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“Wo de ming zi jiao zuo ‘Bao Zhi Sen'”

By on Sep 14, 2010 in On A Whim | 0 comments

The title of this blog post roughly translates to “My name is Ankur Banerjee”, where ‘Bao Zhi Sen’ is apparently my name in Mandarin. The surname comes first, where ‘Bao’ is ‘Banerjee’ translated phonetically, and ‘Zhi Sen’ is the literal translation of ‘Ankur’. I have no idea whether ‘Bao Zhi Sen’ means ‘flying monkey bollocks’ in reality, so I’ll have to trust the person who told me this. ;) I went to a Mandarin Chinese speaking session today. In case you didn’t know, the two main languages under the broad umbrella of what is called ‘Chinese’ are Mandarin and Cantonese – within which there’s a complicated spaghetti of other variants, dialects, grammar styles and whatnot. Mandarin is the most widely spoken form. It was an informal session where those who didn’t know Chinese were taught by those who did. Not all the volunteers were of Chinese origin – one of the teachers was a US Air Force Academy student here on study exchange who’d lived a few years on a US base in Taiwan! We were taught a bunch of handy phrases but to be honest I (and most of us there) didn’t get the pronunciations right for anything except the Mandarin numerals and basic greetings. ni hao (hello) is not the only word I know now. 42 in Mandarin is 四十二 (si shi er). I’m definitely getting this tattooed on my right forearm. PS – I forgot to add this video of Sheldon Cooper’s attempts at learning...

Shark fin soup for the soul

By on Sep 13, 2010 in Travel | 4 comments

I ate shark fin soup today. Boy, do I feel like a right bastard for contributing towards the extinction of an endangered species. See those pinkish chunks floating in the soup? Those are pieces of shark fin. It’s scant in its presence as this a ‘mass-market’ version; gourmet shark fin soup costs a bomb (~$100, I’ve heard) and comes with sizeable cartilaginous chunks of shark fin. Shark fin itself apparently has no taste, and it takes the flavour of whatever broth it is in. Most often the broth is chicken soup, as it was here. I didn’t know what to expect when I placed my order, so I requested for an extra helping of vegetables to mellow down the taste. Shark fin is…chewy – and in my case tasted like chicken since that was what the stock was. Those of you who know me would know I’ve been a vegetarian for many years now. Vegetarianism is a personal choice I made arising out of taste rather than any religious or ethical compunctions. All that has gone for a toss here in Singapore though since you’ll be hard-pressed to find vegetarian eating options here! (Do you ‘eat’ soup or ‘drink’ soup? The consensus seems to be that if the soup contains solids such as croutons then the verb is ‘eat’, otherwise ‘drink’ for light broths. I think when the words ‘shark fin’ precede the word ‘soup’, the verb should most definitely be ‘eat’.) I also had an egg-and-seaweed fold in the same meal – it’s a dish that roughly has the consistency of a dumpling on the outside, with a filling of puffy egg whites and seaweed strands. ‘Crispy biscuit’ is akin to a poppadum, coated in yoghurt-based dressing; ‘sandwich biscuit’ is a slice of pie stuffed with mashed potato. By the end of my meal, I realized that I had ordered too much food. The drink that you see in the picture above is ‘Chin Chow drink’. I asked the cashier/server at the (separate) place I bought the drink as to what was in it. He just smiled enigmatically, gave me back my change, and called another woman at the shop who gestured towards the crushed ice and said, “It taste better when ice bottom.” I later found out ‘chin chow’ is the Chinese name for grass jelly – made from the leaves of a mint-family plant. When you order a ‘chin chow drink’, you get blocks of grass jelly mixed with black, minty tasting liquid with crushed ice on top. I got more than my money’s worth out of the meal (cheap and filling at S$4.50) but the item that piqued my interest when I saw it on the menu – the shark fin soup – didn’t make a distinct impression on me except for hurting my conscience. Maybe this tasted like nothing more than chicken soup because it’s cheap shit. Maybe some day – when my conscience has recovered, and my wallet is thicker – I’ll try ‘real’ shark fin soup. **** I went to the Fairprice Xtra superstore at Jurong Point Shopping Centre to stock up on breakfast cereals and snacks. I consider myself to be good Samaritan, so when I noticed an unattended package lying at the checkout counter I pointed it out to the checkout counter lady (‘CCL’ in the conversation below). Me: Ahem. It’s seems someone forgot their groceries here. CCL: That belong to you. Me: Really?! Are you sure? CCL: [points to the entry ‘Pringles x 2’ on my bill, out of around just six items] This. Belong. To. You. (She probably wasn’t trying to be sarcastic with the emphasis. Probably. I like to think it was because she had difficulty speaking in English.) Me: Ah. Yes. Being a checkout counter employee at a superstore must require patience than a hostage negotiator...

