence, gesturing toward us with his arms and making a cooing sound.
Very automatically, and totally without thinking, I turned toward the monkey and said the magic words, channeling Seinfeld’s greeting to Newman: “Helloooo monkey….” Before I had the word completely out of my mouth, the little bastard had jumped off the top of the fence onto the bench, put his arms up, and screamed and spit at me like he wanted to rip my face off. I made some kind of unintelligible sound and literally jumped back about six feet, ready to try to defend myself against this wild beast.
Now it was Anthony’s turn to have a laughing fit. “Ahhhhhhhhh hahahaa!!! I told you not to call him ‘monkey,’ Big Guy, are you crazy??? What the bloody hell did you expect? They bloody hate it when you call them ‘monkey!'”