Singapore: The bubbling kettle of cultures

The intense smell of durian infused our tiny Chinatown hotel room drenched in mould and poor interior design. It is a remarkable improvement from our nightmare bunker in Indiantown the morning before, where my claustrophobia kept me up almost as much as the suspicious plastic sheets. It had been a long trip getting there and our budget-friendly mindset did not provide any luxuries in one of Asia’s most expensive cities.

Exploring the city, Singapore was beautiful, grand and modern. Skyscrapers licked the horizon in a modern setting unfamiliar to us from smaller and “older” towns in Europe. Yet simultaneously, the old history of a kettle of cultures bubbled on the streets designated to one “people” at a time. For two nights we stayed in Chinatown. A touristic area with restaurants – that gave me something resembling food poisoning… – close to both the city’s temples, the modern, business district and, probably the city’s highlight, the Gardens of the Bay that with its metal tree-like constructions appeared like something out of Avatar.

Not a friend with the heat, I got increasingly destroyed, hiding in the hotel when left to meet up with old friends. It is a strange thing to repeatedly go on holiday with someone particular. But as I get heatstroke – yet again, Johnny brings me food, and I must admit I am happy I am not solo travelling at the moment. On the other hand, he also convinced me to sneak into one of the luxury hotel’s rooftop pools – leaving me to wonder if this is where told me she had been so happy. As we get there, faking confidence we did not really feel, we were thrown out almost before we arrived. It is a humble justice! The hotel costs almost four times that of our humble, little Chinatown crib, and I can’t help but laugh at the blatant irony that we probably make more than the average person at the hotel. To ease our cheap egos, we laughingly go and get coffee in one of the malls and then get street food, neither one of us being a fan of expensive unless it is also exceptional.

One of the most interesting cultural experiences was, as usual: food. As a mixture of cultures and traditions, a lot of different food was presented to us all over the place, overpriced western food in the business district, the full range of Asian culinary treats in the food courts, and occasional cheap(-ish) street food with questionable meat content.

Recommended to us by locals was the common breakfast: Kaya butter toast. Smeared onto white toast was a mysterious brownish-with-hints-of-green, gooey, sweet substance coated in thick layers of butter, all to be dipped into the dripping constellation of half-cooked eggs soaked with soya sauce. Sounds delicious? Not really! But in all honesty, it was really amazing. Tasting it, it was impossible to tell what this “kaya” really was. Fruit jam? Just sugar all the way`? Not until we asked the all-knowing Internet did we get an answer. Kaya is essentially coconut jam with “palm tree leaves” for lack of a better translation. I have found a recipe and I am trying it as soon as I have a moment without work overload.

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