Showing posts with label Singapore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Singapore. Show all posts

14 October 2019

Hail a ride in Singapore

Grab is the local version of Uber. You download the app, add a credit card and you are good to go. But you have to be in Singapore to do it, can't activate it from abroad for some reason.

Uber was present in Singapore but sold its business to Grab in exchange for a 30% share in the company I was told. My driver tells me there are some 5,000 drivers as far as he knows, many like himself are part-time: have another full-time job and drive when they want to make an extra buck. Grab is top now, though an Indonesian company called Go-Jek provides competition. They are popular in Indonesia where they run lots of motorcycle taxis, but in Singapore, they are not allowed, only cars.

Fares are marginally cheaper than taxis but can't beat the convenience especially during rush hours or when it rains. Chinatown to the airport is SGD 26.

My driver is a typical Singaporean: half Chinese and half Malay on his father's side, half European and half Indian on his mother's side. Well maybe not so typical, most Singaporeans belong more clearly to one of the ethnicities which make up the cosmopolitan island. They keep to their food, their religions and their language, though of course everyone speaks English and feels equally Singaporean. He tells me mixed marriages are on the increase now.

12 October 2019

Tempio Sikh e ristorante italiano

Mi avvio a piedi verso un tempio Sikh, ma fa troppo caldo e mi piego alla forza maggiore ordinando un "Grab" la versione locale di Uber, solo più economica e rapidissima.

Arriviamo dopo pochi minuti, scendo e mi avvio all'interno. Da fuori non dice nulla, non ci sarei mai entrato se non me lo avesse consigliato un conoscente locale.

Al tempio vengo accolto un po' freddamente da un omone al botteghino, mi presta un fazzoletto per coprirmi la testa. C'è una piccola sala per pregare e una molto più grande sala per mangiare.

In una enorme cucina con pentoloni che sembrano piccole vasche da bagno sono al lavoro i cuochi. Uomini e donne al lavoro, gli uomini cucinano mentre le donne preparano l'impasto per somoza. Alcuni ragazzi sulla trentina, sorridenti e disinvolti, scaldano l'olio nei pentoloni mentre altri pre

Prima scaldano olio, ne versano forse 30 litri in una pentola, quando bolle ci versano impasto vegetariano. Intanto su una griglia grande come un tavolo da biliardo preparano le cialde rotonde e riso e quando sono pronti ne assaggio un piatto molto saporito.

La sera cambio radicalmente cucina!

vera caprese italiana

Carpaccio di ricciola
La sera cedo ad una tentazione come non faccio mai: vado ad un ristorante italiano all'estero. Non conviene quasi ma, quello buoni costano troppo e quelli economici fanno pena. Ha ragione mia moglie a dire che il rapporto qualità prezzo è molto meglio in quelli cinesi. Buon italiano estero diventa troppo spesso alta cucina. Ma non mangio italiano da oltre un mese e ne ho voglia.

Il ristorante italiano stasera si chiama "Otto", perché 8 è il numero fortunato dei cinesi e perché han cominciato nel 2008. Il patron Paolo è ligure con socio chef di Treviso, Sta da 11 anni a Singapore, propone un Fine Dining creativo. Scelgo un menù degustazione. Piatti caldi, buon segno.

Maialino da latte croccante

ravioli al brasato di vitello

L'olio d'oliva è servito in un padellino microscopico, devo sempre chiedere di rabboccare come fosse oro liquido ma sono molto gentili e generosi e me lo rabboccano un sacco di volte.

Il menù è di grande soddisfazione, sia di quantità che di qualità. L'ho recensito qui.

Accanto a me un tavolo di malesi, evidentemente danarosi, Paolo mi dice che sono clienti abituali. Partono di Solaia, resto colpito ma solo per poco per minuto dopo Paolo stappa un Sassicaia 2003! Costa 808 sing dollari, prezzi finiscono quasi sempre in 8, per invogliare i clienti cinesi.

11 August 2013

Cooking class in Singapore at Palate Sensations

As a foodie I love trying most of the food I run into when I travel around the world. The only local delicacy I can remember ever running away from is skewered cockroaches in northern Laos. And even that, should I ever go back, is something I'd be curious to try. Anyway they say insects are the source of proteins for the future.

