From Charleston to Singapore

MarkSiebert // May 21 // 0 Comments

The Unforgettable Journey of an Army Brat Navigating Life, Loss, and Reunion

My name is Mark, and my life took an unexpected turn on January 1, 1976. I was on my way to visit my grandmother in Charleston, South Carolina, when I received the heartbreaking news of her passing during a roadside collect call. Devastated and alone on that distant highway, I couldn't help but grieve.

With the house in Charleston now in probate, I moved in as the only family member in the U.S. My father, an army attaché, served in Singapore then. Determined to make the best of this unexpected chapter, I enrolled at the College of Charleston and embraced the new path before me.

After six months of managing the probate, attending college, and adjusting to my new life, I finally had to reunite with my family in Singapore. The anticipation of seeing them made the long flight worthwhile. Singapore in 1976 was a city undergoing rapid change, blending tradition with modernization. Being the son of an army attaché gave me countless opportunities to immerse myself in diverse experiences beyond my wildest dreams.

One remarkable experience was getting the chance to drive a classic Jaguar convertible from the 1960s. A friend of my father's loaned it to me, thanks to my diplomatic status and passport, allowing me to bypass a license plate or pay the hefty taxes on older cars. For two months, I relished the luxury of cruising around Singapore, feeling the wind in my hair and enjoying the symbol of wealth and extravagance the car represented.

Encounters with high-profile figures like U.S. Vice President Rockefeller further enriched my time in Singapore. He visited Singapore to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial, and I was in awe of such influential individuals' presence.

In addition to these encounters, I worked in a warehouse that cleaned oil supply equipment. The job introduced me to a fascinating world of tailor-made jumpsuits and air-conditioned Mercedes-Benz buses for daily commutes. It was a unique experience that taught me valuable lessons about the intricate workings of the oil industry.

One vivid memory from my time in Singapore was a scene where a dead man lay unattended in the street when I was headed to work one day and was still there 8 hours later due to religious customs. It was a stark contrast to what I thought would happen with a dead body, too, and it served as a powerful reminder of the importance of respecting and understanding different cultural practices.

Another time I was invited to a co-worker's house for dinner. He was from India was the first time I was exposed to an authentic curry. I still remember, to this day, how spicy it was.

Another adventure awaited me when I started working on oil rigs in the ocean, accessing them via helicopter. The exhilaration of flying over the vast ocean was unmatched. On one occasion, I had to paint a water tower 100 feet above the rig. Despite my fear of heights, I summoned my courage and completed the task. It was a defining moment that taught me the value of pushing beyond my limits.

However, life has a way of throwing unexpected challenges our way. Just as I settled into our Singapore- life, a family emergency unfolded. My sister had graduated high school and returned to the U.S. with our mother to pursue her studies at Clemson University. Unfortunately, our mother suffered a heart attack, prompting our father to fly back and support her. This decision led to him leaving his position as army attaché, forfeiting his dreams of becoming a general, and ultimately moving our family back to Alexandria, Virginia.

Before he departed, my dad arranged for me to work on an oil supply ship to Alaska. This three-month journey, with a stopover in Hawaii, would provide me with enough money to fund a year of college.

And that's how I found myself alone in Singapore, preparing to depart on a ship to Alaska on my birthday, August 12, 1976.

And that, my friend, is another Tale from m Footlocker.

About the Author MarkSiebert

Hi, I'm Mark. The Teller of Tales Spawned from the Footlocker. Join me on a journey from the stories that have been curating for over fifty years. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I have written them.

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