Saturday, 5 April 2014

New (revamped) Chinatown Food Street

Here's an update on the food street in Chinatown that has recently been revamped. Gone is the bother with inclement weather (there's now an over-the-rooftops cover reminiscent of the one at Clarke Quay). Stalls now line the middle of the street offering probably twice the number of stalls as before.

The drink stalls are now at either end of the row of food stalls. There's free wi-fi (good news for those who like to eat and post!).

Take a look at these stalls and tell me which you think should be in their company. Who knows, if the current setup is successful, maybe one more street should be converted to another food street? Given our good variety of food, why not?

Balestier Abalone Noodle

Boon Tat Street BBQ Seafood

Bugis Street Hainanese
Chicken Rice

Chinatown Cheng Kee
Hokkien Mee

Chinatown Fritters

Chomp Chomp Goodluck
BBQ Chicken Wings

Chong Chong Ngoh Hiang
Prawn Fritter

Geylang Lor 9
Frog Leg Porridge

High Street Tai Wah Pork Noodles

Joo Chiat Ang Moh
Noodle House

Katong Keah Kee Fried Oysters

Maxwell Rd Soon Soon
Popiah and Laksa

Newton Circus
Ahmad Ibrahim Satay

Old Airport Rd
Satay Beehoon & Steamboat

Serangoon Raju Indian Cuisine

Tiong Bahru Meng Kee
Roast Duck

Wen Da Grilled Seafood 

Adam Rd Nasi Lemak

Chinatown Ah Hock
Steamed Fish Head

Odeon Beef Noodles
Free Wi-fi

Monday, 23 December 2013

About Hokkien Food 2

This story continued from About Hokkien Food 1

Back at the Quan Xin Yuan Traditional Hokkien Cuisine Restaurant along Jalan Besar, I turned my attention back from my Reservist memories to the current proceedings.

Mr Pang and Mr Fong, both administrators of the popular Best Singapura Makan FB group, were holding court. Mr Pang was speaking, Mr Fong was counting money. On the table beside them were orders of Tong Heng egg tarts.

The two gentlemen could be mistaken as clansmen at an association meeting counting tontine money, but they were generous chaps hoping to introduce more folks to a popular yet underrated restaurant. I couldn't understand why; the food was very good.

Now 'good' - like that controversial novel - has 50 shades of grey, just like a woman who has different competencies in her as a lover, wife, mother and career woman. Cook, even. So when you say ''She's good woman!'' with a two-thumbs-up sign, please elaborate.

The food we had that night at Xin Yuan can be considered very good. By the end of the 10th dish, my tongue was still unabashed and fresh. It wasn't assaulted by too much salt, sugar or other flavourings.

I could literally go for another session. The food, like a teenager's first date, seemed only to be laced with innocence and welcome. It takes skill to cook like that.

Consider the Steamed Pomfret. There wasn't any fishy smell, the sauce was clear like water but somehow, you knew you were eating steamed fish with all the flavours of its condiments. I haven't had something so very pristine in a long while. The meat of the fish was very firm and cooked just right.

Mr Tho, the restaurant's third-generation owner, said one consideration was the weight of the fish. That is really refining the art of cooking down to the numbers. What masterclass!

Another feature of the evening dishes was that the ingredients had texture. They weren't cloyingly wrapped up in sauces nor were they like factory prepared. Most felt natural. An example is the jellyfish in the cold dish. It would be how I think they would taste if I had caught them on an island trip and prepared them there and then. It's like eating fresh seaweed as opposed to the processed ones; - kind of like listening to music unplugged.

Eating the fish maw soup also engendered that feeling. Rustic ingredients harking to a different era, when Policemen Wore Shorts or when pigtails were a fashionable hair statement. Or when moms and daughters wore matching clothes. THAT sort of era!

And that was what Pang and Fong promised at the beginning, that the food we would be imbibing was common during the period after WWII and not cooked like that anymore.

I wondered how kids today will take to foods such as these. Flavours that are gentle on the palate but no less delicious; meats that are moist and not grounded up. Will they think they have died and gone to heaven or will they simply say yucks!

I fancy quite a few will say boring. Most would expect food to be packaged like a carnival that comes with a toy.

