06:59 hrs in-between Tim Flannery’s pages Here on Earth

Singapore

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18 Raffles Quay at 06:59 hrs weekday, Singapore.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2014

Stepping out of the car where I was dropped off, a few steps in through the surrounding pavement and I found myself in old Telok Ayer Market. It being early in the morning, I found it rather like an empty school canteen just after the morning school bell had rung and all students had filed neatly into their classrooms. Not one table filled with anyone at all, except me.

“Rose Rose I Love You”

Singapore // Sweden

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro 4666 590

The First of May 2014.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2014

The symbolic flower for the month of May is the Rosa Chinensis or the China Rose, which shares the same name / title to one of my paternal grandfather’s favourite songs, “Rose Rose I Love You”.

That song was first recorded in 1940 by Yao Lee and then by Frankie Laine in 1951 with the lyrics of the latter unrelated to the original.

What I found interesting in Laine’s version is that the song references a girl, possibly named Rose, as a “flower of Malaya”. This reference brought me back to the origins of Clifford Pier in Singapore, built between 1927 and 1933 and named after Sir Hugh Clifford, Governor of the Straits Settlements at the time. The pier was one of the busiest embarkation and disembarkation points in Singapore that belonged to the Straits Settlements Crown Colony during the early 1900s, from immigrants to the trading of goods. That Customs House at Collyer Quay stands in close proximity to what was once Clifford Pier today is testament to its history.

Coming home to Valentino’s 2013

Culīnaria // Singapore

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At Ristorante Da Valentino.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

Already when we last met, the Valtulina family hinted at that they were preparing a move to a new location. It would be a great improvement they told me, since they had seriously outgrown their family living room sized premises in the Bukit Timah area. Because of this, it was with great expectation we went to take a look at the new restaurant, Valentino’s, at Turf Club Road.

Greeted in family tradition with a warm hurricane of emotions at their door, we were whisked almost immediately, into the kitchen, where Valentino stood at the heart of it all.

I had certainly missed the Valtulina Family!

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Gianpiero Valtulina, setting up the private dining quarters of the restaurant. Gianpiero, or ‘Papa’, has been a guiding hand in the process of the building of the new place. His influence and finishing touches can be seen in the beautiful decorations furnishing the home and restaurant.

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The private room here can seat about forty-five persons. Perfect for that larger family or corporate event.

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With so much movement in the place, I couldn’t help wanting to capture all details on camera, from the rustic brick enclaves in the main dining hall to the stash of deliciously piled ripened tomatoes and garlic that sat in proximity to various cheeses all carefully stored.

It took about a half hour to orientate myself in the new expansive place, from walk-in freezers to the various bakery and kitchens, the main dining hall and the Valentino Garden outdoors that already housed a healthy citrus tree, to finally sit down and come to process the information and impression of their new restaurant.

Sentosa Island, Singapore 2013

Singapore

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Evening sun, Tanjong Beach, Sentosa.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

It was about a generation ago that anyone who wanted to swim in the waters of Singapore, whether river or sea, would and could in kampong spirit and enthusiasm simply jump in. Today, a stunt like that would most certainly get some raised eyebrows, if you didn’t end up yourself being hauled in by authorities in reminder of areas cordoned off, for reasons accorded, from bathing possibilities.

In the prescriptive social fabric of Singapore that can be both helpful and hindering at the same time, an area promoted for leisurely activities that includes sun basking and swimming is the Island of Sentosa with a mission of being “the world’s favourite leisure and lifestyle resort destination”.

Singapore Botanic and Orchard Gardens, 2013

PHOTO // Singapore

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Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

As a little Garden of Eden of sorts is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, that’s beautiful for an afternoon stroll. As an integrated part of the Botanic Gardens is the National Orchid Garden that houses innumerable exotic varieties of the country’s national flower.

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Sitting happy in the Orchid Gardens’ collection, the largest display of tropical orchids in the world, are more than 3,000 species and hybrids with about 600 on display. Every year, more vibrant and enduring hybrids are added on.

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Within the compounds of the Botanic Gardens is Burkill Hall. Built in 1866, it is a fine example of an early colonial bungalow with its trellis constructs to its ground floors, tall windows adorned with matted drawn blinds.

Burkill Hall used to be the Director’s House, and its current name commemorates the only father and son pair, Isaac and Humphrey Burkill, to hold the post of Director of Singapore Botanic Gardens.

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Trattoria Capri, Singapore 2013

Culīnaria // Singapore

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From the left, Adriano Iannone, La Braceria and Limoncello,
Daniele Devillanova (chef) and Luca Iannone, Trattoria Capri at Binjai Park, Singapore.

Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

It’s been just about two years since my last visit to Trattoria and Pizzeria Capri in Singapore. In the ever changing landscape of Singapore, it’s a relief to step into Capri again, to find friendly and familiar faces and to pick up the conversation where it was left off, with hardly a glitch.

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Interior of Capri with tiles of the Amalfi Coast, home of the Iannone family.

Much of our conversation revolved as usual around the different types of Italian food by region.

Singapore River by boat, 2013

Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, 1O4P9572b

On a Singapore River taxi.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

For anyone coming to Singapore for the first time, or the occasional visitor who wants to check what’s up in the city, the Singapore River with its numerous landmark bridges and quays is the natural place to start.

Since the founding of Singapore in 1819, the Singapore River has been the center for much of the island’s trade and economic activities.

Boat Quay
The area around the mouth of the Singapore River was known as the Old Harbour. This was the busiest part of the port, with most trade taking place along the south bank of the river, at Boat Quay.

As early as 1822 this area was designated to be developed as a Chinese settlement, after which the Chinese, mostly traders and labourers, settled here in large numbers. Conditions were squalid but Boat Quay flourished, rapidly exceeding in volume the trade on the north bank, where the Europeans had their offices, houses and government buildings.

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Boat Quay

Mid-19th century and onwards
From the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 the new steamships started calling at the port of Singapore. Hundreds of bumboats would fight for limited berthing space. Incoming cargo were laboriously carried from the ships anchored outside of the river mouth. Sacks of goods streamed into the road on the shoulders of coolies. Here was a brisk trade of raw material such as rubber, tin, and steel to food and manufactured goods.

Only in the 1960’s did the commercial importance of Boat Quay start to decline as the ships grew and the role of the bumboats in the shipping industry was superseded by mechanized container handling.

Ku Dé Ta | Singapore

Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, IMG_1485

Ku Dé Ta night club at the Sands SkyPark, Marina Bay Sands.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

It is difficult to talk about Marina Bay Sands in Singapore without mentioning numbers. However, from the moment you set your eyes on this building the first time, until you enter its car park and start finding your way through its numerous shopping malls – complete with in-built waterways, fountains and sampans – the proportions of this undertaking becomes mind boggling.

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Furthermost out at one end of the Sands SkyPark, on a 46 meter overhang, is the KU DÉ TA nightclub.

Marina Bay Sands’ three hotel towers are connected by a sky terrace on the roof named Sands SkyPark that among other things features an infinity swimming pool and a number of restaurants and bars. Furthermost out on the 46 meter overhang, is the KU DÉ TA nightclub. In the middle of a lush garden, with trees and plants and a public observatory deck on the cantilever, you can enjoy a stunning view of the Singapore skyline.

An afternoon with Chef Takashi Okuno, at Truffle Gourmet, Singapore

Culīnaria // Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, IMG_0788a

A selection from their wine cellar. It’s difficult to make a poor choice of wine at Truffle Gourmet, Singapore, though ideally you leave the choice to the sommelier.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

A few weeks ago, a new restaurant opened in an old shophouse along Club Street in a dining concept that combines fine quality ingredients with culinary heritage and tradition.

It is perhaps not surprising that Truffle Gourmet is located in the heart of the most fashionable and lively district in the midst of Singapore.

Club Street is one of Singapore’s older streets. It is situated at the edge of Chinatown just adjacent to Cross Street and Amoy Street. In these quarters during the 18- and 1900s, Chinese immigrant labourers would find letter writers and calligraphers to help them stay in touch with their loved ones back home.

Today, a long stretch of bars and restaurants offers a variety of interesting places presenting good food in stylish surroundings.

Stalking Louis Vuitton

CHINA // France // Hong Kong // LOUIS VUITTON // Mode // Singapore // Travels

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, 1O4P0095a

2013. Not unexpectedly, a Louis Vuitton outlet is located at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) Singapore. MBS which besides a large conference hotel and casino, features a long list of the world’s most famous luxury brands.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

I wonder what it is with sons of carpenters. One launches an entire institution of religion and the other, saves us from bad travel experiences and gives us the gift of luxurious, resilient travel bags.

