Singaporean Street Food, World Cup, and Exhaustion

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Asia » Singapore
June 13th 2010
Published: June 13th 2010
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It turns out that the last day of our conference would find me awake for almost 24 hours straight - no small feat considering I have not been sleeping well (thank you jet lag) and was therefore so tired that every time I sat down, I feared slumping onto the table.

At the end of my last entry, I was getting ready to head to Straits Kitchen at the Hyatt, where we would find Singaporean street food without the street. I have to say that this was one of my favorite meals of the conference, and I believe that a few of the other attendees would agree with me. Straits Kitchen is a buffet, which is a favorite option of ours whenever in a venue where the food might not be agreeable to everyone - that way, the group can pick and choose what they would prefer, and also have the option of eating as much or as little as they want to. In my case, I was interested in eating some Indian food, hopefully some chicken tikka masala and especially some naan bread. I wasn't able to find the tikka masala, unfortunately, but a bite of chicken (which seemed a bit pink to me, resulting in my eating only just a bite) and rice was sufficient. My dad found the naan bread, so I stuck with that, dipping it in the satay sauce - quite a satisfactory lunch in my mind!

Another thing that I've been hearing about since arriving is Durian - it's a local fruit, called the "king of fruits" in Asia. It sounds like quite an adventure to eat, as it's a rather large fruit with a thick skin, and the meat makes up only a small part of it - but the real adventure is in overcoming the smell, which I've heard described as everything from leaking gas to week old gym socks. One of our hosts and her husband have been trying to get us to try the durian with them since we arrived, and we've been considering it. Another Singaporean recommended that we ease into it, either trying durian ice cream or cakes first. So yesterday at Straits Kitchen, one of our Chinese lawyers found that they had durian ice cream.

Being that I felt that we could not miss this true Singaporean experience, I decided to try it. I got a bowl (two small scoops) for my dad and myself. Sniffing it closely, I decided that there was a slight smell, though I couldn't really identify it - kind of like rotten eggs. The smell of the fruit is rumored to be so bad that it's not allowed on planes or in hotels, and many people won't even bring it in their cars. But I didn't think the ice cream smelled too bad, so I gave it a shot.

It wasn't terrible, but let's just say I won't be rushing out to have it again any time soon - if the smell was a little like rotten eggs, the taste was a lot like it. One of our hosts had made sure to come over to watch our faces as we tried it, and she thought we handled it very well. After she'd walked away, two of our Swedish attendees tried it, making hilariously disgusted faces - it was quite entertaining. Apparently at another table, one of the Danish attendees had tried it and almost choked on it, so the rest of her table decided they were too afraid to follow suit. I love things like this, because I think that's what really adds to the experience of a conference - getting out of your comfort zone to try something new and bonding at the unfamiliarity of it all.

After lunch, we sent one group to the fish spa and the Singapore Flyer - I had hoped to go, but they were going to the Flyer first (which, with my overwhelming fear of heights would have been something I couldn't participate in) followed by the fish spa. I needed to do a bit of work on the table seatings for that evening because of some additions and early departures, so it was best to return to the hotel early anyway. I was disappointed to miss out on the fish spa, where the group put their feet into tanks of water and had schools of fish nibble away at the extra skin - apparently it was a very funny experience and they all enjoyed it. We sent another group on an exclusive tour of the shopping mall Isetan, across the street from the Hyatt, where one of our hosts is very friendly with the CEO. Many of us returned to the hotel, and after we finalized the seating arrangements for the evening, I took another trip to the spa.

Unfortunately, this massage was not quite as relaxing. The masseuse was very good, but for some reason, the massage felt longer and so I started to become concerned around the mid-point that she had confused my 60-minute massage with a 90-minute one, which would have given me only 15 minutes to get ready for our fanciest dinner. So instead of being relaxed, I was becoming more and more nervous. And in addition, I had mentioned tension in my shoulders and neck, so she focused in that area - this would have been great had she not been determined to eradicate the thick knots I have there, which I've had for years (and would take regular weekly, painful massages to get rid of permanently from what my doctor tells me). Working on the knots at this stage serves only to inflame them, so it seems now, almost 24 hours later, that my neck and shoulders are actually MORE sore after the massage than before.

But at any rate, the experience was useful for helping me to take some relaxation time, and I did end up with just about enough time to ready myself for the evening's activities. Our host is a former member of Parliament, so he and his partners wanted to showcase the Singaporean Parliament to our group - he had arranged for an exclusive tour of New Parliament and we were to dine in the Arts House, which was the old Parliament building.

Because of the tour, we had had to rearrange the timing of the evening, leaving promptly at 6pm. Although we regularly mention to the group that the printed itinerary they receive upon arrival should be the only one they refer to, and we additionally mentioned the 6pm departure in the morning's meeting, we did have a few who didn't realize we weren't leaving at 7. Three of them were able to take taxis, and one managed to get ready in a flash and join the second bus, so we managed to get to the new Parliament only about 15 minutes late. Security is necessarily tight there, so we had all sent in our passport numbers in advance and presented them again on the way in, where we were then subject to metal detection and x-raying of our belongings. We also had to surrender any camera phones and cameras, as no photography is permitted.

