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Archive for April 28th, 2010

  • Day 61: How Sandra Bullock is Like Singapore

    Date: 2010.04.28 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 1

    What does it take to make sure you’re not a victim? Sandra Bullock knows.  Nobody has heard a word from her since her marriage collapsed 10 days after she won a Best Actress Oscar. Word got out her husband Jesse James was a cheating hound with a penchant for tattoed strippers and Nazi paraphernalia.  Poor Sandra.

    Today, Sandra owns the cover of PEOPLE magazine and the cover line is all about her “secret” adopted son, Louis. “Meet My Baby!”

    Mention of her impending divorce from Jesse is relegated to what they call the “deck” in the magazine trade.  Jesse James had his moment in the sun.  Bullock didn’t amass a $75 million fortune and win an Oscar for being totally dumb.  She took a hit but decided to advance the story with her own plot point as fast as possible.

    Make no mistake, Bullock made sure the 10-page PEOPLE cover story, for sale Friday, left nothing to chance when it came to letting the world knew she nothing of Jesse’s affairs or Nazi salutes.  Jesse’s become her bitch, too, with his own statement flagellating himself. But the story’s no longer  so much about him.

    This is called genius PR.  This is called getting lemons and then making lemonade that outsells everyone else.  It’s about the war of life.

    Which brings me to… Singapore.

    I just returned from a quick trip over the border to Johor Bahru, Malaysia and now I’m back in the ultra-modern city-state of Singapore that looks like a gorgeous,  souped-up, skyscraper-filled sci-fi version of the ultimate but lost forever American City.

    It’s not just that there’s a Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on every corner and copies of last week’s National Enquirer in doctors’ offices. (English is the first language here.)

    Check out the Marina Bay Sands “integrated resort” a.k.a hotel and casino that had its soft opening yesterday and dwarfs anything in Vegas – or Chartres for that matter.

    I had a few minutes to spare so I dropped by and rolled down to the casino to play 10 Singapore dollars in the slot machines but spent most of my time eyeballing the tough Cantonese women huddled around the blackjack croupiers and thought to myself, if we’re (Americans) up against them God help us.

    The croupiers are young and (I think) trying not to look nervous.  They probably are nervous because this is Singapore’s first casino and they had to undergo croupier school here just to learn this new trade.

    Singapore’s got a new casino and a hotel the size of Xanadu for one reason.  They’re making sure they stay competitive.  About this they know a lot.

    Singapore has an interesting story:  Not long ago it was a colonial outpost/typical Third World country but worse off than most because it’s a tiny enclave not much bigger than Manhattan island with zero natural resources.

    In 1965, six years after legendary Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew took over the country after it broke from British control, Singapore took a huge hit.  It was supposed to merge with what is now Malaysia and be part of a new super-country independent from British rule.

    For complicated reasons, some involving race riots, Malaysia decided to dump Singapore and not merge with them.  Singapore was cut loose, on its own in the world with not much going for it. (To this day, they have to buy their water from Malaysia.)

    Yew, in 1965, publicly called the forced separation a moment of “anguish.” It was not at all part of his plan.

    But Yew had some serious Sandra Bullock qualities. Meaning self-pity and playing the victim was not how he saw himself and Singapore. So Singapore went to Plan B. It took a while.

    Singapore was so poor in the 1960s and 1970s that many people today who are in their 40s and 50s remember walking to wells every day to get water and carry it back to their homes.

    Fast forward t0 2010.  Singapore is the fourth richest country per capita in the world.  It could have just as easily become a perpetual slum.  Those 40- and 50-somethings, at least some of them, are driving BMWs.

    How they did it is best left to the economists and political scientists.  I have enough trouble writing convincingly about Asian food.

    All I can say – when you’re in a bad firefight – you want to have people like Bullock and Lee Kuan Yew in your foxhole.

  • Day 60: Is This Cheating? Blame the Singapore Stall Crawl.

