No Gators, No Rain,... No Problem!

Globetrotting Seminole Indians Take Singapore by Storm -- Sort Of

It was not to be.
Tan tries to explain why she herself grudgingly canceled the show: "Initially my ad agency gave a lot of hype to 'Bobby the Rain Man.' We had these drawings of little houses with dark rain clouds over them. Then my bosses said, 'This is a mall opening! Tenants don't like to see rain clouds over the mall!' Asia has gone through an economic meltdown, right? The last thing we need is rain clouds. What we need is for people to go shopping. So we told Bobby, 'No rain dance.'"

By now Storm was sulking in his suite at the King's Hotel, and Henry was doing a good bit of head-scratching. Just when things looked gloomiest, a huge UPS shipment of Seminole baskets, tomahawks, "Explore Native America" T-shirts, and non-Seminole turquoise jewelry finally showed up. The shipment, which also included about half the Seminole dolls in the world, had been stuck on a runway in Taipei for several days because of airplane engine trouble.

Then came an appearance by Henry on A.M. Singapore, the local equivalent of NBC's Today show. Finally business at Central Mall turned brisk. Storm got busy painting a mural. Henry supervised the building of four thatch-roofed chickees and set about carving a giant totem pole of an owl roosting on a man's head. Strictly speaking, totem poles are not part of the tribe's cultural heritage, but Henry says they appeal to tourists since they're readily recognizable from movies and comic books.

"Big people comin' to celebration of some kind," says Henry, referring to a dedication ceremony Tan has orchestrated for the totem pole prior to the Indians' exit from Singapore. Tommy Koh, the nation's ambassador-at-large, is expected to attend.

"This is a really strange situation, and we're making the best of it," says Peter Gallagher, a tribal employee who helped arrange the passports. "It reminds me of the days when Robert Ripley brought the Indians up to the 1939 World's Fair: 'Here are the people that live in the swamp.'"

Still, the Seminoles have adjusted. The locals speak English. The malls are stuffed with Kentucky Fried Chickens, Burger Kings, and Taco Bells. There's even a 24-hour Hooters visible from the hotel window.

"Right now I'm looking at a big aquarium," Gallagher adds by cell phone from one of Singapore's fancier restaurants. "You can walk over and pick out a fish, and they cook it up for you. And there's some really weird-looking fish! It's like being at John Pennekamp but sitting at a dinner table."

As for Henry, the medicine man says he's achieved his goal of sharing Seminole culture abroad and also raked in a lot of loot selling handicrafts. Meanwhile, Singapore's culture of commerce has rubbed off on him. "We felt funny about Singapore money at first," Henry mentions. "It's a lot different-looking than American money. Once we got used to that, we buy a lot of stuff, clothes and a little bit of everything. There's a lot of shopping to do.

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