They seated us in a small auditorium for a 15 minute video and I saw a few of the more jet lagged attendees getting some quick shut-eye once they turned the lights off. It seemed I wasn't the only one having some difficulty staying awake any time I sat down - particularly in the dark! But I was determined to stay awake, and did. They then took us upstairs in two groups, showing us the view of the river, which was quite lovely in early evening. The guide mentioned that the building had been built in such a location that no sniper bullet would be able to reach it, though she wasn't sure about snipers on boats. She then led us into the public viewing gallery for the Parliament, behind glass on the second floor from the main chamber. She mentioned that the glass was a recent addition, after someone threw something at Tony Blair in London - she said Singapore often watches what happens in other Parliaments and acts to secure its own.

Giving us a number of facts about the government, one of the more interesting ones is that it can take only a day to make a change to their constitution - the US government certainly doesn't move that quickly! She also mentioned that members are Parliament are not supposed to swear, and those that do are scolded by the guy in charge.

Following a few questions from the group, she escorted us downstairs and outside, where the humidity was incredible - we were expecting some thunderstorms yesterday, but they never materialized, so the humidity just climbed and climbed. We asked the guards how to get to the Arts House and finally found our guides, who led us over there. Once inside, we headed into the chamber room of the old Parliament and took our seats to wait for our host. He gave us some history of the old Parliament and his experience there for about fifteen minutes, and then we were treated to a wonderful performance by the Chinese Youth Orchestra - it was a six-piece band with more than one unique instrument. They played four songs, three of them Chinese, and one being the tango from True Lies. They were quite good, coordinating each instrument beautifully and alternating strength of play so that you could pick out one instrument over the others from time to time. Everyone was very enthusiastic in their show of appreciation.

We then gathered for fifteen minutes of cocktails and canapes in the hallway before going into the blue room for dinner - the blue room was formerly a lounge for members of Parliament but has since been painted white. Everyone found their tables and dinner began, accompanied by the background of a guitarist, who was quite good. We had also arranged for two fortune tellers, but our host dismissed them because he preferred everyone talk to each other with no interruptions. I felt they would have added something to the evening and was disappointed to not have my own fortune read, but the group did especially seem to enjoy each other's company last night and we certainly had difficulty moving everyone out the door once it was time to depart.

I stayed until the end to leave with the second bus and make sure everything was okay, and unfortunately for me, this was the party bus. They arranged with the driver to drop us first at Clarke Quay before going on to the hotel, and I was talked into joining them. I had hoped to return to the hotel for a few hours' sleep before the 2:30am start of the World Cup game between England and the US, but most of the group planning to watch wanted to try to stay up instead.

We went first to a bar called "Carribbean" - I think - and there were only a couple of people inside. Most people were outside despite how hot and humid it was (not so fun when you're very dressed up), so we only had one drink there and moved on. We'd split up from part of the group who was in search of a Cuban place and another part of the group looking to sit by the water, so after the first drink, those of us there headed in search of the group by the water. We found them, and it was quite pleasant to sit there with the fans blowing an artificial breeze as we chatted. I had ordered a mango juice, which was really very refreshing. After a little while, some of the group wanted to find those at the Cuban bar, so we departed again and finally located them sitting at a table outside. A couple of people wanted to return to the hotel, and I decided to go with them because it was so hot, I was very uncomfortable after a day of high heels, and there was far too much cigarette smoke for my taste.

Six of us returned to the hotel and a few of us decided to change and meet in the lobby to await the World Cup game. I threw on some jeans and a tee shirt, grabbed a coke from the mini bar and my phone and headed downstairs. The hotel was kind enough to turn on the tv in the bar, though it was closed, but it was then that we ran into a problem - although they would turn the tv on, they refused to turn on the sound. They said it was hotel policy that once the bar was closed, the only sound was to be the music playing over the PA, which was terrible by the way. This was quite unfortunate, but no matter who asked or who we asked, the answer remained the same. Pretty disappointing, considering we are a fairly large group for the hotel and regularly give them our business.

As a result, my dad was forced to get his iPad so that we could at least listen to the game, even though the commentary ran a few minutes behind. I was so tired, but determined to stay up - about half the group left after the first half of the game, and about eight of us stayed to watch the whole thing. One of the delegates had a passerby take our picture at about 4:30am to show the die-hards.

By that time I was EXHAUSTED, so I got ready for bed and zonked out. Despite staying up as late as I possibly could, I STILL didn't have a good night's sleep - probably because it was really a day sleep - and woke up at 8:30 (which looked to me like 1:30 on the clock for several minutes). I did manage to fall back to sleep for another few hours and woke up several more times until I finally forced myself to get up at 2:30. Despite all the sleep, I'm still completely exhausted and could go back to bed right now.

Instead though, I'm going to hop in the shower before meeting some of those with later flights for dinner this evening. I'm not sure where we're going, but I heard talk of a good casual Italian restaurant, which as you may know, is right up my alley.


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