Last Week

Every last week of summer in Singapore always seems like I’m packing in an entire summer’s worth of everything in a few days of frenetic activity.

Everything I eat must be carefully considered – can I get the same in London? If so, what do I have to pay, and how easy is it to find? In light of this, Sunday’s excursion to Rice Table for their S$12.80 (£4.50ish) a la carte buffet was time and money well spent, even though their tauhu telor (tofu omelette, a lot nicer than it sounds) is nowhere as good as Kartini’s (in Parkway). Mum grilled some stingray tonight, but we might also go for the real roadside thing before I leave – eating it at your home dining table with placemats and a tablecloth just isn’t the same as eating it on the pavement of East Coast Road under the night sky.

The shopping imperative, too, becomes that much more acute. I’m not going to have access to so wide a range of various frivolities at so low a price for the next year, not to mention the fact that everything in Singapore fits me wonderfully, while in London I have to scrounge and beg for size 8’s and 6’s.

This last week, the mix has been right. I’ve fed my frivolity during the day, divided nights between family and friends, and indulged my food fetishes pretty much all the time. Late at night I Internet and read (finally finished Kavalier & Clay, now on Amsterdam). Met scholarship and UCL folk on Sunday (Happy birthday Kaka!), lunched poshly with my sister (Saint Pierre’s, lovely) and bubble tea’d with Pei Ee today. Tomorrow I meet the Orgers for Goldmember and mudpies. Wednesday will either involve clubbing with Fay, or packing (boo), hopefully both. And Thursday I fly.

Singapore Art Museum

I don’t know if I’d rate the Singapore Art Museum particularly highly if I were a foreigner, because it would be full of names I’d never heard of. Even visiting it as a Singaporean, most names apart from Chen Wen Hsi, Georgette Chen and Ng Eng Teng draw a blank with me. But I found myself enjoying the museum’s permanent collection more than the Rodin exhibition we’d primarily gone to see; perhaps I subconsciously prefer painting to sculpture, or modern over classical, or perhaps it was just the familiarity of paintings I’d seen before on previous visits to the museum – I don’t know. It’s three in the morning and stream-of-consciousness is about all I can manage.

I like this museum, always have. I like its retention of the simple beauty it must have had as a school, the spare elegance it still has as an art museum. Today the revelation hit me that my parents walked the same corridors I was walking down, in the days when it was St Joseph’s Institution and they were students there. They met and romanced here. It’s a beautiful place to be able to remember falling in love in, I think.

I was also struck by the thought that this awareness of a personal history can only happen for me in this country. As far as England is concerned, I didn’t exist before 1999.

Food With Friends

So I finally decided to act like the social being anthropologists tell me I’m meant to be, and got a life.

Friday lunch with Vikram at a Chinese in what I think is now called H20 Zone, where our suspicions that we’d been given a tourist menu (photos accompanying every menu item) were confirmed when we peeked in another menu (which they told us was for “drinks”) and found it photoless and about $2 cheaper across the board. So we ordered our crispy baby squid (another ticked item on the summer food list) and sambal brinjal conspicuously from the photoless menu, and were charged accordingly.

Dinner with the Twins and their parents involved more ticking of the food list once they’d discovered a list existed and insisted on getting me satay and a baby coconut in addition to my chicken rice. We drifted and lounged and chatted around the Raffles Town Club pool, probably well-raisined by the time we got out to do girly things like hair masques and steam-rooms. There was the pleasant feeling of lives that had moved on and developed almost wholly independently of each other but which could still be described out of more than politeness (because we wanted to), and responded to out of more than avoiding awkwardness (because the connections that power conversation were still there). They still refer to me as “hoggie”, short for hedgehog, because I am apparently “prickly but cute.” I would have suggested just “cactus” instead myself, but suppose old friends are allowed to do things like tell me I’m cute without being killed with blunt objects.

The Difficulties Of Summer

One thing I wonder about every summer is how my relocation affects my blog content (and yes, I won’t deny it, how it affects your interest in my blog content, O reader).