The name Louis Vuitton evokes in me, not the large conglomerate fashion house with Nicholas Ghesquière (from 2013/4, who succeeded Marc Jacobs, from 1997) as artistic director of the empire, but rather the humble beginnings of the son of a carpenter who at age 14, in 1835, packed his bags in Anchay, Jura where he was born in France, and headed for Paris – on foot. He took odd jobs along the way to pay for food and lodging, all this while, perfecting his carpentry skills and expanding his knowledge on various types of wood.

400 km further away and one year later, Louis arrived in Paris to find a flourishing haute couture culture, where lavish and elaborate dressing was all the rage. It was here that he learnt to pack such elaborate outfits to perfection. And it was his dress packing skills and not foremost his carpentry skills that attracted the attention of Empress Eugénie. He became her favourite packer.

It was not long before he combined his dress packing skills with his carpentry skills to produce the first flat, stackable trunk for transportation. These stable and solid trunks were covered with grey Trianon canvas.

Rooftop at CHIJMES

Singapore

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Rooftop in the morning, at CHIJMES
Text & Photo © K Leong, JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

The CHIJMES cluster of buildings along Victoria Street is what to me remains as one of the more beautiful architectural features in the changing landscape of modern Singapore.

Having grown up in another Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ), I feel right at home strolling the grounds of this one in the heart of the city. From the rooftop, you’ll get a good overview of the courtyard and the corridors of adjacent buildings that lead to once classrooms, today turned into office spaces.

The Chapel’s gothic architecture is breathtaking when basked in the morning light, in the quiet hours just prior to the rush of the city’s daily traffic.

PS Café Ann Siang Hill, Singapore

Singapore

Heart of Chinatown at Ann Siang Hill, Singapore.
Text and Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

I have an affinity for quiet corners in today’s current targeted 7 million inhabitants Singapore. And whether explained by quantum theories of alternate realities, or on a less philosophical level, simply taking the time to find that quiet spot during peak hours in the heart of bustling Chinatown, PS Café at Ann Siang Hill is an utterly serene and cosy meeting place.

Ann Siang Hill is the name of a one-way road located in Chinatown in Singapore. Situated immediately inland of the old harbour, it is today one of the more authentic areas that remain of old Singapore, right at the heart of where all trade of the olden days of this developing city would have taken place.

The ambassadorial role of Miss Singapore title holders

Singapore

In a recent article in Urban of the Singapore Straits Times (by Joyce Chua, 18 January 2013. ref. DivaAsia) I was given an opportunity to expand on my own experiences as being a Miss Universe Singapore winner.

A recurring question I get is what goes on behind the scene after that the pageant is won, after the crowning ceremony on stage, after the stage lights have dimmed and the TV cameras shut off. Most people probably expect the answer to be, incessant and non-stop partying for a whole year. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your disposition, that is not really correct. Instead, that is when the ambassadorial role of any Miss Singapore title holder begins.

The double portfolio

Till today I feel that the modern purpose of beauty pageants remain undefined. There are at least two aspects built into the structure of most beauty pageants, the entertainment front and humanitarian efforts, of which the public is more familiar with the former but see less of the latter. From this double portfolio comes numerous international opportunities and public relations efforts that begin immediately after the winner has stepped off the stage.

The ambassadorial role of Miss Singapore title holders

A few years ago I was invited to Penn State University to give a talk on my experiences of living outside of Singapore. At that time I had the pleasure of exchanging ideas with Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Singapore’s current Ambassador to the USA. His main point and experience from representing a comparatively small nation in the US, was reflective of my own, being that Singapore is listened to, when and because we are successful. Even as a small nation, Singapore experiences as large problems as any country. It is both vulnerable yet seemingly resilient to the processes of globalization, so to the extent that we are successful, the world is interested in what we do.

Any representative bearing “Singapore” in her title, is necessarily a reflection of our country and an investment in Singapore’s international public relations. An attractive young woman bearing the title of “Miss Singapore” will be sought after, spoken with and listened to. Whether we like it or not, whether Singapore uses it or not, she will have an ambassadorial role.

Shifting values in Singapore: on co-habitation and marriage

Singapore

Hi Cheryl,

My stay-in girlfriend just asked me “what is your definition of me as your girlfriend” and I replied “Cohabitation Partner”.

I googled “cohabitation in singapore” and was very intrugued in finding your page. It’s been 4 years since you published this and I see that nothing significant has changed. Outlook towards marriage still revolves around getting a place of their own.

Unfortunately after all these years, you’re still correct. I’m 37 this year & come from a fairly traditional family. I took quite a while before my parents could accept my “defiant nature”.

In your view, how are we going to cross this social tradition in Singapore?

Cheers,
Sam

Hi Sam,

Thanks for stopping by my blog and for sharing your insights into Singapore living.

Though I follow the socio-economic and political developments of Singapore, I have myself not lived there for about a decade and therefore need to qualify that my current perspective on life is perhaps not quite representative of the average Singaporean’s but rather, comes from one who has lived overseas, in my case in Scandinavia (Sweden) for some time now.

And here, I’m picking up some keywords from your post about concepts in the Singapore context such as “co-habitation partner”, “marriage” and the general theme of evolving social traditions in the country, where I’m happy to take this opportunity to share with you some theoretical insights from the disciplines of social psychology (e.g. works by Clare Graves), political science and organization studies about the evolution of individuals, organizations and societies.

When and how Singapore will shift in social traditions will from that point of view depend upon several factors – internal factors such as socio-economic politics, external factors such as global socio-economic politics, and its inhabitants’ capacity to learn and adjust to new challenges. This perspective is simplistic to say the least, because we’ll soon realize that each of these factorial dimensions have in themselves, multi-levels of address. So this tri-pronged view is a rather broad sweep.

The tranquil at W Singapore, Sentosa Cove, Singapore

Culīnaria // Singapore

At W Singapore, Sentosa Cove.
W Hotels Worldwide are known for their luxurious interiors.

Text and Photo © JE Nilsson and CM Cordeiro 2012

Having grown up in Singapore, I’ve had the opportunity to observe Sentosa transform from a relatively quiet and exotic city getaway with accessible beaches that you could drive up to, park and picnic if you so wished, to one filled with attractions today such as Universal Studios alongside Resorts World that have both locals and visitors gather by the hundreds over the weekends for some fun.

This time my curiosity was piqued about the American W Hotels Worldwide’s newly opened W Singapore hotel and residences located at Sentosa Cove. A place targeted as part of the Singapore government’s efforts at building exclusive residential areas, this one in particular being currently the only seaside marina residential area in Singapore.

Durian Cake, Singapore

Culīnaria // Singapore

Durian Cake.
Text and Photo © CM Cordeiro 2012

Part of my culinary adventures is to combine bits and pieces of knowledge and inspirations picked up from one context and transfer that to a different context, in anticipation of the results. Besides which, I didn’t think I could get away being back in Singapore without cooking or baking with the family.

Catalunya Singapore, a touch of Barcelona, Spain at the waterfront

Culīnaria // Singapore

At Catalunya Singapore, The Fullerton Pavilion at Collyer Quay, Singapore.
Text and Photo © CM Cordeiro 2012

If it were not for a kind Samaritan I met along the way who pointed out directions to the Fullerton Pavilion in Singapore, I would have taken much more time before landing at the day’s lunch venue – Catalunya Singapore.

Coming in from the scorch of the mid-day tropical sun, it took a few seconds for the eyes to adjust to the dimmer interior of the bar and restaurant, though the line of sight didn’t need to venture farther than the reception to find a touch of Gaudí’s influence in the gleaming white broken mosaic pieces that clung to the columns of the dining interior. This influence of Gaudí would also continue, as I found, through the dining experience in the shapes and motifs of the plates and utensils on the table. Not two steps into the place, I was surrounded by individuals who spoke Catalan and Spanish, déjà vu and I felt right back in Barcelona again, and felt right at home.

Back for lunch at Valentino’s, Singapore

Culīnaria // Singapore

With Valentino Valtulina in his wine cellar that in quick glance, shows his passion for remarkable passito wines such as Amarone and rare Italian specialties.
Text and Photo © JE Nilsson and CM Cordeiro 2012

I have often written about Italian hospitality and how their spontaneous generosity has the ability to grab and wrap you as a warm blanket. Just a few days ago I found myself back at what I have to admit is one of my all time favourite Italian restaurants in Singapore, and was hardly out of the taxi when I met the first of the Valtulinas outside of their restaurant at Jalan Bingka.

