Thursday, September 22, 2016

Summer part four: Foodporn in Singapore (and seeing some friends!)

Sweet and sour pork

Oh Singapore! People travel the world over to eat and drink here. I always half-joke, what else is there to do in Singapore!? I grew up for 9 years of my life here as a kid/teen and spent most of my time busy with school, dance, figure skating. My days were packed. Over the years, Singapore became a pit stop to eat, see family, some friends, and visit some old haunts (if they still exist!). 

Crispy peanut pancake washed down with fresh watermelon juice
Chocolate cookie sandwich with marshmallow fluff

Iced black coffee
Singapore's weather has a reputation for being unforgivingly hot and humid. For the traveler who has never experienced equatorial, tropical, or extreme heat and humidity. Please carry a towel, cold drink, fan, and deodorant when venturing the streets of Singapore. Its hot and my AC is constantly set to the coldest temperature of 18 degrees celsius. I'm always drinking iced coffee, iced fresh juices, iced water here except when I'm eating Chinese food or Japanese food at an air-conditioned restaurant, then I order hot tea. Fresh fruit juices are available at food courts in shopping malls and hawker food areas. Quite inexpensive and definitely worth it. There are new juice stands that are popping up selling cold pressed juices, smoothies, etc. which cost much more than the fruit juice stands in food courts. 

Smoke and Mirrors bar at National Gallery Singapore.

On the subject of drinking. Alcohol is VERY expensive in Singapore and bars can charge about $20-30 SGD for a cocktail. I really like a well made drink so this can really wreak havoc on my spending. Luckily, (or unlucky... ) I'm sort of a lightweight drinker and the older I get the more I like the taste of my Negroni or glass of wine and DISLIKE feeling hungover the next day so I tend to not drink very much these days. Being hungover tends to feel worse as I get older. 

Chinese "bolognese" noodles

Singapore has changed a lot since my adolescent years. The country has become increasingly commercial and expensive. The real estate market is through the roof! New malls, hotels, eateries, bars, areas are being developed. I spent 11 years living in the US and when I returned to Singapore I had massive culture shock. I just didn't know my way around, social customs, rules and regulations (there are plenty), and Singapore's landscape had changed. I had also changed and grew up. Needless to say it was a tough adjustment period and I didn't adjust well. I missed my friends and life as an artist in New York City. I worked a lot and felt out of touch with myself, my passions, and grew increasingly restless. Long story short, I didn't know who I was anymore. Traveling became my hobby and every chance I get, I just left. I haven't stopped since. There are places that remain in Singapore that I take comfort in returning to. There's a little dumpling and noodle restaurant in an office building on Orchard road that makes the best Chinese "bolognese" noodles and the dumplings are also pretty solid. I'd been coming here since I was a teen for meals after long training days at the ice skating rink (I used to be a figure skater) and at the dance studio. A nice bowl of piping hot noodles and a plate of pan fried dumplings. Its a comfort food and this place still exists! I take comfort in knowing that it is surviving the expanding F&B industry in Singapore.

Gentrification and hipsters have been "invading" a unique area of Singapore called Tiong Bahru for the last few years and so many cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and a few bars have popped up in this sleepy enclave. Black and white old apartment buildings have become trendy. If vintage is the new hipster trend, then why the big fuss? The hipsters change the demographic of an area and pricing out the older residents. This is the reason why its such a conflict of interest. That being said, the area is encouraging young entrepreneurs, artists, designers to revitalise the area. The Tiong Bahru market is known among residents as a place to get a cheap, yummy, and clean meal. I met up with a friend of mine for a plate of fried carrot cake (not the dessert you're thinking of but rather a savory turnip cake) and rojak (a sweet fruit and vegetable salad). After lunch, we were exploring the area and stumbled upon this little alleyway with beautiful paintings of old Singapore and the market at Tiong Bahru. 
To be truly honest, Singapore has become incredibly commercialised and the model for capitalism is alive and speed rolling through Singapore that having pockets of art, hipster revitalisation, and anything not mainstream (a.k.a. artisanal anything) is a welcome change. 