The food at Xin Yuan's was really unpretentious and light. Even when the dishes were steeped in spice.

Take the herbal Chestnuts in Duck Skin Wrap. The sauce was thick but not cloying; the duck meat was both moist and firm; the skin was soft and still had integrity; the chestnuts were all evenly cooked. Everything was in harmony. Even the greens (Chinese lettuce) carpeting the dish were fresh. I ate them with the sauce which was excellent. It is nice for once to eat this duck dish that's not overly salty or pungent with herbs. The herbs can be a turn-off for some, especially the angmohs.

Mr Tho told us that in the past, this dish did not contain duck meat. It was all skin... wrapping up the ingredients such as chestnuts, mushrooms, roast pork, cabbage, etc. Because modern health-conscious folks are more averse to fowl skin, the restaurant has decided to use the whole duck instead.

Another dish with thick sauce was the Ham Drape with Chilli Arrow in Ectoplasm (my name), otherwise known as Shi Bao Shi Cai (Four Treasures Veg). This one was really braised comfort food with black mushrooms, beancurdskin cake, roast pork and white cabbage. And slivers of ham, of course. Everything was well harmonised and seemed to have been 'grown' in the sauce unlike the usual "all thrown into one" feeling.

At a dinner like this, there is usually a light meat dish. It came in the form of Lychee Flavoured Pork Ding, morsels of special pork infused with lychee fruit flavour. The pork dings were not hard but chewy and lightly battered, which should be the case. It let the juicy pork speak for itself.

The pork dings were made from meat from the pig's shoulder or back of neck. It has a unique texture and flavour. Very ideal for such a dish, which is better known as Sweet Sour Pork at the local zhichar stalls. If such sweet and sour pork is hard, then Xin Yuan's pork dings are like marshmellows and pleasantly gummy.

And who said Sweet Sour Pork should come glazed in ketchup and sugary syrup. Xin Yuan's lychee pork dings prove that you don't need those at all to come up with a yummy winner!

Its lightness reminded me of calamari. Almost everyone seems to overdo this dish with batter and oil (or butter). In Spain, the squid is ever so slightly floured and pan toasted. As a result, you taste the squid flavour more than anything else. The sea is not lost. So in some sense, Xin Yuan's pork dings kept the porcine flavour intact.

A 10-course meal is not complete without a noodle dish. But what surprised everyone was that the noodles were translucent sweet potato slices instead. They were slippery, they were 'QQ'....they reminded me of dimsum Water Chestnut Kueh, which was similarly jelly-like albeit less firm.

It was probably everybody's favourite dish and we all slurped it up with delight. The noodles came fried with other stuff that reminded me of Soon Kueh. And with the base oil chillied up, it also felt like eating some 'mala' spicy (and oily) dish - all in all, a very mouth-watering experience. Another dish of comparable taste sensation would be Xuan Pan Zi or Abacus Beads - that Hakka specialty. But that one used yam instead.

Another dish that was quite unusual was the Cold Dish that came at the beginning of our meal. It had panfried liver and pig trotter sausage, a specialty of Xin Yuan's. The liver was done just right, bloated like a pillow and not dry nor powdery. It came dressed in its own plumy sweet sauce, but just. It pared down the liver's natural ureatic taste quite nicely without being too sticky. It was certainly not your usual liver doo-dah with wine and ginger.

The pig trotter sausage was something new. Each slice looked like Modern Art with various circles bound together. Or some cell structure with a window into each cytoplast.

In reality it was a few circles of meat contrasted with one or two circles of fat - big and small. In many ways, it is reminiscent of that pinkish sausage in Ngoh Hiang (that sausage and fried fritter dish dipped in gluey sauce). But these slices were bigger and thinner. It seemed as if they were cut from the pig trotter itself... such was its unmistakable profile. Despite its color the meat itself was not pungent at all. I think non-meat lovers would like it too.

As Kung Bak Bao was Xin Yuan's specialty as well, some of the dining guests clamoured for it. The dish was indeed special, with its light fragrant sauce lifting the meat rather than sinking it (usually in a five-spiced muddle). 

