Well, how to express my thoughts on the workshop? The Singaporean experience was, in itself, great and I really should have extended my stay by a few days. I spent Tuesday looking at art and exploring shopping malls, which I will claim are both perfectly legitimate investigations, anthropologically, of the local culture.
Singapore’s shopping is world famous and the malls are pretty spectacular, especially since the tunnels and public transport system that is found beneath the city streets allows you, in most cases, to walk kilometres in air conditioned comfort without ever having to see the outside world.
Which is how I found myself at the Museum of Art. I decided to see where I walked to, which is difficult underground, what with the landmarks being shops and only shops. According to my map, upon reaching the surface, I was moments away from the Museum of Art, the largest collection of South-East Asian art in the world, and it seemed a waste to not go and look at it.
Art was an afterthought, really.
Part of my reason for going ‘above’ was the need to find a proper foodhall. Not one of the mall ones, a place where locals, in their lunch breaks, would go to eat. I had been dreaming of a decent salted fish fried rice for days. I know I’m meant to be a vegetarian-cum-vegan, but in situations like these I’m a very bad one. I could blame it on the locals; the food on offer at the conference was chock-a-block with fish and satay beef, and all of it was so good and very tasty…
Which reminds me. Here’s a little secret between you and me; I quite like airline food. Not because it’s a tasty and pleasurable treat. No, I like it because I know the reason why it can never taste truly great (due to altitude and pressure issues that change the receptivity of our taste bud). I think’s interesting and fun to eat something you know has been crafted to resemble a dish you might find passable in normal circumstances, but still fails to be good. “Man,” perhaps my grandmother might have said, “was never meant to fly and the food up there proves it.”
So, I wanted a salted fish fried rice. I like salted fish, which is a little like anchovies but stronger in taste and fairly revolting to smell (a little like durian, which I also like). I once cooked salted fish in my flat in London and the stink of cooking took days to dissipate.
It was worth it, however, because it is delicious, and flatmates forget culinary mistakes with ease.
So, after wandering through malls, looking but not buying, I decided that I needed to go above and find a foodhall that “real” people ate at. Finding myself outside Raffles, I looked at my tourist map and found the closest point of culture, the Museum of Art, and headed towards, hoping to find food on the way.
I did, sort of (I had to pass the museum, but only by about a block) where I found a very cheap salted fish fried rice. This was ultimately very useful, because whilst I can’t get an authentic salted fish dish in Auckland at the moment, I can get a vegan fake meat version, and I wanted to compare (answer: very similar but I had forgotten how tough real salted fish can be).
Talking about authenticity, that reminds me of the post workshop dinner, which was at the rather spectacular Aquamarine restaurant at the Mandarin Marina Hotel (five deserved stars). We had seated ourselves at the table when a large orange bowl was brought out. It was filled with noodles and chopped vegetables. Someone asked what it was for; the local contingent explained that it was a unique Singaporean invention, a Chinese New Year thing, where all the people at the table joined in making a dish, tossing the noodles and the added condiments, to bring good luck and prosperity to us all. What irked me about this was the suggestion that it was wasn’t really a tradition, wasn’t properly authentic, because it’s new/recent; it’s come out of the mix of peoples in Singapore and is not found elsewhere. That just seems insulting. It also seems so Western. Tradition, we seem to think, means “old.”
Authentic or not, the dish was delish.
As was the Guinness. Best Guinness I’ve had outside Ireland. Superb.
Which gets me to the point where I should probably talk about the workshop, eh…