Monday, May 30 2022 (Day 5)
I met another resident of the house I was living in this morning — Idris, a self-styled (former?) German refugee who was now living in Singapore. He was seated at the table with Issa, talking to him, when I went down in the morning, and we exchanged introductions then. He says he has been living in Singapore for 20 years on and off, and was 6 months or so into his current stint, and that he hated the German government and their politics, which was why he was here. I didn’t pry further.
This Monday was one of my “short” days out — by short, I still meant 6 hours or so of excursions, as opposed to 9-12 hours on a regular day. I love walking about, but my feet, particularly my ankles, start to really hurt after several hours. I thought the boiling sun would be more of a factor than it is though — it is painful, and all the sweating is horrifying, but all it actually does is make me seek out shelter and rest in malls and such every now and then, so it actually doesn’t affect my exhaustion levels as much as I thought it would. Thanks to the occasional drink or soup meal to go with my bottle of water, dehydration hasn’t seemed to be an issue despite all the water I’m losing through sweat. Yet, anyway,
i had been chatting with Paulene over WhatsApp the day before, as she had been one of those that had reached out to me inquiring for a good time for us to meet, and we had settled on lunch today, so I had my afternoon booked off. But for the morning, I sort of had a little secret pet project that I wanted to finish off.
To explain the background behind this, I’ve had one very specific piece of trauma (for lack of a better word) from the migration to Canada during my childhood, combined with me being transgendered, that I got hung up on for a long time in my past. Back before I started my transition, as well as after I had started it but before I had gone through with the surgeries, there were two or three stretches of time in particular where I was most definitely clinically depressed, and this was the most painful catalyst that ate away at me every time I thought about my situation. It would still make me feel down even outside those stretches of time, but during the actual throes of depression, it would weigh on me so heavily and overwhelm me so badly that I would just curl up in bed and cry into my bolster and wonder at Tigey if I could just restart my life and hope I reroll properly into a girl this time. Note: I was never suicidal, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t idly entertain occasional thoughts like that.
This regret that could never be solved was specifically that I never got to attend secondary school as a female together with my peers, back in Secondary 1 and 2 when I was at Dunman High. Even finishing my transition, I reasoned, would not solve this issue. i couldn’t go back in time and re-live those times, what I considered the stereotypical “shining days of my youth” (since I hated Canadian school afterwards, I considered those my best school days and friends by far).
Now that being said, the depression was eventually diagnosed and some medicine was actually found that helped me get out of it after only a couple months on the medication, and I haven’t been back down there in the darkness since. That catalyst did still eat away at me after, and I did acknowledge that what it was asking was impossible, but I wondered — how close could I get to actually exorcising that demon, to minimize my chances of it ever pulling me down into that deep mental pit again? I was the ultimate judge of whether it bothered me or not, so what would it take to convince me to learn to let it go? With a clearer head, I started to break it down into smaller pieces.
The first piece of that was obviously the transition itself, and finally shifting myself to my correct gender, surgery and all. This was a long process but was finally completed to my satisfaction in 2017. The second piece, I reasoned, was that I lacked closure with my friends whom I had left behind. I still constantly dreamt of them, more than 20 years later. I achieved this closure in Aug 2020 when i reached out to Kaiting, met Eileen in Los Angeles in Nov 2021, joined the class’s WhatsApp group, and then met even more of my friends and former classmates on this trip. Most importantly was that I met them and introduced myself with my female identity. This went a long way toward alleviating the pain. The third was the Singapore piece, that I could “never return” and see my friends and/or get actual closure by seeing Dunman High itself again. Solving this was initiated by me reaching out to Mindef in Sep 2019, and obviously something that was obviously attained on this trip, though as of Day 5 I had not yet visited my school (I did on Day 6, spoilers!). The fourth was “attending school as a female” in general, which I have achieved, and am also trying to supercharge by coming back to NUS on the exchange program, which would turn “attending school as a female” to “attending school in Singapore as a female” — the closer to the impossible regret, the better.
But there was another nagging piece that I was aware of even before I knew that going back to Singapore was a possibility this year. It’s a thing that I know even bothers me today a little bit as I see students walking around — I get jealous of them for their school uniforms! It might be because of school pride, it might be because I visualized the girls in class that I wanted to be like/be friends with wearing them because that’s all I ever saw them wear, or it might just be because that I really liked the simple uniform in general, but while looking at my nemesis demon from various angles, I realized that if I could acquire the Dunman High female uniform as an alma mater (of sorts), even if just to keep it and never actually wear it, that would probably lay to rest another substantial portion of that demon too.
