14 October 2019
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
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|
|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.
24 August 2018
Morning packing and getting ready to fly to Indonesia for more diving.
Taxi to the airport just 17 Sgd, so cheap in the context of an expensive city. You can choose a normal taxi or a "deluxe" one, which is more expensive, but the normal one is deluxe enough for us: clean, spacious and the driver is professional and friendly.
The only problem with Singapore's taxis is that sometimes it is hard to find one. Now there is an app, called Grab, a sort of Uber for South East Asia, which I am told is super efficient and even cheaper than taxis. Next time I'll have to download it.
Changi Airport is amazing, so well organized and pleasant I am always sorry to leave it. I could spend days in here shopping, eating, getting massages, ... But I am not going to buy anything today, no point carrying stuff to Indonesia, I will load up on the way back. I know I want some TWG, the famed Singapore tea brand. They just opened a store in central London, but it is cheaper here. Still not cheap at all, but cheaper.
Our flight to Jakarta is delayed, we are using Batik Air. Hopefully, we'll make the connection to Papua. There are not so many flights to Manokwari, in fact, we only have one useful connection per day, and I didn't want to risk missing the departure of our cruise therefore I built a buffer day in our itinerary, if all goes ok we'll have a day to explore Manokwari.
23 August 2018
Sveglia tardi, forse ancora un po’ di jet lag. E poi siamo stati in piedi sempre fino a tardi in questi giorni, io a scrivere il mio libro sulla Polonia e Lifang a far post-produzione dei suoi video per il sito cinese. Coppia molto attiva.
Piscina e relax fino al primo pomeriggio, poi in visita al Thian Hock Keng Temple, uno dei più venerati a Singapore, dedicato alla dea del mare, Mazu. Simbolo della tradizione Hokkien tramandata qui dai tanti immigrati che sono venuti a cercare fortuna nel corso dei secoli.
Prima però un rapido pranzetto in un ristorante che ci era stato consigliato ieri dalla guida del museo delle music boxes, proprio davanti all'entrata del museo. Scegliamo una zuppa di pesce agrodolce e due enormi gamberoni leggermente piccanti. Le possibilità di ristorazione a Singapore si confermano infinite, si mangia quasi sempre benissimo e si spende quasi sempre poco.
Dopo la zuppa, mentre aspettiamo che siano pronti i gamberi, notiamo un piccolo museo della ceramica affianco al ristorante. Anzi, fa parte del ristorante, stessi proprietari. Strana combinazione, ma ci alziamo a dare un'occhiata. Ci sono maioliche antiche di molti paesi, specialmente giapponesi, belghe e inglesi. Stranamente mancano quelle italiane e olandesi.
Il proprietario dice che è il suo hobby, quando viaggia per il mondo compra maioliche e poi le rivende qui a Singapore dove sono una vera rarità. Ingegnoso.
Serata al MBS, vediamo lo spettacolo suoni e luci alle 8. C'è molta gente, peccato per un gruppo di russi maleducati che fanno chiasso, rovinano un po’ l'atmosfera.
Cena per un tradizionalissimo "black crab" ad uno dei tanti ristoranti sul lungofiume a Clark Quay: 1,5 kg di crostaceo per 98 dollari. Un cartello avverte che non è educato chiedere il peso delle signore, ma è necessario chiedere il peso dei granchi quando si ordina, per evitare sorprese al momento del conto!
Buffo finale. È quasi mezzanotte, stanno per chiudere. Arriva una coppia asiatica, forse malese non sono sicuro, e chiedono di essere serviti nonostante l'ora tarda. Lui in T-shirt, quasi trasandato, lei con un grazioso vestitino rosso, chiaramente in ghingheri per la serata romantica, mentre lui quasi pare pronto per andare a giocare a pallone. La cameriera esita, hanno già cominciato a pulire i tavoli e ammucchiare le sedie. Poi parla con il capo e annuisce, gli porta due menù e gli lascia qualche minuto per decidere l'ordine. Quando torna il maschione della coppia (molto corpulento, mentre lei è una mingherlina quasi fragile) ordina due ciotole di riso. Ue ciotole di riso! E basta.
La cameriera è visibilmente delusa ma dopo un paio di minuti torna con le ciotole e le mette sul tavolo, e intanto allunga il conto all'imponente ragazzotto. Passano i minuti, noi abiamo finito il granchione nero e ce ne stiamo per andare, la cameriera torna per ricevere il pagamento dell'omone ma lui, con gran faccia tosta, chiede di poter restare ancora al tavolo! Ristorante chiuso, sei arrivato tardi, ordini una ciotola di riso in bianco e vuoi restare con la pupa a chiacchierare davanti alle luci si Singapore fino all'alba?!?
22 August 2018
It contains about 45 pieces, mostly Swiss machines but also German and American ones.
