Sunday, September 23, 2007

faking it in little india, & a champagne supernova in the sky.

quite the lazy weekend. eat, drink, and be merry indeed (w/ quite a bit of sleep and a good swim).

FRIDAY, 21.SEPT.2007:
a long day of work, mired with one crisis after another. things in india do not bode well. things in the philippines needs some work. and japan, as usual, chooses to be difficult to manage. i'm with a little stress, luck, and collaboration (my usual formula for success) i can handle whatever gets thrown my way. at the end of the day though, it's just soap.

post work, my new marketing friend nitin invited me out for drinks with the young "hip" marketing crowd. the more i talk with this guy, the more i like him. sure, we have different views on a few things (the awesomeness of cricket, for one, specific tastes in modern rock, being another), but he's got opinions that he can intelligently back. and that's enough for me. that, and anyone that can recognise juliete binoche and irene jacob for the brilliant (& beautiful) actresses they are, is OK in my book.

the rest of the group, mostly of the indian ex-pat variety (see earlier post w/ comment by a local...i invite some others captured in my generalization [nitin] to respond as well), was quite alright as well. hopefully a crowd i can soon call friends in town. we sat around, had a few jugs of tiger beer, talked work, people, etc, and then, most importantly, where to go for dinner. my vote for anything non-western was quickly overridden by a desire for pizza. we piled into a car, debating shotgun rules (clearly the american rules vary from the south asian ones, though i did introduce to them the concept of "not bitch"), and wound through the hardly-recognizable streets (similar to irvine, CA, where everything looks pristinely the same) to our destination, a belgian pizza joint. the food and conversation was good. talk of movies got people in the mood for one, but an early cricket game on the part of my crowd squashed any evening plans. i spent the night reading, discovering some saddening news (see below post on mike wieringo), and spending some time with my friend john steinbeck.


i've probably stated earlier that my favorite thing about the weekend is not sleeping in, but choosing when to wake up. not having to submit to an alarm (even though if it is to Air or the Police) makes my morning. out here i've even found myself waking up earlier than i did back in the states. this morning was not the case. somehow, i found myself awake at 2AM. this was quite insane and troubling. i meandered about, trying to figure out what to do with myself for the day, eventually opting to get out of the apartment and make it back to little india, a place i'd only been to once earlier for only a short dinner, but was quite fond of, given its stark difference from the rest of singapore. i grabbed my camera and hit the MRT. i wasn't even going to stop to eat before. i'd figure it out once i got there.

i emerged from the train station and found myself cutting through a market full of vegetables and raw meats. the floor was damp, as my i cautiously splashed through the puddles in my sandals. i cut through corridors and corridors, eventually finding my way to the street, where i proceeded to purposely get lost. cutting in and out of alleys, corners, and stalls. digging my way out to some semblance of recognition of the streets made me feel like i'd accomplished something for the day. but my stomach soon began to protest, so i began eying restaurants and stalls along the road. i saw and smelled many things, but i wasn't going to stop until i found something that was exactly what i was looking for. cutting through the human traffic, and away from the tourists was a task in itself. keeping my camera out didn't help me there either, as i was clearly marking myself as one. but i figured this being my inaugural run through the streets, i'd get learning my way around and taking photographs out of the way. i eventually found a main road that i recalled from my earlier evening visit, and kept going until i found a storefront corner (mustafa) that i recognized. along the way, i found a few likely candidates for my lunch, and eventually cut my way back to one of them.

while i don't speak much ("hardly any") hindi, counting and food are 2 of the things i think i have enough of a mastery of to get by on. so faking it at a restaraunt is easy enough. quickly surveying the food behind the glass, i took a seat in the open air venue, quickly studied the menu and motioned my malaysian waiter over. one of the first universal words across the world is "coca cola", so i had one of those w/ a samosa, which was damp and oily. an early disappointment, and i almost considered getting up and finding another stall, but my stomach wasn't going to let me wander aimlessly anymore. i picked 2 of my favorite dishes (which made me feel like a kid ordering...i might as well have gotten cookies and milk for lunch) - tandoori chicken, and channa bhatura. as i waited on my food, i watched the people hustling by in their saris, motorbikes, and turbans. the indian movie playing on the screen was right in the middle of a scandalous song number, which was entertaining enough. a little girl was staring at me, so i gave my patented crazy-toothed grin and waved. she giggled and ran behind her table.

