My Dreamland 梦田

Right in the middle of my university in the United States is a patch of green called the Francis Quadrangle, also known affectionately to us as the Quad.

Smaller than a football pitch, the Quad is surrounded by some of the most important structures on the campus, including the journalism school where I studied, where I learned the meaning of life.

It was in one of the lecture halls here that I heard a professor claimed, that every time he walked around the Quad, he would develop a few story ideas.

Being imaginative, I took it to mean that I too, must find my very own piece of dreamland, one that can continue to inspire and nurture, one that will be there for me, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, rain or shine.

When I moved back to Singapore years ago, I made it a top priority to find my own dreamland, my 梦田,and I am pleased to have found one in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Located just five minutes outside the tourist-infested Orchard Road shopping belt, the park is like an oasis in the desert to me.

Founded 150 years ago, the public park occupies more than 63 hectares of land, and is home to three lakes, as well as hundreds of flora and fauna species.

With over 1000 species and 2000 hybrids in its collection, the National Orchid Garden in the park, particularly, is certainly not one to be missed.

For me, the best thing about visiting the park must be this: I never need a real reason.

In fact, all I really need to do is to think about it, and about the things I don’t need to do if I am there.

Really, who needs an excuse to lie on the lush greenery and stare into the open sky?

Where I used to live, the park was along the bus route I took to go to the city, and I often disrupted my planned trips to the downtown, by getting off at the bus stop located steps away from the entrance, and then wandered slowly through the welcoming gates.

Now that I live a little out of the way, the park continues to live in me.

And once in a while, I would hear the birds from the park calling out to me to come, visit.

And that is something I am always happy to oblige.

There aren’t really signs to remind me to lower my voice, or to slow down, but I find myself obeying, willingly, the calls of the nature.

If I have a book with me, I would often head first for the gazebo by Swan Lake, and pray, making my way towards it, that it is not already occupied.

Once there, I would attempt to read, but would always fail miserably, as I always allow myself to be distracted by the visitors.

“Who is she?” I often wonder, “Is she here to be happy? Or has she come to indulge in melancholy?”

“Who are they? Are they secret lovers, stealing another moment together? Or are they long suffering married couples, trying to restart their stalling affection?”

If I have a camera, I would sometimes attempt to make a few photographs – of the foliages, of the ripples, of the lonesome man on the bench, of the happy family running after their dog.

If I have a wish, I would often linger along the lake a little longer, and try to figure out how much I really want the dream to come true.

And if I fail to find a resolution after circling the swan-less lake a few times, I would continue my stroll among the tall trees, and make my way through the cool passage to the next segment, where the entrance of the orchid enclosure is.

Here, I would occasionally plant myself among the tourists and continue with the guessing game.

“Where are they from? Where else have they visited? What are they saying about my park?”

And then I get restless, from hearing nothing interesting, or rather, from failing to be inspired, and therefore, failing to concoct any delicious tales.

I pause, look around to see if there is another photograph to be taken.

By now, I am undecided about which direction to take.

Do I make a left, and walk along the Symphony Lake, and make my way to the café at the other park entrance?

Should I make a right, go along the mini ginger garden, and allowed myself to be recharged and awoken by the strong scent from the plants?

I could, of course, always retrace part of the route I came from, but instead of making a right, I do a left this time to find the white bandstand.

Or, I could just sit here a little longer.

This essay first appeared in Zing 新 magazine, in Shanghai.