Our guide is a part time employee, an elderly man, maybe about 70 years old, who gives a private tour for two of us. He loves the boxes, knows everything, and treats them, literally, with white gloves. He knows in great details the inner workings of each machine and his meticulousness and enthusiasm for this technology is apparent at every step of the presentation. He plays several of the instruments for us as well.
The ticket is 12 very well-spent dollars.
He also recommends a bigger museum that apparently the same Japanese collector opened in Shanghai. It does sound strange that a Japanese would open a museum in China and one in Singapore, instead of Japan, I will have to research this.
Dinner is with CK, my classmate at MIT. This time he takes us to Hawker Chan, the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world, 3.6 SGD for rice chicken, their signature dish, but more for veggies.
After we order and sit down they close the restaurant, it is not yet 9 in the evening but they said they ran out of food. Victims of their own success. I am very grateful to CK for having taken us there, of course, he is always generous when we meet in Singapore.
He is a remarkable man. His grandparents immigrated from China, they were farmers. he studied hard, went to university and became a researcher in the engineering department. He then won a scholarship to get his master's degree at MIT, where we met, and returned to a brilliant career in Singapore, crowned with his appointment to head the engineering school at the National University.
But the rice chicken was good, not great, I am not sure it was worth a Michelin star. And I have eaten at quite a few multi-starred venues over the years.
As we walk back to our hotel after dinner we noticed lots of workers getting the lights and lanterns ready for the upcoming Chinese mid-Autumn festival. Lifang talks to some of them and we find out they are temporary workers, mostly from Sichuan province, who come for a few months to make some money and then go home.
Apparently many Chinese come here for work on a tourist visa, they do not have a work permit but the government leaves them alone as long as they don't stir up trouble.
21 August 2018
The most memorable thing from this easy day of work in my hotel (it was mostly raining) is dinner at YAKINIQUEST, a Japanese restaurant on Clarck's Quai that specializes in wagyu beef from Japan.
Two floors: upstairs it is totally empty today, for now at least. I choose to stay downstairs, with the fridge of beef in good view and I am the only patron anyway but at least there are staff to see and talk to.
We are welcomed by a sweet Philipino girl who speaks with a very low voice but works fast and efficiently to set up my table.
The boss tells me he receives about 400-500 kg of meat every month from southern Japan.
He nods repeatedly with conviction: it is true that some farmers massage and give beer to cows to make them relax and eat more and produce better beef.
The sequence went from raw to grilled to marinated and ended up with ice cream. Dessert was a Japanese curry, oddly enough if you are not Japanese.
20 August 2018
Rieccomi a Singapore. Non mi ricordo più quante volte ci sono venuto, ma son passati sette anni dalla prima volta, nel 2011. Non posso certo dire di sentirmi a casa, però mi sento decisamente a mio agio. Come non mi capita in tanti posti dove pure amo andare e passare del tempo. Sarà la pulizia, la sicurezza, la cucina.
Forse, semplicemente, vorrei sentirmi a casa qui, ci verrei a vivere domani se riuscissi ad organizzarmi la vita in quel senso. So che Lifang sarebbe d'accordo. Vicino alla famiglia in Cina, vicino a centomila posti dove andare a fare immersioni. Ottimi servizi, rispetto, educazione. Il clima perennemente caldo umido senza stagioni? Il paradiso non esiste, ma al clima mi abituo facilmente, ogni volta.
Oggi abbiamo un po’ di jet lag, ce la prendiamo comoda in piscina. La sera quattro passi a Chinatown, sempre piacevole soprattutto sul tardi quando sciamano i turisti. Che pure che male avranno mai fatto i turisti? I turisti in genere cercano di evitare i turisti. È così che li riconosci. Quando uno dice "io non sono un turista, sono un viaggiatore!", ecco avete trovato un turista. E io che sono? Un viaggiatore naturalmente, son qui sulla via dell'Indonesia e della Cina per andare a trovare la famiglia. Non sono un turista!
|Lingue di anatra alla sichuanese|
A cena in un ristorante di cucina Sichuan, piccante. Ordino lingue di anatra. Sono particolari perché hanno un osso all'interno! Il che facilita il compito dell'anatra quando deve acchiappare un pesce e trattenerlo nel becco fino ad ingoiarlo intero. Contorno di peperoni verdi e salsa piccante (naturalmente!) di peperoncino del Sichuan.
22 August 2017
The day ends at the famous night safari, for which Singapore is famous. There is a long line, I think we waited almost an hour to get in, but it is worth the wait. After paying for the ticket you are driven on a small train to the zoo itself and start walking along the cages. All kinds of animals from around the world are shown here. It is my first (and probably last) time to see a leopard up close!
We were the last ones out, the guards politely waited for us and escorted us to see the last exhibits on the way to the exit.
11 August 2013
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
|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
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|
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
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.
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
|Peranakan Museum in Singapore|
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
You can watch a trailer of the play here.
And another here.
30 August 2012
27 August 2012
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
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.
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
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"|
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
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
|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.