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The Thy Tracker (continued)


May 15–23  Peranakan  24–25  27–29  Sireh  30a  30b  30c–31
Malaysia: Melaka June 1–2, Kuala Lumpur 3–4, Penang 6
Vietnam: Saigon 13–16  19-20  22  26  27 30
Nha Trang July 7a 7b, Hue 14a 14b, Hanoi 19–20
India: Pondicherry 31, Bangalore August 2–4, Kerala

SINGAPORE (continued)

May 30, Wednesday night

A few final images from Singapore..

In banning fireworks in Singapore, the government inspired someone to invent these fake firecrackers. Confetti fills the plastic tubes. With the flip of a switch, little bits of shiny paper are blown out with a flourish while a sound system plays loud popping sounds. You can rent a couple of long strands for special occasions like weddings and business openings, in red or silver. I’m not sure if the men who immediately begin sweeping the floor are included in the rental fee.
A couple of nights ago, Moses and I met his friends Luke and Nurwani at Jumbo Seafood, a sleek, cavernous restaurant way out in Serangoon. We weren’t the only ones there for chile crab—a platter of Singapore’s famous sweet-spicy crustacean sat on every table. Some were still steaming, others were nearly picked clean. A plate of bread came with the crab, to help mop up the thick, red sauce. They’re the same white, steamed buns served with Peking duck, only deep-fried for a crisp, golden brown crust. It seemed a strange combination but tasted perfect together. Just like Dungeness and sourdough. Unlike what I learned in the US, chile crab isn't actually the national dish here. The mention of chicken rice and pepper crab lights up people’s eyes much more. But this dish is definitely an excellent excuse for licking your fingers.
When we ordered drunken shrimp, we were expecting a spectacular flambé of jumping shrimp—with live ones doused in rice wine and then lit. Instead, the server brought a tureen of soup. At first a little disappointed, I was then delighted to taste a clear, subtly sweet broth of rice wine with only a sprinkling of dried wolfberries, a sprig of cilantro, and very, very fresh shrimp. Wolfberries are a tiny, red fruit that look like pink currants once they’re dried. Valued in Chinese medicine, they nourish the liver, lower blood pressure, and build up the body’s immune system. They also taste very good.
One of the most amazing snack shows around: In mere seconds and with a few flicks of his wrist, this man at Zam Zam Restaurant whips a little blob of dough into a huge, paper-thin round of pastry. Filled with onions, egg, or meat and then drizzled with more oil then you really need to know, it cooks into a flaky murtabak. First tasted in Singapore, they’re one of my favorite late night meals as I travel up the Malaysian coast.
For all my cat friends: On Lor Geylang, a kitty sits in the shade with a plastic bag carefully folded open and filled with water.


May 31, Thursday

The comfortable aircon bus that will take me from Singapore to Melaka in 4½ hours. Just to the left sits the aluminum hut and battered couch that serves as a bus station for this express line. It’s very easy to get around in Malaysia on the express buses. They’re faster and cheaper than the trains. I was envious of the travelers in the bus next to us, which was decked out with red velvet curtains fringed with gold tassels. As some of you may have read, before I censored myself, the trip ended up being not that enjoyable for reasons beyond the bus company's control. I would still recommend the express buses. You just need to check to see how many 8- and 10-year boys are sitting around you. Also make sure you’re not traveling during a long holiday weekend that includes both the king’s birthday and the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.

Next stop: Melaka, Malaysia! >

May 2001