Tree branches met over the road, filtering the streetlights for the 2 am drive downtown from Singapore’s Changi International Airport along the South China Sea. An orange, waxing moon floated along a haze of humidity as the trees gave way to tall palms and bougainvillea. This stretch of highway can be cleared for airport use as an emergency runway, I later found out. Thus began my first day in Singapore. Chris’ ship was in port and he’d meet me at the hotel in a few hours, after which we’d head out to explore the city, starting with–surprise! The free Singapore Botanic Gardens, crowned by the glorious National Orchid Garden ($5 SGD—SO worth it!)
When I was maybe 11 someone sent my parents a postcard of a palm tree silhouetted in a fiery tropical sky. I snuck it upstairs and pinned it to the wall next to my pillow. At night I’d stare at it in the light of my rainbow nightlight (yes, I had a nightlight when I was 11) and concoct fantasies of living out my days solving easy problems and entertaining royal suitors as the plumeria-bedecked Princess of the Palms. So I literally gasped when Chris and I entered the Orchid Garden. “This is Little Kid Mari’s fantasy come to life!” I told him. “See, I make your dreams come true!” Chris said, pleased with himself.