Monthly Archives: November 2016

Dear Daina -Stuff dreams are made of

Hi D.

In all my life I have never appreciated this fall back time change more than right at this moment. An extra hour of sleep was as welcome as a fresh squeezed glass of lemonade on a hot summers day.

One might say “steady la” in Singlish. Singlish is a creole type language rooted in British English and a variety of other languages including  Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese and about 15 other languages. Because we just thought America was the melting pot of the world.

Steady – excellent or agreeing about something. Pronounced “stay – lee”

La or Lah- Used as a full stop in a sentence but doesn’t really have a meaning,. It’s  often used to change the tone of a sentence.

“Wha! You got an extra hour of sleep already? Steady la! 

Sitting around the dinner table with the local office personnel, I learned that Singaporeans quite enjoy listening to tourists try to speak a little of their Singlish language. And found out pretty quick, it was purely for the entertainment factor.

So let’s chat culinary delights for a bit.

This dinner was quite possibly my favorite experience of the entire trip. There is no better way to experience another culture than to sit side by side with a local and break bread….or crab as it is common in Singapore. Chili crab to be more specific, but we will get to that in a minute.

Ranesh was our guide for the evening and guide us he did, right down the red light district of Singapore where one side of the street marked in large bright red numbers are your local brothels and the other is mostly made up of locally owned restaurants and bars. Including No Signboard Seafood. The name was actually given to them by their customers, when they were first a hawker (open air food market) with no name. The locals would make plans for meal time meet ups and say “let’s meet at the no signboard place.” (except for in Singlish, which no doubt ended in lah) The place eventually adopted the name as their own.

img_2026-1

Drunken Prawns

For starters, we had a dish called Drunken Prawns. The waiter approached the table with a stainless steel pot of live prawns and presented them to our host for the evening. A local colleague leaned over to explain to me that many permits in town require some seafood to be served live to guests. Just like table-side guacamole, they literally drowned the prawns in a mixture of rice wine and brandy and then put them in a pot to boil them table-side before serving.

I was told  that the soup of brandy and rice wine is quite good for the body. Imagine that?! It’s like healing powers in the alcohol.

Apparently there is a live version of this dish, which we did not have. Thank the good Lord above! If the idea of cooking live prawns table-side is not gross enough for you, watch this video. What is the Singlish word for gag?

The video is quite like the open air dining experience we had at many of the restaurants in Singapore. Apparently, Singaporeans don’t like their air conditioning too much. So they accommodate the hot and humid climate with open air facilities all over the place.

img_2027-1

Look at these beauties? Bamboo clams (also known as Atlantic Jackknife clam or Razor clam) are one of the most beautifully prepared dishes I have every seen. Prepared being the operative word here.

Because why? Just watch. No need to sit through the entire thing, just catch the first couple of minutes.

And again I ask, how do you say gag in Singlish?

“Obscene and gruesomely looking..” <– my favorite part of this video.

The best part of the meal finally made it’s way to the table. And before you ask, my friend- 1)  it is not the bread and 2) it did not crawl it’s way to the table live.These amazing crabs did however come from the muddy lagoons of Sri Lanka and are prized by seafood lovers around the globe.

Chili Crab is claimed to be the national dish of Singapore. It’s a mud crab that is stir fried in a semi sweet and savory tomato and chili based sauce, which is actually not spicy at all.

We were draped with plastic bibs and provided water bowls for finger dipping because this is another hands on meal. The crab meat was juicy and sweet and the savory chili sauce dripped from my chin. Shiok!

I can’t finish this without telling you about those little heavenly  pieces of bread …It was almost like a fried donuts without the sweetness. An eggshell thin fried exterior and a light and soft warm center. Perfect for scooping up the chili sauce that dripped across your plate.

Shiok -Exclamation of extreme pleasure or the highest quality. Intended to be said with much passion.

This chili crab dinner was damn shiok, man! 

This meal truly was stuff that dreams are made of…both the delightful and the eery!

Happy eating!

-Ames

P.S. One guess as to what my first meal was after landing back in San Antonio? ‘Ole. Isn’t that Spanglish for something like…Mmmm. Get in my belly.

 

Advertisements

Dear Daina – Beauty Looking Back

Hey there, friend! Remember when we would make up stories about where we were going and head off to Longhorn for an evening? Or how about that time we told our parents we were taking a weekend girls trip and snuck along a couple of boys? Something about 3 Strange Days.

Oh memory lane can be a fun place to visit, can’t it?

This week I had the pleasure of taking a quick stroll down memory lane with a taxi driver. This aging Chinese man who came to Singapore as a very young child mumbled story after story through our cab ride as if he was talking to no one in particular.

“The little children used to go to pick up spiders there in the naughty lady’s house.” He reminisced about his childhood and how “the little children” would walk all the way from China town. “Today little children take the bus because they say it is so far” he complained in his broken English with his heavy Chinese accent. All of the d’s sounding like t’s with a heavy emphasis on the t’s. He repeated himself frequently and every time he said “naughty laty” I could not contain my own giggle.

Chinatown Food Street

We passed a very busy business district with retail store fronts on the lower levels and office space on the upper, “theaters those once were.” He seemed to be flooded with memories that he could not contain with each building we passed. “A church there, a school over there and now it is all gone,” disappointment dripping from his words. 