No such dilemmas in Singapore though. Lots of great food for any taste. This time Luca and I decided to go one step further and actually learn how to cook some local dishes. Not that we are likely to ever try and replicate them at home, though you never know. But cooking something helps you understand better what you are eating. A bit like learning to play an instrument, even at a very basic level, helps you better understand music.

Among the many options available in Singapore I chose to go for Palate Sensations, and was not disappointed. The kitchen was spotless clean (like everything in Singapore) and super equipped with the best of kitchen tools.

Even though there were only three of us they agreed to hold the class and we had lots of fun preparing savoury and sweet dishes. I personally prefer the stir-fried gastronomy in the wok to Asian sweets. We had a perfectly balanced mix of noodles, meats and seafood. At the end of it all, we ate the fruit of our hard labor in the terrace and went back to town for shopping very full and satisfied.

You can see more pictures from this trip to Singapore on my Flickr pages.

here is a video from our great cooking teacher Shih Erh

04 August 2013

Book review: Ah ku and Karayuki San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940 (1993), by James Francis Warren, *****


Among the many groups of foreign workers whose labor built Singapore in the 20th century, there may be none as marginalized in memory as the women who travelled from China and Japan to work in Singapore as prostitutes.

This definitive study sketches in the trade in women and children in Asia, and -- making innovative use of Coroner's Inquests and other records -- hones in on the details of the prostitutes' lives in the colonial city: the daily brothel routine, crises and violence, social relations, leisure, social mobility for the luckier ones, disease and death.

The result is a powerful historical account of human nature, of human relationships, of pride, prejudice, struggle and spirit. Ordinary people tumble from the pages of the records: they talk about choice of partners, love and betrayal, desperation and alienation, drawing us into their lives.

This social history is a powerful corrective to the romantic image of colonial Singapore as a city of excitement, sophistication, exotic charm and easy sex.

In the years since its original publication in 1992, this book, and its companion Rickshaw Coolie, have become an inspiration to those seeking to come to grips with Singapore's past.

19 January 2013

Book review: Complete Notes from Singapore (2010) by Neil Humphreys, ***

Singapore skyline and the Merlion

In 1996, Neil Humphreys decided to travel the world. He ended up in Singapore.

His first book, "Notes from an even Smaller Island", became an immediate best-seller in 2001. Humphreys' travelling companion, Scott, said it was a load of bollocks.

In 2003, his second book, "Scribbles from the Same Island", a compilation of his popular humour columns in WEEKEND TODAY, was launched in Singapore and Malaysia and also became an immediate best-seller.

In 2006, he published "Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore" completed the trilogy. The book went straight to No.1 and decided to stay there for a few months. Having run out of ways to squeeze island into a book title, Humphreys moved to Geelong, Australia. He now writes for several magazines and newspapers in Singapore and Australia and spends his weekends happily looking for echidnas and platypuses. But he still really misses roti prata.

02 September 2012

Singapore: Gardens by the Bay and Japanese food

Started off after breakfast from my hotel and decided to visit the new Gardens by the Bay. Like almost everything in Singapore, it is an artificial wonder.

Entirely built over reclaimed land, it is a technological wonder, allowing Singaporeans to walk into controlled climate greenhouses to see the flora of other latitudes.

Highly educational. Mostly families today, it's a Sunday. I can't help but feel a bit out of place as a single man in my early fifties, but I enjoy it all nonetheless.

Fish and special raw beef
Early evening dinner in an unpretentious but excellent Japanese restaurant in the Orchard Road MRT station. Very informal but not at all inexpensive! After waiting in line for some ten minutes (this place is popular even though I can't find it on Tripadvisor!) I am greeted as per Japanese tradition with いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase) which just means welcome.

I always sit down at the sushi bar and enjoy looking at the chefs preparing the orders which are handed down to them by a team of ladies constantly scudding around with their notepad. I sip some Japanese beer while my food is readied and then handed down directly to me over the counter.

Excellent sushi, great fat tuna "toro" to start with. Then also raw "Kobe beef". Not cheap but highly gratifying especially as you are eating this treat in a subway station, or right next to it anyway! I will leave a good portion of my food budget here in the course of this trip as well as other visits to Singapore.