And so, about 6 months ago, I greedily began looking into this possibility. I noticed that the school PE uniforms were vastly different now, but the regular uniform still more or less looked the same. I reached out to the supplier, Shanghai School Uniforms, and casually explained that I was an alumni of the school and lived in Canada now, and wondered if they would ship over there. Their answer was yes, but we couldn’t actually figure out shipping — they claimed they asked DHL and got quoted a shipping cost of over $300! And they said I could also arrange for a courier to pick it up and then for someone to get it over to me somehow, but that process was a complete mystery to me too. As well, they eventually warned me that the blouse I was looking for, the Secondary 1-4 one (as opposed for the “new” Year 5-6 Junior College one since Dunman High now hosted 6 years of students instead of the 4 years when I was present) didn’t come with the detachable metal buttons that were part of the uniform. I was aware of this, but was unaware, until they mentioned it, that they weren’t the ones who provided it, I had to get them separately from the school bookshop. I emailed the bookshop and got a vague reply but they never replied to my subsequent inquiry, so that fizzled out too.
However, around then, things fell into place for me to make this return trip to Singapore. And so, what exactly was preventing me from picking up a set once I was here? Not much, apparently!
And so, with that lengthy introduction out of the way, I can now segue back into the actual travel log and say that this Monday morning found me on my way to this Shanghai Uniforms warehouse store, which was located in a building in an industrial park area. I have memories of my mother bringing me to an actual shop in a residential area to get my uniform way back in the late 90s, but that was apparently no longer the case. The warehouse park was not actually far from my rented home though, about a 30 minute walk through some residential areas. I like me some residential areas, I think they’re far more authentic and interesting than malls and tourist traps, so off I traipsed.
Soon enough, I reached the actual store! I was finally able to make my desired purchase six months or so after I had first looked into it, although I later noted that the uniform itself had undergone several tiny changes, in both the blouse and skirt portions, that made it differ ever so slightly from the uniform during my time at the school. That was fine, though. It’s the thought that counts. i ended up purchasing it in a size that just about fits me anyway, but this one isn’t exactly going to get worn anywhere. Maybe I can mix the pieces with other things in my wardrobe though.
After the purchase, I then made my way via foot and train to a nearby hawker centre to have brunch.
I was meeting Paulene for food at around 2pm or so, so i wanted to have something light beforehand, especially since I was near a hawker centre that I had not been to yet but was moderately well-renowned — the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre. Unfortunately, when I reached the hawker centre, I found that this place actually has a LOT of stalls that were specifically closed on Monday, for some reason (and a good half of them or so, it seems, were also closed on Tuesdays.) More than half the stalls were closed today! Including many of the “famous” ones listed in food blogs.
Anyway, I only had room to eat one small item and I was basically heading into this hawker centre with no experience with any of the stalls, so it didn’t bother me THAT much that half of them were closed. I ended up picking up a bowl of Char Kway Teow, or stir-fried rice noodles, from Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow, and it was pretty good, though Jahandar noted how there was only one lonely prawn on top of the noodles. I paid $5 for it so in that sense perhaps it was a little overpriced. It did taste quite good, though I didn’t find it to be particularly noteworthy.
I did see a bird enjoying someone’s leftovers at the tray return area on the way out of the hawker centre, as well.
My next leg of the Monday was otherwise uneventful, I walked around for a bit and then took the bus and train home to dump off my items, and then took the train again to Somerset MRT Station, where I met up with Paulene for some chatting and more fooding.
More of a late lunch.early dinner, but Paulene and I decided to go down to the food court area in the 313@Somerset shopping mall, and we found seats in the general seating area, and then took turns wandering off to one of the stores to buy some food back to where we were. Calling that place a food court was probably a bit too generous, there were over a dozen stalls spread out like kitchen islands in the middle of the floor, and maybe another dozen spread out around the sides of the floor, but while the ones on the sides largely had seats for their customers, the ones in the middle didn’t, except for the one generic seating area with extremely limited seats. I found this setup extremely dumb and unfriendly, but at least there were some seats — I had seen a similar setup at another mall with no public seats at all. Not sure where people who bought food from those stalls were expected to eat.
Anyway! She recommended a stall called Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks, and I bought a Mee Sua Value Set from it, which consisted of Handmade Oyster Mee Sua, Sweet Plum Potato Fries, and some Winter Melon Tea.
