Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Singapore

Singapore
Our first notable encounter on this trip to Singapore occurred in the Rochester Airport. We learned that our checked bag weighed 55 pounds and that the excess 5 pounds would carry a $150 surcharge. Holy cow. We moved things around and made our carry-on heavier and bulkier but saved the $150. Looming in the near future is the notion that we have neither space nor weight for any treasures we might find on the trip.
Having dealt with the suitcase we concentrated on the serious task of getting to Singapore. We didn’t wait long in Rochester before we flew to Chicago where we waited and flew to Los Angeles where we waited and flew to Hong Kong where we waited and flew to Singapore. More expensive tickets might whisk a person along in fewer steps but no matter the route Singapore is on the other side of a large world.
It was interesting to look at airports along the way. If ranked only by the style, cleanliness and art in airports, Singapore and Hong Kong would leave the US bleakly behind. Both those airports are new and elegant as is the subway system in Singapore. Full of mosaics and large spaces, it’s like traveling though an art museum. The tracks are hidden behind glass walls whose doors only open when the trains are there. The safety and cleanliness of such a system are without question.
Singapore is a new, tiny country. They say they have no water supply on the island but I’m guessing that means in quantity for the population because people have lived here for a long time.
Again, in the modern context, there are no natural resources yet the country seem to provide for the people. It was a Sultanate and then the British claimed it. Japan took it in the Second World War and it spent a bit of time as part of the Malay Federation but racial tensions and the political pressure of Indonesia forced Singapore into independence and they’ve done well.
With pockets of Chinese, Indian and European as well as other ethnic groups and huge areas of poverty Singapore took an interesting approach to racism decades ago. They built low income housing and required that every floor have families of different ethnicity. Over time people have come to see each other as neighbors and not as ethnic groups and this has helped bring the country together. Perfect? Not likely but real progress is made all the time.
It seems that the country’s pride has also helped. Singapore doesn’t talk about military wealth or power. How could they? It’s tiny with a small population. What they talk about is being educated. What they show is cleanliness and landscaping. There is public art everywhere. The economy seems strong and the country seems “together” at least to visitors. That’s not the impression one gets from LXA.
While in Singapore I am oversized and under bling-ed. There are sparkling Indian saris and rhinestone embedded T-shirts. Shoes and boots are jeweled and the sun dances over handbags and jewelry. The size-zero women become inches taller on heels which seem no impediment to traveling stride after stride over the streets and into shops. Even if a few sparkles were added to my backpack and perhaps my sneaker laces, I would still be a few sizes out of the ordinary.
Singapore is changing. Though the flowers blossom on every elevated walkway and the parks are amazing pockets of jungle one can find the occasional bit of litter and the stainless steel panels in the mass transit areas show fingerprints. Taxi drivers say that they wait 30 minute for a new fare and some shops are permanently shuttered. Hotel occupancy is down and we heard only the occasional German or French conversation.
Western food has pushed into Singapore where Kentucky Fried Chicken is presented as an American Classic and people choose Subway sandwiches over won ton mee or masla dosi. As a result some people have attained a Western girth and, according to the papers, related Western diseases. Since everyone is covered by the same health plan, it is in everyone’s interest to be healthy so warnings are posted on snack foods to eat in moderation. Commentators in videos at the Museum urge Asian food and rejection of Starbucks. Change is tough.
Rick and I discovered, on our last day, the best masala dosai in the world. I say this with great conviction. The best spring rolls in the world can be found at the Chang Dao Nest in Thailand. We’ve eaten spring rolls everywhere and those are the best.

We’ve eaten masala dosai in a lot of places too including our month long trek through India and this was the best. Called Sree Sagar Pte Ltd, Pure Veg Restaurant, it is the establishment owned by Mr. Ananda Rao K.

The dosai was perfect. The masala had a wonderful flavor that made me just keep chewing it to make it last. The onion was mild and the other spices were able to blend and carry through. I don’t know the name for the coconut dipping sauce or the red sauce but I ate every drop of both. The sambal was, again, perfectly spiced. I also had a samosa. I could have eaten those samosas every day for years. If I could write about food the way Emilie does, you’d understand how good this stuff was. I had eaten some masala dosai the day before elsewhere and it was okay but when I tasted Mr. Rao’s food there was no comparison.

I have a photo of Mr. Rao and his cook and will post it when possible but if anyone out there is going to Singapore, stop by the Lau Pa Sat Festival Market and find him at the end of the row on Street 1 or go to his restaurant at 212 Serangoon Road. He has a website - www.sreesagar.com but what he really has is the best masala dosai in the world.

Rain interfered with our walking in the evening so we went inside a mall and were amazed by the number of people walking around a mall on a Sunday evening. Slightly over half the stores were open and hundreds of people gathered in groups in chairs or on the floor or leaning over the railing talking in that mix of Asian languages that just sounds like Singapore.

1 comment:

wincent said...

It's enlightening to see that the arts scene in singapore is improving. We were so wayback 5 years ago. Right now, there just seems to be a huge number of singapore tourist attractions. Both the locals and tourists are all benefiting