01 September 2012

Party at Sentosa, Singapore

Today I am invited to join a party on one of the beaches of Sentosa, an island just off Singapore's south-western coast. Getting to the island is easy with S'pore famous MRT. Once there, I asked the info office how to reach the beach where my friends were waiting for me and was told there is Yellow bus: "go right, then into a cave, then two flights down, turn right. It's free. Get off at the second stop." The bus should take me to Tanjong Beach Club. All stops are indicated on a map, but no Tanjong Club. I ask the driver, he says get off at the third stop, not at the second stop. At the first stop I see almost everyone getting off and ask driver, is this the stop for Tanjong Club? Yes yes. OK, whatever.

At the entrance to the beach there is a long line to leave bags, they are not allowed to the beach area. People are swimming, which is to be expected at a beach party, but only in a small swimming pool. No one is swimming in the sea, because it's rather brownigs and uninviting but also because you can't reach the sea at all. Long blue net screens close off access to the water. some say bc ppl try to get into the party without paying the entry fee (which entry fee?? I will find out later) some say because during these parties people get drunk and drown.

I get to meet an interesting crowd: Singaporeans of course, but also lots of expats. A Philipino lady is here to study architecture. Two Turkish engineers work for ashipping company. An Italian architect in his late twenties is very happy: could not find a good job as an architect in Italy but here he got an exciting position and though he works really long hours he makes good money and his work is appreciated. Soon he will get a permament residence permit, which will allow him to switch jobs more easily and even stay on in Singapore indefinitely, even if he should be without a job for a time.

Most ladies wear stylish black dresses, others just a swim suit. We sit down with my friends and start gulping beer and sandwiches. After a while, two big security guards appear and start pacing up and down the length of the beach At about 11pm, after we've been at the party for almost 7 hours, the two guards come to our table and ask me and Peiwen for our bracelet. What bracelet? Well apparently there is a bracelet you get when you pay your entry fee to the beach. None of us was aware of this. I am actually ready to apologize and pay but my local friends are quite upset and start arguing with the guards until they give up! So we get our bracelets for free...

By 1:00am it's time for me to go even if the party is still in full swing. The organization of the party provides for valet drivers for car owners who drink: you can drive to the beach, drink you brains out and someone will drive you home in your own car! Smart.

31 August 2012

Emily of Emerald Hill and the Peranakan Museum, Singapore

Peranakan Museum in Singapore
Today I visited this unique museum in Singapore, dedicated to the Peranakan, or Chinese from the Malay peninsula. A unique contribution to Singapore's multicultural identity, where each component cultural heritage (Chinese, malay and Tamil) and its language is protected, while English is the cement common to all.

In the museum I could see an exhibition of Emily of Emerald Hill, a short play by Singaporean playright Stella Kon.

As she tells us in her blog, Emily of Emerald Hill is a one-woman play about a Nonya matriarch who dominates her family, yet in the end finds that she loses what she loves most. The play won the First Prize in the National Play-Writing Competition 1983. Since then it has been presented more than a hundred times, by eight different performers, in Singapore, Malaysia, Hawaii and Edinburgh. It has been translated into Chinese and Japanese and broadcast over Radio Iceland. A film version is under negotiation.

Emily is a short and passionate play that takes the reader inside the heart of a Peranakan family of the 1950s. Traditional Chinese values are intertwined with English habits that were common in the richer class of Singapore. The matriarch defers to her husband, but in the end it is she who calls the shots in the house. She is loving but also possessive. Servants are treated with dignity but firmness, children (especially sons) are spoiled and daughters-in-law are expected to be submissive. Wives are expected to tolerate their husbands' cheating. It is a materially comfortable life but also a straightjacket for the younger generation that wants to try it out on its own.

You can buy the book and other works by contacting Stella Kon at

You can watch a trailer of the play here.

And another here.

30 August 2012

Dim Sum in Singapore

Marina Bay Sands, Din Tai Fung restaurant, probably among the best dim sum in the world.

27 August 2012

Books and films on Singapore

work in progress

Rickshaw Coolie: A People's History of Singapore (2003), by James Warren, ***** A people's history of Singapore between 1880 and 1940. Highly readable.

