Rose-Tinted Goggles (Singapore Day 2)

Friday, May 27 2022 (Day 2)

I started off the day by meeting a couple of the other people in the house. I was sure from my experiences and brief run-ins with the other residents that there were at least seven children in the house (I’ve seen six at once at the dinner table), a couple young adult children, and likely least four different solo or family groups besides me staying there, all Indian or Malaysian and (as far as I can tell) Muslims. This morning, I met Zarah, a mother who was living here with her two little kids, s Singaporean male resident named Issa who was living here somewhat long-term as well, and my neighbour, John, who resided in the room across from me and who I apparently share the en-suite toilet with. He was a Malaysian that was going to be here for a week or so. Everyone was quite friendly.

When I set out of the house today, I headed toward the western Eunos MRT station. Along the way, I saw the same neighbourhood cat that I had seen yesterday, but this time, he or she was a lot more friendly, coming up to rub against me (and my bag, where Tigey was taking refuge in), allowing me to bend down and pat him, and then trying to curl up on the ground right up against my shoes and inside my shadow. I guess it was that hot of a day. I wonder if it was a stray cat or someone’s free-roam kitty.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to be his or her personal shade for the entire day, so I moved on to the train station. At this time, I hadn’t fully concluded yet that the tourist pass was a bad deal, and so I headed to Bugis MRT station where I had heard that they were selling the tourist passes. However, when I got there, the ticket attendant told me that I wouldn’t be able to buy a tourist pass at any of the stations that morning as their computer systems were down. He said to try later on in the day. To me though, this was fate telling me that this was not necessary, especially since I had been hesitating a bit after Kel told me to first try it out for a couple days and track how much my use of public transit was actually costing me. So I decided to do just that.

Since I was already at Bugis, I left the station and walked around a bit, passing through the disappointing tourist trap that was Bugis Junction:

And headed toward a nearby hawker centre named Albert Centre Market & Food Centre for lunch.

Lunch

Lunch today was Fried Carrot Cake (black) from a store glibly named Fried Carrot Cake, store #01-59 in Albert Centre Market & Food Centre.

The uncle making the food was really animated, which I enjoyed, at one point it kind of felt a bit theatrical when he was measuring out

It came recommended on some blogs, and came in two flavours — black, with soya sauce, and white, without. It was also very cheap, I ordered the $3 plate and got this:

Not as filling as I’d like, but it was $3 after all. There were larger plates, and I’m not sure why I didn’t go for them, I think I had the vague notion that I could find something else to try eating afterwards as well but I never got around to it. It tasted great, though it didn’t quite have a kick as the one I’d have on Day 3. It could have used other ingredients, I think, which would have upped its price a bit more, but it was good for what it was. I didn’t like that he used both a paper plate AND a disposable oil paper wrapping usually used for take-home meals, though I think the latter at least isn’t super environmentally unfriendly. But that on top of the disposable cutlery was a little too much.

After lunch, I went around the area, heading in the general direction of a shopping mall that I knew Dad used to work in. I walked along some pretty interesting streets with roadside vendors and a nice big statue, before finding myself on a street lined with old Chinese aunties trying to sell me packets of joss sticks and flowers. I thought it was an odd combination and wondered why there were at least a dozen people here competing to sell these two items to passers by, until I realized that on that street actually laid a famous Buddhist temple to Kwanyin, the Goddess of Mercy — the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple.

This actually was on my list to visit, as our family’s patron goddess is Kwanyin, even if I consider myself religiously neutral. And at least on the paternal side of my family, my grandmother and grandfather were both laid to rest in the Buddhist style in (two different) columbariums somewhere else in Singapore. They had both passed away after I had left the country, so I never exactly got the chance to say goodbye or update them about myself and my life now. I did so here with prayers, though I think I did the bows a little wrongly.

The temple was free admission though, and there was a steady stream of people heading in and out of the place. Oonce I realized what the temple was, I did indeed buy a packet of joss sticks and flowers to bring into the temple. The joss sticks cost $2 and the flowers $4, although there were more expensive bouquets too.

Although they were fair market price, the joss sticks were still a bit of a scam, because you only actually use 3 or 6 sticks per prayer, lighting them on candles and then bowing with them away from, and then toward, the altar, mentally saying your prayers, and then sticking the joss sticks into the bowl of ashes on the altar. All the other joss sticks were meant to just be laid out on a little stand there for other people without joss sticks to use, and there were a LOT of joss sticks there, since each packet contained so many sticks. Obviously a thing where the naivety of tourists or first-time users was taken advantage of to fund returning visitors, who could waltz in without any fee or flowers, take three sticks from the massive overflow stacks, do their prayers, and leave.

