Scouring

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
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Tuesday, November 7, 2006

I took a walk last night before retiring to the dorm. I wanted to experience more of the 'living dead' chaos I'd first been introduced to upon my untimely arrival. I walked alone, along the streets of Little India, soaking up the atmosphere: the sights, the sounds, and the random chaos of bustling locals, the smells eminating from the markets, the doorways and the alleyways, and from the open homes of people who make their lives here. It was fantastic. Such a buzz.

I sauntered along for ages pottering about aimlessly, checking out the tiny hidden shops, the fresh food abundantly on display in the open air, the millions of rapid-fire voices shooting in and around my untuned ears, rubbing shoulders with strangers, squeezing myself between huddled groups, one hand on camera, the other clenched tightly around new and unfamiliar currency. It was an incredible experience and while I never saw another westerner the whole time, I felt oddly at peace with the situation. It was the fix I needed and after returning to Dunlop Street a while later and sinking a couple of beers outside with two Dutch randoms, it was clear that nothing could be better right now than lying down in a cool air-conditioned room and drifting off peacefully...

...where I awoke around 4am, tense, holding my nipples. Ruddy freezing. I'm convinced I was the only one awake and so just lay there silently clenched next to the air-conditioner rattling flat-out above me. As the 'towels' provided to us were short even for my little legs, it became apparent quite quickly that the decision was either cold feet or cold shoulders. I opted for neither and curled up tightly on my side like a dead prawn. I probably only lasted a couple more hours before getting up properly and venturing downstairs for a good sampling of the inclusive breakfast: eggs, bread and coffee. All good.



So today saw me off to an early start and I found myself doing the only thing realistic on my first day in a new country - setting out for a good meander on foot. That meant scouring Singapore. I hadn't read much about it prior to my arrival, nor had I heard all that much from other people, only that it was commonly referred to as the 'Big Brother State', a place of impeccable cleanliness occupied by people with sickening law-abiding qualities. This interested me enough to spend a few days here though I have to admit to finding the whole thing a little disappointing. It wasn't all that 'big brother' and certainly not at all 'impeccably clean'. It wasn't this that disappointed me, but that I'd heard so much to the contrary, which demonstrated yet again how important it is to take people's opinion with a pinch of salt. It was only a couple of months before I flew out to New Zealand that I was told how much I wouldn't like it as it's 'so cold there'. You know who you are.

My sightseeing saving grace (if there was one) was the 'Fountain of Wealth', arguably the world's highest fountain. I was keen to see this, so had a leisurely stroll over, only to find that the whole thing was closed off, inoperative and under electrical repair by a whole regiment of folk in blue overalls and yellow hats. So while I didn't get to see the world's highest fountain, I got to see the world's largest doughnut, a comforting consolation at the very least. The final opportunity of enlightment came in the form of a large white statue - part lion, part fish - known affectionately as the 'Merlion', often found proudly displayed on postcards all over the city and clearly a symbolic and iconic structure landmarking the city of Singapore.



While Singers hasn't knocked my socks off on face value, it's been a whole world of contrast to the environment I've been used to of late, as well as a vast change in climate and culture. It is so hot here, so humid, close and strength-sapping. The sort of intensity that prevents you from drying at all. But step into a shop doorway, even momentarily, and you're swiftly thrown back into winter. This somehow messes with your logic: step outside and you're right back into an open steam room, retreat a couple of steps inside and you find yourself once again in the fridge. Weird.

By midday I'd resorted to checking out a few of the shopping malls. Christ. Singapore has countless malls, all of which are adequate enough to contain every outlet and retailer afforded by most major cities. You just wouldn't know where to start. Really. It's stupid. A couple of hours in 'Suntec City' and I'd had more than enough, spending most of my time gawping towards the ceiling mesmerised, yet eternally grateful that I hadn't got a woman with me. A proper miracle. I was able to leave swiftly, when it suited - the ultimate get of jail free card, thank god.



But the highlight for me, the absolute highlight, was the food. Asian food by far is my favourite, one that I can never get enough of. In the last two years I've lost count of the amount of Singapore Laksas I've cooked with a loving passion, each one experimental in search of some kind of mastery over the perfect recipe. So to find myself walking around a city home to one of the finest dishes in the world was an absolute cry of joy.

I visited as many food courts and backstreet food vendors as there was traffic, sampling, tasting and slurping back as many of the local delicacies as I could get down my throat. There were some amazing dishes displayed proudly on the wall behind each kiosk and chef, many of them pictorial and boasting the weirdest and most wonderful concoctions I've come across to date: 'chickens feet with mushrooms', 'pigs innards soup', 'spine meat broth', 'pickled sheeps stomach' and countless others which fail to spring to mind as I write this. It was important to me to sample a laksa as soon as possible and I managed to find a suitable vendor tucked away in the corner of a huge food court close to the fountain of wealth. This one looked a little different to the others and held significant appeal to me as they allow you to cram the items of your choice into the bowl yourself before handing it over to the chef for a lovingly garnish of the spicy creamy broth.

It's late afternoon already and I've probably wolfed down a good five or six dishes, each one radically diffferent from the last and with enough diversity to keep me satisfied for a week. I've been sitting here overlooking Boat Quay for a while now, soaking up the atmos and making the odd note or two. My belly's rotund and nicely stuffed. God knows how far away I am from Little India..
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