09 June 2011

Singapura (2)

Singapore: perfect example of Eliot's "juxtaposition of incongruities."

Following Monica's advice, on Sunday morning we took a taxi to Pagoda Street, home to the Chinatown Heritage Centre. We were let off right near the lofty Sri Mariamman temple, down the street from a mosque: pancasila, Singapore style.

Although the street is named after this tower on the corner, it is not a pagoda but a gopuram, a highly ornate feature of Hindu temples, particularly in Southern India.

Michael still has on his shoes: we didn't go inside.

Neighboring mosque.

The first of many colorfully painted residences/shops.

Restaurant across the street, where—as you'll guess from the signs that follow—we chose not to eat.

Pagoda Street itself.

The sort of shop our kids used to love. Kate would have been a sure bet to spend her pocket money on one of the fans at the lower left.

Construction on Pagoda Street was finished by 1862, many of the buildings (not necessarily these) opium dens and coolie houses where slave traders took advantage of those who had fled starvation in China hoping for a better life.

The Chinatown Heritage Museum was laid out on three floors across three old "shophouses," with businesses on the ground floor and cubicle after tiny cubicle filled with tenants above.

The first section was dedicated to the immigrants who arrived from China, with displays on perilous sea voyages and on good intentions too often waylaid by poverty, drugs, drinking, gambling, and prostitutes. Many of these sinkheh banded together in clan associations, based on surnames, origin, dialects, jobs, which helped—a bit—to ease the loneliness.

Next, chronologically, were the cubicles themselves, restored so authentically that (quoting the pamphet) "former residents could not believe their eyes when they stepped inside for the first time." These were fascinating, filled with more details than we could take in on a quick look-see. I missed things like the legs of cabinets sitting in bowls filled with water to stop ants and other insects from getting into food.

This (I think) was the cubicle lived in by young coolies, who prepared opium as well as food in the kitchen.

A female clog maker occupied this cubicle. The sacks contain her merchandise, which she would lug out to sell each day.

Another room was "recreated from the recollections" of a seamstress who worked on the roadside, mending immigrant workers' torn clothing

There were two cubicles rented by women whose jobs demanded a pledge of celibacy. One group was the Samsui women, with navy blue uniforms and red hats that marked them out as construction workers whose physical strength belied their stature. The other was the Majies, housemaids in classic black and white, who needed a shared space as a retreat.

We didn't have time to watch many videos, but I was lucky enough to find this interview with a Majie, posted on youtube. Resilient woman.

A more prosperous tailor lived with his family and apprentices in a series of rooms where work spilled over into the living quarters.

Upstairs was a replica of a teahouse from the 1950s/60s. I was quite taken by the clever use of woks as a framing device.

Michael's evocative shot of deeply imprinted stairs.
Our only two purchases in Chinatown—except for Michael's Tiger Beer baseball cap, which is what drew us to the stall in the first place.

This chop has good luck (?) markings called "chicken blood." I decided not to have my name carved in Chinese characters on the bottom, since I generally figure it's more likely to say something like "silly old cow" than Carol.

From Chinatown to Orchard Road, via the sleekly modern MRT. Philadelphia commuters, eat your hearts out.

"Mind the gap."

Singapore may have been too hot and humid for us, but its climate is wonderful for plants.

Entering the commercial stretch of Orchard Road.

Mark D. recommended that we escape the bustle of Orchard Road with a detour up Emerald Hill.

Note the saloon-style outer doors.

Michael was very pleased to encounter this trade show as we passed through one of the (many, many) malls.

After a quick mall lunch in a restaurant called Grandma's Nyonya Cooking, Michael photographed this Japanese chef working in a window nearby.

Remember this, Claudia?

Smallest McDonald's I've ever seen.

One of the swank new malls that have sprung up since we were last on Orchard Road, passed as we sped by in a taxi en route to the air-conditioned comfort of Marina Sands. Michael begged off a visit to the iconic Tang's department store. We had already made an obligatory stop at a branch of Robinson's and, fortunately for him, I was very happy with my plastic bag clips, the only thing I really was looking for.

Afternoon entertainment in the hotel lobby. I'm pretty sure this is a Korean instrumental group. Correction welcome.



After our showers, it was time for the big decision of the day: where to eat dinner. We decided on an Indian restaurant in the guide, but when we finally made our way to it through the labyrinthine mall, it turned out to be one of several not yet open. An Australian bistro was fully booked. Middle Eastern Bazir served only snacks. More vague wandering at least brought us face to face with this shop window:

Finally we managed to return to an Italian restaurant that I had spotted in the distance at the beginning of our quest.

It was after we had ordered our (wonderful) wine and dug into the (superb) sardines on red cabbage that we discovered the reason why everything on the menu was so expensive that we were sharing each course. Osteria Mozza—USP an expansive mozzarella bar—is part of the Mario Batali empire, a venture in which he's joined by wine connoisseur Joe Bastianich and chef/baker Nancy Silverton (who, after selling La Brea, lost heavily in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme). There are two branches, LA, where Silverton actually works behind her mozzarella bar, and Singapore.

Ravioli with wild garlic

Sea trout on bed of lentils; polenta (bread at back right the best we've had since leaving London)

Dessert and sweet wine menu. Notice that two of the latter are in four figures (one Singapore dollar equals about 81 US cents).

Close-up to better view those prices.

Extraordinary dessert: rosemary olive oil cakes, olive oil gelato, and rosemary brittle.
But this is efficiency-minded Singapore. In the midst of such gastronomic delights, this young man—and his girlfriend, who doesn't show up in the picture—were concentrating more on their Blackberries than on the food or each other.

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