I then laid the flowers in a vase in front of the central main altar as well, before heading out. I actually almost teared up at one point here but managed to avoid doing so. Not quite sure why, as while I did like my grandparents and kind of missed them, they had both passed on over 10 years ago and I wasn’t close enough to actually cry for them even back then. Plus I do believe in reincarnation (though I’m not sure how prayers to the deceased play into that), so I don’t think death is the end of the road regardless.

Anyway, it was a nice temple, but no photography was allowed inside, so I left and was immediately accosted by another old lady selling packets of tissues. I actually needed some, as Singapore’s food culture never comes with napkins and diners were expected to bring their own tissues. I had not remembered this from my time here, but I did normally carry tissues with me in my bag regardless, except that I had been running low. $2 for a pack of 4 tissues solved this problem.

I wandered around a little more, including stopping by a shop of Buddhist artifacts and eyeing some horoscope stands that were placed outside.

Finally, I ended up at Sim Lim Square, a technology-focused shopping centre where my Dad used to work at 25 years ago.

I remembered that the shop he worked for was on the 5th floor of the mall, and that I would occasionally be brought here after school to wait for him to finish his work before he could drive me all the way home, though this didn’t happen very frequently. These back stairs brought back a surge of nostalgia though:

I remember playing around there in the past. But that was about it. I mostly wandered around the building, noting its odd layout:

and how it was kind of laid out like a board game. Kind of like nine men’s morris, but not. The central square of inward-facing shops on each level (there were five levels) were very busy, but each diagonal corner had a passage leading to an outer ring of shops as well, and these were either tiny shops struggling to survive due to a lack of foot traffic, non-tech shops like a barber or a travel agency, warehouse/wholesale shops, or entirely shuttered. It was really weird and even somewhat liminal walking through the back ring, since it was nearly deserted compared to how packed the center square was. I bought a cord from one of the stores, eyed some old gaming console (Heli-Battle) that we used to own, and then ended up at an eatery I noticed in the middle ring for a snack.

Wynn Eateries

Located on the 4th floor of Sim Lim Square, Wynn Eateries is owned by a Singaporean Chinese couple, Winston and Linda Goh, and staffed by both of them as well as a couple other helpers. I had originally only intended to come in for a snack or drink, as I was parched, and had admired their menu out front and laid out on the tables:

I was going to order the Ice Aiyu Jelly with Lime, as I had never heard of such a thing, and it was going to be $3.20 for one of the toppings and $3.80 for the other two. I obviously had no idea which one was “better” though, as I had never even heard of the jelly before. One trick I use fairly often when I don’t know the food options or have never been to a place before (though sometimes I do this even if I’m a regular at a place, to build rapport, mostly at places like Chinese fast food tray stores in malls), is to ask the staff member waiting on me to pick their favourite item/topping/etc for me as one of my dish options. Sometimes they’re rude and just ask me to choose, but often I get a smile as they pick something out.

I did this here, as I said that I would probably like them all. Linda happened to the the one serving me though, and she said that she’d give me all three toppings for the $3.80 price instead! In fact, when she then brought the jelly dish to the window-side table I was at, she even added a watermelon slice on the house, and refused to take a tip that I tried to give her.

It even came with candy bits on top, which I’m fairly sure wasn’t in the original dish either. And it tasted great and refreshing!

While I was eating, she came by to chat and I told her my story of how Dad used to work here 25 years ago, and that even I had been by as a little kid. (They didn’t claim to recognize me or anything, which would have been a “just saying things to be nice” red flag — they had no way of remembering me since I was a different gender then and I didn’t tell them that part.) She said that their eatery had only recently opened, about 6 months ago, but that they had been long time tenants here in Sim Lim Square, and both she and her husband had been here 35 years or so, running a computer shop named Wyse Tech (or possibly Wyse Computers or something like that). So she’d have probably met my dad at some point, as they claimed to know a lot of the surrounding patrons.

She asked for a photo, and I showed her an old one of him from the early 00’s. We don’t nearly have enough photos of Dad since he was often the one taking photographs. Anyway, she called her husband over too, and that’s when I met him. Neither of them recognized him, but gave me their names and let me take photos to see if Dad recognized them. When I checked with him through my sister as a proxy later on, Dad said that he recognized the company name but didn’t know the people. Oh well.

While we were chatting, Linda also shared several stories of her own, like how the reason for them turning their computer business into an eatery was to try to survive and adapt as they felt that they could no longer remain profitable as a computer shop. They basically learnt new skills and reinvented themselves as an eatery but were still struggling to survive and establish a customer base, and had not yet been able to break even since they were new. She also said that they had been to China or Hong Kong in the past 10 years or so and had spent quite some time there, but had been stranded here during COVID-19, which I surmised had something to do with the decision to turn into an eatery but also likely still a factor as to why they hadn’t become profitable yet.