In an instant I was properly greeted Italian style, and promptly whisked into Perla Valtulina’s next door pastry boutique for a peek at her latest creations for their upcoming new restaurant and pastry boutique, to be located at 200 Turf Club Rd (#01-19) in Singapore.

Having not been back in Singapore for a while it felt I had missed quite some happenings on their side, not in the least that there is now a sit-in dining possibility at the pastry boutique – an option I thought brilliant for a chocolate addict such as myself – with the equally delightful possibility of takeaway gelato.

A Singapore shortlist

LOUIS VUITTON // Singapore

Naturally everyone has their own shortlist of things to do when swinging by their hometown and when the opportunity arises. One of those pit stops on my list is to hit the pretty touristy Long Bar at the Singapore classic Raffles Hotel.

Settling for the classic Singapore Sling at the Long Bar, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.
Text and Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2012

Home brewed ice-lemon tea, in Singapore

Singapore

Nasi padang and ice-lemon tea in Singapore.
Text and Photo © JE Nilsson and CM Cordeiro 2012

The perpetual question when coming home to Singapore from a long stay abroad is – what developments will I discover this time?

The rapid speed of life in general and the perpetual state of flux and development in Singapore make for that the only constant one can expect in Singapore, is change itself. In the background would be the distant rumble of hundreds of gigantic diesel engines of the more than 400 container ships and tankers anchored along the skirts of the Singapore shoreline. The humidity, the temperatures and along the East Coast, the curious intermingle of the salty sea air and the familiar aromas of various types of food – Malay, Indian, Chinese, Nonya etc.

One of the distinctly comfortable things to find is that there still exists home made ice-lemon tea, and with it why not a portion of the Indonesian influenced Nasi Padang in a heartland coffee-shop of the East?

A comfortable lunch in a non-air conditioned place – a priceless comfort in a rapidly developing world.

June 15th, 2012

A taste of ancient Maya and Aztec Mexico in Casa Latina, Singapore

Culīnaria // Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro-Nilsson, Azul Osman Ogazon and Janice Lee at Casa Latina, Singapore

In the Colours of Mexico!
Photo © JE Nilsson and C M Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

I think my experiences with Mexican food prior to Casa Latina in Singapore, with the girls Azul and Janice, were mostly American Tex-Mex style limited to tacos, salsa, guacamole, tortillas, quesadillas and tequilas! Azul herself is from Mexico City, having lived in Singapore for some years now, and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful for this excursion on Mexcian culture via food when she introduced us to some Mexican fare right here in Singapore! And recently in November of 2010, Mexican cuisine was added by UNESCO to the list of world’s “intangible cultural heritage”.

Il Borro Wine Dinner with Salvatore Ferragamo, Singapore

Culīnaria // Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, Salvatore Ferragamo

At the “Il Borro Wine Dinner with Salvatore Ferragamo”.
Salvatore Ferragamo and Cheryl Marie Cordeiro,
Ristorante Bologna, Marina Mandarin, Singapore.

Text & Photo © J. Lim and CM Cordeiro-Nilsson 2010

It was an evening of intrigue, to wine and dine in the combined master efforts of the Family Ferragamo, prior to this evening, better known to me for their craftsmanship in shoemaking than wine making, and Chef Carlo Marengoni of Ristorante Bologna at the Marina Mandarin in Singapore.

The evening’s conversation, despite the rounds of wines, revolved around the internationalisation of small niche businesses, such as the Il Borro portfolio of wines. And as I found out in conversation with both Salvatore Ferragamo and Franco Russo, who is the Sales and Marketing Director of Il Borro wines, the intention was to move towards an integrated experience of a luxury culinary tourism. Previously, wines were brought into dinner for just that specific context and event. Not much was explained about its background and where it came from, rather the focus was more on the wine making processes and the taste of it as set on the table. The aromas, flavours and tones were then strictly marked on a scorecard and the wine ranked according to the panel of diners that evening.

A touch of magic at Ristorante da Valentino and Perla’s Pastry Boutique

Culīnaria // Singapore

Cheryl M Cordeiro-Nilsson with Valentino Valtulina and Perla Valtulina.

Myself, flanked on the left by Valentino Valtulina and his sister, Perla Valtulina in Perla’s Pastry Boutique.
R Di Nardo, G Valtulina and CM Cordeiro for CMC © 2010

It was somewhere between lunch and tea, that I met with Valentino and Perla in the Ristorante Da Valentino, located along a stretch of previous shophouses at Jalan Binka, nestled in the midst of a housing estate in the Bukit Timah area that to me, was quite like Opera Estate where I grew up in the East of Singapore. Here Valentino has three units, a private dining room, a pastry shop and their main restaurant.

Upon entering the restaurant I was greeted by Singaporean families decked in their most casual Saturday wear, in t-shirts, Bermuda shorts and slippers, finishing off their lunches at the pink table-clothed tables, as if they were at home in their very own kitchens. The sight and the atmosphere could not help but fill you with a feeling of warmth and sincerity. You felt welcomed right into their family.

The Executive Chef for the restaurant and this family business is Valentino himself, and on the menu you would often find dishes created by his mother, Alma. As a guest, you could expect to be greeted and seated by his father, Gianpiero.

An exciting part of this venue is the pastries and dessert shop that is taken care of by Valentino’s sister Perla, literally adding the cherry on the top of the entire dining experience at Valentino’s.

Ben and Larry’s in Singapore, thinking outside the ice-cream box

Culīnaria // Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro and Ben Chung, owner of Blic's homemade ice-cream parlour in Tampines, Singapore

With Ben Chung, part owner of Blic (Ben and Larry’s Ice-Cream) ice-cream parlour at Tampines, Singapore
Photo © Cheryl Marie Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

Tucked away in the cozy heartland of Tampines in Singapore, not too far from Tampines SAFRA, I was surprised to find an ice-cream parlour with a sleek orange and cream interior called Blic. Following my instincts in finding good ice-cream, I went in. The place served up authentic homemade ice-cream and sorbets without preservatives, artificial flavours or fillers – a pure food philosophy that was right after my heart!

Ben Chung of Blic (Ben and Larry’s Ice Cream) is the creative force behind Blic and has created more than 40 ice-cream flavours of which some 20 flavours are rotatingly available at the counter at any one time.

Sea Salt Malt, Kahlua Cookies Caramel and Tiramisu from Blic, Singapore.

That gorgeous melt! Seasalt Malt, Kahlua Cookies Caramel and Tiramisù.

Ben’s first original creation was Seasalt Malt, inspired by Japanese ice-cream parlours and a variation of a popular Japanese Seasalt Caramel he once tried.

Personally, I have to admit I’m not too adventurous when it comes to ice-cream flavours, preferring all my life to stick with dark chocolate, rum and raisin and coffee flavours. Then several years ago when sushi bars were becoming popular and established in Singapore, I tried Matcha or green tea ice-cream which I thought was radical! I’ve personally never tasted an ice-cream flavour that was sweet-salty as in this Seasalt Malt flavour, so this was a first! Another first was Kahlua Cookies and Caramel, where I’ve only ever tried the conservative Cookies and Cream flavour prior to my visit to Blic.

Nurul’s Pandan Chiffon Cake

Culīnaria // Singapore

Nurul's pandan chiffon cake, one of Singapore's favourite chiffon cakes.

Pandan chiffon cake, by Nurul.
Photo © Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

The Pandan Chiffon Cake is a staple on the Singapore culinary scene, hitting right at the heart of the kampong and its people, so to speak. I grew up eating it at breakfast, tea-time and possibly any other time of the day in between full meals. Because it’s so lightly textured, it’s not unusual for fans of these chiffon cakes to finish about half of a cake before noticing what has happened, guilty that they hadn’t shared more of it with other guests at the table.

This gorgeous looking, moist, light and spongey pandan chiffon cake featured here, is not mine. It was baked and given to us by a family friend of ours named, Nurul.

“See you at Raffles!”

Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro and Jan-Erik Nilsson, Raffles Hotel, Singapore with the Singapore Sling, outside East India Room.

Singapore Sling, the romantic signature drink of the Long Bar, at Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
Photo © Steven Grindrod, JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

The Raffles Hotel was established in the Late 19th century and rapidly became a meeting place for the rich adventure seeking class of western men of leisure, British colonial officers and businessmen seeking fame and fortune in the Far East, and to whom “See you at Raffles!” became the signature parting words.