Things to do when you land at Changi Airport

By on Sep 6, 2010 in On A Whim | 12 comments

Track down the airhostess who kept sniggering and referring to peanut packets as “nuts of pee” to her crew members. Let out a long sigh and tell her when you’re deboarding, “[sigh] The bomb depressurized when the in-flight entertainment system was rebooting.” Exit the aircraft and head towards immigration desk. Keep switching queues to whichever one is moving faster, even though there are, like, three people in front of you. Hand the immigration officer your visa printout…folded as an origami duck. (There was nothing to do for fifteen minutes while the in-flight entertainment system rebooted during flight. The in-flight entertainment system runs Red Hat Enterprise Linux on AMD Geode processors in a thin-client setup, just in case you didn’t want to know.) Once you’ve escaped immigration, proceed to customs. Say you’ve nothing to declare, open a packet of chewing gum, and start chewing one. Offer to the nice lady manning (womanning?) the X-ray machine. Take the elevator to the basement where the food court is. Enter each and every eatery and smash into people’s chairs with the big-ass travel bag you’re lugging. (Do apologise later.) Buy an Adidas cap from the Sportslink store on the same floor, then realize much later in the day how stupid you must have looked because you forgot to take the stickers off the front. Hum the tune from the annoyingly catchy Have You Met The Sims by Kill Paradise while make said cap purchase. Take the elevator back upstairs. When the OCBC Bank and American Express counter employees both start beckoning you to come to their counter to exchange currency, act confused and oscillate your path as if you can’t decide where to head. Cruelly ignore one of them and choose the other instead. Slam down an assorted mix of Indian rupees and British pound coins – ask for it to be converted to Malaysian ringgit. Accept converted currency, then give it right back and request to convert it to Singapore dollars. पेट में चूहे कूद रहे हैं? (A Hindi idiom about hunger roughly translated to “Are there rats jumping around in your stomach?”) Search for a food establishment. But first, buy a prepaid SIM card from the M1 Mobile counter (it’s close to the information desk) – all you need to show is your passport and S$15 – and then knock over a shelf of bottled water at the nearby ‘Cheers’ convenience store. Don’t fucking miss this. There’s a coffee shop called The Coffee Connoisseur on the same floor at Terminal 3 Changi Airport where you get taxis from. Order a cup of Sumatra Dark, a plate of nachos with salsa and tomato dip, and a chestnut cake. The waiters there can read your mind and they’ll change the cutlery to the one required for the dish you’re eating before even you have thought of eating it. Everything from the presentation of the food, the glass of water they give down to the napkin they offer has a quirky touch of the shop. Savour the rich, dark taste of coffee. The place is a tad expensive if you think about it – but you won’t think about it, since you’ve just been to one of the best coffee chains you’ll ever come across. (I didn’t do this, but load On The Nature of Daylight by Max Richter on your cellphone and play it while you eat/drink at The Coffee Connoisseur; I’m sure you’ll enjoy your meal even more.) Take a taxi and arrive at Nanyang Technological University campus close to 9pm with a driver who can’t speak English, a passenger (namely, you) who doesn’t have a map of the campus, and reach your destination using the method “Well, if we travel down every road there is and take every turn, surely we’ll reach where I need to get off sooner or later?” **** I realize this blog post is seven days too late. I have been busy with orientation week two-days, shouting words I don’t really understand, and nursing myself back to health from the cold that I have caught. Yes, I have caught a cold in a country situated roughly 1° above the equator. (“The Earth’s equator is so big that if you laid it out flat, it would circle the Earth approximately one time.“) **** Meanwhile, if you want to read what my fellow exchange students in Singapore are doing, start off – “a site just for exchange students here” that inspires a lot of confidence by offering free ‘Helath & Safety’ information. Oodles better – and actually an interesting read – is Rebans Blogg, where you can follow an exchange student’s story of life in Singapore. (Or interested in Nederland instead? Add All Those Books And Still Not Smart to your reading...

Moleskine craving

By on Sep 4, 2010 in On A Whim | 8 comments

I was chewing a piece of paper last night (around 1.27am) while watching Kill Bill (Vol. 1), I felt a sudden, desperate urge to buy a Moleskine notebook. Forgetting my room keys behind, I rushed out wearing my flip-flops and ran for about fifteen minutes to get to the only 24/7 shop on campus – ‘The Grocer by Sterling‘. They didn’t have any. I trudged back home, browsed through the beautiful gallery for a bit. You must check it out. Then I finished chewing the piece of paper and got back to watching Kill Bill. The trigger for all this might possibly have been The Bride scratching out O-Ren Ishii’s name on a piece of paper.