She also shared a funny anecdote about the view from my table at the eatery:

There was a swimming pool on the roof of that building across from their shop, and back when they were still a computer company, they were always somewhat amused that they could see half-naked people swimming there from their repair back room. Eventually though, the owners of that building wisened up and brought in trees to obscure the view.

As I prepared to take my leave, they told me to feel free to come and stop by the next time I was in the area, and I said that I’d come back and let them know if Dad recognized them. I didn’t expect to come back quite as soon as I did though — while wandering around the mall after my snack, I realized that my purse was missing, and traced it back to the shop. It was lying under a freezer just next to where I had been having my jelly snack. Oops. I retrieved it without incident and they were happy for me.

Next on the agenda of this incredibly long day had me swinging up to the north side of the country. This was a train ride that took about an hour, but had some built-in nostalgia for sure. Mentally, I’ve always associated certain colours with certain train stations, because the train station walls were painted that colour. Toa Payoh MRT Station was always yellow, for example, and I was glad to see that it still is yellow. The view out many of the stations had changed, as well as the look of most of the stations themselves, but there were still bits and pieces that were familiar. I no longer recognized the view from my childhood stations (Khatib and Yishun) though, the former especially now has a tall new HDB flat blocking the view of my Yishun 799 home that wasn’t there before. I planned to return to this area on a future day.

For this late afternoon though, I stopped by Sembawang MRT Station, which was a few stops further north. There was a mall right by the station, but I bypassed it and did a 15 minute walk or so to a smaller, secondary mall that served the locals in the immediate area rather than a larger glitzy mall that tried to entice people passing by the train station. I got to walk by lots of more natural and residential scenery along the way, rather than commercialized buildings, which I enjoyed. The weather was also cooling down a little as the sun started to set, so that was nice.

My purpose for coming to this particular mall was that it was the mall that one or two of my earliest plushies were from, or so I thought. I found the arcade store, named Whimsy, but it looked nothing like I remember it (the layout was different, and basically reversed from what i remembered it looked like), so i got to wondering if they had just moved to another spot in the mall at some point or if it was actually a different Whimsy arcade altogether.

I also had fond memories of the food court in the basement of the mall, but I got there to find that the entire food court had been bulldozed and was now a sterilized lineup of separate mini-restaurants.or eateries.

Dinner

i had dinner in an eatery in the basement level of Sembawang Shopping Centre. The shop didn’t have a proper English name, it was just labelled XO 肉脞麵 and the receipt mentioned Yu Kee Group Pte Ltd, which is more a parent company than the name of a particular shop. Its menu looked like this:

I ordered their Lor Mee for $4.50:

And while not the best in the world or anything like that, it came out pretty decently, the broth was nice and viscous and the noodles were tasty enough. I also hadn’t eaten the dish in over 20 years, so I happily savoured the meal. I told one of the uncles on the way out that the meal was (thumbs up) very nice, and i heard him happily relay the review to someone else as I left.

After dinner, I took the train even further north along the north-south line, to Woodlands MRT station. I had heard of a possible night market in a station a couple stops down a connecting line from here, so I went there to transfer trains, but to my surprise I saw a night market in the field outside this station itself, from the window of the train just as I was arriving. A kid next to me excitedly pointed it out to his dad too, and they also got off with me (and a swarm of other people) to visit the market. Apparently this one was called Marsiling Fiesta 2022 (Marsiling is the name of a neighbourhood), and unlike some of the more famous/organized night markets, or pasar malams, it had next to no internet presence at all and I only happened upon it by pure chance.

There were about maybe 60-80 stalls there (a bunch were closed), with about half of them being food stalls with long queues, and the other half selling various knick-knacks. The queues were very long, and all I got from this market this evening was a sugar cane drink from a stall named PureCane for $2.

It was much better than the other sugar cane drink I had the prior day, I’ll give it that much.

The venue had some sort of stage and live music going on as well, there was a band playing an instrumental version of Fastball’s The Way, as part of a medley with some other songs, and they eventually had a female singer or two serenade the crowd with some Chinese songs too.

Apparently this Marsiling Fiesta 2022 event runs from May 27 2022 to Jun 27 2022, so I lucked out not only by accidentally finding it, but by finding it on its first evening. I’d say “go visit!” like any of the other lifestyle blogs but my intended blog audience is in a different place and possibly even different time period, so I’ll instead say “I visited!”, and we can leave it at that! Here are some miscellaneous pics from the event.

I then hopped on a train home, taking a couple lines that did not exist when I was last in Singapore, and thus that I had never taken before. They were all completely underground though, and I could barely stay awake. Of note, I was walking home down a row of closed shops near Eunos MRT Station when I saw this stray cat doing this:

It was almost in the exact same location as the one I saw the day before, and looks similar, so I assume it was the same cat. How odd though, to have two different cats prostrate themselves before me on the same day.

I reached home, took a nice, refreshing shower, and then almost instantly fell asleep. Oyasumi!

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