Tag Archives: Singapore

Chinatown in Singapore, Obama and Clinton

Taken from notes on July 22:

“Singapore!  What a cool place!  Food stalls–braised pig trotters–long goose and other fowl necks fried with the heads and beaks still attached, looped over long rods in shop windows.  Chinatown area–rows of medicinal shops, boxes and vials of pills and herbs and syrups covered in Chinese characters.

Tiger balm, ginseng tea.  Fishy stink–I ask what the piles of blackened pickle-like things, arranged neatly by size, might be.  Sea cucumber!

At one store, where I linger over flavored candies, an old man I can’t help but think looks like Pi Mai begins a conversation like this:

“Russian?”

Me: “…?”

“Russian?  You are Russian, yes?”

“No, American.”

“American!  Ah, you belong to Mr. Obama.”

“I…”

“He is a Negro, but he is good.”  He is massaging someone’s foot with a lot of oil.  I have no idea how to respond to any of this.  “But now Crinton, she there, she Secretary.  Crinton President, now wife try.  But she not the President.  Now she Secretary.  She do good!  Everywhere she go, she very nice.”

“Very nice,” I agree.  I pick up a box of “watermelon ice” candies and head for the register.

“U.S., she from U.S., you know,” the man alerts the cashier from somewhere below-ankle.

“Very long, to fly to Singapore!” says the cashier.

“Well, actually, I’m coming from India.”

“Oooooo, India!” says Pi Mai, rubbing the lower thighs vigorously.  “Very dirty there!”  He adds, best of all:  “I saw a documentary about it once.”

Hong Kong’d

I thought I would be culture shocked flying from Delhi,* where they charge you to sit in AC, to Singapore, where I saw people, several times, mopping floors that were already so clean you could eat off them.  And I was–from the little antiseptic dispenser in the airport bathrooms with a sign showing you the proper procedure for cleaning the toilet seat to the orderly neighborhood communities each with their own pool, community center, food court, and, of course, shopping mall.   But Hong Kong is the real culture shocker deal.  A few weeks ago I was jumping away from horse-drawn carts and watching old men dodge snarling dogs, and last night I step out into…well, something that looks an awful lot like Manhattan, if Chinatown took over and everyone wore shirts with hilarious non-sensical sayings in English.  (Favs: “London Call Shouting” and “You follow me to that place.  Where UG?”)

*India continued to India on me even on my way out: At the Delhi train station, multiple people, including police officers, tried to tell me that the pre-paid rickshaws would not take me to the airport and my only choice would be to follow this gentleman right here to his taxi, 600 rupees, plus a luggage fee.  The prepaid fare is 250, and yes, they go to the airport.  I laughed at them, and they could see I knew what they were up to, and they laughed with me.  So it’s almost like I got it.

At the airport, I tried to buy a water, samosas, and fried bread from a vendor.  He handed me the receipt.  “No,” I said, “Water 20 rupees,” and pointed to the stamp on the bottle reading 20 RMP (rupees maximum price).  He looked at it, shrugged, put it back in the cooler, and pulled out a different brand, which was stamped with: 30 RMP.  “Okay, forget the water,” I told him.  “Okay, 55 rupees” for the food, he said.  I pointed to the sign.  “25 for the samosas, 25 for the bread.  50.”  “No, no,” he said.  “This big one.  Look, samosa big.  You give 55.”  “No,” I said, “I’m tired of this.  Here’s 50.  I don’t have change.”  I slapped the 50 on the counter and walked away.  He was not laughing. I’d say I did almost get it, na?