Sunday, September 4, 2011

the night market

I've been warned by several of my coworkers here to take my time seeing everything in Singapore.  "It's a small, small island.  You'll run out of things to do really fast", they tell me.  I go through my mental checklist, and figuring 1-2 things each weekend, they're right.  I think I'll be able to occupy most of September, but it'll leave a month without many new things to find, aside from possible travel to other places.
So I was glad to be told about something new- the Night Market.  

I caught it on the last night it was open.  Apparently it opens around 7pm and goes until around 2am.  It was several train stops away, and solidly further away from 'home' than I'd been so far.  

It's a wildly busy place, this market.  Vendors, booths, stalls, all under tents on several blocks.  Some served food- I'm guessing the Singapore equivalent of carnival food.  Fried things, random stuff being heated up.  The kind of food you would buy for $2 and walk away eating, finishing in a few bites. In my mind, it was the kind of stuff that would probably taste okay and then make my stomach attempt to crawl out of my face.  I tried none of it.  A lot of the vendors were hawking clothes- shoes, Indian dresses, pants.   Every few stalls had someone on a megaphone or PA announcing.  "Cheapest you'll find!"  It was packed, there were easily a couple thousand people milling about.  And blindly walking around without a clue is me.  Every so often I tried to inconspicuously take a picture.  I was solidly under the impression that I was the only one taking any pictures, and I was clearly not from Singapore.  I had visions of people screaming at me that pictures weren't allowed or something.  
Towards the end, I came across an auction for rugs.  "Retails for $185- yours for $30!"  Ladies and gentleman, it took some will power to not buy a rug.  A rug that I have no room in my luggage for, that wouldn't really go anywhere in my condo, but looked cool anyway.  A steal at $30 (unless someone outbid me, which I doubted).  I managed to walk away without buying, but it was tough.

The next day was a national holiday, so I celebrated the day off by going book shopping.  I'd been to some book stores here, and most of the English language books look to be British imports, and aren't especially cheap.  The book store area I headed to was a smaller 'mall' with a few bookstores, some art supply stores, and some other random stuff.  Lots of it apparently aimed at students.  Overall my type of place, with stacked books that are haphazardly alphabetized.  So it was a shame most of them were closed for the holiday.  (I did go back there today and everything was open, so all is good).

Finding places to eat around here should be insanely easy, as every other store is a restaurant.  It's surprisingly difficult though- I'm kind of picky, I don't want to overspend, and I don't always have time for sit down/menu places (which is beyond the majority of eating places I've found).   Tonight I finally tried a Japanese place right near my apartment.  I've been gradually trying the restaurants near me, but they're all on the expensive side, so it can't be somewhere I go every night.  I like a variety of food (especially compared to myself growing up, when I hated just about everything), but a struggle here is not just the food itself, but the...culture of eating the food.  The WAY.  The ordering and eating, and trying not look like a complete buffoon.  At Japanese restaurants, they give you a warm, wet towel at the beginning of the meal.  Is that your napkin?  Do you wipe your fingers with it?  Your whole hand?  Should you wipe your mouth with it?  Tonight, at the end of my meal, waiting for my check to come back, the waitress put a cup of hot tea on my table.  I had not ordered this, but gathered it was like a free thing.  It smelled like nothing, barely a hint of tea aroma.  It had apparently been boiling lava hot as recently as 5 seconds prior to being set on my table.  I had been ready to leave, and now I'm worried that if I don't have SOME of this tea I'll be offending someone.  I don't know why, but I get the impression the Japanese are offended about such things.  Fine- I'll wait until this thing cools off a bit, take a few sips, and head out.  Ten minutes later, I'm still blowing steam off of it, and I'm afraid it will melt my tongue and teeth.  I have nowhere to be, there's no one anxiously scoping out my table, and yet I'm ready to go.  There's still some half melted ice cubes in my Coke glass (virtually empty with 1/2 my meal to go, because Coke is a precious resource here and all restaurants only give you one can- for a good $2 or more- when you order it).  Got to be discreet about this- make sure none of the staff is watching.  I make my move and dig some ice cubes out by hand and drop them in the tea.  They vaporize instantly, but I decide it's now or never.  Of course I've been lame, and while it's definitely hot tea, it's not scalding.  I credit the ice cubes.   I drink half and I'm out the door.

It's time to do some quick grocery shopping.  They have the BEST GRAPES ON EARTH here.  They're gigantic, and super firm.  I hate squishy grapes- gross.   I pick some of those up, and....and....crud, they're out of Lucky Charms.  Don't they know I'm here?  People- stock up on the Lucky Charms and I'll be your best customer.  Frosted Flakes will have to do- it's a solid Top 10 cereal, and doesn't cost $10 like the small box of Cheerios does.  

And now I'm home, realizing that Avatar is somehow even worse watching it the second time, and planning a new day of adventure tomorrow.  I'm thinking a trip to the gigantic Ferris Wheel on the edge of the island is in order. 

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