So I am on vacation (finally!) in India. Things in Timor finished up mostly uneventfully (though we did get to dash through an angry crowd under the cover of Australian UN police with automatic weapons at the ready. Fortunately the crowd hadn't turned violent yet, so it was more dramatic than dangerous.)
From Dili I flew to Jakarta, checked into a 5 star hotel to enjoy the last night of my WB expense account, swam in the pool, and had dinner with a friend from grad school at a posh Italian restaurant. Early the next morning, I was off to Singapore for a couple days of concentrated shopping and eating before heading to India. I have two friends living in Singapore, one of which was generous enough to have a spare bed and one of which was generous enough to be a government employee for the tourism board with a free museum pass. So it worked out well for me.
The first day the friend I was staying with took me on a walking tour of the major sights in the city. Singapore is a somewhat strange place. Despite its fairly long and colorful history, it is a completely created place. Most of the the people (at some point in their history) immigrated from somewhere else (more than half from China), the land is mostly reclaimed, the buildings are all new or recently remodeled. The two newest additions are a giant ferris wheel and a theater house that looks like a pair of giant sleeping metallic hedgehogs. For a number of reasons, this is likely not the place to try psychotropic drugs.
That night we went out to the tourist beach island to drink beer and watch the sunset. (Island entirely created as well, down to the imported and bored looking peacocks.) And behind the planted palm trees, cargo ships and super tankers filled the horizon. But the beach was nice and the beer was cold, so the combined experience was quite enjoyable.
Over the next couple days, I also did a walking tour of Chinatown, a visit the Asian Civilization Museum, and some shopping in a few of the thousands of stores and malls in town. Blah blah blah.
But let's get down to the real business of Singapore - eating. The food there was out of this world. A perfect storm of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisines merged into one place. Singapore had been known previously for its street food, but the government decided that that wasn't in keeping with the image of the new Singapore. So the street vendors were rounded up and places in "hawker centers," which probably damaged the culture a little, but they are convenient for us. The first night we had sitay and stingray accompanied by noddles and rice. I don't know why the rest of the world doesn't eat stingray, it's delicious. Next day it was fried tofu for lunch, and then "steamboat" for dinner.
Steamboat is a cousin to Mongolian and Schezuen hotpots, with dinners selecting raw food from the buffet and then boiling it at their tables. The guys were nice enough to get a half spicy and half broth hotpot, because spicy in Singapore would actually probably prove lethal to my bland American palate. It occured to me that there was a chance that the open air collection of meat, fish, vegetables, etc might not be the most hygenic thing in the world, but, as the wise-but-insane Peace Corps nurse Molly once said, "Boiling continuously for one minute kills anything. Bacteria, germs, pathogens, ants, mice, anything." So I loaded up a plate with clams and made sure they were in the pot for at least one minute. If I am going down with food poisioning, I am going to earn it. Street shellfish in a tropical climate, here I come. And this may be blasphamy to many on this list, but clams do not necessarily have to be eaten with lemon and melted butter. They are also quite tasty with a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, cilantro and green onions. Many other things went into the pot that night, crab, shrimp, meat of all forms, mushrooms, but those clams were really good.
The next day I went shopping for clothes for this wedding I am in India to attend. (The groom is a friend from grad school. In typical male fashion, he didn't think to mention to me that the three day wedding was black tie until the night before I left. Consequentially, I was shopping for my life in Singapore.) Grabbed a flight that night, and here I am in Delhi.
It has been over three years since I have been here, but the place is generally the same. Same crowds, noise and chaos. They have since added a subway system that I have yet to try. It somehow though seems calmer and cleaner here than last time. I must be getting older and more mellow. I guess we will see if I still feel that way after being here for two weeks.
One last thing before I go. My friend that was nice enough to take me to the sites works for the tourism board and his bonus depends on how much tourists spend in the country. To thank him for his hospitality, I am starting a grassroots internet campaign to encourage tourism in Singapore. (Hey, if it works for Ron Paul, anything can happen...) So if at all possible, please visit Singapore in the next six years.