Monday, 24 June 2013

No babies, no fat people and I found the hippies!

Being in another country like Malaysia helps crystallize the sharp contrasts that make Singapore stand out as a really unique place.  I was talking to Ken this afternoon and he said he saw a pregnant woman today and did a double-take when he realized that's the only one he's seen in the past two weeks.  Louis said the birth rate here is less than 1% and the marriage rate is also dramatically low, even though the country subsidizes it considerably.  I guess that's another reason why they attract foreigners so aggressively (a typical post-doc start up grant is $3 million!!!!  That's absurd... most of us agree we wouldn't be able to say no to a package like that, especially considering that post-docs subsist on peanuts for pay in the US).  So no pregnant people.  No fat people, even though Singaporeans are obsessed with food and supposedly start planning their next meal while eating their current dish.
Statue at the temple

A bunch of interesting things happened last week that I wasn't able talk about when I was in Malaysia.  On Wednesday, I met up with Sam and found my new favorite part of town.  He took me to Bugis street and the surrounding areas.  We found a beautiful Hindu temple and they were in the middle of an interesting ceremony and everyone was walking around with offerings.  Just a few blocks over was a Chinese temple and a Chinese street market where we got an ice cream sandwich with wafer cookies and sweet corn ice cream.  Around the corner from that was Arab street, a colorful haven for hippies and hookah smokers.  We saw the beautiful Sultan mosque (but girls aren't allowed inside)  and the Malay cultural center.  The street was filled with middle eastern restaurants, organic cafes for granola-cruncher types and interesting art/craft shops.  It's probably the only place in Singapore where you can find graffiti.  After lots of walking, we settled there to listen to live jazz and have a beer.  
It was interesting talking to Sam about the country he was born and raised.  I kept asking him "what is Singapore?  What makes the country distinctive?" because most countries have unique identities and I can't figure this one out.  Bali has their traditional dances, Cambodia has their cooking and floating villages, Brazil was incredibly diverse but has its samba and caipirinhas.  Singapore's famous for their food- but what food?  It's imported food from all over, often with a slightly Singaporean twist but not often all that distinct.  Sam agreed that to him Singapore was just all about shopping and business.  Shopping is practically the national sport in addition to the national hobby especially around this month, "the annual Singaporean sale".  They literally have malls everywhere and the "small" malls are usually six stories.  It boggles my mind.  He said the country used to have much more of a neighborhood-y experience, which I think is what Owen tried to show me when he took me to the "heartland" with the Hawker Center and mall at the center of a typical neighborhood.  Now with the high rise apartments, he said people have become much more inwardly focused and less friendly.  I've certainly noticed it traveling around the city- everyone is constantly on their electronics, it's really hard to meet locals and even when you say "thank you", no one replies with "you're welcome".  It's pretty sad!

Club on Arab street
 Thursday nights are the weekly couchsurfing meeting at a bar near Little India and I promised Mikel that I would go and I recruited a bunch of my fellowship friends to join.  Ken and I went early to explore the cool parts of Little India.  We went into a temple, down a lot of crazy shops and had an amazing dinner at a Hawker Center.  I read about a famous prata place so I had that.  Prata is the "Indian" pizza and it was fun to watch the guy make it in front of you and toss the dough in the air.  We found cheap Kingfisher and I think that was my best Hawker Center meal.  As we wound our way closer to the tapas bar where the meeting was held, we found Alissa who was also eating prata but at another restaurant.  Sure enough Marie and Dave walked by and we flagged them down to join us.
The meeting was awesome- not as big of a turnout as Sao Paulo but the air pollution was at dangerous levels and we were on a rooftop bar.  The meeting was jokingly deemed "masquerade-themed" to celebrate the creative ways people could cover their faces.  We talked to people from all over- Slovania, France, UK... I spent the most time talking to a Russian who is moving to Bali to teach surfing lessons out of the Hard Rock Cafe (I may try to recruit his services in a couple weeks) and a Japanese girl, Kaz who just moved here and I definitely want to hang out with her again!
Alissa eating prata!  They serve food with a spoon and a fork here haha
Speaking of Japanese, on friday morning, Lauren, Samantha and I had an amazing cooking class taught by the resident expert.  She centered the menu around veggies from her weekly delivery service and showed how to make basically anything from four ingredients (soy sauce, sake, mirin and rice wine vinegar). We made a delicious mushroom broth based soup, teriyaki eggplant, sushi rice and cooked up some delicious squash that I hadn't heard of.  She also served up three varieties of pickles, taught us proper etiquette for eating and served us tea from her fancy pot.  Best meal I've had in Singapore for sure and I can't wait to try it myself when I get back to Raleigh.  And she lived 10 minutes from the airport so it was spectacularly convenient.  And then off to Borneo I flew!

Japanese cooking lessons from Lauren :)
Hopefully this week will be productive- SUTD is on vacation but I've got an interview with Ying Hui Yang scheduled for Monday and I have lunch meetings the next two days, to talk with various people about science education related things.  Good night!