Sunday, September 02, 2007

grocery, comedy, & comfort food.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON. it's raining outside, and i find myself becoming a hermit - more and more comfortable to simply inhabit the trappings of my apartment, despite my foreign surroundings. it doesn't help that it's pouring down rain, and so far the first impressions of my new city are those of a commercially manufactured environment. i'm being harsh, for sure, and i'm confident i will soon discover all there is to love about this place.

oh, AND i'm doing laundry (which is quite the lengthy process). but i DID make my first meal in my kitchen. ahhh ,comfort food (have no fear, it's chicken dogs and a boca burger, the streak is still alive!). and we all know nothing beats a vanilla coke over ice.

SATURDAY 1.SEPT: awake early, but spent most of the morning in and around the apartment getting more settled and reading. i finally made it out and about in the early afternoon, walking to the MRT stop. the trains were quite crowded with many an Asian, reminiscent of Tokyo, only the local government had not hired officials for the sole purpose of pushing people into the train doors.

my first stop was to "City Hall" stop, to the Funan "tech mall", 1 of 2 geek Valhallas (this one being the non-geek friendlier, as i didn't feel the need to prove myself just yet to the local nerdery), to pick up some plug converters for my power strips. on our way back from the Philippines, Tricia was kind enough to draw me a few detailed maps in my pocket moleskin (thanks Reena!). the maps were key, as most of the shopping centers and malls here are not street facing, so one would not know what they were passing as they moved down the pristine, yet crowded streets.

after Funan, i hopped down 2 more stops to Orchard, where i braved a few more of the malls - Paragon, Ngee Ann (pronounced "Neon") City. first priority was in search of lunch (Tricia had recommended 1-2 more places for this as well). i wound up eating at the Project Shop cafe, which was similar to an upscale Panera, but attached to an upscale American Eagle-type store (called Project Shop). i had what was called a chicken burger, but was really small pieces of chicken over bread, covered in herbs, and drowned in a delicious chili sauce (it had to be eaten w/ a fork and knife). i had a wildberry tea to wash it down, for which i used a spoon to eat the berries out of the bottom of the glass. an expensive meal at ~$18 USD ($1 Sing = $0.65 USD), but well worth it.

as i walked back outside, a light rain shower (which i'm quickly becoming used to) was drenching the streets and pedestrians. almost everyone quickly pulled out their umbrellas and went about their business. i crossed the street with my fellow jaywalkers, now in search of grocery. "Cold Storage" is the preferred urban grocery chain here (or so i've been told), and Tricia directed me to one of the bigger ones near me. it was apparently in the basement of a shopping center, but despite Tric's maps it took quite a bit of wandering through 2-3 shopping malls to figure out in which one it was - it didn't help that it was buried away behind a food court.

for me the grocery store was the highlight of the day (sustenance), as it was the thing that would provide my independence here, less reliant on eating out. much of the grocery in Singapore is imported - packaged goods from the US, UK, and Japan. veggies come from Australia, and i'm not sure where the meat comes from (mainland Asia?). i stocked up on some essentials - olive oil, mayonnaise, mustard, baking soda (for the weird smell in my fridge), pasta, hot sauce, cheese, butter, veggies. oreos and even a few more items of comfort food (to create the meal seen above). much to my chagrin, the only betty crocker mashed potatoes were NOT of the cheesy variety (oh mandi, why didn't i listen to you? :)

over the years, the one thing i've noticed, is that the first grocery trip after any move is always unusually expensive, given the repurchase of all the fridge staples. even though carrying my basket was an easy task for the 30 mins i spent in the store, carrying my 4 plastic bags home was another thing. walking behind the slow meandering Asian crowds proved annoying, and the trains were again quite crowded, making things more difficult for the 1 stop i had to travel to get home. the 5 minute walk from the MRT station to my front door even felt a bit longer. let's just say i got my exercise for the day, and shall be making MUCH smaller shopping trips moving forward.

came home and grabbed a quick (cold!) shower, and got ready to head out. before leaving, my buddy karl bought me tickets for a comedy show. unfortunately, he assumed kat was immediately coming out with me, so i was stuck with a PAIR of non-refundable tickets. fortunately, since announcing i was heading to singapore, it seems everyone has a friend here. i had reached out to Mala (the younger sister of a friend of a friend), who had studied here last year. given she was someone i'd met and knew her choice of friends i could trust, she put me in touch with a few friends from her uni days, one of whom (Deepa) was more than happy to goto a show with some strange American.

we arranged to meet at the MRT station (Clark Quay, pronounced "key"), coordinating our entire rendezvous via Facebook and SMS. Deepa is a local, working for one of the world's larger market research firms. she's a first generation Indian-Singaporean, so quite similar to myself. Clark Quay is a pretty new development on both sides of the "riverfront." we picked up our tickets, and then ventured across the water to the Cafe Iguana, the local Mexican place. if you know me, you know i'm quite the snob for Mexican food - forcing my friends in Cincinnati to venture 30 mins north to the only acceptable option for me. the style of Mexican food i prefer is what i fondly call "dirty Mexican," basically the (legal?) immigrant-owned, mom & pop owned restarunt, usually found in a run down shopping strip or on the side of some highway. the chips are served independently from the wait staff (oh chip boy, where have you gone?), the salsa is hot, and the cheese sauce is pure white liquid goodness. the food comes out alarmingly fast, and you pay at the front. given all of my descriptions to date of Singapore, i'm sure you know that this was NOT the Mexican food we had for dinner.

but the dinner conversation w/ Deepa made up for it. we talked about work, travel, her growing up a local, being an Indian in the US, politics, and even stand-up comedy. turns out my host was a big fan of Russell Peters, but more importantly, also of my good friend Rajiv, who she had seen quite a bit of online (don't let this goto your head dude. you only have 2 known fans on this side of the world ;). Deepa was excited to discover this was the source of our mutual connection (Mala).

we made our way to the club, the 1NiteStand. this was an Aussie-run, largely ex-pat bar. Deepa and I might have been some of the only non-white people there, not counting the wait-staff. there were only 2 acts that night, as the headliner had fallen ill. the opening MC, a 27 year old Aussie-Londoner named Daniel Townes did a solid 45 mins (see excerpt below from another performance with some of the bits we saw)

the second act was some older dude from Glasgow. his material was pretty simple & crude, and got alot of laughs from the mostly older crowd. we wound up walking out. we actually ran into the good Mr. Townes outside having a cigarette, and chatted him up for a bit. from there we walked around a bit, wrapping up earlier conversations, talking about Deepa's impending move the US, and my forthcoming travel through the region. called it a night early, and rode the train home, having made +1 more friend in the city.

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