My favorite sounds are those of falling tropical rain, a child’s laughter and the sound of an old train as it rattles down the tracks like a distinguished elderly gent dressed in a solid black suit clicking his cane on the cobbled pavements of a European street.
The humming of nature in a forest with brief loud cries of a bird as it sails effortlessly across the sky.
The sound of sunsets. Yes, the sounds of sunsets, not so much the sun itself but the gathering of people and nature in that few miracle minutes at the end of the day; when cars slow down even on a bridge in Munich and cyclists all stop to stare at the sky. The couples whose loud chattering pitter to a slow stop as one looks up from the conversation struck by the indescribable beauty and in that partner’s eyes and silence; the other turns their head to follow the first’s gaze and becomes silent as well. The sound of a sudden communal deeper breathing as all of us are joined in a common moment in humanity. Yes subtle but so real. More real than any other noise in that moment.
Then it disappears into the endless external noises of traffic resumming, chattering continuing and bustling overtaking nature and the glorious visual end of another day.
The sounds of dusk and night are my favorite sounds times of everyday. I walked through Singapore General Hospital one cool Saturday evening after dinner. One of the top hospitals in the world. But during that evening on the empty roads around the buildings all I heard was silence. The silence of a bright moon. The silence of a peace that passes understanding. The silence of my own inner mind. A great sense of all is well.
It reminded me of the endless nights when all was not well as I walked to the near empty bus stop at 10pm after visiting my mother in Ward 53. She was in a semi-emergency ward. Bleeding still post a successful operation but no one knew where she was bleeding from. I had gotten used to being reminded by messages on my cell phone that she was bleeding and I should be ready for a crisis. Thankfully that crisis never came. She did walk out of the Ward amidst cheers from nurses, her physiotherapist, and bewildered doctors after 3 months in the hospital.
Many people are afraid of hospitals sensing death as the only end to any visit there. My experience of hospitals and the sounds they bring were always ones of hope and courage. The endless beeping of heart monitors, the oxygen tanks, the endless sound of feet as the nurses speed across from bed to bed; the mixture of children’s innocent demands with the serious conversations of their adult companions at the bedside of a loved one.
As I walked past a gorgeous colonial building that houses the Ministry of Health I was reminded of endless meetings in the large conference room as a new Assistant Director. Where the silence was penetrating as was the challenging intellectual discussions on healthcare policies and the future of hospital management and medicine. The sound of my high heel shoes clicking furiously down the large wooden stairs and how the maze of a building made me forever late. I heard my heart pounding, embarrassed by my lateness just as I heard my brain buzzing from trying to understand the discussions that flew above my head as I adapted to a new field of work. There I heard the sighs of frustration mixed with the outbursts of anger. I raised my voice to be heard as orthopedic surgeons challenged my junior staff on policies. Like a mama bear growling to protect her own. Under it all I heard passion. We cared so much, we wanted to stand our ground for important issues so much, we wanted to make things better for all and so we spoke in any way possible to be seen not just heard.
There is a constant drilling now in my ears as I sit here in a cafe on the intersection of a road in old Chinatown. The drilling is synonymous with a new building being built or an old one being repaired. Living in Asia, we always had a joke how we can no longer use landmarks based on a business entity or a building because the changes to the city skyline are always changing so quickly that from year to year — where I used to meet business acquaintances and friends from Shanghai to Saigon would disappear and transform themselves as if a phoenix arising from the ashes. These construction noises I have taken as the underbelly of any city and have learnt to tune them out almost to the point of non-existence. I have learnt to talk over them. To be like everyone else and stick two ear plugs into my ears and instantaneously become attuned to an American or British voice reading me my latest buy from Audible. The survival mechanism of an Asian city dweller.