Sunday, January 11, 2015
Postcards from Singapore
The Dutch has been selling the idea of Singapore to me for a while now. I have successfully avoided it for a while because truth be told, I don't find vacationing in the midst of skyscrapers alluring. But when we found ourselves in Asia a couple of months ago, I knew my excuses have ran out. I must go.
Luckily, Singapore has an exciting food scene, so much so that it calls itself the Food Capital of Asia, and that for me is as good a draw as any. The Dutch had meetings in Singapore so I was lucky to have one of my friends in Manila (and on one occasion, a friend from University who is now a resident) to eat my way in Singapore with. Our trip started and ended with Hainanese chicken (a.k.a.Singapore chicken rice), which is one of the most minimalist dishes out there, but one that I find very satisfying in all its simplicity. The one that I would remember most is a hawker (food stall) called Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken at Maxwell Center in Chinatown. Singapore is also known for chili crab, and although I had one prepared with layers and layers of flavors - sweet, spicy, savory, it was a bit on the disappointing side. I could have done more research where to get the good stuff, but if one calls itself "Food Capital", one would think that excellence in food can be found everywhere.
My own personal impression of Singapore though is that a city, no matter how industrialized and progressive, is as only good as its people. Singapore separates itself from most of Asia because of its wealth, intellectual capital, economic muscle, and vast availability of clean toilets (no joke). And I really admire Singapore for that. But I realized that a place could only successfully resonate strongly with a person if one can connect with it on a personal and emotional level by way of its people. My impression of Singapore is that it is a "white man's Asia". Everything is clean. Tap water is actually potable. Sewage and transportation systems work without glitches, as they would in first world countries in the West. And yet, I found myself missing the big toothy smiles of what makes Asia, Asia.
On one of our cab rides back to our hotel, a cab driver boasts that he never travels elsewhere in Asia because nowhere else but in Singapore could he find a clean toilet wherever he may end up. Yes, it's true that those could be of shortage elsewhere, but I know for a fact that in Manila or Bangkok, I could find myself sharing a loud side-splitting laugh in the company of complete strangers. And I would much rather have that.