Captain’s Backblog, Earthdate, August 10, 2009

Not entirely a coincidence that I’ve begun this backblog with a nod to Star Trek and all trekkies. After all, I did watch the movie on the flight over from Adelaide to Singapore. Granted I missed the last 5-10 minutes and also granted that it was only the 2nd movie I saw on that flight (the first being The Soloist) but saw it I did. Wasn’t too bad either. But I side trek (ha ha). The allusion to the flight and movie is just a prelude to my account of my 48-odd hours in Singapore.

After the winter climes in Oz – even the warmest cities had cold nights this time of the year and nights feel colder when heating is not automatic as it is in places where I’ve spent cold winters in for the better part of the past two decades…. – the muggy temperatures of Singapore felt welcome for all of a couple of hours, as I sat sipping tea in the circular back veranda of Ravi and Hema’s apartment. By night-time, I welcomed Hema’s suggestion that I turn on the AC in my room for a comfortable (and mosquito-free) night.

I believe I mentioned these cousins of mine in a post last summer talking about familar faces in chance places. In today’s Facebook world where people are reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances all the time, this may not be saying much, but I have not yet become one of those faceless faces, and meeting the other Sankaran couple was a a lovely bonus last year. I’m pleased to report that I didn’t let another 22 years lapse between our next meeting.

Ravi picked me up at the airport and after the aforementioned tea it was decided that going out to eat was in order for the evening. And for a true Singaporean experience, we went to have dinner at a void-deck restaurant.Now, the void deck is a architectural feature common (if not unique) to Singapore highrise  apartments maintained by the Housing development authority. Under i.e. in the basement, of each of these sites is the parking lot, sitting in the central void space between the different buildings that make up the complex. Rather than being a covered basement, is accessible nd visible from the ground level of the apartment, which is organized in decks with railings and staircases down into the void. Hence the term void decks. In Singapore at least, the void-deck level is seldom if ever a residential floor – instead a number of different businesses such as hair-and-nail salons, small groceries, and restaurants and cafes – run operations there. It was to one such void-deck restaurant – characterized by Hema as her favorite crab place – that they took me.

Folks acquainted with Hema might do a double take at that last claim, for she is actually a pure vegetarian. Always has been. And yet it was she and not the seafood-eating Ravi who insisted on this particular place. And on a particular dish – the black pepper crabs. Which Ravi and I settled down to eating with all the gusto it richly deserved. So the reason why the place is Hema’s favorite? Well, she actually loves the sauce they use for the crab. And the restaurant owners know her and her preferences so well, that they inform her even before we take our seats as to the availability of green beans in the same sauce. A yummy concoction, well meriting a try in it’s own right, but in no way substituting for the crab. Which was certainly everything I was led to believe it would be ! Fresh, succulent, and with a finger-licking and lip smackingly yummy sauce, every last bit of which is worth mopping up with a piece of steamed bun or some sticky rice.

Other than the good eats that marks the entire region, and the wonderful company of my relatives, Singapore itself is rather ho-hum. Or to quote my cousin, a bit antiseptic in character. But there are few landmarks worth a mention and a visit should you be there – Mustafa’s for one. An Indian Muslim, Mustafa opened up a small shop several years ago but has since expanded and taken over the wh0le street, with multiple operations (including, I kid you not, Indian Visa services) and most prominently a multi-storey store where everything is available if you look hard enough and in the right nook or cranny – and if it isn’t there then you won’t find it anywhere else in the country – at any given time of the day or night. It’s the place to go, according to Hema if you want a microwave at midnight. When we went, it was to buy a swimsuit for me so I could avail of their lovely pool (the cousins’ that is, not Mustafa’s though for all I know he may have one somewhere hidden away as well!). Right across the street, from Mustafa’s is Murugan’s idlis – serving up the best breakfast you are likely to find in town!

My account of this trip would hardly be complete without the story of how Hema and I became fish-food for half an hour. You may have heard of certain establishments known as fish spas. In Singapore you may catch sight of them in various malls. You might well pass them without even noticing anything unusual, after all with the different types of decor in malls nowadays, tanks of tiny fish are hardly unusual. But then you do a double take, because dangling in the water amid the fishes you’ll see people’s legs. Attached to their owners who are sitting above. The fish are called Garra Rufa or doctor fish, and are native to Turkey. How they were recruited into the human beauty-spa business I’m not sure, but it’s now all the rage. You go and you dip your feet into the fish tanks. And the let the fishies nibble away at you. It’s ticklish. The first five minutes both Hema and I giggled non-stop and then subsided to a the occasional squeal and giggle every couple of seconds. The feeling: a tickling and tingling, sort of like pins and needles or a very very mild electric current. A word of advice – start with the small fish, before graduating to the tank with the bigger ones. But don’t miss out the on bigger ones altogether. I’ll try to mount photos of our feet when Hema forwards them to me, but for now I’ll just say that when we emerged half an hour later (after the first 20 minutes by mutual consent we extended out time for 10 more minutes) our feet and legs felt soft as silk! Just follow it up with a Singapore Sling, the signature cocktail invented at Raffles, the world famous hotel evoking memories of Somerset Maugham just by it’s very name. (Okay so I didn’t get to do that last this time, but that’s what next times are for).

Until that next time, it’s sayanora Singapore