Friday, November 12, 2010


I'm visiting Singapore, ostensibly for a conference, but the conference is one day and I'm staying ten. I started this on Facebook but it was fiddly because I talk too much, so from today I'll post here. My photos will still mostly go on Facebook with a single sentence or two about what I've done.

I decided my blog would be easier for this as I talk a lot. Facebook is more for small news flashes.

Entrance to the National Library Singapore
I spent this morning in the National Library of Singapore. It’s a bright, airy silent place. There were lots of people there, mostly students from the look of them, but not one conversation, no study groups, even in the study room. Everyone sat individually and worked silently.

There’s no photography allowed so I sat and read a book on tea. It described the teas from each major region: India, Ceylon, China and Yassam, and how the growing conditions make the flavours so different. Anyone who knows me would be rolling their eyes about now, knowing I had a brilliant morning and wondering how it could be possible. Mix libraries/books and tea and I’m in heaven.

After the library I went back the Chinatown for a fitting. I took the bus this time and they dropped me at a different place from where I got off the train on Wednesday. I found Food Street. I swear that’s what the sign said. The narrow street was lined both sides with shops selling food. In front of most of the shops were booths selling food. A lot of those were closed. I expect they would open in the late afternoon: that seems to be when most things happen in Singapore. I wasn’t hungry so didn’t stop. Perhaps I’ll go back there for dinner one evening and see if I can match any of the smells to the food. Even though a lot of the places were closed there were still smells wafting around. Most of them I recognised but there was one strongly astringent one that almost bordered on rancid. I’ll try to make sure I never eat what made that smell.

I went back to the overpass where I sat for a time on Wednesday. I swear the same group of men were sitting in the pagoda – the only place guaranteed of shade. There are trees over most of the other tables but shade is patchy and the best ones were occupied. The tables have a game board etched into the centre. At least I think it was a game board. I can imagine those men in the pagoda coming out when the sun loses much of its heat and playing games in the garden. I sat under my umbrella, sweat dripping from my elbow, and drank the last of my water.

I saw Australian mangoes for sale: $5.60 each. I didn’t get one as all the fruit I’ve eaten here so far tastes slightly fermented. I think it would be difficult to prevent that in this heat. Nothing feels cold when I buy it. Food is kept cold: there are often thermometers on the glass to tell you how cold it is inside, but the drinks aren’t. I’ve bought bottled water and canned drinks a couple of times and they don’t develop any condensation and don’t feel cold to the touch. And everything’s small. The cans are 330ml. Lots of places have fridges at the entrance, filled with cans and water but the fridges are only about 60cm wide with half a dozen shelves. Half those shelves are stacked with water, the rest a mix of cans, most of which I don’t recognise. Coke and Pepsi are sold but you have to look for them and then it’s just the small cans and usually only one variety available. I haven’t seen any big Coke or Pepsi fridges like we have at home. I haven’t even seen a full-sized Mars bar. Chocolate is devilishly difficult to find just wandering around. And I’ve looked!

I think I need to go to the business district. There’s a busy-ness here, wherever I’ve been; a quiet desperation to make money, but there’s also a sense of calm. Didn’t I say yesterday that Singapore is a city of contrasts? I wonder what those who already make or have money feel like. I was going to Orchard Road this afternoon as it’s the other place that screams wealth but didn’t make it. I decided I’d drop in at my hotel to freshen up a bit (and pick up some more cash) before going to Orchard Road but I picked the absolute worst time to go back to the hotel for a break.

No sooner had I sat down than there was an announcement that the annual fire drill would be happening. Annual fire drill, and I walked in right then. I rushed around, thinking I’d get out before the alarm sounded but no such luck. I couldn’t even hide in my room and pretend I wasn’t there because I was standing in the lift area with a staff member when the alarm went off and the lifts disabled.

I asked what I should do but none of the three staff members on my floor seemed to know for sure. It seems the fire drill was mainly for staff. I asked if I had to go down the stairs and they all nodded and agreed with me and showed me where to go. I got down to the bottom to be told guests aren’t allowed to use the stairs. It took a while for me to get them to understand I was directed to do so because of the fire drill. I thought it odd that I was the only person in the stairwell the whole eight floors down, except for the ladder blocking access on the seventh floor, and have the distinct impression that guests were exempt from the drill. That seems a little odd. I’d like to think someone would at least check to see if I was out of the building if it came to that.

By the time I got to the lobby I was even more hot and exhausted than I’d been before. I sat there for a while contemplating my dilemma: go back to my room, go out as I was, go to the bar. The bar looked pretty good.

Eventually I decided to go out for dinner. I found a little restaurant around the corner from the hotel and had Black bean beef, Stir-fried vegetables and rice. It was like eating at a different restaurant at home. The food was similar enough that I recognised it instantly but there was a slight difference in flavour. The beef had lots of garlic – sliced not crushed – and big slices of ginger too. There are about five other similar looking restaurants in the same block so I’ll try a few of them.

Tomorrow’s the conference I came here for. I’m having such a good time looking around and doing my own thing I keep having to convince myself I really do need to go to this conference. They’re going to want feedback at the first staff meeting when I get back. It means getting up early. I have to be there between 8.30 and 9.00am. That in itself is odd for Singapore as nothing opens before 11.00am usually. The school I have to go to is on the opposite side of the city. A taxi would be the easiest but probably the most expensive too. I’m thinking of taking the MRT (love Singapore’s train system) to Orchard Road and then a taxi the rest of the way.


Lauren said...

ha ha - the foul smell you are referring to is probably DURIAN.
It is a fruit that smells and tastes like vomit, and has the texture of rotten cucumber. I have only tried it in australia as i was too scared to try it again when i was in asia. i have heard it is much better in asia as it has to be frozen to enter australia.

Have you tried MANGO MILK? there are all kinds of crazy combinations of drinks and some are quite tasty - experiment with your drinks - try the ALOE VERA JUICE - yum!

glediar said...

I've been mostly sticking to water because I'm so thirsty but I'll try a few before the end of the week.

Jack Witson said...
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