the first of my meal finally came out, and once again, i found myself without a napkins, so started cautiously on my chicken, singapore-style with a fork and spoon (how they bypassed the knife i'll never know). before digging in though, i paused for to document my meal, which got a laugh from my waiter + the woman working the cash register. by the time my bhatura (a heavily fried bread) came out though, i really had no choice but to go indian-style (napkins be damned), as it's meant to be eaten. fortunately, the store owner saw my predicament, smiled, and brought a box of looney-toons kleenex over at the end of my meal. the malaysian waiter came over asking in singlish how i found the food. he got the polite thumbs up (despite my finding the channas a bit oily, something my dad would likely let him know immediately, asking for a new plate...the raj sehgal seal of approval does not come easily). when he came back to refill my water, i asked for a carry-out container in my first spoken english at the meal. he stopped, laughed, and asked where i was from. the usual comical banter of "where do you think" went on for a few minutes, before i let him know i was indeed an american. i took one last sip of my water, grabbed my carry out, paid, and made my way back down the street.

i wandered the streets for a bit longer, but found myself exhausted. i took a few more pictures (the rest of which can be found here), and wandered back to the MRT, subjecting myself to the saturday shopping crowds of the packed trains. i returned home around 5.30, and decided to lay down to read for a bit. i took off my glasses to rub my eyes, and the next thing i knew it was 7pm. troubled by my newfound slothfullness, i struggled to get up, but it was useless. soon it was 8pm, and my buddy alex was ringing me up, eager to head out for the night, as planned earlier.

a quick shower, and i was out the door. i met alex at the destination MRT, grabbed some of the asian-trucker red-bull, and we found our way to the Ice Bar, to see a local friend (of a friend of a friend) at her going away party. going away parties are odd affairs. even with my own, it was hard to really spend any time with any one person, so as as a guest, it was hard to really get anything more than a bit of small-talk with the guest of honor, my relatively new friend in town. we resolved to keep in touch as she heads to NY, and i offered up a few of my friends in the boston/NY area, which she'll hopefully look up. through the course of the night, i also met + chatted up a few of her local friends, so hopefully i'll make some of them my own in time. alex and i opted to make an early departure since we had plans elsewhere, but also as not to overstay our welcome with what was clearly a group of old friends. after all, it's better to leave [a party] when everyone wants you to stay, rather than still be around when everyone wishes you had already left. one of the many tenants i live by.

post-party, we caught a cab to the southern end of the island, to the power station. i'm guessing it is in a building that once housed a some power-generation facilities. but it had since been turned into a connected series of clubs + restaurants. he got us in via a pretty slick connection (something i'm learning "the clapper" has quite a few of in this town, one of many surprises), gave me the lay of the land via an upstairs corrider that looked over every independent club (each of which had it's own live band playing...whether it be salsa, rock covers w/ breakdancers, or dodgy chinese rock). we then headed downstairs for a quick snack of prata (not to be confused w/ paranta, this is a mild singaporean twist on the familiar indian dish my mom served for sunday brunch) + cucumbers w/ chinese chiles.

from there it was stopping in each of the respective clubs. and we know how much i love clubs. i drank my beer and enjoyed the people watching to pass the time. i felt bad, as alex was trying to show me a good time. the only problem is that i'm lame old man when it comes to going out and about. put me in a bar/room with new people, some drinks, let the conversation flow, and i'm good to go. put me in a club with people dancing on the tables and i've got nothing to contribute. sorry. for me, dancing is a pretty painful experience. it has nothing to do with my lack of the indian gene to move (though, despite my ability to mockingly 'twist the lightbulb" and grab+swing my knee ryan-king style, that partially is the case), it's just a general dislike + discomfort. i'm wound up too tight, and would rather sit back or get out on my own to unwind. it's who i am. so in these situations, i'll just keep drinking, get bored, and listen to the music, which is pretty much what i did. after heading in and out of a few of the clubs, we walked out and got a cab to clarke quay, where alex wanted to show me a few more places.

the first was a club - Attica - with it's own carnevale celebration going on, crazy costumes and all. alex's connection was able to get him in, but not me. i didn't really care to go, so he hopped back outside, and we walked to another place, which had a pretty cool scene, despite being empty. terra cotta warriors, aquarium tables, and giant chinese coldfish. definitely somewhere i'll take a crowd for a relaxed drink. the tour continued, and we made our way up some fire-escape-type stairs to China One. we caught the tail end of a some Chinese-English emo-band, which was actually pretty good. by this point i was on water, winding down. we wandered the bar, which was actually, so far, my favorite bar. pool tables, small stage for a band, and a neat setup. unfortunately, as Alex pointed out, it's where "all the assholes from back home congregate." this was clearly the case in some of the outer rooms, quite a few drunk brits carrying about. we made our way back to the center room , where i was holding out for the good band to come back out. i soon gave up, released Alex into his environment (where i later found he spent the next 6 or so hours), caught a cab home, and called it a night.

