Chronicles of a Starfish Community Explorer

DAY ONE 17.10.2009
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Ancient African Proverb

Waiting to Board my plane at the Hong Kong Airport
Waiting to Board my plane at the Hong Kong Airport
WELL, so my journey to join with other Starfish explorers from around the globe to meet at Charlotte, South Carolina from 20-22 October 2009 for three “dynamic days of building relationships and partnerships that could change the world” begins one early Saturday morning when I left my home to take an 11 am flight to Hong Kong.
Beginning of my 16,000 miles journey
Beginning of my 16,000 miles journey

What is significant so far is that this is my first voyage to the US on my own. Yup, never done that before. And my first maiden flight will land me in JFK International Airport at 10 pm New York time amidst cold blustery winds as I find my way to the shuttle bus that would take me the Ramada Plaza JFK Hotel.

I stepped out of customs after one hour of waiting in line and into the eager “arms” of about a dozen cab drivers that we had just warned about over the airport speakers minutes back not to take. Walking past them, I followed the sign to the AirTrain that should lead me to the hotel shuttle bus but the only trouble was it was outside and across the airport. No choice. Information counter was closed and I didn’t think I wanted to ask directions from those cab drivers either.

Angel from New York

CX 840 Cabin at night
CX 840 Cabin at night
A brisk walk into the cold, dark night and I was in the lift to the third floor of the AirTrain Station, empty except for a few people sitting on the benches. Not exactly a heart-warming sight. Walking simply by faith towards the benches and wondering what to do next, I saw a Chinese lady. She looked up and I smiled at her, with relief written all over my face I am sure.

I asked if she knew how I could get to the airport hotel. She didn’t but she was taking the AirTrain to another platform where she had parked her car and would be happy to give me a ride to the hotel if I went with her. In the train I gave her my business card and told her to call me if she was ever to be in Singapore in return for her kindness. A native from Qingdao, China, she has been working in New York for the past seven years but just started work near the airport a week ago, so she was not yet familiar with the place.

After a ten minutes train ride, we alighted and walked to a huge open air car park. The cold night had begun to drizzle as well. Finally in her car, she called her husband and asked for directions. He asked if her passenger was a man or woman. Woman of course! But I understand his concern. In less than ten minutes, I was in front of the airport hotel just a corner away. I was just so thankful for her help and told her that she must call me when she comes to my part of the world. Kelly is her name and she is the angel from New York that saved my night in a strange new place.

Meeting Ginnie Again
Meeting an old friend, faraway but always near.This trip brought me back into contact with my dear friend whom I had not met for the last 18 years, Ginnie Breen. She and I were in the same “Confucianism and Taoism” class at the National University of Singapore. Ginnie was an exchange student from Harvard and I found it highly interesting that a Westerner would take a rather esoteric class like this. So we became good friends in that year amidst her travels to Tibet, Indonesia and far flung places around Asia.

Now on 18 October, a Sunday morning in Ramada JFK International Airport Hotel, I was going to see Ginnie again, after 24 hours of flying and 18 years waiting. The weather in New York had turned much colder than expected with strong rains and winds coming in. The highlight in the news was about this boy who was thought to have gone missing in an air balloon, captivating the attention of the nation. However, this morning, the news and law enforcers are beginning to believe that this could be a hoax.

At 10.10 am, my sms beeped. “Shall I come up?” It’s Ginnie, she’s arrived! Oh, what do you do when you see a dear friend you have not seen in years? Give her the biggest and longest hug you can! We picked up on where our lives were, our kids, what we were doing and all the challenges and the joys faced. She has a daughter with autism and a documentary was made to highlight how important it is to recognize that every child has a voice, and has feelings. Sometimes the difficulty is being able to express them. Please watch “Autistic Poet.” It will touch you. Ginnie and her daughter are featured in this documentary produced by PBS.

So little time but we connected and it was a good feeling. She caught the 11.30 am shuttle bus ride with me to the airport so we could have a bit more time together. Precious. In the next hour she would be driving another hour to Newark Airport to catch a flight to Washington D.C. for business. Another big hug at the entrance to catch my flight to Charlotte. It will not be another 18 years Ginnie. I hope to see you again way before then.

Two Angels at Charlotte

Arriving at Charlotte by US Airways
Arriving at Charlotte by US Airways
This is a special trip from Day One, I knew it in my bones. Arriving at Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 3 pm, I bought myself a beef sandwich, drinks and Hershey chocolates to bring with me back to Heritage International Conference Centre. Arriving more than a day early, I had been warned that there would be no food there except for what has already been catered for the Expo. The last item was my emergency supply in case hunger pangs caught me by surprise.

Making my way to the baggage claim area, I let the sights of shops, restaurants and book stores sink into me. So this is America, this is Charlotte. Every face I walked by was new, I was a stranger in this land. I was in a world of my own when I heard a voice calling “Ivy, Ivy.” I looked around and standing right in front of me was Maureen Ngui in a red blouse and dark blue vest. Oh what an unexpected and heart warming sight!

Charles & Maureen Ngui
Charles & Maureen Ngui

My friends and fellow Singaporeans Charles and Maureen. I thought to myself “How amazing that I should meet them at Charlotte Airport.” I knew they had flown in a day earlier. As it was they had stayed overnight and decided to wait for me. So sweet!! Together we took the Carolinas Cab to the Heritage Centre where the Starfish Community Expo would be held from 20-22 Octpber 2009.

My room in Heritage International Hotel, Charlotte. Finally a place to rest my head and weary soles.
My room in Heritage International Hotel, Charlotte. Finally a place to rest my head and weary soles.
It’s 3.17 am Charlotte time, and I should be asleep by now. I’m still somewhere in between the US and Singapore time zones. Had a quick chat with Celia and Simon over Skype, my wonderful Singapore team members holding the fort while the other team members are in different places of the world. Kan Yuen left for Bougainville the same day I left for New York. It was their lunch time while it was suppose to be my bedtime. I’m so glad that Heritage Centre provides wireless connection. The journey continues…

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