To the general public, Raffles Hotel became famous through literature. Those who could not afford to travel but stayed home, read and dreamt, were swept away by the romantic writings of the greatest authors of their time, the most influential of which was probably Somerset Maugham who actually lived at the hotel and wrote some of his stores in the Palm Court.

In 1987 its importance was recognized by the Singapore authorities by naming it a National Monument, not a small thing in a city where anything older than last year could suddenly be torn down and replaced by something more modern.

Although it started out as something much more modest, the ambience inside the Hotel brings back echoes of colonial splendour with its unique blend of tropical gardens and classical colonial grandeur.

Stories and myths build romance and there are many such surrounding the Raffles Hotel.

Many of Maughams short stories deal with the lives of mostly British colonists in the Far East, and are typically concerned with the emotional toll exacted on the colonists by their isolation. For example one story entitled “Rain”, which charts the moral disintegration of a missionary attempting to convert a Pacific Island prostitute. Maugham himself maintained that many of his stories presented themselves to him in what he heard during his travels, which made him leave behind a long string of angry former hosts. Which, is probably why he eventually found himself writing at a hotel, abuzz with even more rumours from all faraway outposts of the British Empire.

As its literary fame eventually faded away in a world dominated by digital social media, Raffles Hotel remains famous as the place where the Singapore Sling was invented by the bartender Ngiam Tong Boon sometimes during the first decades of the 20th century.

Muthu’s Curry along Race Course Road, Singapore

Culīnaria // Singapore

Curried cabbage, Muthu's Curry in Singapore.

Cabbage and other dishes, served in individual dishes depending on your order.
Photo © JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

In this highly competitive culinary atmosphere that is Singapore and worse still, if the dishes in question belong to one of the country’s core ethnic groups of Chinese, Malay (even Nonya food), Indian or Eurasian, it isn’t easy to make it to the top recommendations list of places to eat of Singaporeans.

Muthu’s Curry along Race Course Road with its approximate 40 year long history came highly recommended as a place for good Indian food. What today is a restaurant chain, began in 1968 as a one-man hawker stall serving staple south Indian food on banana leaves. It was already famous during the 1970s for its full flavoured and generous servings of fish-head curry, and its signature dish has grown in popularity and reputation in its 40 years of development.

Just a quick tangent on Singapore eating…To get a feel for the local culinary scene, I would personally recommend that anyone visiting Singapore first hit a hawker center for their meals to try any, if not all authentic local food. Places such as the East Coast Hawker Center or the hawker center that is completely out of the city center that lies in the corner of Bedok in the East of Singapore (Bedok corner hawker center as I know it) serve pretty good inexpensive local fare. Other more familiar places that most visitors to Singapore might learn of from brochures obtained from their respective hotels or tour guides would be the East Coast beach (skip the seafood outlets, go for the hawker center), Chinatown for Chinese cuisine, Little India of Indian cuisine and Geylang for Malay cuisine that all have ethnic specific local cuisine.

Hawker centers are also known to charge a little less per dish / meal for no less tasty meals compared to their indoor air-conditioned counterparts of food courts and restaurants that you find along Orchard Road or in the heart of the city for example.

A naan basket, with a variety of naan types, Muthu's Curry, Singapore.

A basket filled with naan in a variety of flavours.

But alright, if you want out of the tropical heat after a long walkabout in Little India and you’ve heard about Indian food served on banana leaves, then Muthu’s Curry is a recommended experience for well-cooked authentic (mainly) south Indian food. The prices are mid-ranged, though definitely pricier than the coffeeshop and market stalls that you can find all around the area itself.

CHIJMES, in the morning

Singapore

CHIJMES corridor, Singapore.

A cloister corridor featuring restored floors and a variation of Corinthian columns.
Photo © JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

Singapore’s night life is a vibrant one and CHIJMES, located in the heart of the city center that’s a short walk from the river banks of Boat Quay, is one of the coziest places to visit by night. The scene of people mingling, moving to the beat and generally having a good time is a familiar one.

But walking through the early 1900s built CHIJMES (now brilliantly restored) in the morning has a different feel than being there at night. The entire place alive with people, good food and music just the night before, is absolutely still of activity. You witness tables and chairs arranged in good effort after the spoils of the night before and the mynahs true to their Sanskrit etymology, bright and cheerful, hardly minding the disarrayed furniture, walk the lawns with you and bid you good morning as if welcoming you to their turf.

Outside of CHIJMES, Singapore.

Along Bras Basah Road.

CHIJMES Singapore.

A view of the Chapel.

Cozy cafés in the west of Singapore

Singapore

The food culture is nothing short of fantastic in Singapore, where 24-hour eateries are quite common. Coupled with the dramatic changes of new buildings, new places to shop and explore – and I say this with absolutely delight – there are new places to eat! Singapore’s west in keeping pace with the city center’s developments, has also grown.

If you’re visiting Singapore free and easy and headed towards the Jurong Bird Park, you could make a stop over at the Jurong Point shopping complex that sits right beside the bus terminal, and explore one of Singapore’s heartland hangouts with general good food and a 24-hour grocery store called NTUC.

The extended wing at Jurong Point is not exactly new, but it’s the first time I’ve visited the place in almost a decade. I’d like here, to extend a warm Thank You to Professor C. Guan, who took the time to show us around the place and introduce the cafés Ji De Chi and Bakerzin .

Ji De Chi

The Ji De Chi café at Jurong Point has a vibrant culture where students and pensioners alike find their way there to have their favourite dessert. Translated from Mandarin, the words ji de chi means remember to eat, which I personally found ironic in my situation because it seems that I’ve been doing little else other than eat since my arrival.

Ji De Chi menu, Jurong Point, Singapore.

Photo © JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

I thought I was familiar with Singapore desserts having grown up here, but I was astounded at the array of mid-day snacks presented in the menu so much so that I had trouble picking out what exactly to have. It didn’t help that I pretty much liked all that I saw on the menu and the cookie monster in me wanted a little bit of everything.

Durian with sago at Ji de Chi, Jurong Point, Singapore.

Perhaps uncontestable is their puréed durian dessert, served cold with a touch of pomelo fruit and sago seeds.

The ambience of Ji De Chi is distinctly Chinese, where the theme and branding extends from the uniforms of the waitresses to the hard and squared wooden stools to the matching dark wood tables and decorations on the walls. It calls to mind an old school coffee shop, which these days in Singapore is a rather popular manner to style an eatery. The four-legged stools wouldn’t rank as some of the most comfortable to sit on, but they are nonetheless nostalgic in a sense and contributes to the tone and texture of the place.

Ji De Chi, interior, Jurong Point, Singapore.

Pictures of favourites or best sellers adorn the wall facing at Ji De Chi, helping customers navigate their choices.

Desserts are served hot or cold and you’ll be presented with a comprehensive menu that tells what you can expect from your order. Prices of desserts here range from low to mid-range, so you’re not likely to blow your budget on any mid-day snack here. If all else fails with reading the menu, a look at pictures on the facing wall will help navigate your choices.

Flaky ice-cream with a hint of peach, Ji De Chi, Jurong Point, Singapore.

Vanilla ice-cream with a hint of peach, arrived in a lovely presentation.

Mango with pulot hitam wrapped in a skin of glutinous rice, Ji De Chi, Jurong Point, Singapore.

An innovative combination of a ripened slice of mango wrapped in glutinous rice and rolled in coconut flakes.

Overall, it’s a place that I wouldn’t mind visiting again, though in the Singapore context, it’s more likely that you spend your days discovering a new restaurant, a new eatery, a new hawker etc. and will hardly find the time to even go back to your favourites.

Bakerzin

In contrast to Ji De Chi that is more oriental, Bakerzin at Jurong Point leans towards the occidental, in fact, French, with bright contrasting colours and neat interior decor.

Bakerzin, Jurong Point, Singapore.

The main counter of Bakerzin at Jurong Point.

The Bakerzin chain was established just over a decade ago and has its roots in French bread and pastries. So it was not surprising that what we spotted at this outlet and what we were drawn to, were the delectable looking macarons (petit gâteau rond moelleux) on display at the counter.

Macarons, Bakerzin, Jurong Point, Singapore.

Irresistible!

The macarons here are infused with a touch of Asia, so you’ll find variations of matcha or green tea maracons. You’ll also find variations of chocolate maracons and fruit flavoured macaros such as lemon, strawberry and banana – all equally sweet and scrumptious!

Iced lemon tea, Bakerzin, Jurong Point, Singapore.

Iced-lemon tea, an all time favourite beverage when in Singapore.

