The title of my blog comes from this little commercial ditty that keeps constantly playing on television here, in advance of the youth Olympics, which will be in Singapore in August. It’s been stuck in my head all morning!
When last I left you, the conference had yet to begin. We’re now in the middle of the final day, and it’s certainly been an incredibly busy whirlwind. Because we had to move the conference from Bangkok, I’ve found that there are many more last minute details that need finalizing, many more changes, and many more adjustments than usual, so it’s been a fairly busy two days.
Thursday saw the beginning of the conference, with a business session, group lunch at One Ninety Restaurant here in the hotel, our Board meeting, and then the welcome reception on the 20th floor. Of note at the welcome reception was that we had another Chinese meal, which made dining an adventure, because many of the foods were quite exotic. So it was fun to see everyone trying to figure out what they were eating, who would try it first, and who enjoyed it. The other item of note was that we were ableto have an Opera Mask Face Changer – these face changers are quite special. They do a short performance (seven minutes), during which they dance around and change the mask that they are wearing on their face – and you can’t figure out how they do it. With a small shake of the head, the mask turns to a new one in a second. The group really enjoyed this welcome to Singapore, and had a good time catching up with each other and enjoying each other’s company, despite most of us being jet lagged.
Friday was another busy day. We had a business session in the morning at the hotel, and then headed out to Halia for lunch. Halia is in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, specifically in the ginger garden. Apparently, it is surrounded by 250 different kinds of ginger, so ginger was featured prominently in the menu. We began with a shrimp satay salad that included pomelo (a fruit), mango (which is so crazy good here) and glass noodles, with a ginger dressing. I gave away my shrimp, but the rest was delicious, with the dressing adding a very sharp flavor. The next course was soft shell crab – I wasn’t too excited about that, obviously, but I was sitting with two of our hosts who let me know I could eat the whole thing (including the shell – which actually made me want to try is LESS). But when it arrived, I saw that it was deep fried, so I was willing to try it. I’m not a big fan of eating something whole – something to do with guts and other pieces being in there that gives me the willies.
But I didn’t want to seem silly, so I started with the claw – it was pretty obvious that’s what it was – and it wasn’t terrible. I ate one of the three on my plate, and when I took a bite of the second, it was far to fishy, so I gave up. One of the hosts commented that one more trip to Singapore and they’d convert me to a seafood eater!
But discussing my limited palate gave rise to a very interesting conversation about some of the foods that are eaten here in Asia that in some Asian countries and most other Western countries, we might be horrified to hear about. This included things like dog, in South Korea – one of the lawyers joked that she has three dogs, and whenever they misbehave, she tells them that she’ll send them there to be someone’s dinner! Another delicacy, though I can’t remember from where, is deep fried birds – they take a sparrow and deep fry the whole thing. Including the feathers.
We all agreed that we wouldn’t eat that. Then I learned that in the Philippines, it’s popular to have fertilized duck eggs – you got it, duck eggs with the actual bird fetus in there. I still feel a little bit ill when I think of it. Mostly I think they eat them raw – our lawyer from there said that people will bring a basket of them to parties to eat towards the end of the meal – but she said that sometimes they will crack them open and fry up what’s inside with a little oil. She doesn’t really like it that way though. Yikes.
But truthfully the worst story I’ve ever heard is one that my dad told me a while ago – I can’t remember where this is (maybe Hong Kong?), but they will eat the brains from live monkeys. While they are STILL alive. I’m still horrified.
So anyway, although that certainly wasn’t an appetizing conversation, we agreed that each country has their own specialties and customs that might horrify people in other countries, but in turn, their customs and dishes would be equally shocking to the first country. With that, I agreed to try the local drink favorite – lime juice. Sort of like our lemonade, but with lime. Although it’s quite tart, it’s very refreshing, which we certainly needed yesterday as my prayers worked and the sun was out in full force. As was the humidity. It was brutal.
The main course was chicken, with a mango salsa and sweet potato puree. The mango was again my favorite part – I just can’t seem to find such fresh, juicy mangoes at home. Plus, even if I could, they’re such a pain to cut that I almost prefer eating them out instead. Ginger featured prominently again in dessert, with a type of young ginger ice cream that had a very unique flavor. It was very good, but I can’t really say that it was sweet.
Afterwards, the plan was to split the group in two, and send one group first to the Asian Civilisations Museum, followed by a bumboat ride up the Singapore River, and the second group would do the reverse. A few of us chose to go with the second group so that we could skip the ACM and get some rest back at the hotel before dinner. Though I normally don’t skip anything, I’ve been so tired and needed to get a bit of work done before dinner, so it was necessary.