The three-layer pork was tender with the skin turned into a firm jelly that gave bite. Unusually, the fat bits were not clumpy; they simply melted as a whole. It's no wonder then that this dish is a 'must-have' clamoured for by residents at every Community Centre event Xin Yuan caters to. An MP was even said to have rearranged the menu just so he could eat the dish first and then run off to the airport to catch a flight.

The surprise addition of Kung Bak Bao turned this into a 11-course meal. The dessert to end the night was no other than Orh Ni, that sticky and oily yam affair with the ginko nuts. By then everyone was groaning, including the lady beside me. Everybody was so filled up with Xin Yuan's traditional dishes thus far.

But Xin Yuan's version of orh ni was not oily at all, something I had feared. It was delightfully pasty and not too sweet. Even the coconut-corn gravy accompaniment was a dieter's dream. One could eat two bowls of this orh ni and not feel "gelat" (i.e. that bloaty and over-eating feeling).

My Reservist mate and runner, Ah Tan, would have liked and recognised this meal. All the dishes were light but flavourful -  not heavy at all. He would have especially enjoyed the Steamed Pomfret which was mind-blowingly simplistic. Truly high-art in food steaming. If the Hokkien can steam fish like this, I think the Teochews better stand up and be counted. Else from now on, I'll ask for Hokkien steamed fish instead, haha.

If I have to rate this dinner, I would give the affair a 10/10. The reason is simple. At the end of it all, my tongue still felt fresh, not like at some wedding dinner where it would have been slapped silly left and right by salt, MSG and what-not.

Even some well-prepared meals will leave your palate numbed from over-invention and fusion-confusion. This Xin Yuan meal was like a nice dream that left one rested and mulling over the nice bits afterwards.

If I had a pork seller's tummy I would have patted it and said, "That will do, Pig. That will do," like what was said in that well-accoladed movie Babe.

Of course, not everything was perfect. The Yam Basket could have seen better "wok hei" (wok heat). This is one dish that, when fresh from the wok, could lead sinners to church - such is the power of yam, celery and cashew nuts. But the cashew nuts in this case was rather plain. Still, one couldn't complain much as the dish was rather delicious despite the absence of heat. 

Even the toasted beehoon bits, often neglected as just a palette dressing for the yam block, was actually flavourful, reminding of a time when such bits were added to porridge. They actually went well with the main yam sauce and I had a rather enjoyable private time eating them. (The rest of the guests did not bother.) Being a beehoon and biscuit man, I couldn't help but smile to myself. (I know it is all rather silly, but I've always believed that food should be placed on a plate for a reason. If not, why waste it? Similarly, the Cold Dish at the beginning also had orange slices laid out at the side of the plate. It gave some of the foods in there a citrus lift.)

I cannot end this report without saying how the folks at Singapura Best Makan (SBM) made this event so enjoyable. Their food comradeship, smiles and welcome made this more like a school trip than adults out on a food trip. Special mention should go to Pang and Fong for keeping everything down-to-earth and bonhommie. This is what friends with a common interest should partake in, and go away with.

Happy tummy, happy spirits and tongues still longing for more.

Ah Tan, where are you? I now know a good Hokkien Food place that you will certainly approve of!

Note: Quan Xin Yuan Restnt is also known as Quan Xiang Yuan Restnt. According to Pang, Mr Goh Kok Siong first proposed the idea but he had to leave for a trip overseas and after that, Fong took over and did the liaison with the restnt, menu setting, etc. A big thank you to you gentlemen for a job well done! :-D

Goh Kok Siong - man who first proposed eating at Quan Xin Yuan. 

Pang and Fong - the two SBM muskeeters and host.

Fong and Mr Tho, the 3rd-generation owner.
Guess what? Pang's birthday and SBM's 1st Anniversary!
Die-die also much come, despite recent surgery! Top marks for dedication!

The Cold Dish. Rustic and with liver and pig trotter sausage.

Fish Maw - chockful of ingredients and old-style!

The Duck-Chestnut Skin-Wrap dish. Smooth, fragrant and well harmonised.

Steamed Pomfret - Utterly simplistic! A masterclass!

Yam Basket - well harmonised too. Loved the white crispy bits in sauce.

Sweet Potato Slice Noodles - everybody's favourite.

