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Shangri-La hotel, SingaporeI walk down Orange Grove road, past the lush gardens of opulent hotels, which are much the same in every country in the world, to Orchard road, which is lined with high-end shops and high-end shoppers who teeter along on their unusually frilly designer heels and look impossibly sleek in the humidity.

I am wearing jean shorts and a sports top and lugging a small rolling suitcase. I am looking for the nearest bus, and after only a few moments my entire body is sticky with sweat. I pass men and women who are smaller and more dainty than me, and feeling my muscles stand out on my bare shoulders from the drag of my luggage, feeling the solidity of my sandals, feeling how I tower, I begin to also feel very masculine. I wonder if this is how men feel. You know, large and capable of crushing anything in their path.

At 5’7” and 116 pounds, I am an Amazon. I kind of like it. Although my ire at the heat and my lost passport may be a contributing factor.

Finding the bus is no small feat, however, even for an Amazon. The problem is that is apparently impossible to cross certain streets in Singapore on foot. I come to the cross-section of Patterson and Orchard, and then I am stuck there for half an hour, wandering the mazes of pedestrian tunnels (also lined with shopping) which are under construction and mostly blocked off. I emerge above-ground on the wrong streetcorner repeatedly, and finally walk down the street to a spot where there is a visible crosswalk, cross, and walk back.

Apartments, south Singapore, with Sikh temple in the background.

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I get on the bus and ride it through Chinatown down to a neighborhood seemingly inhabited by locals, in tall, cheap-looking apartments. The ground floors are open-air diners, small supermarkets, Chinese medicine, betting parlors. Here, you can get dinner for $3. It’s nothing fancy; rice, meat, and vegetables, but it’s a fraction of the price you’d pay for a salad up in the opulent parts of Singapore.

There are scrawny cats lazying around in the heat, and the English that is nearly ubiquitous in Singapore is here more halting and unpracticed. I supplement my requests with hand gestures, pointing at the photos of food and drink portrayed prominently on the shop fronts.

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