Ah ku and Karayuki San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940 (1993), by James Francis Warren, ***** Fascinating social history through the eyes of Chinese and Japanese prostitutes iwho came to Singapore in search of fortune. Few found it.

07 August 2012

Singapore city tour: Chinatown, Maxwell food center.

We wake up at dawn because of our jet lag, and out of our hotel window we can admire the silhouette of the iconic Marina bay Sands (MBS). After a sumptuous breakfast, we proceed to a full day tour of Singapore with Luca and our local guide.

Singapore welcomes us with a sunny and hot day. I never have enough of this wonderful city state, a mixture of tradition and modernity that blends many cultures into a proud and vibrant society. The Chinese majority (about three quarters of the population) coexists with the Indian (Tamil) and Malay minorities and the many Western expats.

About two hundred Jewish families are known to live here, but I am told they mostly keep to themselves. It is possible to visit mosques, churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples, but our guide says it is not easy to visit the two synagogues for non Jews.

Streets are calm and clean, public transport works well and everything seems to be user friendly. The country is not really a full democracy, and limited dissent is tolerated, just, alive, especially online. Economically, the former British colony began to develop as a freeport, taking advantage of its strategic position. It then diversified into manufacturing, oil refining, finance and more recently into tourism. Tourists are also attracted by the possibility of gambling.

Politically, Singapore is tightly connected with the West and especially with the US, which keeps a discrete military presence on the island. Military cooperation with Israel is quite developed as well.

The Chinatown underground market is pulsating with trade and (for me) unusual foods, like fish bellies and pork stomach. There is ample opportunity to taste different delicacies as we work our way along the neon lit alleys of the market.. A friendly seller of more familiar bananas poses for me without a problem. In one cafè I try a drink of chestnut juice, barley and lime.

Live frogs are for sale along with many different kinds of meat and fish.

At the Maxwell food court Chinese, Indian and Malay food offer an endless wource of enjoyment for the adventurous. Here you sit casually at big round tables that you share with whoever happens to be there. You buy your food and drinks and eat at your pace. Many ladies scurry around cleaning up after you are done, and other ladies patrol the alleys selling paper tissue.

Actually you don't really have to be so adventurous. Just curious. Unlike a group of Italians whom I met. The two guys were looking around and ready to plunge into some chicken masala or pork liver, but the two ladies looked horrified and asked their men to leave and go look for some more readily recognizable food. Oh well, their choice. And their loss. We stayed and tried different stuff, including "century old egg", a darkened hard boiled egg that is kept underground for some months before being offered for consumption. Different from what we are used to, but good.
A very special egg

Of course, western symbols like McDonald's are everywhere to testify the cosmopolitan nature of this country.

Dinner at an Indian restaurant in the Esplanade. Wendy, a Chinese friend from Hong Kong, tells me how she is really worried about how the central government is slowly eroding HK's unique nature to make it conform with the mainland. In theory HK is autonomous until 2047 (fifty years after the end of British rule) but in practice she fears it might be amalgamated into the Communist system before that. On the other hand, China is changing fast as well, and it might well be that in 2047 the mainland will look more like HK today

You can watch a slideshow of my stay in Singapore here

06 August 2012

Back to Singapore

My first flight on the huge A-380, the biggest airliner in the world. It's Lufthansa this time, they had a special deal that was impossible to turn down.

As we approach Singapore the staff handed me the immigration form. Name, date of birth etc... and then a dry statement in capital letters:




OK could hardly be clearer than that. Singapore had a long history of opium smoking, dating back to the XIX century when the British actually encouraged it. Opium sapped the energy of society and memories last a long time in Chinese culture, so it is not surprising that there is such a determination to stamp it out today. Of course I keep reading that drugs are readily available in Singapore, so I am not sure about just how strong a deterrent the death penalty really is in Singapore.

Changi Airport, I gave it an "excellent"
At the airport (one of the best in the world, though I prefer Hong Kong's) Luca and I are welcomed by a plethora of shops, restaurants and super clean toilets, in which the management takes great pride. By the time we are processed through customs our luggage is waiting for us on the carousels and we are off to a twenty-minute taxi ride to the hotel. The road is lined by gardens full of flowers, trees, lawns, and not one advertisement board. With very few exceptions, these are banned in Singapore, which is rather funny as this is one of the biggest shopping capitals of the world.

