“Have you been to England?” Chef Pierre asked me yesterday. Yes, for travel after my university days and to eat Devonshire cream tea recommended by a local taxi driver ;p Chef Pierre was from Brittany, been in England for 10 years, then about 2 years in Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong and last couple of years in Trinidad before he arrived in Houston. I didn’t know why he asked me suddenly about England. Then again later, he asked me where and who I learnt my English with. In school, it is our first language in school and I learnt from local teachers. You speak with a British accent, he finally said. He gathered that from my presentation of the pastries as chef of the day during lunch where he was the presiding chef. I was surprised as foreigners in Singapore sometimes refer to some of our spoken English Singlish. Just looked up wikipedia for Singlish – “… most Singaporeans speak a localised hybrid form of English known as Singlish (“Singapore English”), which has many creole-like characteristics, incorporating vocabulary and grammar from Standard English, various Chinese dialects, Malay, and Indian languages.” Maybe only in Houston, since no one would understand me if I sprinkled my English with Malay and some Chinese dialect … or maybe Jennie would as her first language is Bahasa Indonesia but even our Chinese dialects are different but sometimes recognizable. I told him Singapore was a British colony, this was the only closest explanation I can give for my English.
For historic reason, our national language is Malay, many of us know a few words in Malay but we communicate mostly in English and our mother-tongue. At home, I speak to Dad in English and Mum in a mix of Mandarin and our Chinese dialect Teochew, representing where our grandparents came from in China – Swatow.
I was curious and asked Chef Pierre if he had been to Thailand (about 2 hr by flight from Singapore) and Vietnam (about 1.5 hr ~) and Hong Kong (about 4 hr ~), why had he not been to Singapore? It was not in my route. Then he told me his impression of Singapore which I found a little hilarious but also partial truth depending on which side of the law you stand. His impression – Singapore is a no nonsense country. He got the impression from a guy who got on the wrong side of law after partying … then a t-shirt in Trinidad that listed all the No’s in Singapore eg. no chewing gums, I laughed. Yes, there is a tourism t-shirt that stated proudly Singapore is a FINE city. I told him for no reason one will not be fined. Don’t think I convince him or change his impression of Singapore.
What food do you have in Singapore? … wow, many delicious dishes. The first thing that came to mind, I said “Char Kway Teow” … Chef Pierre went “Ah huh??!!” … oops I realised what I said was not English, even though it was exactly how it was printed on the menu board, originated from Chinese dialect Teochew and a common local delight. I explained Char = fried, Kway Teow = flat rice noodles. Ah, street food. The food in Singapore is broad based and international. Most local food are found in food centres and coffee shops (or locally known as kopi tiam in Chinese dialect; kopi = coffee, tiam = shop). I miss spicy local food. The food is ethnic-based, and some dishes are already mixed or we can call it fusion. Historically, the immigrants to Singapore were from southern China, straits of Malaya, southern India and a population of Eurasians and others. “Oh, beef rendang …” What is that? “… you made that during the week when Indian dishes were prepared …“, I told Chef Pierre. Maybe called by beef curry then… or maybe it was lamb curry but the curry base is the same taste. Chef was surprised he made a Singaporean dish I am familiar with. All food stores and restaurants in Singapore are graded A-D according to hygiene standard, one will only see A-C as D will already be suspended, A is McDonald standard cleanliness, but many are of our favourite yummy food are in C.
During class for chocolate and pastillage this week, I had asked Chef Philippe each time how the products will be affected by warm temperature and humidity. For chocolate, Chef recommended appropriate packaging and communication to the customers. For pastillage, Chef said it will remain relatively stable unless we are talking about humidity of 100%. I remembered humidity is high in Singapore but to be sure, I just google-searched, prompted by Chef’s question to me today about the weather in Singapore. The weather is summer all year round, relative to Houston, the weather is similar, maybe not as hot but more humid. My search showed that the “climate is characterized by uniform temperature and pressure, high humidity, and abundant rainfall. Temperatures range from 22 °C to 34 °C (72° to 93 °F). On average, the relative humidity is around 90 percent in the morning and 60 percent in the afternoon. During prolonged heavy rain, relative humidity often reaches 100 percent.” So humidity in Singapore is in the high range of 80-100%!
