Among the perfection this city offers, there are of course, other “less groomed” places. Arab street, Chinatown, and Little India are all more gritty, less planned, and have a brighter cultural atmosphere.
Arab street is the muslim part of town. Due to a very friendly invitation to stay with my father’s family, we were allowed 2 more days in Singapore and so we ventured out here. We walked around the Sultan’s mosque and got stuck in a funeral…Death is a big part of the Islam, and so hundreds of people flooded out of the mosque. The van with the casket was being filled by the family out on the sidewalk, and at this very moment we had decided to walk that sidewalk, so it was a bit chaotic; everyone was hugging and climbing in and talking loud and fast, all of a sudden the people coming out of the mosque had nowhere to go, so it turned out to be a big crowd of people wondering why no one was moving! I felt especially funny without a headscarf, being a girl (most of the family was male) and in regular clothing (everyone was in their traditional white robes). I was a colorful little fleck on a white canvas.
We wandered the streets, admiring the spices and discovering fabrics we’d never seen. The carpets are gorgeous! A nice man decided to show us some of his, from India and Iran, knotted of silk or wool. The more knots per square inch (we saw 850!), the more expensive and more work. Years and years of work at our feet… There were so many different designs. He continued to unroll different ones, showing us where they’re from and how many knots (I see them as pixels in a picture), prices and designs. We thought of how long it would take him to roll all the carpets up again, so tried to politely make him stop; we would have to think about buying something anyway, but he kept unfurling more and more, and as we also kept asking questions about them and how much shipping would cost, it was pretty ineffective. Before we got completely intoxicated by the possibilities, we left.
We explored Little India in the afternoon, walking through the market (by now fish guts spilling all over the place do not faze us, nor does anything else meat-related really). We explored bazaars, stores full of what I can only describe as stuff. To eat, we visited a “hawker center”, food stalls organized in rows (this is Singapore after all), had some fresh Indian food, and quickly looked at a ton of glittery saris. We walked out of the hawker center and had a view of what was happening below us: it was dark, quiet, and a Sunday. And yes, the day of the week did have something to do with the atmosphere. Sunday is the only night off for the young Indian men working here, sending their money home to Bangladesh or South India. The atmosphere was eerie; there was a huge crowd of hundreds of men out on the sidewalk, but it was completely quiet, as if there was a muffler over all sound. Everyone was either trading, conversing quietly, standing around, or waiting in line to use the ATM. It was very strange…
Once again, we quickly checked off what we’d wanted to see: the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The walls are lined with 100 Buddhas, all carved differently, and upstairs there was a tooth from Buddha, which I did not see because I wasn’t upstairs. There was something special going on (it seems as though we always stumble into these special ceremonies), and many people were praying.
Afterwards, and as usual, we wandered around, admiring the great selection amount which Chinese seem to cherish in everything, and here, in chopsticks.
The best dumplings of my life – writing about them makes me hungry already! Among dumplings filled with shrimp and red bean paste, steamed pork buns, and really unique peanut noodles, there was the star dumpling! A small, floppy, lazy looking one, filled with delicious, sweet soup and a little tasty pork meatball… And it truly has to be tried to be believed. When my parents came into our apartment in Kuala Lumpur and told us a Din Tai Fung opened up in a nearby mall, I nearly fell out of my chair with glee and Josephine was begging, “Din Tai Fuuuung! Bitte bitte bitte! Please please please!” So yes, it’s amazingly good, actually rated one of the 10 best restaurants in the world, by New York Times.
Like everything in Singapore, they make these dumplings very precisely, weighing every ball of dough (5 grams) and and sticking an exact amount of meat inside (16 grams), as well as having precisely 18 folds. Through Din Tai Fung we learned what perfection and precision tasted like – typically Singapore.
I enjoyed Singapore and was sad to leave; my sisters were as well, but probably more so because of the 2 cute dogs we stayed with. However, we departed after 5 adventurous days in Singapore, and arrived in our 11th country, Malaysia!