    Date: 2010.04.28 | Category: Uncategorized | Response: 1

    Could this be considered cheating? I was doing so well on a late night romp through Seetoh’s secret address book to all the killer food stalls in Singapore…

    Before we get to that… let’s recap the evening.

    Seetoh and his Mankansutra empire  is the Rachael Ray/Jamie Oliver/Martha Stewart of Singapore: He stars in a weekly show on the Asian Food Channel, authors guidebooks, leads tours, and is on a first-name basis with everyone from Stewart herself to Anthony “No Reservations” Bourdain.

    The best of Singapore food is not to be found in the Vegas-meets-South Coast Plaza skyscraper hotels springing all over this miniscule, though hyper-moneyed city-state.

    Rich or poor, S’poreans know which hawkers to go to for lunch or dinner. Hawkers who used to sell their wares in an old, portable stalls on the street got whisked off the sidewalks once Singapore started hitting it big and now they’re cloistered in efficient food courts.

    Nobody knows the best of the best hawker stalls like Seetoh.

    We stopped for some amazing chicken rice (one of the top national dishes) at the Wee Nam Kee chicken rice shop. Picture below.  It was SO good!  Seetoh kept telling me to pace myself but I wanted to gobble it all down because it tasted so fresh and  fantastic.

    The Wee Nam Kee chicken rice shop is more of a small restaurant than a hawker stall and the food is deceptively plain-looking. Seetoh pointed out the master cook who he said had to apprentice for about 10 years before mastering the art of cooking foods like chicken and rice perfectly – and being consistent enough to turn out each of the hundreds of dishes he makes a night perfectly.

    After chicken rice we continued the stall crawl for yet more wonderful food:  pork and beef satay with a peanut sauces mixed in with pineapple.  (Forgot to photograph that.) Then you could add some red chili sauce.  We also ate some fresh skate with a piquant brown sauces rubbed over it.  I love spicy Asian food – the next best thing to candy!

    It’s hard to pick a favorite but the curry laksa, a spicy coconut curry soup with noodles, was one of the best things I ever tasted. Below I’m checking out how the boss of the laksa shop does the blanching that’s part of the process of making the soup concoction.  (You can tell I’m not a food writer by the preceding sentence.)

    But the was our final stop at Seetoh’s own aptly named Mankansutra’s Glutton Bay, where he’s designed this cool, retro-hawker cart outdoor restaurant on a sprawling esplanade with a view of the Marina skyline.  We all sat at a table by the water; last night’s full moon and balmy temperatures combined to make us all a little loose and giddy, talking to well after midnight.

    Maybe a little too loose and giddy.

    When Seetoh ordered the kaya jam toast and with the banana tempura kaya fondue (pictured below,) I kept trying to explain to him, see I’m doing this year off sweets thing.  Seetoh kept looking at me blankly, as well he should.

    The banana tempura had no sugar, he said, the other dish could be considered “jam and toast” and while the kaya (the sweet green-colored sauce) had sugar in it, he said, go ahead!  He said this about 20 times.

    So I did.  (See top photo.)  I dipped the banana tempura in about one centimeter of the sweet sauce while Seetoh kept yelling, “More, dip it more!”  But that’s as much as I dipped – and it was delicious.  Plus according to Seetoh, Singaporeans are insomniacs and eat this dish at all hours of the day and night so it’s considered breakfast as much as anything else.

    That’s what he said.

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This American candy addict/journalist in France writes about quitting candy – and all desserts – for at least one year beginning Feb. 28, 2010. Follow my progress – or relapses – as I delete candy corn, moelleux au chocolat, peppermint patties, Carambars, tarte tatin, After Eights, crème brûlée, Nutella, tapioca pudding, mint chocolate chip ice cream, Haribo Polkas, M & Ms and more from my life. Learn about the evils of white sugar and its effects on mood and health from my interviews with experts and friends! Let the sugar fog lift!

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