In the evening Luca and I join a couple of friends for a seafood dinner at the one of the many restaurants along the famed Singapore East Coast. I want to try shark fin soup. Being a conscientious diver I am absolutely against the horrible slaughter of sharks that is perpetrated each year to privide for this fare, but let me try once. It is really nothing special, I can't understand what's the big deal about it, and I won't ever have it again.

You can watch a slideshow of my trip to Singapore here

04 June 2012

Film review: I Not Stupid (2002), by Jack Neo, ****


Three kids in Singapore did not make it to the top of their class and attend EM3, the stream for the not best and not brightest. They have to contend with pressure from their teachers on the one hand and their parents on the other. They also get bullied by their peers. In the end, they prove to be smarter than expected...

You can read more in English and Chinese in the official website of the film and of its sequel, "I not stupid too".

This highly successful film can be read at different levels. It may seem at first naive and the acting may look poor, artificial, unnatural. In fact the characters are caricatures of Singapore's people, government and business, and these are very well represented by the actor's sometimes exaggerated gestures and expressions.

23 November 2011

Book Review: Singapore Swing, by John Malathronas, *****

MBS from the modern art museum

For generations of Britons, Singapore was the international crossroads of the Empire, the ultimate colonial posting, the stimulus for writers such as Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham or Noel Coward. Can today’s hightech 24-hour city with its gleaming skyscrapers and high standard of living provide a similar kind of inspiration to a visitor?

John Malathronas penetrates the Oriental psyche and discovers the hustle among the stuffiness, the thrill behind the Confucian ethic and, ultimately, the joie de vivre in what has been unjustly dismissed as “a shopping mall with UN representation”. Still more importantly, during his quest, he realises that this overcrowded, multicultural, multifaith city-state can teach us a lesson about living together in harmony and with mutual respect.

More about the book and the author here on his website, with some additional material not found in the book.

02 August 2011

Book Review: Rickshaw Coolie: A People's History of Singapore (2003), by James Warren, *****


Between 1880 and 1930 colonial Singapore attracted tens of thousands of Chinese immigrant laborers, brought to serve its rapidly growing economy. This book chronicles the vast movement of coolies between China and the Nanyang, and their efforts to survive in colonial Singapore.

26 July 2011

Recensione: Sommergibili a Singapore, di Achille Rastelli, ****


Questo libro trae lo spunto da una serie di lettere inedite inviate alla famiglia da un sottufficiale macchinista, Pietro Appi, friulano di Cordenons, che entrò nella Regia Marina nel 1937 e alla fine del 1939 fu imbarcato sul sommergibile Bagnolini. Dopo aver partecipato a missioni di guerra in Mediterraneo e in Atlantico, nel 1943 passò sul Giuliani che, trasformato in battello subacqueo da trasporto, fu adibito con altre unità similari al trasferimento, per conto dei tedeschi, di materiale strategico tra basi navali giapponesi in Estremo Oriente e porti europei.

06 June 2011

Map Review: Singapore Popout Map, ****

This is a great little map to carry around as you explore Singapore. It is several maps in one in fact, as you get a larger scale "Central" map and two smaller scale maps for City Centre and Orchard Road. It is sturdy enough that it will take some abuse and weighs next to nothing. A map of the metro system is in the back cover, very useful to find your way in the superefficient MRT. And finally one small map of all of Singapore and one of Sentosa island complete the picture.

I did not give it five stars because the index in the back of the two main maps is difficult to read/access.

04 June 2011

Arrival in Singapore, Chinatown dinner, the Quay

Long flight with Turkish airlines via Istanbul, I am very happy with this company. Good food, wines, service and comfortable cabins. After a long flight and a stopover in Istanbul, the Singapore airports welcomes me into the XXI century.

It is no coincidence that it is routinely ranked among the top airports of the world, year after year... Btw, its closest competitors are Hong Kong and Seoul. The airport is indeed stunning, superefficient, spotless clean (including the toilets, it actually smells good in there, you are sort of sorry to leave when you are done!) and a great place to spend some time shopping or even sleeping while waiting for a plane. In my case I get my bags (they are already spinning around the carousel by the time I am done with passport control) and I am on my way out.