SUNDAY, 23.SEPT.2007:
awake early, and spent some time organizing my life back home. it's amazing how much you let some things slip when you're on the other side of the world. it's a more intense form of procrastination. Alex + i had made earlier plans to meet up for "Sunday brunch," a well known Singaporean ex-pat tradition i had heard about before i left the States. basically you goto a nice hotel around noon, have a seat, eat all you want with a bottomless glass of champagne until something well into the mid afternoon, pay a hefty price, and continue on about your day in a mildly-inebriated stupor. our venue of choice was the Fullerton hotel @ Raffles Place, one of the nicer local hotels, with a clear view out onto the Boat Quay waterfront/Esplanade.

at first glance, i really didn't know what the big deal was (i still kind of don't). i really wasn't sure how this wasn't different from the western-styled breakfasts i'd been served in hotels in Beijing & Manila. i guess the mass conflagration of rich white people amongst one another over poured champagne + dessert made all the difference. i was initially disappointed that we started our meal out in the lobby (since Alex had not reserved a table, and Sunday brunch is an in-demand event), but as i looked upwards towards the natural lighting of the lobby, i enjoyed the open space. i started with an omelette and some seafood. i enjoy a good amount of shrimp and crab, but have never fancied oysters, having only had them once or twice in my life (the first being on beach in New Zealand on a $1 NZ challenge from a friend). i figured i was now older and more sophisticated, but found it to still be salty and...squishy. i've since decided this is really one of those things that in actuality is not that good, and rich people have only convinced themselves as such to make themselves feel superior to the rest of us. oh rich people, when will you learn - thought i, as i slowly sipped my champagne.

our host soon let us know that a table was available, where we found ourselves underneathe the band. our anglo-brunette melodic singer seranaded the room with her covers of soft-rock covers, and a happy-birthday or two, sang marilyn monroe style. we decided to take a break from the gluttony and take wander about outside, agreeing that we'd like to try for a seat outside as it became available, which it soon enough did. we found ourselves next to a german family, which i made it a point to eavesdrop in on the conversation of. we were soon joined by a lone bruncher. a danish fellow we came to know over the course of the next 2 hours of brunching. the nice thing about "single-serving" friends is you can talk about most anything before even knowing eachother's name. we eventually found our new friend to be Jeppe, who is enabling IT support for the asian division of his organization. and what does said organization do? develop wind turbines for clean energy. marketing soap started to feel even more detestable. turns out Jeppe was only supposed to be here for a week, which has since turned into 4 weeks, and is starting to look like another 6+ months. between Alex (a brit focused on supply chains), Jeppe (IT + sustainability), and myself (american marketing whore), we had a few good political and technology-based conversations. soon, the white guys were starting to feel the heat (weather, not intense submission to my argumentative wit), so we retreated back inside, and continued our conversation over more champagn, cheese & crackers.

soon last call was made on champagne. upon discovering Alex had saved some chocolate on his shirt, we chose to document it appropriately, breaking out my camera, which soon became a topic of conversation in itself. post-brunch, we wandered about Raffle's place (the area along the "river" outside the hotel). most notably were the 2 statues of Sir Raffles (British founder of the grand experiment of commerce & trade that is now Singapore) - one white and one black (why's it always gots to be about color?). the older of the two, in white, was actually more interesting, since there was an art exhibit opposite. the long-standing statue of Raffles had a plaque that spoke of his single-handed change of Singapore's destiny. opposite this statue though, was another statue staring right at Sir Raffles. it was that of an migrant worker (happening to be indian, missing an arm). it's plaque talked of how the hard labor turned Raffles' mere idea into a reality. i thought it was a poignant commentary, and proceeded to setup an appropriate homage/mockery of the statues with a picture. after all, we had an indian and a brit present, so why not? in all seriousness though, i think it would be interesting, if in a feat of artistic movement, similar statues began to appear around the world opposite statues of great men, as much of their work (right up into the modern age) has been executed on the backs of many other less fortunate.

i'd be lying if i said the rest of the day was any more thought-provoking (judge for yourself though, the entirety of the day's pictures can be found here). we all cabbed back to Alex's, watched an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and called it a day. Jeppe + I walked along the river to Clarke Quay, where there was still more on display for the Chinese mid-Autumn festival. by this point we had already exchanged numbers (and i had found another convert to my cause of Week in Review Singapore), so made plans to see eachother again soon.

so while it was clearly a weekend of moderate sloth and gluttony, i can take pride in saying i made a few new friends. i think my good friend Larry David would find that "pretty, Pretty, PRETTTTTY good."

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