A large group of future SSIPers led by Justin made the trek down Rosemary to enjoy the first of many meals together. I saw a yard full of adults and students milling around, sipping tea and talking. The idyllic setting provided a perfect refuge from the bustle and bricks of campus life. As soon as I noticed my typed nametag waiting for me on a table, I knew we were in for a good meal.
Everyone looked cheerful and comfortable; by this point, the future and past SSIPers had already bonded significantly through past meetings. I had the job of taking pictures, which gave me an easy excuse to meet people. Our meal was amazing, barbequed chicken kabobs, tabouli salad, pita bread, and cake. We sat at round tables with tablecloths, eating food that put Lenoir and Rams Head to shame.
During the meal, a couple students from the trip last year gave some words of wisdom, and then Alston Gardner stood up to speak. He talked about what he hoped we would gain from the trip, encouraging us to branch out from the group and interact with Singaporeans. A generous benefactor, Alston came across as a personable, laid-back, friendly guy.
After the speech, the 2005 group met with him inside for a private pep-talk. If we told you what we talked about in this meeting, we would have to kill you. He encouraged us to ask him any questions we had. Alston’s wife, Barbara, also gave us some sage advice. She told us to keep in mind that when in Singapore, we are there to observe, not to judge.
We took turns introducing ourselves to Alston, telling him where we’re from and what we’re looking forward to. I realized that this dinner could be the last time I see some of my fellow travelers until May 29. It’s incredible to think that in a mere three weeks, we will all be together on a plane to Singapore.