Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Singlish Holiday

Still homeless vagabonds, we traipse through Asia. Our next stop...The Garden City: Singapore.

Singapore: One big air-conditioned shopping mall surrounded by lovely lush gardens, brilliant green parks and the Bukit Timah Rainforest. Where one minute you are drenched from the sweltering tropical island heat and the next minute your sweat has frozen as you walk into the Siberian air-conditioned supermalls.

We walk with the masses along the infamous Orchard Road lined with massive shopping centers each trying to outdo the other with their lights and holiday decorations.

Locals tell us that each year the decorations seem to grow thicker and the lights multiply.

We manuver our way through the crowds of people who seem to enjoy walking sideways, diagonally and even backward. Grrr. An ideal place for people watching, we pass a local woman playing Jinglebells on her pipa (a Chinese guitar-like instrument), while 50 feet away a pair of child contortionists perform their pretzel bending moves drawing quite a crowd, as their "trainer" sits on the sidelines with a sleazy smirk on her face.

The uhh "aroma" of Durian fruit wafting through the air from the general direction of the beautiful and impressive Esplanade Theatre (an architectural marvel shaped like a pair of the stinking national fruit) where it's refreshing to see that there remains a place in this world where people still dress in their finest to go see the ballet.


To get us even more in the Christmas spirit (as if it wasn't blasted in our faces already on Orchard Road) we enjoy a performance of the Nutcracker by the Singapore Dance Theatre in this gorgeous building while trying to keep warm by cuddling in our sweaters which we brought along.

Often termed an eating capital, food is culture as much as it is a religion here and we happily assimilate. The many outdoor hawker centers and eating houses (which are basically a collection of local food stalls in one location) that dot the land are choc full of culinary delights, a highlight of this country that's sure to leave a good taste in your mouth.

Taking refuge from the daily afternoon thunderstorm, we set our travel size tissue pack on a table to reserve our spot and then we walk around the 15-30 stalls, looking for the longest queue, salivating on the array of tasty choices, from the simple to the bizarre.

While it's difficult to appoint our favourite Singapore flavours as there are so many, we particularly enjoy the mouthwatering Hainanese Chicken Rice and mouth-burning Laksa, which we wash down with freshly pressed sugar cane juice followed by the wonderful Ruby Red & Sago dessert. This feast for two we enjoy for less than $15! The price is indeed no reflection of the taste. Yes...we could get used to this.

In time, we'll try the local favorites like sambal stingray and fish head curry. And with regular governmental checks and a reliable "ABC" rating system, you can trust the hawker stalls to be as clean as the Vatican's dining hall pre-Christmas dinner.

I am struck by the charm and beauty of the colonial-era shophouses, some of which are converted into homes for those who are wealthy enough to afford them.

My excited camera clicks away as my poor husband runs away in fear of being termed a "tourist".

Trying to blend in, we attend the local pantomime comedy show: Snow White. Not quite Broadway or even off-Broadway, it was still quite entertaining as it poked fun at Singapore politics with all the bells, whistles and cross-dressers in musical fashion. Possibly more amusing though was watching the audience, particularly the adults, get all nerdy with their toy hand clappers and noise makers.

A peculiar and wholesome people inhabit this kingdom. Some can be a bit robotic, yet it is apparent that a refreshing creative edge is on the rise.

As an English Major, I cringe hearing Singlish, a crazy mutt slang language (a combination of Chinese, English, Malay and even some Indian languages). It has become the national language much to the chagrin of the Singapore government in their efforts to forge a worldclass city and financial center. Having a staccato feel to it, Singlish can have quick and sharp voiceless stops, while mixing different languages and accents within the same sentence. You ask how can? Tack on the ubiquitous "lah" on the end of every other phrase or so for emphasis if you want to try it out. No nid gramma. Forgit all you learn lah. Can try? Dis easy lah. Later free or not? Wah, so good you try lah!

Despite the perplexing cultural nuances of this country which can take some getting used to, it is a fascinating place that makes a lot of sense if you give it a chance. For example, in the Geylang area, prostitution is legal, but only on the even numbered streets. Trust Singaporeans to think of regulating everything. It is actually quite smart if you think about it because they figure it is going to happen anyway, so they might has well have some control over it.

Mat Oakley (author of our Lonely Planet travel guide) articulates it best:
"It's popular to dismiss Singapore as a kind of Asia Lite - blandly efficient and safe, a boringly tasteless, disciplinarian and unadventurous place where citizens are robbed of their cherished freedom to spit on the street and chew gum. Utter nonsense!"

Many countries, particularly in Asia, covet the efficiency of Singapore though may never admit it publicly. A virtually crime-free and wholesome place, none can match the uniqueness of this fascinating culture and people. Besides, I have always wanted to live in a gun-free country. Is that really too much to ask for?

Singapore: Pristinely clean, safe and orderly, this city comes as close to utopia as you can imagine. Even the dirt is clean (except in Little India-ha ha). Everything just works here. And if all that wasn't good enough, each evening after satisfying our taste buds at our neighborhood hawker center, we enjoy a miraculous mosquito-free stroll through the many lush parks and gardens of this topical paradise.

Where else can your five senses deeply experience the rich cultures of India, China and Malaysia all in one place? Only in Singapore. I can't say it more simply: I like it here.


Braja said...

I *love* that sign, "buy a drink lah!" Gorgeous :)

Beautiful photos Shireena....

Here, There, Elsewhere... and more said...

I certainly can understand why you like it there..!
This "guided visit" we are on with you is most enjoyable and the photos are simply stunning - thanks for sharing..:)

Manasa said...

Lovely pics. :)

Was the header image shot at S'pore?

Shireena said...

Braja, Thank you! The sign was too perfect for this postlah.

HTE&More, Nice to hear from you. Thanks for your kind words - glad you enjoy it.

Hi Manasa, Thanks! Yes, the header image is from Buddhist Sanctuary in Singapore. I just had to go for a visit to the temple - very peaceful.

Take care =)

mimi said...

Sherri, again your writing is so beguiling! I loved reading this. And the pictures are FASCINATING! Loved also your notes on language. You are so perceptive! You need to write a book! Rather, a book will write itself as you simply note your observations.

Shireena said...

Thanks, MimiMaria - you are too kind!