Satisfying Singapore

I opened the door from inside our over air conditioned hotel room and she hit me like a Mike Tyson right hook.  “What the fu..?”  I shut the door as fast as I opened it and told myself that I must still be sleeping.  I had spent the last 24 hours in bed, recovering after I was gunned down by an invisible bullet, what we would call a ‘superbug’ back home.  The rumors are true, it in fact does exist and it put me down like an old dog for 3 full days.  I was feeling better now, but not quite 100%.  Was I ready to explore Singapore in this?

Hmm…

Let’s start again.

I opened the door from inside our air conditioned hotel room and Mother Nature smacked me right in the kisser like the end of a ruler in the evil hands of a strict old nun.  40C with 100% humidity @ 11:30am.  Shit.

We locked the door behind us and the sweat started to bead over my upper lip and above my brow and we hadn’t left the front lobby yet.  We got out onto the street,  Singapore map in hand and tried to decipher the quickest route to the “hawker stalls” where our first meal of the day awaited.  We were staying in Little India and as we found our bearings and started to make our way, the smells and colors that make India one of the greatest places in the world jumped all over us.  Little India, Singapore; it couldn’t get much better than this.

“Hawker stalls” are Singapore’s answer to the beloved food court we find in our malls from coast to coast.  Main difference is you won’t find the Golden Arches or some shitty pizza stand or horrible gut erupting Chinese (if you’re lucky).  You will however find some of the best Indian, Malaysian, Korean and Cantonese fare that the world can produce.  The kicker being everything is under $5.

You can find them all over Singapore and some are open 24hrs with over a 100 stalls to choose from.  We ate in them at all hours and you could be sure day or night that there would be a table of 60 something’s usually men, littered in beer bottles, talking, laughing and singing.  The ambiance was always alive, with every conceivable race of people eating together, different languages spilling out into the open air venue talking about their day, enjoying the food, and most importantly enjoying each other.

Did I mention it was 40C?

We finally decided on Chicken Biryani after a 20 minute swirl through the maze of resto’s and cultures.  An overwhelming but quick lesson in the cuisines of Asia and beyond under one roof.  I wiped my face with my, by now, infamous sweat rag, long past soaking wet, and we dove in.  The first bite was magic, every taste bud awakened into a harmonious choir of flavor.  Chicken slowly melting away into the back of my palate, rice dancing energetically with each clasp of my jaw.  Looking up at F. our first real meal in 5 days, we giggled like school kids with a crush, Singapore brought our smiles back.

B.

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S&M Massage Parlor?

An ant. I’m a tiny little insect participating in the beautifully choreographed dance that is Hong Kong. Actually, I’m a giraffe in a maze of black haired talking heads on cellphones, who are usually about the height of my chest. If you’ve ever imagined a place where everything is done in the absolute smartest way, well I think we’ve found it. A transportation system that seems to have been designed by Einstein, and a better way to do just about everything. Singapore and Hong Kong have impressed me to say the least; I could really see myself moving here. I’m a huge advocate of Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM for short and I’ve been seeing a practitioner in Montreal for the past ten years. One of the reasons why I was so excited about coming to Asia was that these types of treatments are the norm here, and I am more than ready to take advantage of the resources now available to me. A significant lesson that TCM has taught me is, “No pain, no gain.” Acupuncture, acupressure,
cupping and various forms of massage can be quite painful.  Just when I can’t possibly endure one more moment, the treatment is usually over and results are achieved even after one session.  So far I’ve had Indonesian and Thai reflexology, acupuncture, cupping and have tried several different herbal remedies including Tortoise Plastron jelly and Bird’s Nest concentrate. The most excruciating experience was the Thai reflexology.  During treatment the masseuse and I had a lovely chat about the pros and cons of living in Singapore, as I lay there grinding my teeth, biting my lip and trying not to scream, “Stop” at the top of my lungs. We discussed how safe and clean it is and the amazingly, magnificent food (more on that later). Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get anymore agonizing, he started punching my feet and calves full force. Large pools of tears welled up in my eyes and I wondered if I had stepped into a dungeon instead of the massage parlor decoratively advertised on the storefront window. Somehow Singapore has solved the eternal problem of homelessness. One of the ways they have done this is that government housing is available for as low as 100 dollars a month. On a different note these were the words my new friend left me with, “In Singapore people don’t say anything about what the government do or you disappear, they put you into the ground.”