Quieter in ambience than Ji De Chi at the time of our visit, which is something I perhaps appreciated after a day of walking around the busy shopping mall, it’s a place where you can relax and have more than just dessert. On the menu are soups, salads and even pizza.

When here, a recommended try for dessert, other than their macarons is their warm chocolate cake!

June 3rd, 2010

Some things completely Singaporean…

Singapore

Things that make you smile

Every time I’m back in Singapore, I am immediately stunned at how much has changed since my last visit – new high rises that have plugged yet another green area, new roads I’m unaware of that make finding my way back home like a tour of the neighbourhood, an old favourite coffeeshop is gone etc., and then I am struck at how much that’s still and perpetually, the same.

First of all, all these well meaning information signs that are there to make us all feel happy and safe, while in reality perhaps create more confusion than help, such as this pedestrian sign that embellished a building site area in great numbers.

Pedestrian sign, Singapore.

Helpful signs, adding to the confusion.
Photo © JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

And then the obsession with perfection, that everything here has to be neat, clean and tidy. There are new and neat litter bins everywhere and not enough litter to go around. So even the insides of the litter bins are clean.

Litter free, public bin, Singapore.

Clean on the inside as well – that’s efficiency on a whole new level.

And for exercise – shopping!
And then there’s Singapore’s national sport above and beyond everything – Shopping. That every year when the Winter rush and the New Year’s rush and the Spring rush is over, businesses think it is time to spice things up with the Great Singapore Sale. Regardless of your intentions there is no way not ending up buying at least something. Everything from designer clothes to hopelessly outdated electronics (from last month), shoes and household items alike, are on sale.

The Umbrellas

Singapore

Clarke Quay canopies, Clarke Street, Singapore.

Large umbrellas or canopies shade the streets at Clarke Quay.
Photo © JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for Cheryl Marie Cordeiro 2010

Not exactly a Renoir in atmosphere but Singapore architecture brings ‘sky light’ to a different dimension. While there is ample cloud cover on most days in this tropical city, the sun can be ferocious on a clear day and Singaporeans deal with the sun by carrying umbrellas in all sorts of designs and shapes – metallic or reflective ones on a sunny day to a plain matte black for the thunderstorms. So it’s perfectly natural that umbrellas or canopies are incorporated into building designs and walkways.

Pastel under the canopies, Clarke Quay, Singapore.

A patterned canopy tops off the pastel shades of windows in Clarke Quay.

Clarke Street, Clarke Quay, Singapore, under the canopies.

Street name on pastel.

At Clarke Quay, you’ll find one of the prettier sky lights in the form of large umbrellas or canopies covering the walkways. Set against these brilliant overhanging structures are the roof tops and windows in pastel shades of colour that lends a festive flair to the place even at its busiest times.

It’s eye candy architecture.

Children playing in fountain, Clarke Quay, Singapore.

Fountains under the umbrellas where children play.

Too add to the light-hearted mood of the place, the fountains at the central intersection of Clarke Quay invite children of all ages (and some adults too) to dance and play under its water arches, the laughter of the children synchronized with the pattering of the water from the fountains.

May 30th, 2010

Vesak Day and a long weekend in Singapore

Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, Clarke Quay Singapore

At Clarke Quay.
Photo © JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for Cheryl Marie Cordeiro 2010

Yesterday came as one of the best days to take a stroll through the heart of Singapore’s financial district, it being Vesak Day on a Friday, leading up to a long weekend in this city country that hardly ever sleeps. Vesak is an annual public holiday, sometimes informally called “Buddha’s birthday”. This long weekend meant that the streets were virtually empty along Raffles Place, Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. At the nearby parking houses, one could see such unusual signs as, 889 parking lots available…

We began at Raffles Place, walking through Boat Quay and landing up at Clarke Quay. Together with looking at old pictures of the area from an art gallery at Clarke Quay and then realizing what fantastic infrastructure they’ve built these days in the same spaces made the entire walk through the area surreal.

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro Clarke Quay Singapore II

At Mulligan’s, Clarke Quay.

It’s quite a difference from a cool 8C in Sweden thereabouts to land in 28C with a humidity that constantly cloaks you. It doesn’t take long walking in this heat to make you want to run to the nearest water cooler for a drink and any drink sitting in a bucket of ice becomes all at once attractive and desirable!

In The New Eurasian, Singapore, Oct-Dec 2009

People // Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro in The New Eurasian Oct-Dec 2009

In The New Eurasian, October to December 2009.

Cheryl_Marie_Cordeiro_TNE1

The New Eurasian: People

A truly multi-cultural perspective

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, former beauty queen, and current academic – has this year graduated with a PhD from the University of Gothenberg in Sweden with a thesis that compares the management styles between her adopted country, Sweden, where she is a PR, and her native Singapore.

“I came to notice that there were many foreigners coming to Singapore to set up and run Asian market head offices. Among those were many Swedish organisations. Based on Singapore’s financial and economic strength, it was apparent that these foreign companies were part of what made Singapore a successful business hub,” she said.

Her curiosity led her to get in touch with businessman Jan-Erik Nilsson, who lived in Sweden. As one of the founders of the East-Indiaman Gotheborg III ship project, it was Jan-Erik who encouraged her research plans. In 2002, she left Singapore for Sweden to begin her doctoral studies. Four years later, she and Jan-Erik married.

The talented Eurasian has a BA (Hons) from the National University of Singapore and graduated in 2000 with two separate masters degrees: an MA in English Language from NUS and an MSc in Information Studies from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

As if she wasn’t busy enough with her studies during her undergrad days, she also took time to represent Singapore at the International Miss Universe Pageant in Trinidad and Tobago in 1999. Around that time, she also appeared as an actress in the MediaCorp TV’s series Brand New Towkay. But her passion for academic research never waned, and she returned to academia.

She hopes her thesis Swedish management in Singapore: a discourse analysis study will help Swedish executives doing business in Singapore to better understand the culture here and will also “show how different cultural backgrounds can make or break any cross-national deal, however brilliant things look on paper”.

As well as her academic life Cheryl, who speaks Swedish and Mandarin in addition to English, keeps a fusion blog on her Northern European experiences, writing on fashion, food, travel and lifestyle.

———oOo———

Thank you, to the Eurasian Association of Singapore, for a wonderful write-up and an update on Eurasians around the world. The October to December 2009 issue of The New Eurasian is out, and personally, I’m already looking forward to the New Year’s Eve Maquerade Soiree! For more information on October to December’s upcoming events, please visit the EA’s website.

October 18th, 2009

Reflections on being Miss Singapore Universe 1999

People // Singapore

The following is an article based on an interview by Valerie Wang Jia Yu of the Singapore Straits Times. The article was published in the Sunday Life! print edition section May 24, 2009. Photo © JE Nilsson for CMC 2009

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro in black

Winning the crown

In 1999 when I won the Miss Singapore Universe title, I was 24. I had just graduated with Honours from the National University of Singapore, NUS, and was pursuing two separate Masters degrees.

One was a Master of Arts in English Language with NUS and the second was a part-time Master of Science course in Information Technology with Nanyang Technological University, NTU.

Literally sitting with the crown in my lap, I subsequently graduated with both degrees in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Curiosity and ambition

I suppose there could be many small reasons why I chose to join the Miss Singapore pageant back then, but it comes down to a combination of curiosity and ambition.

The first reason is that I’m always one to look to expand my repertoire of experiences. Up until my university days, I’ve always prioritized education and academic training. I also noted that I tended to be rather nervous and shy during presentations at tutorials. In that sense, being in a pageant presented a new challenge to me. It would be an event where I will need to be able to present myself on stage, in front of a large audience, overcoming stage fright.

I decided to take up that challenge and overcome my fear of presenting myself in front of many people. I even joked about this at my recent Doctoral graduation dinner celebration: after parading in a bikini in front of Donald Trump and millions of viewers, there’ll be nothing more frightful thereafter in terms of public appearances.

A plethora of opportunities

The second reason that drew me to the pageant was the opportunities that the event presented for the young women who chose to be in it. Contrary to what some might think, that pageants are demeaning to women, personally, I think pageants provide an excellent arena in which young women are given a voice, or at least, they are given the chance to find their voice. Being on stage, these young women are not only encouraged to polish their self-presentation skills but they are encouraged to have their say in the pageant’s related portfolio, voicing their thoughts on women’s issues for example or lending their services to humanitarian efforts.