Up close - ooh, the 'noodles' were so delightfully squishy!

Xin Yuan's signature Kung Bak Bao - light, fragrant, melt in your mouth!

Four Treasures Veg - otherwise known as Ham Drape with Chilli Arrow in Ectoplasm.

Look at the ingredients. Very Hokkien comfort food!

About Hokkien Food 1

When I was told I would be joining a bunch of foodies to sample Hokkien food, my mind immediately harked back to my very first taste.

It was during my 6th or 7th Reservist in-camp training (ICT). 

I was with an Infantry Battalion then and leading a platoon of 'Hokkien-peng' (i.e. dialect-speaking soldiers). We had pitched tents on a part of Pulau Tekong, the aim being to protect an important 'make-believe' installation there. 

Protection of an installation had suddenly become important. It was never the Army's job.  I think in time of unrest or war, the Police were expected to perform that task. But really, the Men in Blue would be better off maintaining law and order than perform what was basically "guard duty".

The 'make-believe' installation we had to 'protect' was an actual installation on Tekong. No one knew what the place was for except that it was military in nature. It was camouflaged and had all manners of antenna sticking out, even tall guylines like those for receiving BBC radio signals. Was it a listening station or simply an abandoned repeater station for commercial radio? No one knew. 

In any case, my platoon was just a Support platoon within the battalion and our task was to protect the Bn HQ making sure that our commander (CO) and his crew were safe whilst the rest went about their duties. As such, we were all camped in an encirclement about the HQ on all sides of a hill.

This kind of exercise was considered "low-key", meaning not much running around and sweating involved. No one was expected to even fire any blanks.

But we did have to keep our eyes open should the trainers decide to 'invade' the installation and put us 'protectors' to shame. 

What we didn't expect was the invasion by a big family of wild boars instead, which had become a nuisance population on the island.

Their leader was a very large she-boar, almost three feet high at the shoulder. She came trotting into our encampment without a care, nose ground-sniffing looking for food. I think because of the many soldiers previously camping around the area, these animals had gotten accustomed to food that was waste left behind. They had, over time, become scavengers.

To my surprise, my Hokkien-peng men were terrified. A bunch of them came running  up to me asking what they should do. 

The scene was funny. There they were, grown men with tattoos on their bodies, afraid of a pig.

In reply to my men, I jokingly asked if any of them was a butcher. We could capture the she-boar and have roasted meats that very night. Or a young one for a sucking pig. But my men were too stunned for humour and actually answered me no. I looked at them and smiled; inside, I was laughing very hard.

With wild animals, my maxim was simple: If you don't disturb me, I won't disturb you. 

As the she-boar was just nosing about minding her own business, I told the men to let them be. Just shoo them away, I said.

It worked. The wild boars, finding no food, went on their way. The she-boar gave me a last look as if to say "An juak bo ming kia jiak eh?" ('How come got nothing to eat one?' - perhaps a Singlish pig?)

My men, feeling sheepish for having panicked like little girls, went back to their tents. I think I gained new respect from them that evening. Wah, this ah 'sare' really got "ji" (guts), was what that was written all over their faces.

Some officers don't like managing Hokien-peng and rather have a desk job appointment such as TCO (training coordinating officer) or an 'S' staff position. But as Infantry Officers, there was little choice. Where else were you going to get the soldiers to fill the ranks to fight a battle?

When it came to managing Hokkien-peng, the less was better. Utter a few instructions and then leave them be. Somehow, whatever needs to be done will get done. And afterwards, you will find them smoking with their shirts and long sleeves unbuttoned - "Hokkien-peng style".

Live and let live, that's my motto. Don't nitpick, was what I learned.

After the wild boars left, my men resumed their activities. 

As mentioned, we were camped on the slopes of a small hill, which was nice. It's always better to lie on a slope than flat ground. But not when it rained.

In any case, like all such 'camp-out' operations, we took turns to keep watch and conduct admin. Came meal times, we all cooked.

Combat rations by then had improved by leaps and bounds. Instead of hard tack biscuits, we were given Pasta Bolognaise. Instead of shortbread, it was Lor Mai Gai (glutinous rice with chicken). Dessert was "orh bi juk" or black glutinous rice.

