Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bohemian Rhapsody in Singapore

Singapore Sunday: Eat, Joke, Laugh, Repeat

Not a bad weekend, if I had to assess the last few days. After a tough and frustrating week, I needed a good weekend to reinvigorate myself. The one small highlight of my mid-week was that on Wednesday I had my first Salsa dance class. I recently enrolled in a 8-week series of salsa dance lessons with two of my co-workers. We figured it would be fun, different, and a great way to meet new people.

The class was a blast and the hour flew by. We learned the fundamental steps of Salsa which began by the instructor playing some Salsa music and having us count out loud to the rhythm of the music. There are eight counts in Salsa and we all clapped and counted along to the music. Once we all learned the pattern of the Salsa rhythm, it was then time to engage our bodies and feet. Knowing how to count to the music was important because in Salsa you only move your feet on counts 1, 2, 3, and 5, 6, 7. On counts 4 and 8 your feet do not move.

We all were asked to find a spot where we could see ourselves along the room's large mirror and the music was then queued up for us to start moving our feet to the beat. Later we were asked to go find a partner, so it presented the first opportunity to meet some of our classmates. In this class there are 12 girls and 9 guys, so being a guy puts you in high demand. As we introduced ourselves we were instructed to break into the basic step pattern. It was hilarious as you could almost see people counting out the steps in their head and moving like robots. Our instructor stopped all of us and told us that Salsa is a partner dance, look into the eyes of your partner, not at your shoe laces! Everyone laughed a knowing chuckle and the mood lightened. Next week, we learn how to twill the girls, so it should be fun.

Friday night, I joined my friend Vanessa and two of her friends who were visiting from Taiwan. We met up for a seafood dinner and dined on Chillie Crab, which is a Singaporean hallmark. The restaurant was in the Geylang district of Singapore. Besides having some of the best tasting food on the island, Geylang is also known for being Singapore's red light district. I had forgotten this last piece of information until I arrived at the restaurant and was propositioned twice on the walk from the taxi to the entrance of the restaurant.

After filling our bellies on chillie crab, we headed down to Clark Quay for a drink at one of the newest and popular watering holes known as The Forbidden City. This fantastic looking bar is stylized with Chinese motifs but with a hip urban twist. A big fat cocktail menu is available and it makes a wonderful place to hang out and just soak up the atmosphere as you lounge with your friends on one of the traditional Chinese beds feeling quite like royalty.

On Saturday, I met up with my now former co-worker, Brenda, who is from Hong Kong. She was in Singapore for a group meeting with her new company. It is such a small world sometimes, because my friend Vanessa, mentioned above, also works for this company, yet the two of them had not met each other. Brenda has been such a great help to me since I have arrived in Asia. Beyond being a valued teammate when we were in the same group, she also was nice enough to show me around her hometown of Hong Kong when I was there several months ago on business. Now that she was in Singapore, it was my turn to play host.

We met up at Lau Pa Sat Hawker Center. Built in 1894, it is the largest Victorian cast iron structure left in South East Asia. Once a wet market, it is now a food center offering a wide variety of food such as chicken rice, kebabs, roast pork noodles, local desserts and an array of other delectables. Most of the stalls are open 24 hours a day and at night time, the street that runs along its perimeter is closed off to traffic providing a street fair environment where you can enjoy wonderful bar-b-q satays of chicken, beef, or lamb.

Later that evening, I joined my co-worker Josie for an evening of culture and art appreciation. We started off the night dining on some of the best tasting Italian food I had experienced in Singapore. Located in the Holland Village area of town is Michelangelo's which is known for its casual atmosphere and exhaustive wine list. Since Josie hails originally from Australia, I let her pick out a local Aussie sheraz that went quite nicely with our pasta dishes. From there, it was a short walk over to a brand new art gallery that opened up that is helping solidify Holland Village as the Bohemian cog of Singapore's art scene. The funny thing is however, that as with many things in Singapore, the government ordained Holland Village to take on this role. The minister of culture within the government mandated that a Bohemian center in Singapore would lend towards cultural expression and would help Singapore develop its own uniqueness. Outsiders often are amused that the government must mandate a formalized place to become a center for artistic expression, because usually these places will emerge on their own, but in fast-paced Singapore there is no time to wait. We need Singaporean Bohemia and we need it now!

The gallery was filled with paintings and sculpture and even some live performance art that was more amusing yet somehow frightening, then it was artistic. I guess I'm not sure if it is art when a bald man wearing a loin cloth paints himself gold, scrawls on a chalkboard "Art is Work, Work is Service, Service is Just", then balances the chalkboard on his chin while the sounds of Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song is blaring in the background. Then again, maybe I am just a closed minded, out-of-touch, anti-bohemian. Yeah, maybe not.

What was most impressive at the gallery opening was a live Flamenco dance performance from a Spanish master of the art. This guy was very intense about his dance as well as very short. He was about 5'4" and that was even while wearing his giant-heeled Flamenco boots, yet his diminutive stature did not take away from his passion. His rhythmic stomping and grace took the gathered crowd by storm. Even though his movements and facial expressions made me think that he was going to snap at any second and punch the living daylights out of me or another onlooker, he was good at what he did and it was interesting to observe. I spent most of my time however studying the Spanish Flamenco guitar player. He too was from Spain and was obviously classically trained. As a guitar player myself, I found his picking technique amazing and fluid and I was immediately in awe.

Today, I joined Vanessa, Brenda, and Kevin for a late lunch of chicken rice, which is the signature dish of Singapore. Lunch provided an opportunity for Brenda and Vanessa to finally meet each other since they now work for the same company. It was almost symbolic as Kevin and I passed the torch (represented by Brenda) to Vanessa. But the symbolism does not hold true because we will definitely be seeing Brenda again and will surely remain great friends, even if we no longer have the pleasure of working with her. We will leave that part up to Vanessa.

Food is a common denominator in Asia. It brings people together and is a strong part of the culture. In the States, eating is a simple act of satisfying hunger, but in Asia it is much more. Good food is a necessity and goes far beyond mere nourishment. Picking a great place to eat says a lot about you as a person, so it actually transcends the taste buds and moves into a character attribute. I feel no greater pressure here in Asia than when I am asked where should we eat. I'm not sure what a Coney Dog and cheese fries says about me other than hardened arteries, but you know... that is just the way I like it.


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