Promoting Singapore

My portfolio as Miss Singapore Universe for example, was quite broad. Part of my work as Miss Singapore Universe entailed efforts on the humanitarian front, such as heightening awareness on AIDS in Singapore, spending time with the elderly living in elderly care homes. Other aspects of my portfolio included working with the Singapore Tourism Board in promoting Singapore as a choice country of destination for tourism, especially within the regions of Southeast-Asia and Asia-Pacific.

After the crown

There were no radical changes after I won the title in terms of lifestyle or relations with family and friends. But with the win, came a plethora of interesting opportunities that one could take in life and I think that’s where it got interesting for me. Most of all, I’m grateful for most things that came my way after winning the pageant – the trip to Trinidad and Tobago for example, where the international Miss Universe pageant was held in 1999, was truly an unforgettable experience by any standards! The people I’ve met along the way, delegates of other countries as well as the locals from the country is nothing short of a fantastic experience. The international event was a networking opportunity of a lifetime. It gave me insight into the beauty of the diversity of cultures, values, traditions, language, food and religions; and these are aspects that I brought with me in my research interest all the way into my doctoral thesis, which is about how Scandinavian top managers make it in Singapore.

Putting “Miss Singapore Universe Winner 1999″ on the resume

Being Singapore’s delegate to the international pageant is something that I will always be proud of. On the international scene, more is expected of you. You stop being just a beauty queen and take on an ambassadorial role for the country, you answer questions about your country, its history and its socio-economic and financial policies. I think that to the majority of the public, pageants were (and still are) seen as entertainment, similar to how we would view a sports event, a fashion show, a reality series etc. I think having been Miss Singapore Universe is pretty much a non-issue with my friends and colleagues at the university.

My professional interest however, lies in academia, research and writing.

Style and self-presentation

I think beauty is an evolving concept, and over the years I believe the young women participating internationally have become more career oriented and this is reflected in how the local pageants are run. The professional aspects of style and self-presentation, has become more important than just good looks.

Pageants are after all a very important recruiting ground for all kinds of front persons aiming for a career in the tourism, public relations, modeling, human resources, entertainment, television, movie and the fashion industries – all important, major businesses with global turnovers that count into the billions.

Oprah Winfrey, who is one of the wealthiest and most influential woman on the planet for example, began her career by winning a pageant.

A fantastic opportunity

I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for any young woman to take part in the event because it does offer a platform in which young women can launch themselves in their career. I think that the experience of the pageant in itself is tremendously enriching for all involved. You learn a lot on the job, you learn from other people’s life experiences you meet along the way and you can make lifelong friends with other young delegates you meet at the international event.

There are a lot of fun memories of all the friends I made that I still come back to. If I could do it all over again, I would do it all over again and do it better.

 

May 24th, 2009

When things are different

Singapore // Sweden

The following article was first published in Swedish on 16th April 2007 in the University of Gothenburg’s Journal. This post brings you the English translation of the article, followed by the article in Swedish. The article in Swedish can also be accessed via GU Journalen.

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro. Photo by Steven Grindrod

Photo: Steven Grindrod.

I’m a Singapore citizen and a research student with the department of Linguistics at Gothenburg Univeristy. When I arrived a few years ago, it was no small cultural shock that I experienced. While I generally found Swedes to be a warm, helpful and friendly bunch, it didn’t help that I still felt completely isolated. I didn’t understand the language and the various social activities I attended inherently contained values and codes that were unlike my own and what I was used to.

Compared to Sweden, Singapore is fairly conservative. It was only a generation ago that arranged marriages were the norm and the concept of sambo or living together without getting married for all practical purposes is still unheard of. A Chinese girlfriend of mine had a magistrate marriage ceremony in Singapore and thereafter, both husband and wife returned to their respective parents’ place to live. They only moved in together after the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony was conducted a year later.

Graffiti is unthinkable. The competition between organizations and individuals is also tougher in Singapore. Delivery is calculated within the hour rather than days in between and it is not unusual to call after office hours and still get excellent customer service. The public transport system is clean and efficient, with trains arriving every three minutes during peak hours.

About a week ago, I was invited to an international student / researcher reception held at City Hall with the Mayor of Gothenburg as host. It was interesting to have met so many people who were like myself, non-natives of Sweden and who came from various cultural backgrounds.

A French researcher I met that evening said that on his part, he would rather not get to know a country, its culture and its people prior to working / living in that country. This is so that he doesn’t get a coloured vision of the country and he could begin getting to know the different culture without bias.

That was an interesting point of view. In part because it didn’t quite par with my experiences on getting to and living in Sweden and in part, it was my area of research interest. I research Swedish leaders of Swedish owned organizations in Singapore and how thier experiences with the local culture influences / affects their leadership style.

In the way that fish are quite unaware of the water in which it swims, I believe Swedes in general don’t seem aware of Swedish idiosyncracies from the eyes of a foreigner and I’m not talking about snaps, hard bread and small little pigs that run around the Midsummer Pole come Midsummer. It’s much more subtle than that, such as implicit status symbols, hidden hierarchies, politally correct feminism, consensus seeking behaviour etc.

But look at it however, from a Swede who is now in a new culture, in some part of the world away from Sweden. It would be someone deemed to have leadership skills, whose job is to establish and steer a Swedish based organization abroad. They would have the pressing job of performing from day one and thier appointment in the foreign country is costing the organization in terms of salary and benefits. They are the best man for the job and the fate of the organization overseas is in their hands.

If that place were to be Singapore for example, everything would have been clean and tidy. Any season other than warm weather with or without rain, does not occur. The people are effective and friendly but the laws, social, family and organizationnal orientations are different. A congregation of over ten persons in public is forbidden and nobody laughs about the chewing gum ban. The land is multi-religious and religion is taken seriously. You can’t seem to order food from the local hawker center and people might be horrified at your table manners. There are social taboos not to be spoken of or referred to. Status symbols are a mystery. Everyone seems polite enough and they smile a lot but at the same time, you wonder why it is that what you want done just doesn’t get done even when the answer was yes when you asked.

My point with this not that we should stay home and not venture overseas and not even try to understand the different cultures abroad, but rather to point out that it is important for us to recognize the different nuances between cultures, which is much more than theatre, song and dance. There are institutions, the law, the passions of the people and fundamental values and beliefs in which we, with all our hearts, are convinced that is Truth, given by God, Allah, Brahma, Hunab Ku, Viracocha or Tom Cruise.

As a tourist, we perhaps can afford to explore unbiased and call the reception when we need help, but if the aim is to work with others in a different culture, we’ll need to be aware that there exist different understandings of what is real for others, what makes their morals, their truths and what is right for Them and understand their ambitions.

I believe if more resources were allocated to the study, understanding and respect of different cultures, there is much to be gained for all involved.

My hope is that my research will be a small contribution to this end and that it will help towards a deeper understanding of cultural differences.

Things to do in Singapore, besides shopping

Singapore // Travels

In today’s issue of the Swedish newspaper SvD, there was a question on what to do for a few days in Singapore and if there even was anything else to do there besides shopping. Well, I love challanges and I couldn’t help picking this one up.

Chingay street carnival in Singapore

With its multicultural background, Singapore is bound to be celebrating something at any time during the year. The “Chingay” annual carnival at Orchard Road, is a celebration of Spring.
Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson and Cheryl Marie Cordeiro for CMC, 2009

There are many foreigners that don’t think much of Singapore as a holiday resort. Actually, there are also a lot of Singaporeans that don’t think much of Singapore as a holiday resort either since it compares badly with most tropical destinations if it is bathing in the sea or scuba diving you want to do. Singapore is basically a city, a capital and a republic all by itself. It is a business hub and a very busy container harbour. You will find the internet connections (available most anywhere) one of the best you have ever experienced. With these limitations as a tourist attraction, you will find Singapore a most interesting place to spend a few days in. Here are a few suggestions that cover some pleasant but not so heavily advertised things to do when in Singapore for a few days, other than shop.

Get some wheels
Singapore’s public transport system is very efficient, with its subway or MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) system being the easiest and possibly cheapest way to navigate the country. So, the first thing to do is to find an underground station and get yourself an ezlink MRT card. Fill it up with some 20 Sing$ and you are good to go. The underground system in Singapore is lightning fast, safe, clean and there is a train about every 3 minutes or so. You tap the card when you enter and tap it when you exit, and the fare is deducted automatically. You can see how much money there is left on the card on a display at the machine. This card is valid on buses too and you can even pay for hamburgers with this ezlink card at some fastfood outlets.

Inside an MRT, Singapore

The inside of an MRT train.

Taxi is also cheap and you see more about where you are going, so doing a combination of MRT and taxi is good. Singapore is very much about being efficient and this way you will be able to cover the whole city fast and quite inexpensively. You might lose some overview if you travel too much underground.