Most of the rations came in neat aluminium soft packs that we could simply heat up with boiling water. Easy peasy, don't you think?

At dinner time, usually my runner would heat up something for me. It's not his job but a good runner would know how to take care of his commander. (Hey, I oftentimes help him carry his heavy signal-set to give him a break, probably the only officer to do so. That damn giant walkie-talkie of a backpack was so heavy and hard that it could cause skin blisters and bruises after a while - its so-called "carrying harness" making the situation worse.) 

But at this particular dinner time, one of my Hokkien-peng soldiers came up bearing a mess tin of something. There was steam arising from it and whatever that was inside looked as if it got herbs. As it turned out, it was Emperor Chicken.

I was astonished. What? Huh? Where did THAT come from?

A chubby fella with unbuttoned shirt and sleeves waved from a distance. "Ah sare, that's Ah Heng's treat," said my runner, pointing to the fella with the rotund belly. I nodded and Ah Heng replied in kind.

Curious, I decided to see what was happening.

Down where Ah Heng was, a group of his buddies had gathered, and they were having a feast. On the menu, besides the Emperor Chicken (which came in a tin drum) were porridge, black bean mackerel, scrabbled egg, stewed peanuts, etc. It looked a proper 'Teochew-moi' meal.

"Ah sare (that's how they address the officers; a slang of the word 'sir'), army eh rations buay sai jiak," excused Ah Heng. (Translation: 'Army rations cannot be eaten.')

I said, Huh, are they spoilt?

"Bo lah, angmoh chan bo hoh jiak!" (T: 'Western meals not nice to eat.')

I said, Okkaay....curious why that was so. This was after all not their first in-camp.

Afterwards, we spoke more and discovered that these men were celebrating what could be for them their last camp-out together.

I had actually brought something for them - cans of pineapple-in-rambutan fruits stoked in syrup. I had learnt from my very first in-camp that fruits were often in short supply and folks appreciated even canned ones. I took the cans out and asked Ah Heng to pass them out. There were cheers all round.

"Enjoy," I said, raising a pineapple can in mock salute. And then, "Rations mai jiak hor terng Sergeant. Mai ran gak." (T: 'Return unused rations to the sergeant. Don't throw them away.')

As my runner and I sat down outside our tent for our meal, we started talking about food. In particular, Hokkien food.

"In a way, this is my first Hokkien meal," I said, more so jokingly.

Ah Tan, my runner, a rather small-sized and skinny chap, laughed nervously. We had been reservist together six years and he was still like that. I had long given up on making him feel at ease in front of me. I guess for some, the 'Officer and Other Ranks breach' was rather impossible to bridge. A good thing perhaps, to keep some distance for the sake of Command & Control. Role play, during Reservist, was important; it kept everyone sane.

In any case, whenever food was mentioned, Ah Tan would light up. It was his pet subject as well.

What's Hokkien Food like? I asked.

Ah Tan said they were oily and high in salt.


No. That's how my mom cooks it. She's a lousy cook, he confessed.

"It was only until I got married that I really knew what Hokkien food was all about," said Ah Tan, his eyes turning distant as if imagining a time when a soft body was just a cuddle away. His wife was also Hokkien.

"She learned to cook from her mom. Then I realised I had been growing up on crap for a long time." Ah Tan ringed a finger around his skinny wrists for emphasis. I laughed.

"So what is it like, real Hokkien food?"

"It's more understated and fresh," said Ah Tan, again looking dreamy. Perhaps this time imagining great eats in front of him.

'Understated'? Wah, big word. Hokkien-peng, they never cease to surprise, is what I was thinking. I had a Hokkien-peng once who was a GM of a company. Every time during Reservist, he would act like a 'blur fuck' - someone who did not know what was going on. They didn't know that we officers would go through personnel files days before in-camp. We would normally book-in earlier than them to make preparations and attend briefings.

Some Reservist guys would act blur just so to skive from work detail or even being a good soldier. It was something I found amusing and hard to reconcile with: it was like meeting Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

"Oh, I didn't know that," I said, returning my thoughts to Hokkien food. "I thought only the Teochew was like that. With their food, I mean."