The only way I can describe the food in Singapore and Hong Kong is that it tastes like LOVE. The chopsticks touch your lips and your mouth has been blessed with the most extraordinary gift, you just can’t help but crack a smile. An abundance of flavor, this food was made at the hand of someone who truly cared. A cook who
cared enough to meticulously add each special ingredient, and simmer the brew for hours and hours but never, ever for even one minute too long.

After a few beers, there is nothing like a skewer of various types of organ meat sold on the street at 1am. Priceless.

I carry everything I own in one bag right now, which has made me think about what it is I really need. Absolutely nothing. All of my clothes are a wrinkled mess and that eyeliner or hair product that I just couldn’t live without at home is impossible to find here. It simply doesn’t matter. All I need is clean underwear, comfortable
shoes, sunscreen and my baby by my side. We start exploring the rest of China in the next few days. My heart is wide open, and I’m ready to drink it all in like a sponge. Last thought: Baggage. You take some of it with you on a trip, but hopefully you also leave some behind…

P.S. Quote taken from a bottle of Ginseng wine,” We sincerely recommend you drink more for your health. Functions: Improve appearance and reinforce energy, strengthen health and prolong life.” YES!!

F.

Volcanic Nightmare

I sat in a stiff wooden chair, laid my head in my lap and wept quietly. The tears raged out of me with a vengeance and I couldn’t pretend things were ok anymore. “I can’t lose him,” were the words that rang over and over in my head as I prayed for help to every god and dead relative I could think of, even my beloved little grey haired cat Shadow. The appearance of the room somehow made it all worse, resembling the setting of a Sam Sheppard play, it’s dingy drabness helped to make the nightmare that much more real. We had travelled there to see a volcano we would never get the chance to see, already sleep and nutrient deprived I was dealing with this situation worse than I would have had I been 100%. He lay motionless, hair soaking wet with sweat, droplets dripping down his whole body as fast as water from a shower head. “You’re going to be ok, you’re getting better,” I said. Trying to convince him as much as I was trying to convince myself. Feelings of helplessness and loss of control shot through me like lightning bolts as I used every last ounce of energy to hold it together and think of what to do. Constant cold compresses to head and feet as I fought the fire that fought back from within him. “Please drink some more water and juice,” I pleaded. Worried he was dehydrated, worried he would throw up, worried there wouldn’t be a store open when he would be well enough for me to leave again. Part of me   knew he needed rest, the other part wanted to take his temperature every fifteen minutes. Our days were ruled by the numbers on the thermometer, 100 and lower meant a few moments of peace, 102 and higher meant racked nerves and jumping in a cold shower as quickly as possible. The situation wouldn’t have felt so dire if we weren’t what felt like at the edge of the earth or the middle of nowhere. No hospital, no doctors whose expertise I would trust, no security just sheer cold cruel terror. I tried to use any medical knowledge I acquired from having been a sick child, worked in hospitals and having one of the best nurses in the world as my mom. What does hell sound like to overly sensitive ears due to exhaustion and raw emotion? It sounds like a noisy hotel on a busy street with prayers in a foreign language being badly projected over a loud speaker, and fireworks going off at random distances. All this distracting me from what felt like the appropriate thing to do at the time, watch and listen for his breath. I couldn’t read or sleep so it felt like the right thing to do. I needed to be ready if there was a change. If things got worse, I would know right away so I could fix it. Could I? What would I do? Go out into the hall and scream for help? Would anyone come? Would anyone understand me? We needed to get out a.s.a.p. to somewhere bigger, somewhere that wouldn’t make this difficult situation feel even worse. He needed to get better first, so all I could do was wait. Wait and go onto the scary streets once again for more water and the Indonesian version of “Poweraid.” Walking down the street felt like stepping right into the middle of a circus where I seemed to be the starring act. The noise, heat and car exhaust was enough to bring me to my knees; I felt desperate and simply wanted it all to go away. The stares, pointing and laughter made me rush through the streets with my head down and eyes covered. “He needs me; I have to get back there,” were the thoughts that kept me going. The thoughts that kept my body moving as quickly as it could. All nightmares do eventually come to a very vivid end. Sometimes when you’re not actually asleep while having one, it’s hard to see the ray of light shining through somewhere far off in the distance. As I turned my head and glanced out the plane window the whole thing felt very unreal to me, the way the scenery always looks when you’re on a plane. As if it would disappear in a big puff of smoke if I laid my fingers on it a little too hard. Fast asleep next to me he was getting better and everything was going to be ok. When the plane landed in Singapore two tears of joy quietly streamed down my face.
“It’s finally over.”

F.