2. Team up with someone to help you around
If I were a guy in Singapore for the first time and alone, I think I would have printed out all the good advice I could get on the Internet and then walked up to some girls having frappuccinos at a table at pretty much any café and explained the problem, that “it looks nice but you can’t figure out how to order food here”. Singaporean girls are a nice and un-snooty crowd that might well listen to your requests for information. Chances are that you might be able to find some volunteering as guides. Don’t get your hopes up too high though, since all Singaporean girls live home with their parents until they marry, but the point is, exploring Singapore is so much more fun when you’re in a group. You’ll also probably need some locals to help you find the really good places to eat. I have written some on the topic of dating in Singapore, but that is a different issue.

3. Don’t give up on Shopping
If you are the slightest interested in gadgets you will want to spend some time at Sim Lim Square. Any singaporean will be able to point you in the right direction because it’s where we go too, to buy our gadgets. It’s a five storeyed shopping mall that sells everything electronic. The first and second floor offer mostly digital products such as mp3 players and cameras while the third, fourth, fifth level offer computer hardware products. You wont believe your eyes when you get there, and it is well worth a visit.

Sim Lim Square, the third floor with a shop specializingin CDs

Of course there are other things to do than shopping in Singapore, but on the other hand, imagine a five storeys high shopping mall crammed full of electronics! This is just one out of hundreds of specialist shops at Sim Lim Square specializing in CD and DVD media.

Just outside Sim Lim Square is a long outdoor market called Bugis Village. It’s a street market through which you can stroll and you’ll find hundreds of little stalls dotting the small area. Here you will come upon stuff like handbags, purses, clothes, jewellery and other arts and crafts. Its fun to explore and the through road will also bring you towards the nearby Bugis MRT station.

4. Movie theatres and Orchard Road
An evening walk along Orchard Road is recommended. You might find the lights, music, colours and the beat of the city irresistible and something you won’t forget easily.

Along Orchard Road are at least two large movie theatres that can give you a break from the outdoor heat. The sound system is great and the tickets are a fraction of what you are used to paying for in Sweden. Food, drinks and snacks are allowed into the theatres. The aircon is usually set on “mild frost”, so you might actually want to bring a fleece jacket. Insane but true.

Orchard Road by Christmas, Singapore

The sounds and sights of Orchard Road by night makes for a pleasant stroll, even after the Christmas season.

5. Adventure water park
Bring a bathing suit and something water tight to carry money in (or get a “fun key”), to the adventure water park Wild Wild Wet. It’s fun and there are some really weird rides there that could scare anyone. It’s a bit childish, but that is what having fun is all about. It is just a 10-minute walk from the Pasir Ris MRT station. This place is mostly visited by locals so you might find yourself one of the attractions.

Chingay 2009, Singapore!

Singapore // Travels

The beautiful people at Chingay 2009! L-R: Lanette Stuart, Sarah Nicole Conceicao from the Eurasian Association (EA), Singapore. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao.

The logo on the left will bring you to the official Chingay Singapore 2009 website where you can purchase tickets to the event.

Chingay, one of Singapore’s most colourful annual street carnival is about to take place on 30th and 31st January, so I thought I’d share with you some pictures from pre-Chingay to whet your appetites before the real blast off of a show!

Having its roots in Penang, Malaysia and then moving south in celebrations to Johor and Singapore, Chingay, which is the Hokkien word for “the art of costume and masquerade”, originated as a simple procession of floats.

As a child, I remember having witnessed these floats, which were usually large vehicles, lorries or trucks that were colourfully decked with lights and transformed into mini-stages of sorts for those performing in them. Each float told a different story and had different accompanying music.

The first Chingay parade was launched in Singapore in 1973, and it was so well received by Singaporeans that it became an annual event. The parade didn’t always have a fixed location, with the procession touring diffrent housing estates annually. But since 1985, the permanent venue for the event is at Orchard Road which allows for tourists and Singaporeans alike to join in the festivities.

I loved Chingay as a child, and today, Chingay 2009 in Singapore is bigger than ever with invites to international performers and costumes so splendidly colourful!

Dancers from Sylvia McCully’s dance school who form part of the EA dance troupe for this event, in front of a Portuguese Carrack. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao

Perhaps more fun than watching the show is performing and being a part of it. This year, the Eurasian Association (EA) of Singapore has joined forces with Cedar Girls and Sylvia McCully’s dancers to form their troupe for Chingay 2009. The atmosphere is electric and the excitement is in the air for the performers!

L-R: Lanette Stuart, Jamie Yun, Michelle Loh and Sarah Nicole Conceicao in their costumes of Spanish inspiration, is designed by Debra De Cotta. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao

Sarah Conceicao who is part of the EA dance troupe fell in love with the costumes and dancing of the EA dance troupe:

Then came Chingay. My mum was actually in it last year, so this year I got my chance. There was no way I was going to give up the opportunity.

I also joined mainly because of the people that I’d meet along the way, full dress rehearsals and all…everyone has been really friendly throughout the whole process.

Its been alot of hard work. But its alot of fun.

Behind the scenes: putting on make-up in preparation for the full dress rehearsal of Chingay 2009. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao.

Practice for the event began in November 2008 with vividly alluring costumes specially designed by Debra De Cotta for the EA dance troupe. You can catch the EA dancers on a stage on the City Hall steps, on 30th and 31st January, 2009.

The dance to be performed at Chingay by the EA dance troupe is choreographed by Sylvia McCully. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao.

Some members of the 4,000 strong performers at Chingay 2009. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao.

If you’re planning to be at Chingay 2009, you can expect 13 Floats with 4000 performers from 40 local organisations. Cultural groups from 8 different countries such as India, Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and China will also be part of this event.

There are after parties too at this year’s Chingay celebrations and the locations for the various parties / events can be found at the official website.

I think one can expect to have an absolutely smashing time at Chingay 2009!

January 23rd, 2009

Kuriya Japanese restaurant, Singapore

Culīnaria // Singapore // Travels

The dramatic entrance to Kuriya, an established Japanese restaurant at Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road, #B1-06/07, Singapore.

It was unexpected that we ended up at Kuriya at Raffles City shopping centre (located next to Raffles Hotel in Singapore), since I had in mind something local food and a more casual setting for a Friday evening dinner with some girl friends.

As with most group meetings, a designated time and meeting place were chosen. But after having decided upon a time and place, in keeping with the Singapore tradition of meeting-up, nobody turned up on time, or at the designated meeting place. A quick call via the mobile phone, and I found the others happily shopping in the mall, as was I. We mapped ourselves terrestrially within the mall in an instant, and they found me a few minutes later, in the Aldo shoe store browsing for a festively sexy stiletto.

PS Café along Harding Road, Singapore

Culīnaria // Singapore // Travels

About to bite into a chocolate fudge cake at PS Café.

One of the coziest spots in Singapore to have a languid Sunday brunch is at PS Café, situated along Harding Road. The café is not difficult to find if you’re familiar with the cluster of eateries that mushroomed amidst the tropical rainforest at Dempsey Road, including Samy’s Curry.

A wooden planked path leads right to the doors of the sprawling PS Café.

The grounds of PS Café is sprawling and large. A wooden planked path leads to the entrance of the café and everything about its design suggests a cozy private house with a well kept garden, where one can sit at the patio for hours, refilling that cup of tea. I felt all at once welcomed, and delighted at the thought of spending a few hours there, eating and socializing with close friends on the patio.

The spacious and green interior design of PS Café makes you feel like you’re dining outdoors, even when sitting in.

The café had both indoor and outdoor seating, though the high ceilings and glass walls of the café gave the impression of dining outdoors, even when seated indoors. Two large golden shower orchid plants greeted us as we entered and I couldn’t help but feel like settling into a soft sofa before perusing the menu. As I found out, the menu contained a varied selection of frosted drinks for the often warm days in equatorial Singapore.

At home in the tropics: the banana tree

Culīnaria // Singapore // Travels

An idyllic spot in the tropics of Singapore allowed this banana tree to grow this beautiful bunch of bananas.

The banana tree is native to the region of Southeast-Asia, growing quite freely in the wilderness of Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia. In the suburbs of Singapore, where concrete has replaced most of the secondary forests here, the banana tree is something of a tropical idyll to have in one’s private garden. The tree doesn’t grow too tall and its broad lush leaves provide shady relief from the mid-day sun.

Banana trees in the morning sunlight.

