Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Sixth month, Singapore senses

After six months, it seems appropriate to summarise first impressions of life in Sin City:

:: People ::

Kiasu behaviour strongly pervades Singaporean society. This all-consuming fear of 'losing out' causes some people to ignore any semblance of etiquette when using public transport and a relentless determination to be the top dog. Numerous characters have been created to poke fun at this tenacious nature, including Mr Kiasu and Mr Everything Also Know who leads the 'Know Your Singapore' Quiz in the URA gallery. The latter taught me the terribly interesting fact that more than half of Singapore is not taken up by major infrastructure nor Defence but by reservoirs. Despite this, Singapore is not yet self sufficient in the water stakes but is working hard to change this vulnerability into a capability by surging ahead in water technology. Watch this space for yet another 'World's First' or 'World's Largest' something or other. I'm on the edge of my seat.

:: Food ::

Singaporeans eat at all hours of the day and when they are not eating, many of them are thinking or talking about food. These hobbit-like people are fully experienced at fitting in second breakfast, elevenses, afternoon tea, and supper around the usual three meals a day on which other people in the world subsist. But who can blame them? Singapore truly is a gastronomic paradise where food from all over the world can be sampled alongside local food which is a delicious mixture of Chinese, Indian and Malay. The fusion of Chinese and Malay has even given rise to a whole new class of cuisine, Peranakan. Laksa is an excellent example of a fusion dish for which all over Singapore, people carry on their relentless search for the ultimate 'die die must try' bowl.

Morning meal - take your pick from economic bee hoon with sambal chilli, chee cheong fun, loh mai kai, nasi lemak, yam cake, char siu bao, toast (with the crusts cut off) spread with kaya, or soft boiled eggs with a dash of soy sauce. Wash that down with a kopi or teh remembering to say your chosen appendage, lest you want your drink served with a heaped spoonful of sugar and a squirt of sweet condensed milk: 'o' (no milk) or 'c' (with unsweetened evaporated milk) or 'peng' (with ice); 'kosong' (no sugar) or 'siudai' (less sugar). For those on a caffeine avoidance programme, select soya milk or Milo, which can be served on ice or lukewarm.

Try Wang Cafe for the toast or egg dishes and any of the myriad of small coffee shops and food courts dotted around Singapore for the chillified selections.

Afternoon meal - first decide whether you want rice or noodles. Then, decide between meat, fish or vegetables or a combination. Next, something 'dry' (with a sauce) or 'wet' (with a soup). Finally, with or without chilli (unless you're having curry).

Evening meal
- see 'Afternoon meal'. Rinse and repeat.

In-between meal snackettes - all manner of fish-based products: fish balls on a stick, fish crackers, fish pounded into a paste, wrapped into a beancurd-based wrapper and deep-fried to get the right balance of crunchy and chewy. Yum. You can also try pork floss buns (a bread roll topped with dried flaky pork using some kind of edible glue) or any of the other baked delicacies found in stores like Breadtalk or (the celebrities' favourite) Bread Pitt:

A quick note about 'chopeing' seats. Entering a hawker centre or food court, you may be surprised to see numerous abandoned packs of tissues dotted on the tables. Far from this being your opportunity to blow your nose or take a seat, please note that locals have placed those tissues there to save their seat. Should you be brave enough to sit in a 'choped' seat, be warned that coming between a Singaporean and his food could be the one and only time that you ignite a passionate and burning tirade of fury. Saying 'belly solly, lah' and moving away will, no doubt, defuse the situation immediately.

:: Language ::

Singlish is everywhere. Even in the workplace. Far from it being an uneducated way of speaking, I find it a refreshing take on the English language. Currently, I am perfecting when to use 'lah', 'lor', 'leh', and 'what' at the end of a sentence and have designated Friday afternoons for Singlish practice with my local colleagues, which they find rather amusing. My favourite so far (and the one I am finding hardest to incorporate into my conversations) is the particle 'wat', also spelled what, which is used to remind or contradict the listener, especially when strengthening another assertion that follows from the current one: "The food there not bad what. Can try lah."

In other news, this month's highlights include:

- One night, two helipads. We were lucky to receive invites to party on the helipad of the New Asia Bar, situated on no less than the 72nd floor. The cityscape views were awesome and it was fun to be reminded how high in the sky we were by the occasional strong gust of wind. To max out our 'high', we then went to Helipad.

- Blissin' out in Bali.

- Learning how to cook ravioli with Heather Barrie, Founder of Fine Palate.

Next up is a weekend in Bangkok, learning how to dive in Borneo and following the preparations for National Day. Stop using the national flag as a tablecloth, hang it outside your house for four weeks (not a moment longer - it's the law) and feel smugly patriotic. We are Singapore.

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