Bacon Vanilla Ice cream

One of my favorite spots to visit in Singapore when I want to feel a city vibe is by the Esplanade waterfront. It has a million dollar view of the downtown Central Business District (CBD) and the now iconic Marina Bay Sands (MBS) hotel and casino. Esplanade is the premier Performing Arts theatres in Singapore and has an annual Dans Festival in the Summer/Fall which has pretty good programming. The centre also houses a library, restaurants, outdoor amphitheatre, outdoor eating area called Makansutra Glutton by the Bay. I recommend eating there post performance for some satay and fresh juice. (Don't eat there before a performance because you may smell like food during the performance and its not pleasant for other concert goers.)

A couple years ago, food delivery sites were very rare and now it seems Deliveroo, Foodpanda, and Uber Eats has taken over the island. This is great for those lazy Netflix and Chill evenings (there were plenty of those! Especially after sweaty sessions at the gym). Singapore is becoming more convenient like NYC now with these food delivery companies and now the competition for grocery deliveries are becoming more popular. When I lived in NYC, I used to use Seamless web for food delivery and Fresh Direct for grocery deliveries (really helps when you buy in bulk! or want something special like fresh pasta!)

Little enclaves like Tiong Bahru, Martin Road, Robertson Quay, Duxton Hill, Ann Siang Hill, Dempsey, Arab Street are a welcome respite to the more commercialised areas. Though one may argue that the gentrification and hipster takeover is ruining Singapore. Here's one thing to note, Singapore is a new nation and has history and culture but isn't as deep-rooted as some older cities. It is also a country of change and progression, so these little pockets are creating sub-alternative cultures to the mainstream. I just wish a nice cup of Americano coffee wasn't $6-10 SGD! 
One of my favorite restaurants in one of these enclaves is PS Cafe Petit on Martin Road near Robertson Quay. The restaurant is beautifully designed with a loft-like appeal, a bakery, a wineshop, and exposed tile and leather chairs. Its luxurious, modern, cozy, and I could spend a leisurely afternoon sipping a cool iced tea and reading my kindle. 

Dancey-dance. My friend invited me to attend Melissa Quek's latest site specific dance piece one day and though it rained heavily right before the performance the show went on in the light drizzling rain. The old adage of The show MUST go on definitely rang true that day. Then the sun came out and we were able to walk with the dancers to each location of the piece in downtown core of Singapore. Despite the rain, quite a good group showed up for the performance. It is great to have this kind of support for local artists. I think local artists around the world need to feel supported and what was nice was the informal Q+A after the performance. To make art, one must be able to have an open dialogue with audiences to continue growing and create a sense of community. When I left NYC, I mourned the loss of my community. In Singapore, I felt a bit out of place and didn't feel like creating. One could say, I had a bit of choreographer's block. I had to force it out for my survival and sanity. Looking back, forcing it out wasn't such a bad thing because I don't think any of the choreographed dances I created for my classes or creative artist life was terrible. I just felt really challenged and soldiered on. Perhaps it could be that I was missing a sense of community where one was allowed to experiment, have open dialogues, critique each others' work in a safe haven instead of competing. I just didn't find that. 

I have a small group of lovely students in Singapore that consistently attends my classes whenever I hold them. They keep me sane and I feel inspired and supported by them. They are the reason I continue to teach because they WANT to dance, laugh, sweat, play with movement. It is a joy to watch them grow as movers. I like teaching students that choose to come to my classes because it feels like a little family. Through my difficult times, I know I can count on these students and these classes to keep me sane. :-) I also taught a small group while I was studying in Switzerland that reminded of this small family and I hope to always be creating inspiring little dance families around the world. (Alaine's contemporary dance classes)

Sometimes people treat people in service-oriented industries as invisible. This is a bit too real in Singapore. Probably why the turnover ratio for retaining employees is so high. This is a bit unfortunate because making people smile is one of the reasons why I love hospitality. I have actually always worked in some kind of service industry whether its in dance, beauty, events, or F&B and at the centre of it all, I like to make people happy and satisfied. In the grander scheme of life, if one does not work in all kinds of positions, how does one be a leader and motivate team members? 
In a country like Singapore, where people seem to judge you for your job position, the clothes you wear, your family background, and finances, its a tough environment to swallow some pride and work from the ground up but I think about the lofty dreams I have hope that one day I'll be the kind of team leader that inspires others instead of a dictating boss (though I can be a bossy at times but I know I will always roll up my sleeves and be proactive). I think people never stop learning and should continue making life colorful. We are not meant to live in one location, one career, one way of life. I hope I inspire my readers to go out in the world and seek different experiences. 

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