The ease at which the banana tree grows in this region has made it a popular choice of ingredient when cooking local food. The leaves for example, are not only used to serve food as with the Indian tradition, but it is also used in traditional Malay desserts such as Kueh Lopes and the Chinese dessert, Banana Hoon Kueh, made with green bean flour and sliced bananas.

Visiting Singapore – A banana leaf meal in the middle of the rainforest

Culīnaria // Singapore // Travels

A meal served on a banana leaf at Samy’s Curry at Dempsey Road, Singapore. They serve traditional south Indian food.

The Singapore scene is one that is constantly changing. In a short span of a year, new roads and buildings have appeared, with new eating places that support the vibrant food culture of this place.

Nestled amongst lush rainforest trees along Dempsey Road is Samy’s Curry, that serves up south Indian cuisine on a banana leaf.

Samy’s Curry at Depmsey Road is comfortably nestled amongst a thicket of rainforest trees. The lush leaves cool the atmosphere, even on a hot tropical day.

Eating on a banana leaf was a more common sight in Singapore about twenty years ago. These days, only specific Indian eateries and restaurants serve their meal on a banana leaf, one of them being Samy’s Curry. Their waiters walk around carrying tins of spicy looking concoctions that smell as delicious as they looked! Their mission is to re-fill the banana leaves on tables that threaten to go almost empty of these side dishes.

Indian cuisine in Singapore is characterised by the use of spices such as cardamon, cinnamon, fennel, cloves and nutmeg. Coconut milk is often used in curries and plain yoghurt is also used in their cooking. Indian food can also be largely vegetarian, so one can find the most delectable vegetarian dishes in this restaurant, alongside barbequed chicken, squid and fish. Curried gourds, aubergine, ladies fingers and lentils are a staple in vegetarian dishes. Potatoes find their way into curries quite comfortably too, giving the curry a thicker texture.

Christmas light-up in Singapore, 2008

Singapore // Travels

A Christmas Tree stands in front of Tanglin Mall, at the end of Orchard Road.

It’s been a rainy past few days in Singapore, which is typical weather for the monsoon season in this part of the world, in Southeast-Asia.

Despite the undercurrents of the world financial crisis, the Christmas spirit is nonetheless present here in the Lion City and Orchard Road, which is its main shopping district, is once again lit in an array of designs and colours to mark this Christmas season.

Large flowered chandeliers and a cascade of stringed lights can be found in the circular foyer of Tanglin Mall, which stands at the end of Orcahrd Road, next to Traders Hotel.

It isn’t only the streets that become decked with lights for this festive season but the insides of shopping malls blossom in deep reds and greens.

Cross-Cultural Dating in Singapore

Singapore // Sweden

Regardless of how westernized the Asian societies might appear today, dating someone from a different culture is dating more than just that one person, it’s an entirely different ball game.
Model: Carol Chin. Photo © by Kevin D. Cordeiro.

In this none too scientific post, my target audience is primarily western / Scandinavian males who are going to work or are working in Singapore. Since the scientific research I have been doing over the past few years has been mostly about Scandinavian top managers working in Asia, the point of view and perspective reflected will with few exceptions come from those with whom I’ve spoken. To this, I have added my own point of view as a woman and individual who has grown up in Singapore.

The dating scene in Singapore is lively
The pubs and restaurants and the social life in general encourages all kinds of human interaction in public places at all times. You are out meeting people more often than not. Most events from having breakfast at the local kopitiam (coffee-shop) to having coffee, lunch, dinner or anything in-between is a reason to meet. Technically speaking “dating” is not a problem while eventually everything around it might be.

Singapore, an easy place to blend into
A poignant surrounding factor that can cause problems when dating a girl from an Asian society is, culture. With that, comes a host of other related issues within the web of culture such as language, tradition, beliefs, religion and – food.

A spread of traditional Nonya food by the Straits Chinese. The customs and traditions of the people are as intricate and detailed as the wrappings and presentation of the food. Picture by King’s Hotel, Singapore (Khoo, 1998:130).

The culture in Singapore as well as in most of Asia is collectivistic in that sense that families are close, tightly bound, large – in some cases amounting to clans – and run by patriarchal values supported by a large, often gossipy bunch of aunties (and almost all elderly women in Singapore are called ‘aunty’) with opinions on everything and everybody.

Yet Singapore, as Asia goes, is an easier place than most other Asian societies to blend into due to its immigrant beginnings. More or less everybody came from somewhere else just a few generations ago however, well into the 20th century marriages were arranged between suitable parties, as most Asian cultures from the Indians to the Chinese, had arranged marriages as their tradition.

Today, the Singapore society at large bothers little about cross-cultural relations and interracial marriages, being currently more concerned with its falling birth-rates since 2004 (see Washington Post and the Singapore Window). Yet local to non-local relations still make interesting topics and a couple is still looked upon, observed and commented on – even by people who hardly know you.

A total stranger, when least you want to hear things
Anyone can step-up to you and start asking very personal questions, such as the woman who serves you coffee at the local kopitiam (coffee shop). One Swede observed that he from morning to morning got lower prices on his coffee obviously to soften him up for some reason. The price on his morning kopi-o (coffee, black) ran from the ang-moh (Hokkien word to mean ‘Caucasian’) price of more than $1 SGD, down to the local friends’ price of 40 cents. Flattered by the close fren price he was still unprepared for the attack. The conversation went like:

Coffee Lady: Sir, where you from?
Swede: Sweden (*one raised eyebrow*)
Coffee Lady: You how old?
Swede: Eh? Around fifty …
Coffee Lady: You got chirrun?
Swede: Eeeh?? Yes
Coffee Lady: How many?
Swede: Eeeeeh?? .. well, two …
Coffee Lady: You here for business or wat
Swede: Yes
Coffee Lady: You got your own business
Swede: Yes, in fact I do …
Coffee Lady: You earn how much?
Swede: Ehm, well yes …
Coffee Lady: You here for gerfren (girlfriend) ah?

After the questions had been satisfactorily answered and the coffee lady had figured out whether the Swede would be in the market for a meeting with any one granddaughter, niece, daughters of friends, third cousin’s neighbor’s friend’s daughter or some other eligible young woman that was felt was lagging behind in her family career of getting married and having children and needed a push in the right direction, the coffee price eventually went right back up again to the normal solid $ 0.80 SGD.

To the utter embarrassment of the younger generation, aunties can also have no qualms about inquiring about family relations and trying to set up meetings even in the very presence of the persons in question. They will happily talk right over your head as if you were not there. If you think of this as a most well meaning tradition based on the collective nature of the Singapore society you might get used to it and react on it in the proper way, which is to give evasive answers and a friendly smile. I think of it as having its roots in a kampong (village) tradition where everybody knew and cared about everything and everybody. So eventually you will be dating the whole family whether you like – or know – it, or not.

Sarong Party Girls (SPGs)
The collectivism leads to another aspect of cross-cultural dating, its social implications. Even if social gossip may not affect a foreigner with a possible time limit to his stay, there will be a social pressure from family, friends and perhaps even total strangers that might cause problems for the local woman.

The different Singaporean sub-cultures are different in this respect about social pressure and each will have varying degrees of open-mindedness towards foreigners in the family.

Some Swedes I have interviewed for my research were well aware of the concept of SPGs. This is a loose expression for a local woman who would consider dating a foreigner in much the same way as a western girl would i.e. with no immediate plans of getting married to him as soon as possible and not even asking to be paid to do so. In Singapore the SPG label implicates questionable moral or worse, as in bad business sense on the part of the woman, in a society where arranged marriages were the norm not more than a generation ago.

First, meet her parents. Then …
Picture by Lily Khoo, from The Straits Chinese (Khoo, 1998:94):

… meet her family, whom you will also be dating whether you know it or not. As an example, this old picture shows 4 generations of a family, gathered to celebrate the 80th birthday of the family patriarch. The scenes are surprisingly similar around for example Chinese New Year up until today. (Picture: Khoo 1998:39).

So while dating a local woman is not impossible, the foreign male should remember that he is out on uncharted territory. In Asia, you are not approaching only a person but whole a culture and a mindset that is as with all values are so set as to be invisible for those who share it while to the outsider will appear suddenly and out of nowhere as a glass wall at night.

Rather than to be discouraged, there is in fact plenty to gain in dating cross-culturally. There are new ideas and perspectives to discover and share. A key to smoother relations is to begin with understanding that it isn’t just a pretty face you are meeting.

References

  • Khoo, Joo Ee, 1998. The Straits Chinese. The Pepin Press: Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur.
  • August 4th, 2008

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