Even in Asia, there’s always a Chinatown

The next day, Ben and I met up with his friend John, who helped further my exploration of the Singapore.  We cruised around the island  in his lime green VW bug grooving to Ryan Adams’ “Nobody Girl” while I switched between filming and photographing the sights.

Our first stop of the morning was of course a hawker centre — this time, we checked out Maxwell near Chinatown.  It was a very large, crowded hawker centre with neverending lines to all the most popular stalls.

I tried some Chinese style sashimi (I would rather leave sashimi to the Japanese…), char kway teow (stir fried rice cake strips with a sweet black sauce), teochew porridge (rice porridge) with salted fish, and hokkien hae mee (stir fried rice noodles and egg noodles with prawns).

After our meal, we headed over the Ann Siang Hill in Chinatown and wandered in and out of the various shops.  There were many cute artsy stores selling books, music, clothes, and creative stationary type items.  There were a few open air bars and restaurants, and overall the area was pleasant for a stroll.  We also stopped by the posh Scarlet Hotel to check out their rooftop.

As we made our way to the heart of Chinatown, we stumbled upon an alley where there was a makeshift barbershop (see featured photo at top).  A stretched blue tarp held up by bamboo posts functioned as a roof, and a wizened old man deftly utilized his shears.  It was as if this alleyway was a window into the past and it was just one of those beautiful moments that you couldn’t help but observe quietly.

Ben took me to see the local markets located at the base of various public housing projects, known colloquially as HDB’s due to the fact that these buildings were developed by the Housing Development Board.  More than 80% of Singapore’s population live in these publicly governed HBD flats, and unlike public housing in other countries, living in a HBD is not a sign of poverty.  Many of these flats are actually more expensive than some private developments, and very few HBD residents are below the poverty line.  Most HBDs have a market on the base level comprised of many different stalls selling food, clothing, tools, and any kind of product you may want or need.

As we drove around, I noticed these huge metal ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) contraptions positioned along all the major expressways.  The ERP is essentially an electronic toll charged in areas of heavy traffic in order to discourage usage during peak hours.  Singapore was the first city in the world to implement this system for the purposes of congestion pricing.  San Francisco is working on implementing this system as well, and in New York City, the plan proposals have all been rejected consistently.

We passed Clarke Quay and headed to Little India to pick up groceries for a tasting menu Ben was cooking for a dinner party at nickeldime.  On the way, I saw two little boys playing soccer (football) in an alley.  Clearly, alleys are where all the action is.  Not exactly like “Slumdog Millionaire” but I definitely had just watched that movie on the plane ride over to Singapore.

Back at nickeldime, I assisted Ben with his tasting menu creation.  We made lotus root chips (first time playing with a deep fryer!), mushroom crostinis, salad, and something with bacon.  Ben and his extended family (who are all involved in the food industry) are obsessed with bacon.  As for me, I just love wearing aprons for some reason.  Makes me feel so “chef-y.”

After we closed up shop, we all headed to party it up at Butter Factory, the premiere nightclub destination in Singapore.  Located on Fullerton Road, this huge club bumps the Hip Hop and R&B music all night long.  On that Friday night, it seemed everyone was there — I even randomly ran into the only two Singaporeans I knew from college.  Considering how small the island is, I was not surprised to learn that everyone seemed to all know everyone, or were at least 3 degrees of separation from one another.

There was a costume party going on that night, and the clubbers went all out.  Although with some fashionistas in Singapore, every night is a costume party!  An interesting concept at Singapore clubs is their version of bottle service.  If you purchase a bottle and do not finish it, the club will store it for you until your next visit during which you only need to purchase the mixers.  It’s a great scheme for patrons and to entice them on repeat visits, but for the club, storage seems like  it would be bothersome and costly.

We later took the afterparty to Overeasy‘s outdoor bar and lounge next door, where we ordered food.  Always always eating!

Our last stop of the night was Newton hawker centre because well… we were still hungry!

Return to main menu: “Singapore Lah!”


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