Last night I realized that a decade ago, nearly to the day, I changed my life drastically. In January 2000 I decided to forge ahead with the idea of writing a book about botanical gardens even though I didn't have a contract in hand. This would mean, I knew, trying to finance the necessary international travel out of travel writing and other bits and pieces, and traveling by myself to some far off countries. (Lee hates airplanes and it took much persuading to get him to join me in France eventually. His reluctance was part of the reason why until 2000 I had never ventured off the North American continent, besides a week trip to Haiti with my sister and her husband in 1973.)
So I began making plans to visit Singapore, Kew and the Jardin des plantes in Paris during the spring of 2000. Luckily, my adventures began at a time when e-mail was common, so I was able to arrange appointments and make reservations before I left. I also decided that a woman traveling alone mustn't be afraid: I'd try to go out by myself every morning when the place was waking up in order to talk to all women who looked friendly, as well as to take up all the invitations that were offered by my contacts.
The result has been a wealth of wonderful experiences all over the world--in the last ten years, I've been to Europe five times, Singapore three times and Brazil, China, India, Tanzania, Burundi and Kenya one time each, not to mention shorter visits to less exotic places in North America.
These are pictures are took on that first trip in March 2000. I didn't know what I was getting into--a young Australian had just been whipped for marijuana possession--but I ended up being very favourably impressed by Singapore. People bitched to me about the goverment the way they do most places, and I was there three days before I saw a police officer in uniform doing anything other than direct traffic. And when I saw the way that the City of London was locked down for May Day celebrations (Red Ken has just been elected mayor) and the gendarmes with machine guns in the Paris Métro, I realized that there are all kinds of ways to control people, and let he without sin cast the first stone.
At this point I have no idea what the next decade will hold for me, but I can't help thinking that I was extraordinarily lucky with the last one.
BTW, if you're interested, here's a link to the books that have grown out of that travel.