Thursday, September 04, 2008

Still Sticky in Singapore

We continue our travels in Singapore, because my brain, she is tired.

June 13, 2000

The night exhales hot and sticky air onto my skin. I swim through the dimly lit dark and catch sight of an anteater. He's furry! He looks like he's wearing mukluks on his front legs!

I peer at a bat, who is hanging upside down from a branch. I could touch it, if I just reached out a little bit...I restrain the impulse. The fruit bat is far larger than I'd ever expected. He's (she's?) the size of a ferret with wings! Leathery, satiny, black wings. I'm only 6 inches away...and there's no barrier in my way.

Strange birds call out in the night. Strange insects sing their night song to one another. I hear a loud bellow (a big cat? a deer? water buffalo?) and try to walk towards it, but I'm blocked by jungle.

I squat down and examine the fur of a leopard inches away, separated from me by only an inch of glass. He's lying against it, snoozing and unconcerned with my existence. I am fascinated by his and by the pattern of his fur. I want to touch him. I want to communicate somehow. I admire all of the big cats, one by one. The Malaysian tiger, the African lions, the jungle cats. I want to be a big cat. I feel sad that they're in captivity but glad that I'm able to see them.

I'm at Night Safari - the nocturnal zoo in Singapore where they display animals that are more active by night. Lighting them gently with special "moonlighting" lights - dim, bluish light. I see lions, tigers, sloth bears. Civets, mini water buffalo, big water buffalo, bongos, deer pigs, porcupines, rhinoceroses, elephants...Separating us are only gullies in some cases. Glass in others. Striped hyenas. Spotted hyenas. These last watch people walk by and look as if they are considering angles and distances. "I could take 'em!"

Earlier I was having High Tea at the Compass Rose, a restaurant in my hotel, 70 stories up. What an excellent view of Singapore! Crisp white linen. Perfectly displayed cucumber and salmon sandwiches. Tiny scones and cakes. I feel rich and decadent. I'm glad the company is paying for this trip....

I went to the Singapore botanical gardens. As I walked along, sweltering and melting slowly, I had my very own theme song playing over in my head: "Heaven! I'm in heaven!" The plants are HUGE beasts of the jungle. Plants that we keep in pots, tiny things in comparison to the massive plants towering over my head. I have my camera and am shooting everything that interests me that I am able to capture (thus no shoots of the exotic women). Later on the same day I was given the SG tour by one of my hosts, Ching Meng. He took me to Chinatown where I saw an Indian temple - brightly colored statues and paintings and cloth abound. We had to take our shoes off upon entry, but I left my socks on since I was following Ching Meng's example. I was trying to figure out how to NOT give offense by 1) wearing socks 2) wearing a tank top and shorts 3) being an unbeliever and 4) being female. Maybe being female should have been at the top of the list?

I saw images of gods whose names I do not know and could not pronounce. Dangerous, knife wielding images. Beautiful, sensuous carvings. Elephants and sacred cows.

The next stop was the "wet" market where produce and meat are sold. I saw things in bags and boxes and in piles that I cannot name and didn't recognize. Ching Meng bought me lychee (About the size of a large grape, with red/orange bumpy skin that you peel off. The flesh of the fruit looks like the inside of a grape and the flavor was somewhat similar.) and ramputan (Red and orange and yellow skin with long curling hairs? fibers that stuck out in all directions.) and persimmon. In the meat section I saw fish that were still gasping on tables, tortoises and eels and bullfrogs in cases, waiting to be bought, killed and cooked. Ching Meng thought I would be grossed out by this but I've EATEN frog and eel, and although I've no personal experience with tortoises, I knew they ate them here. We walked along and stopped in a Chinese herbal medicine shop - the walls were lined from ceiling to floor with huge jars of unrecognizable animal and vegetable parts. Horns of this, roots of that, shark fins, bird's nests (you eat solidified BIRD SPIT??) and so many other things.

After that we took a cable car ride from Mount Faber (Hee hee! They call THAT a mountain?) to Sentosa Island and back again. The view is wonderful, so high above everything. You can pretty much see the whole island from up here - it's very small but they're enlarging parts of it slowly with sand that they've "reclaimed" from the sea. Tons and tons of sand are poured and allowed to settle for 5 years or so and then they start building new high rises. Then the people who had last had the beach front property now have a fantastic view of the backside of a new building...

Everything changes.

Last night I was convinced to try a taste of the sweat sock smelling fruit - Durian. I decided, after trying it, that it wasn't for me. Unfortunately, the smell on my hands remained part of me for the rest of the night. They serve it to you at open air fruit stalls. The buyer selects one of the vicious looking spiked fruits, the size of a large pineapple, and smells it. If they like the scent (whew!) they ask for it to be opened and the seller quickly hacks it open with a mini cleaver, allowing the buyer to poke a finger inside and test for ripeness. If it passes this second test, the seller opens the fruit a bit more and allows the buyer to taste test it. Then, if it passes this final test and the buyer accepts it, they go to one of the tables and slurp away. It's a very messy prospect - the squishy milky yellow fruit surrounds large tan pits, covered in a thin skin. The fruit itself has the consistency of custard so there's a lot of slurping going on. After awhile your nose gives out and you can't smell it as strongly as you did when you first walked up, but guaranteed that after you leave, everyone will know where you've been and what you've been eating!

They won't let you take Durian home on the bus or in a taxi...opened or unopened.

I take my smelly self back to the hotel and hope no one notices my scent.

Ciao!
The Wandering Trainer

1 comment:

Cooper Powell said...

my relatives on my mom's side of the family tried to make me eat it. i think i had the same problem at the time i heard it was bird spit. but for the sake of health, I am now taking it regularly.

btw, i don't buy the super-expensive kind like old people do. the ready-to-drink kind at the stores are pretty affordable. (e.g. www.geocities.jp/hongkong_bird_nest/index_e.htm)

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