"Yes, I was confused also," said Ah Tan, who was now poking the ground in front of him with a twig, deep in thought. "I mean the fish seemed the same, the hotpot seemed the same. But somethings are different."

And then he suddenly straightened up. "Ah, my wife says that 'Buddha Jump Over The Wall' is also Hokkien!"

Oh, I replied, and said I had it once in a Cantonese restaurant.

That nugget of information confused us both and we returned to poking the ground in front of us hoping a cookery fairy would rise up to enlighten us. Nothing of that sort happened. Back then, there was no 3G, so no Google to confirm our culinary suspicions.

"So, what's your wife's cooking like?" I said, hoping clues would slip from Ah Tan's pampered tongue. 

"Oh, she likes to braise a lot. Mushrooms with roast pork, bean curd skin, that sort of thing."

Ah Tan continued: "I like her soups. They usually got yong tau hoo and that fishball with meat. She also makes her own ngoh hiang, which is light and nice. Inside also got fish."

"And there's one dish that she would always cook on Chinese New Year's Eve. That 'ang joh kway'."

Ang joh kway?

On hearing that (chicken in red glutinous rice wine), I suddenly remembered my mom learning to make that very same dish from a Hokkien neighbour in Geylang - the place I grew up in as a kid. My mom's version would be less oily and we kids liked it. It was always cooked like that ever since!

I had always looked forward to my mom's ang joh kway or 'hung chao gai' in Cantonese, savouring the red wine each time. Eaten with that other dish, Bittergourd with Scrambled Egg in Black Bean Sauce and rice, it was absolutely delicious! Man, the two dishes go together like Donny and Marie, Sonny and Cher, Lady Gaga and her meat dress.

To me, Hokkien Food up till then was Hokkien Mee (the black one with pork lard) and that ubiquitous Claypot Noodle with the yellow noodles, mussel, snow peas, yam and prawns and raw egg on top. The heat of the dish would usually cook the raw egg.

I seldom seem to encounter this claypot dish anymore. Or even if I did, the ingredients and taste would fall really short.

Story continues with About Hokkien Food 2 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Singapore Little India Riot III - The Charge Sheet

18 December 2013, Singapore: The Singapore Little India Riot quickly turned into a non-event, much like popping champagne and getting a 'phish' instead of a 'pop'. Or a firework shooting skywards and not producing the effect some folks were hoping for. It all expired in a limp pizzle - a nice word conjuring the image of fire being extinguished by piss - but is actually a real word meaning 'animal penis' or 'penis of smaller stature'.

Mdm Lee Chin Hiong, 58, who was getting fitted for a cheongsam that fateful nite at one old shop along Race Course Road, recalled panicking.

"Aiyoh, call me Ms Lee can already," Ms/Mdm Lee said, batting an eyelid at this reporter. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, alarmed somewhat by her garish lipstick.

"That evening I was just slipping into my silk cheongsam when I heard 'riot' and got scared. I quickly pulled up my dress, ready to run. See, it split from my knee almost to the armpit!"  Mdm Lee then showed this reporter her fashion faux pas. There appeared to be white tofu between the seams. Fifty-eight year old tofu that was a bit ruddy and cellulite-challenged. This reporter almost choked and had to struggle to keep his breakfast masala thosai down.

Er, Ms/Mdm Lee, you seem very 'trendy' yah? he managed to cough out.

"Aiyah, these days, 50 is the new 30, don't you know? I still go for my club dance at Mohd Sultan and line dance at Far East Square. My assistant Tim over there knows I still got lots of energy," said Ms/Mdm Lee, pointing to a Chinese blond-haired 20-something male at the far end of the couch. He wore a white jacket and gold lamé pants and was bare chested. He blew Ms/Mdm Lee a kiss and mouthed, "Love ya!" before turning his attention back to his shiny new iPad Air.

It was all very moving, like glass sculpture. Of a cougar devouring a young pup.

A set of daily newspaper lay nearby. Its headline was less suggestive. 'Rioters Charged', it read. 

The Singapore government acted in typical swiftness to bring those involved in the riot to justice. A total of 28 would be charged, whilst 53 will be repatriated.