This cost $9.20, which I felt was overpriced, but that was probably just the cost of eating in a mall. Both the mee sua and the plum fries were undeniably tasty though, and I did ultimately enjoy the meal. I also hadn’t eaten mee sua in forever, which is a type of vermicelli soup that usually involves just enough soup broth to soak the vermicelli and make it soggy as it absorbs the broth. The drink came in a bag, which I found both cute and wasteful.
After we were done, Paulene went to one of the other stores, gallantly named Chinese Tofu Magician, and brought back two bowls of Beancurd with Golden Sugar, her treat. Each bowl cost about $2, I believe.
There was a packet of sugar that was actually optional, and I didn’t add that — I was delighted by the base dish as is. It was soft bean curd, known locally as Tau Huay, and I had completely forgotten about its existence or taste until Paulene brought them over. I would have glanced right by the item on a menu without giving it a second look from its English name alone, but these were a childhood staple snack and tasted great, basically a softer, fluffier, soybean/tofu variant of jelly, and was plenty tasty without any further additives.
It wasn’t all food, of course — we chatted a lot as well, and I prodded her about where her life had taken her since we last saw each other. She had tried out a variety of things but now assisted her husband as an online trainer of some sort for his business, I believe, and while she got to work from home most of the time, she was also extremely busy with very little downtime, especially since she also had a 5 year old boy named Teddy, of whom she shared a couple pictures with me. I really appreciated her taking the time off to come and meet up with me.
After eating and chatting, she had to leave for an appointment, so we walked up onto street level and did our requisite Tigey picture against a nice backdrop where she had apparently also taken a memorable picture just prior to her wedding, or just prior to Teddy being born, I don’t quite recall.
Once we parted ways, I wandered around the area a little more, in particular visiting a mall called Centrepoint which held a minor memory for me from my childhood days, but which like everything else had changed to the point of being unrecognizable. i walked around the Somerset/Orchard Road area for an hour and change before heading home.
At this point, I went home to rest my brittle bones, and also did laundry as I was running low on usable clothes. Kim, the maid, helped me set up the washing machine and provided me with some detergent as well. The washing machine ran for an hour, after which I transferred all my clothes onto hangers and plopped them onto a tek-ko (bamboo pole) in the semi-outdoor, shaded back area next to her washing machine (and her living quarters, which was apparently a cramped back room that didn’t really even look like it had air-conditioning).
All that was fine, until I went to retrieve my clothes in the late evening, and noticed a cockroach skittering around on the ground by the wall near the clothes poles. I retrieved my clothes (in two batches, as not everything was dry yet) without incident, but I really could have gone the rest of my life without seeing one of those creatures again, that’s one bit of nostalgia I didn’t need to relive. I saw it dancing a jig in the (similarly semi-outdoor) kitchen later too, though it probably got disposed of by someone later or the next day if it hadn’t escaped of its own volition by then. Those areas were “outside” the house and technically ‘outdoors” though, so I didn’t think too badly of the homestay house for that, they probably couldn’t really control what sort of creepy crawlies got into that area. I’ve yet to see any bugs larger than a small fly anywhere around the interior of the house, let alone upstairs.
Finally, after my clothes were dry, I went to check out a nearby roadside shop that I had passed by a half dozen times by this point. The store name was Kim‘s Famous Fried Hokkien Mee, and it claims to be on some world street foodie list or other, as well as having had several newspaper articles written about it. It’s also apparently famous for its main proprietor frying the noodles while wearing a long-sleeved shirt and (apparently) a gold Rolex watch.
There were many variants and price points for the dish (And several alternate dishes as well — but I’m a big Hokkien Mee fan so I was here for that dish only), so I settled for a $10 version, and I got this much:
I thought the lard pieces were a bit too strong, especially as they were automatically added as a condiment on one side of the plate afterwards instead of either being cooked/mixed in or letting the customer decide how much to actually add, but I liked the meal quite a bit. The noodles still felt a bit off from the perfect plate of Hokkien Mee, like it was missing a certain kick and the fried lard pieces were added haphazardly to try to cover that up, but it was still definitely the best of the three Hokkien Mee dishes I had tried thus far. I also had communication problems with the helpers (family members?) trying to sell me a drink and trying to ask if I wanted to eat in the store or dabao it home (takeout), their dialect or enunciation or whatever was so off that someone else who was ordering had to tell me what they were actually trying to say.
Oh, and I met another neighbourhood stray cat on the way home, A black cat had darted across my path on my way home on the 28th, far too quickly for me to take a picture of, and I’m guessing it was this one, who was far more docile tonight.
And here’s a nice and slightly ominous cloudy night picture that doesn’t fit anywhere else!