First and most simply, there’s the change of country – what I don’t realize while I’m in London and writing about London and the people I know there, is how much more difficult it can be sometimes to be writing about a place where I have a history. Every entry in Singapore comes with scores of invisible footnotes. No name is just a name, or a place just a place, but I feel torn between explaining everything (which, knowing me, would be overly lengthy and ultimately woefully inadequate) and just coasting through it all (which means the entries could end up feeling empty).

The other simple difference is language – we speak a colourful and fairly charming mutation of English over here which I fall comfortably back into once I’m home (unlike other Singaporeans who suddenly acquire other people’s accents after a few years somewhere else, and speak like foreigners at home forevermore), but which can be pretty damn incomprehensible to the rest of the world. And then there’s all our names for food. I don’t presume to be an Inuit trying to explain snow to a Bedouin but it can get a bit tough trying to figure out what a ang moh/gwai-lo/gringo, call them what you will, reader makes of all this.

Lest this become too Joy Luck Club, let me just say that I’ll try and find a happy compromise to everything above, but will probably fail quite regularly. So be it. I don’t write this exclusively for me or you, but wander fitfully along the spectrum, which is how I quite like it.

Welcomed Home

I walked in the front door and was greeted by our traditional cheesy family banners for returning graduate children – 1ST CLASS MICHELLE! in the hall and WELCOME HOME MICHY! on the door of my room. The first ever banner in the tradition was made 13 years ago by my mother and I, for my sister. While we were making it we rearranged the letters of WELCOME HOME BETHY! to HELCOME BOM WEETHY! (I was 9 and found these things amusing), and ever since then I call her Weethy from time to time.

We went to one of my favourite restaurants on East Coast Road and the salt and pepper squid had fundamentally and disappointingly changed. I would have felt a bit stupid saying “wo3 de jiao1 yan2 sotong mei2 you3 jiao1 yan2!” (literal translation: My “add salt squid” had no added salt!) to the waitress so I contented myself with the Hainanese chicken rice, which was as good as it’s ever been.

Plans for this time at home are mostly unformed. There’s mum’s birthday to celebrate, a cousin’s wedding to attend and play the violin at, a national debating tournament to judge, a multitude of friends to catch up with, a neighbourhood to fall back in love with, a plethora of favourite foods to eat too much of (see below), a Great Singapore Sale to bankrupt myself at, a Singlish accent to enjoy using again.

Slightly less positive features about the next month and a half are that it’s too bloody hot, my eyes have already gone red (I’m having flashbacks to the horrible summer of ’99 where 4 eye doctors couldn’t do anything to lessen my misery), I was reminded right from entering Singapore by the unsmiling passport control officers that random politeness isn’t appreciated here (they were more interested in continuing their conversation in Malay than responding to my hellos or thank yous or even registering my existence beyond the fact that I was a recurring troublesome feature of their job), and I have to find a way of not missing Alec.

Michelle’s summer food list:

  • Alvin’s claypot oyster chicken (Parkway Parade food court)
  • Ocean Fish Head Curry (Ceylon Road)
  • Hainanese chicken rice (Ghim Moh hawker centre)
  • Murtabak
  • Chilli kangkung
  • Sambal everything
  • Small crispy fried squid
  • Barbecued stingray
  • Baby octopus
  • Satay
  • Lots of Mum’s dishes that I can’t name but describe as “that chicken in the gravy that stains everything yellow”
  • Bubble tea
  • Luan Qi Ba Zao (explained last summer, scroll down to NoBlogLove post #2)
  • Bee-Bee (does anyone else from Singapore love this, or even remember it? It’s still 10 cents – childhood price – it comes in a small orange packet with a picture of a sparsely-haired plump man savouring something that looks like a gigantic piece of Bee-Bee, and it’s only available from small provision shops and some kacang puteh stands including Orchard Cineplex. I can’t be the only person keeping its sales alive by buying crates of it once a year!)
  • Uncle Toby’s muesli bars
  • McFlurry’s with Oreos (London, get with the program already!)