We turned the corner near Fort Canning Park (a site I did not have time to squeeze in) and he rambled on about the Japanese surrender that was decided in the underground Far East Command center in 1942. In his soft spoken mutter, he went on and on about how this was the start of great change.

Did you know it is compulsory for all men to serve in the military here for 2 years? Owning firearms is prohibited except for certain law enforcement. No less than five different male cab drivers asked whether we owned guns or not when we told them we were from Texas. The only time they are allowed to handle firearms is during their service time. No doubt this contributes to the favorable safety conditions of Singapore. That, and the extreme punitive system. Upon arriving, my immigration paperwork reminded me that execution is enforced for certain things like drug trafficking. Bear in mind that drug trafficking here is akin to casual use in the states, something that might not even warrant a slap on the wrist. It’s definitely a different world.

The driver reminded me of my own dad. A man that for as long as I can remember has had a fondness for storytelling. And as he ages his fondness seems to grow and sometimes the tales grow too. I often find myself frustrated that he pays little attention to what is ahead and seems to thrive on the yesteryears. It may be because personally I am so averse to looking back. Go figure. 

“Mikaeri Bijin” is the work of a Japanese artist named Moronobu Hishikawa. Ironically, this painting was used for the first commemorative stamp after World War II and the Japanese takeover of Singapore. It’s meaning is “the beauty looking back.”

My version of Beauty Looking Back

During a layover in Japan, I had the chance to try my hand at creating some traditional Japanese art. 

While this beauty looking back was intended to simply represent courtship, I found that the events of the week helped me remember how much beauty there is in looking back. 

I think I’ll give my dad a call when I get home. 

Much love for all the memories we’ve shared and the new ones we will make. -Ames

Dear Daina – Lizards and Bread

Dearest friend,

I just got back from a run through the Singapore Botanical Gardens which happens to be just around the corner from my hotel. The trails wind through dense tropical gardens and lush rain forests and then open up to green lawns and lakes. There was a light rainfall this morning as I was running along the edge of Swan Lake admiring the view across the water, when I rounded a corner and caught a glimpse of this guy laying in wait across the path.

lizard

My heart stopped for a brief moment and all I could think about was the toddler that got swallowed up by the gator at the Disney resort in Florida recently. I was surely going down by this baby gator on the edge of Swan Lake half way around the world. But then, I saw another lady running toward me and she jogged right on over him. She was kind enough to explain to me in my panicked state that the monitor lizard was perfectly tame as long as I stayed on his tale end and away from his face. The skepticism must have been all over my face because she offered and did run with me, to show me that it was perfectly safe. Thank you, Singapore running buddy whom I will never see again! Run on and run safe. 

The gardens were one incredible view after another. A couple of my favorite spots included the Orchid Garden and the Evolution Garden, which walked you through a series of vegetation, trees, and flowers that are representative of each period of time since Creation.


Ohhhh D – You know how food is one of my love languages? The Singapore bakery scene speaks to my soul. They love their bread here. Bread shops and bakeries are on every corner, much like Starbucks is stateside. (But, to be fair, Starbucks has their fair share of corners here too.)

In the office building where I am working this week there is a brief moment at the entrance where the aroma of fish lingers in the air, because that is common for breakfast here too. Gag. But I rush by it so that I can take in the sweet smell of yeast and fresh bread at the little shop next door.

When in Singapore, do as the Singaporeans do – right?

Yesterday I caved and had an afternoon snack that was pretty much equivalent to an entire loaf of bread. Oh, did I mention it was chocolate bread and stuffed with cream cheese. Be still my heart.

img_2023

And this is why I run.

Signing off for now. More to come. Much love and big hugs!

-ames

Dear Daina

Dear Daina,

My typical morning routine usually includes the dull sound of the news in the back ground as I piddle around my house or hotel room getting ready for the workday.  This morning I discovered that I could connect my phone to the Bose surround sound system in my  room. A solo dance party ensued, which may or may not have included some jumping on the bed.

The inner child in me may have been set loose when I attempted the traditional  Indian style dining etiquette that involved eating with my hands yesterday. What?! Well, to be fair it was a combination of cutlery and my fingers as I found out that I am even more clumsy with my hands than with chopsticks. After a bit of a stroll through the bazaar where the aroma of Indian spices and fresh flowers mixed in the air, I stumbled upon The Banana Leaf Apollo where the dining experience began. As a part of tradition, food is eaten from a Thali rather than a plate, which is simply a large banana leaf.

indian-food

It was a bit precarious navigating the narrow streets, where people darted in front of moving vehicles and moving vehicles seemed to swerve in the direction of people. Horns honked, people shouted, street-side sewing machines buzzed, fresh garlands of roses and marigolds mixed with the aromas of curry and turmeric, bright-colored silk sari’s brushed your skin in the bazaars as the coastal winds blew –  my senses were on high alert.It’s exactly how I imagine the culture of India.


I learned that local Singaporeans stay away from Little India on Sunday’s, as it is the only day of the week in which the  Indian community does not work. It was also very early in the day by Indian standards the crowds were on the slim side. I can’t even imagine what its like when the action really gets going.



It’s the celebration of Deepavali right now, a Hindu festival of lights that honors the triumph of good over evil. They have said it’s a magical site to see the glow of lights after dark, so I am hoping to make it over another evening this week to see for myself.

Next stop, Chinatown. A very different, but equally impressive experience.

Much love,

Amy