Despite the summer all year round Singapore, I managed to stay fair, without sunblock, seldom in longs. We are almost always in air-conditioned places from homes to basement or multi-storey carparks or sheltered public transport areas to air-conditioned offices and malls. I got darker in Houston instantly and now my arms are darker than the rest of me as I am almost always in long pants. I find the weather in Houston comfortable, I think it is hotter here but I don’t perspire much. In my apartment, I only need air conditioning for 10min to cool down the unit and another 10min in the evening, that was about it. Today while working in the lab, I was comfortable compared to yesterday heat, rather it is tolerable, till Chef reminded us it was about 86 deg F (or 30 deg C) – the culinary institute was still in semi-darkness, the level 2 pastry lab is brightly lit though no a/c, no induction stoves, no oven … but Chef connected a fan facing us while we worked on pastillage, that helped.
Have I thought of moving out of Singapore? No, for the long term. Maybe because the country is small, many of us are travellers, especially during long weekends and hols. For me, I enjoy travelling and experiencing the cultures in various parts of the world. In last couple of years, travelling in and out of a country for work was a different story. I guess I appreciate Singapore more each time I travelled to another country and returned home. Singapore offers me a stable, safe and clean environment to live and take a break, it offers me peace of mind. The pace is fast on a daily basis, sometimes it gets too packed and noisy, sometimes there are too many tolls to pay on the roads. Among the population, Singapore got a large expat community, it made no difference as we are used to multi-racial environment. A good friend Nathalie and her family relocated to Singapore for work a couple of years back, they were from Paris, she had also worked in Belgium, Vietnam before Singapore. 2 years ago, tired from work, she told me she may consider moving back to Europe, then she went back Paris for summer vacation. Soon after she came back, she told me she will stay put in Singapore for next 10 years … that was nice to know!
Nathalie once commented she never knew I was so nationalistic from something I wrote in my journal, ha I corrected her that I would never think any of us are but I am patriotic, whatever that means. When I was small in the 70s, I lived in a family home with a huge compound, my family included my grandparents, my parents and siblings, uncles and their families. I remembered my granddad used to remind me how Singapore had progressed and how the government made things worked for the people, then Singapore was probably only 10 year old as an independent country. He had arrived in Singapore by boat about 40 years earlier. Today Singapore had indeed progressed further – fast and furious. I have vague memories of how Singapore looked in my growing up years except for the family home.
Today in class, Chef was recalling aloud where each of us came from. Many of us came from out of Texas state – 3 from Texas, Sarah is from Missouri, Jill from Colorado, Quin from Tennesses, oops – can’t recall where Amber and Ashley were from, Chef from northern part of France … and Chef went “Joy from far away”. It is not too far, Chef, Singapore is only 24hr away by flight from Houston.
While I was reading wikipedia, this info made me laugh – Since I could remember, I always know Singapore as a Lion City – the history I read in middle school, the merlion we have at the river front, the Singa we used to promote courtesy campaign for years, the logos we used on tourism leaflets etc – … “The name Singapore comes from the Malay words Singa and Pura, which in turn comes from the Sanskrit words singa सिंह siṃha (“lion”) and पुर pura (“city”). According to the Malay Annals, this name was given by a 14th century Sumatran prince named Sang Nila Utama, who, landing on the island after a thunderstorm, spotted an auspicious beast on the shore, which his chief minister erroneously identified as a ‘singha’ or lion. Recent studies of Singapore, however, indicate that lions have never lived there, not even Asiatic lions; the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama was most likely a tiger, probably the Malayan Tiger.” Huh?