A Momentary Break from Grime

Much of the world is dirty, and travel through third world countries can prove a rude and uncomfortable awakening to those of us accustomed to regular trash collection, street sweeping, and basic standards of human hygiene. Thus far on our journey, China has taken the prize for dirtiest country, a distinction earned as a result of its race to industrialize rather than the laziness of its people. With the exception of Guilin in the south, every city we visited was covered in a heavy layer of smog and grime. The sidewalks and benches were so filthy I winced whenever the kids touched skin or clothing to them. Avoiding the colossal globs of saliva and phlegm that the Chinese, men and women alike, routinely deposit on all available surfaces became a family game. “Ha, Mom stepped in a loogie!”

Southeast Asia seemed to struggle not so much with grime but with dust. We hit Cambodia and Laos during the dry season when areas that only a month earlier were flooded looked as if they hadn’t seen a drop of water in years. The goods at roadside markets were caked in a thick layer of red earth and our clothing took on the same red sheen after long days of exploring museums and wandering ruins.

We’re headed to India, one of the most densely populated and dirtiest places on the planet. We know it will shock us…we have yet to meet anyone it has not…but we also know that as with any place, we must take the bad to get the good.


It just so happened that the cheapest route to dirty India was through one of the world’s cleanest countries–Singapore. We had only a day and a half there, but it was sufficient to remind us that there are still bastions of civic hygiene on this little ball of dirt we inhabit. Singapore, where chewing gum was once banned and is still not sold, takes everything seriously and simply does not tolerate dirt. Streets gleam, buildings sparkle, and people are impeccably groomed. Some who live there feel the strict imposition of cleanliness is oppressive, but to us it was refreshing, dare I say intoxicating.

Asher Kieran and Ella enjoying a steakThe Andrus and Pendray family having a little fun together

Though the monsoon rains kept us from exploring the city on foot, we got beautiful bird’s eye views from our friends’ 20th floor penthouse apartment. Chris, one of Tom’s high school swim teammates, and his lovely Aussie wife, Paula, graciously fed us the last steak and potatoes we will have for the next few months and filled us in on all the particulars of expat life in squeaky clean Singapore. What we found most fascinating about their experience is the seeming lack of borders in their lives. With family and friends all over the world, they held wedding receptions in the US, Italy, and Australia. Through their international union, they’ve endowed their two little girls with the exceptional benefit of triple citizenship–American, Australian, and British (Paula was born in the UK but raised in Australia). Three-year-old Ella is already learning Mandarin at school and might well be fluent by the time her family returns to Australia in a few years. So while we are trying to create a global awareness in our kids by taking a year away from our normal lives, this family achieves the same simply by living theirs day to day!

Thanks, Chris and Paula, for sharing our love of the world and some mighty fine Western cuisine on a rainy Singapore evening. We’ll never forget it! Now it’s time for India.

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27 thoughts on “A Momentary Break from Grime

  1. Hey, I know this blog is about you, but I can’t help seeing parts of me in there as well. You don’t know me, of course (Tom and I shook hands in PAS one time, I think.)

    I have a lovely Australian wife as well! Her name? Pauline (not quite Paula, but pretty close). We had our wedding receptions in Australia and the U.S. (No U.K., though. On the other hand, my brother married a Bournemouth, England girl, so the family is still nice and borderless.)

    And, the last comment I left on this blog included the following about Singapore: “The food, cleanliness, and Western amenities were extremely welcome. To me, going to Singapore from the US is kinda boring and antiseptic, but going from elsewhere in the region is a relief.”

    So, while it may be bad form to continually talk about myself on your blog, I do find it hard to resist when you keep doing and saying things that make me think of…me.

    Good luck in India!

  2. Rob,

    No worries (a good aussie term) You go ahead and talk about yourself. It is nice to know that people are reading and when they can relate it is an even better. In fact that is part of why we keep the blog. You made the call on Singapore and that was even after we found Thailand to be a big relief.

    We are just getting our India legs and should have a post up in the next 24 hours. I am afraid our next moment of relief will come on a 12 hour layover in Paris on our way to South Africa, 7 weeks away…

  3. Singapore is actually a really awesome place to visit. They speak english, and are actually an extremely developed area. If you’re from the US you’ll get by fine, as almost everyone speaks English to.

  4. I love Singapore. I have been there 3 times now and discover new things every time. The only thing that bothers me is the weather. Always hot and very moist, run for 1 minute and you soaked :)

  5. Wonderful photos! What a good eye for kids!

    I love Singapore. I want to be there soon and want to discover new things every time. The only thing that bothers me is the weather.so thank for this post.

  6. Well singapore is really cool. My parents went there about 1 year back – i had my exams so could not go with them. Do send me some travel guide to my email if u have time.

  7. Hey,
    I am glad to see you people enjoying your time!

    Somehow you also remind me of myself. I share a lot of stuff with you guys!

    Good luck on ur trip and God bless you all!

  8. I used a Canon 20d for the trip. After all the dust storms and about 30,000 pictures it was shot by the time we got home, today I use a Canon 40d.

  9. Your comments about Singapore make it intriguing… after living in 3rd world countries where most people throw crap on the street… that sounds really cool, something to be proud of. I want to visit :)

  10. I went to Singapore some years back, I’d love to get over there again maybe for more than just two weeks next time! Only thing I didn’t really enjoy was the food. Much luck in India!

  11. Singapor is one of the world’s cleanest countries? I didnt know that. I do know that India is extremely dirty. A comedian jokingly quiped on the John Stewart show last night “And this is coming from a country(India) that imports it’s water from Mexico” LOL. Nevertheless I would like to visit there sometime. I think that trying to create global awareness is such an amazing thing to give to your children. Congratulations, you are wise parents. I hope to do the same for my children. West Hollywood Computer Repair

  12. I used a Canon 20d for the trip. After all the dust storms and about 30,000 pictures it was shot by the time we got home, today I use a Canon 40d.

  13. Some of these places in the world look absolutely phenomenal and I really hope that one day I can travel to some of them.

    You are a lucky man.

  14. Having been in China till now, i was looking for people who have been to singapore so that i can know about it before embarking on my trip. and yeah, singapore is a clean place

  15. “Singapore, where chewing gum was once banned and is still not sold, takes everything seriously and simply does not tolerate dirt.”

    I’d heard of this craziness before, but still, it absolutely blows my mind. Gum being *illegal*? Just ridiculous.

    Anyway, nice photos. :)

  16. If you compared China and India with the world’s cleanest country–Singapore, China and India countries are nothing to be applause. The main reason of These two countries are they are the largest population in the world with uneducated people as well as poverty, especial among Indian that is the reason why these two countries could be said as the dirtiest countries. And the gap between rich and poor is very wide. And I think it is difficult to set the proper rule as Singapore.

  17. Just read this article and has really wet my appetite. I am going to thailand this march and can not wait! I always tell myself il write a blog about my travels but when i see blogs like this i think whats the point – I just cant write like this, I could get kidnapped by terorrists and it would still sound boring!

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