A twenty-minute taxi ride takes me across two thirds of the length of the whole country. The road is perfect, quiet, of course very clean. I am struck by the fact that in this land of shopping (Singapore has been called a shopping mall with a UN vote) there are no ads on the road, no nean signs, no billboards. The taxi itself is nice and comfortable, the driver impeccable, and it's actually less expensive than comparable rides in European cities I am familiar with (Rome, London, Paris, Brussels).

I am staying at the Pan Pacific Hotel, a supermodern building not far from the famed Raffles. A filipino lady welcomes me at the immense concierge and takes me to the glass walled elevators that climb up the exterior of the hotel, providing a good view of the city state.

In the evening I am out to Chinatown with a local friend. I can't wait to sink my incisors into some hearty Chinese food! After some pondering I opt for her suggestion of  some pork or other in a dark soup. I won't even try to describe what was in it, but it was certainly tasty. We are at the Chinatown food court, where, like in other similar places in Singapore, you sit down and pick up food and drinks from the many available stands in the court.

Meanwhile, groups of old men hang around drinking beer or playing Chinese checkers. No women to be seen except my friend and the waitresses and cleaning ladies.

After dinner a nice walk in the soggy evening. Climate is certainly not Singapore's strong point and it takes a few days to become accustomed to the humidity. A few tricycle rickshaws scoot by. These were a common means of local transportation in the past but are now reserved for tourists. In fac the rickshaw was THE means of transportation for many decades until the 1930s. I have reviewed a great book that tells their story, an important people's history of Singapore. I strongly recommend it even if you are not interested in rickshaws!

The evening ends by the Quays, the vastly overrated social mingling hub of Singapore. I find it too crowded, impersonal and a bit tacky, but so be it, most people seems to have a different view. Anyway some of the bars look (for my taste) pleasant, but tonight it's saturday and everything is way too crowded. Many Western expats, clearly affected by what a local friend called the "yellow fever" seem to enjoy the company of local Chinese girls. Nice touch: by the river some band is playing some kind of ethnic music, can't really say what it is but it puts me in the right mood to give in to my jet lag and go back to the hotel.

21 January 2011

Book Review: Once a Jolly Hangman, by Alan Shadrake, ***

Singapore has one of the highest execution rates per capita in the world. Its government claims that only the death penalty can deter drug dealers from using their country as a transport hub - but this hard-hitting investigation reveals disturbing truths about how and when the death penalty is applied. Including in-depth interviews with Darshan Singh - Singapore's chief executioner for nearly fifty years.

25 February 2000

Recensione: Lettera da Singapore, ovvero il Terzo Capitalismo, (1995) di Giuseppe Bonazzi. ****


Il libro nasce da un'esperienza personale dell'autore ed è strutturato in maniera inconsueta: a una prima parte scritta nella forma diaristica di lettere ad amici è consegnato il racconto emozionale, soggettivo dell'impatto tra l'autore, armato delle sue spesso inadeguate categorie "occidentali", e una realtà così contraddittoria, esotica e misteriosa.

Accanto a ciò, la riflessione propriamente teorica. "Unicum" politico, sociale, economico, Singapore è retta da una singolare forma di democrazia autoritaria, con il Presidente e "dittatore benevolo" Lee che gode di un consenso elettorale plebiscitario.

L'autore scorge in questo sistema una caso di "terzo capitalismo", non riconducibile né al liberismo classico né al capitalismo sociale.


Bonazzi ci racconta il mese da lui passato a Singapore a fare ricerca sull'economia e la società di questo paese molto peculiare. Il libro è interessante perché oltre a raccontarci le sue esperienze dirette l'autore fornisce anche molte informazioni di tipo politico, economico e storico che aiutano a capire il contesto in cui lui si è mosso.

In particolare Bonazzi ci spiega come a Singapore si sia potuto sviluppare, con contraddizioni ma anche enormi successi, il "terzo capitalismo", una via alternativa sia al liberismo eccessivo sia alle socialdemocrazie dirigiste dell'Occidente.

Un ottimo libro da leggere prima di andare a Singapore, anche se l'esperienza dell'autore risale al 1995 molto di quanto scrive resta ancora valido a distanza di anni.