And so we embarked on our first US to Singapore (direct) flight on Tuesday, leaving San Francisco on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The flight itself took 15 hours and we spent most of it watching TV – they had Studio Ghibli’s Red Turtle! According to the optician my astigmatism has gone up by 50 degrees in my left eye (which is not normal at my age). I got new glasses made (now in blue!) and the guy in this little push cart shop in J8 took all of 30 minutes to make the lenses. He told us to take a walk and he’d have the glasses ready in half an hour. When we were kids it took 3 days, and a return trip to the spectacle shop. I suppose this is a childhood experience that most American children would not have :P
Most of the plane journey was shrouded in night, as we followed the path of the setting sun. A day had to be given up somewhere. When we left San Francisco we could see the moon reflecting off all the little pools and rivulets of water enclosed by land. On the great big ocean the moon’s reflection was just a dim sort of matte glow, and on land that glow would run through all the tributaries on the very craggy Californian coast like an animated spark through an animated wire.
This year mooncake festival (or mid-autumn festival, as it is better known to the less gluttonous) starts only in October, which means that when we went to Takashimaya (on our first day here, like 5 hours after touch down :P) the mooncake food fair was in full swing in the atrium! Managed to buy a box of taro mooncakes from Swatow Restaurant, and we have two teochew grandmothers who would like the taro mooncake with its signature flaky skin. This is probably the most difficult mooncake to make. All the lotus paste mooncakes tasted the same :S seems like it would make no difference whether you made them yourself at home (as my mum has been fond of doing) or if you bought them from a fancy hotel where in all likelihood you’d be paying for the box. Mooncakes come in really fancy boxes now, some come in a chest of 4 drawers where each drawer has a pearlescent knob and the entire contraption is upholstered in chinese silk.
We’ve been here for 2 days and already we have eaten
1. Carrot cake
2. Chicken rice for me (twice!)
3. Yong tau foo for him (twice!) – I learnt that the pork noodles that come with Koo Kee yong tau foo are lightly dressed with a briny, porky sauce that makes it taste very similar to aglio olio!
4. Old Chang Kee, which really ought to be everywhere. LZ says he likes their skewers more than their curry puffs. I like both! I also realized that the skewer that consists of deep fried squid legs is known as ‘squid head’ on their menu :S Don’t ask me why. The lady asked if I wanted the squid head skewer or the squid body skewer so I asked for the body, which wasn’t what she grabbed.
5. Zhi char at Dian Xiao Er – had their signature angelica braised roasted duck (I still don’t know how they managed to do a duck two ways all at once and retain its crispy skin), hot plate tofu, seaweed tofu (much less salty than Jumbo’s or the Paradise group, hence less tasty), marmite chicken, etc. etc.
6. Beef noodles from the Ion food court
7. Hum ji peng from the Ion food court
8. The famous Pablo cheese tart
9. Lao Ban dao hui
We notice new things about Singapore each time we’re back. For example, Old Chang Kee has a tea time promotion running from 2pm – 6pm where you can buy 4 skewers at $5 (each usually runs from $1.30 to $1.75). We passed by the shop, saw the promotion, and promptly tried to order it, only to have the aunty tell us unceremoniously “Not 2 o’clock yet.” Which was when we actually looked at the time and realized it was 1:50 pm :P Singaporeans really can be rule abiding to a fault. She didn’t even tell us to “come back later.” She couldn’t care less whether we patronized her stall or not. It was just very jarring coming back from the US :P I don’t think there are many timed promotions there. Like even the Wendy’s 50 cent frosty promotion ran through the entire summer.
We also overheard many snippets of conversation – not hard when you are a population of 7 million squeezed on this tiny plot of land. Tables in restaurants are typically really squashed together so you can easily overhear the next table’s conversation, whether you like it or not, and if you are buying things from a shop there is also typically a short queue, where many people with no concept of personal space will jostle you and let you in on whatever they’re talking about with their friends/family. Many people here have a very mundane concept of morality, most of which seems to have been lifted straight off from our civics and moral education textbooks (or 好公明) – tenets like
1. It is good to spend time with your family. Games that can be played by the whole family must be good!
2. It is good to help an old lady cross the road.
3. It is good to be nice to elderly people in general, letting them cut your queue and have their way whenever they want their way.
and other communist sounding nonsense.
And so many people espoused similarly boring views in the limited conversations we heard over 2 days! On the one hand it is adorable (how everyone is bursting with at least this standard morality), on the other hand I feel a little like I am on Camazotz.
Another feature of Singaporean conversations we noticed is that there is a brand of Singaporeans who like to expound extensively and confidently on subjects they know nothing about. Their tone is uber assured, like that of a Ted talk speaker speaking about his/her life’s work, but what comes out of their mouths is absolute gibberish. It’s really quite fascinating. In general when we’ve listened to people talk about things they are experts in they don’t really put in any effort in sounding confident? Professors usually only become a little bit know-it-all when they are impatient with someone who is not getting their facts right or making stupid assumptions. In conversation most people who know something about anything tend to be more self-effacing or open-minded so as to be able to learn more. Whereas these overheard conversations brought me straight back to my conversations with the natives 3+ years ago, where I actually resorted to naming one of them ‘genius’ and another ‘supergenius’ for their utter shamelessness in expounding on things they know next to nothing about. These evangelists also talk in a particular way that conveys that theirs is the only truth and that there is no other truth. I feel like Jesuits or Jehovah’s Witnesses would do very well here.