We took a short bus ride to Clarke Quay, where we were to meet the boat, and our guide gave us some interesting information about Singapore on the way. The funniest part of her speech was telling us about “Singlish,” which is the Singapore way of speaking English – it’s so quick, without tenses really, and adding letters to words to make them flow better that it’s pretty difficult to understand what they’re saying! She demonstrated it for us, and said that there’s an effort for everyone to speak more pronounced English, but it wasn’t until I was trying to understand my cab driver later that I truly got what she was explaining to us!
The boat ride was wonderful – I squeezed into the back deck of the boat with a few of the delegates so that I could sit in the sun for a bit. It can be tough to spend so much time in the artificial air and unflattering indoor light, so it was a welcome respite. We cruised along, and while I didn’t pay much attention to the guide or the recorded message, we quite enjoyed looking at the boats, seeing the Merlion (which I had missed during our last trip) and getting a view of the Singapore Flyer, their ridiculously large ferris wheel-type things, similar to the London Wheel. There was a lovely breeze and it was quite enjoyable.
Afterwards, it was kind of a pain to find a cab, but we and a few other people managed and headed back to the hotel. The turnaround for this conference has been quick, because there’s so much to see and do, and we’ve been beholden to the dinner schedules of the venues that we’re visiting. Last night’s venue was the Night Safari, the part of the conference I’ve been most excited about.
I’d mentioned it to the events planners, asking them for some information so that we could offer it as an optional tour, but they came back with the idea to have dinner there, on a moving tram through the park! What a unique experience.
After a few procedural hiccups and latecomers, we were all packed into the trams, which were necessarily cheesy. The tablecloths were fake animal skin – ours was zebra – and the tram itself was draped in fake leopard fur and live plants. As we headed off, the waitstaff on the tram offered us drinks (I went with the lime juice again, despite the fact that my ulcer has been acting up) and we started with some bread.
I was given a special lanyard to designate my non-fish eating status, so I had the vegetarian-ish menu – I say “ish” because I did have chicken for dinner. We had a salad to start, followed by soup. Instead of the bisque, I had a mushroom soup. Since I don’t like mushrooms either, I just had a few bites of it.
All the while, the tram was moving, and our guide was pointing out the various animals along the way – we saw rhinos, flamingoes, all kinds of cow and deer, and later in the trip, we were able to see zebras, elephants, a giraffe, and even some capybaras. I love those things, even if they are giant rodents. We also saw a lion – wow, was he beautiful – and some tigers, who were sleeping. Very cool.
For the main course, they stopped the tram and fed us at a standstill. That worked great, and we had big fans blowing on us so it didn’t get too warm. Shortly, we were on our way again, making our way through the various animal ecosystems around the world, all right at the Singapore Night Safari. Dessert was a mango cake type thing, which was very good, and I declined coffee so that I wouldn’t be too wide awake to fall asleep.
Finally, we came to a stop, and it was on to the animal show! They took us into the amphitheatre and sat us down. It was a full show and the main host was fabulous – funny & entertaining. They started by bringing out a wolf, who let out a long howl, and my dad and I agreed that his basset hound, Bentley,can do a far better job of howling. Over the course of the next thirty minutes, they brought out hyenas, these dark furry animals that climb vines and can hang from their tails, mongeese (mongooses?), small otters who knew how to recycle – seriously – and even a giant python. She was huge. Afterwards, we were able to go outside and pet another, smaller snake if we wanted to – I did, and even had my photo taken with it!
Everyone enjoyed themselves, and after a long day we were happy to pack onto the buses for the ride home. Today, we have concluded our business session for the morning and are shortly heading out to Straits Kitchen, where our host tells us that we will enjoy Singaporean street food, without the street. I overheard someone say that they have good Indian curry, so I might try to track down some chicken tikka masala or at the very least, some naan bread. Then, I’m not going on either this afternoon’s shopping tour or the visit to the fish spa/Singapore Flyer, so that I can get some work done on the seating chart for tonight and maybe take a breather.
Tonight, we have a full program – first, we are heading to the New Parliament for a special tour (by invitation only), then we go to the Old Parliament, which is now the Arts House, for a performance by the Chinese Youth Orchestra in the chamber room there, and finally, dinner. I’m especially looking forward to the fortune tellers! Well, truthfully, I’m especially looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow – I am tired!