Mr Park-See Buay Chao, a Korean who has recently obtained his citizenship was not surprised. "This place not like Malaysia lah. Crime here take days to solve, not years!"

"Now with CCTV some more, even before a crime is committed, the police will aledy have solved it. Let me show you."

He motioned this reporter to a nearby carpark CCTV camera and pretended to pick his pocket. Immediately the reporter's handphone beeped to signal an incoming SMS message. It said, "Beware of pickpocket - courtesy of your Neighbourhood Police Post."

"See, I no bluff one," said Mr Park-See, in perfect Singlish, showing that his citizenship was well-earned. He then unzipped and zipped up his pants, triggering another SMS. This time the message read, "Alert, alert! Color wolf in vicinity! - Courtesy of your Neighbourhood Police Post."

As this reporter was on a limited SMS plan, he decided to distance himself from that over-enthusiastic new citizen, who was last seen setting off a few car alarms and skipping away happily.

Curious to know how the police managed to identify so many non-English speaking migrants so very quickly, this reporter spoke to Ms Wong 'Crime Watch Babe' Ka Fan, Community Relations Director of Police. 

"Oh, yes, it was definitely a challenge," said Ms Wong. "India, you see, has about 26 different mother tongues, not counting which is longer or shorter. It would have been a scramble to find translators on such short notice."

"Also, some of the suspects spoke gibberish hoping to throw us off. But we were smarter. We pretended to understand and rounded them up, hehe. Smart, right?" Ms Wong beamed, proud of her Home Team mates.

"Honestly, if we didn't have Google's Gigi voice translator on our police Android phones, we would be lost. See, we simply set it to Indian and all translations will come out, including, strangely, Red Indians too!"

"And to ensure accuracy, we turned to Google Gesture Translate. It uses Google Glass to interpret the many head-shakings we got that night. You know lah, with these migrant Indian workers, 'yes' also shake head, 'no' also shake head. Very headache leh," said Ms Wong, shaking her pretty head to carry home the point.

Mr Dhaila Kanutlusmejob, a migrant worker who has been hiding in the forests of Woodlands since The Riot, was relieved.

"Boy, am I glad the troublemakers are caught and charged. Does it mean I can come out now? I haven't bathed in over a week?" said Mr K, the last sentence needing no Gigi translation as even the grass around him died. This reporter bade a hasty retreat and rubbed some Tiger Balm under his nose.

Not faraway, Mr Mecasa Soucasa, head of the BAAOFT, a migrant NGO self-help group, could be seen beating the surrounding long lallang grass in hopes of driving out more hiding workers to help. He was concerned that the government was too quick, too harsh in its action.

"Alamak, the government should forgive and forget lah, after all, these people just had a bit too much to drink. Just let them sleep it off. I am sure by the time they wake up, 99% of them cannot remember what happened or that they were even in Little India. It happens to them every weekend. Some even forget why they are here in Singapore in the first place!"

"I am sure the migrant Indian community will pitch in to help pay for the burnt vehicles and EMT folks hurt. They are only here to 'wan sek', you know, make a living."

"Some are even willing to host that injured bus lady on a two week free holiday stay in their hometown, as long as she doesn't mind squat toilets and the family cooking with cow dung."

With Mr Soucasa was lawyer and activist Mr Ng 'Many Lives' Jai See, who is hoping to plea-bargain with the authorities on a more suitable outcome for the affected migrant rioters.

"Sending them away makes no sense. We need workers here. I say let them make restitution by working for Singapore Technologies to help rebuild those ambulances and police cars. Afterwards they can continue to help them build armour vehicles for the Third World countries. No more shortage of labour. It is a win-win situation all round," said Mr Ng, once more on his handphone trying to connect to the AG's office. Another busy signal again.

"We can always make them wear ankle monitor bracelets to keep them out of future trouble. A great country like America also got give three chances with their '3 Strikes And You Are Out' thing. We only got one strike? Wah lau, how to be First World Country???" lamented Mr Ng.

Er, Labour Harmony is very important here leh.

"I know, I know," said Mr Ng. "But transient worker, transient problem... they deserve transient treatment also lor."

Huh, transient treatment?

"Forgive and forget lah!"

Oh, like that also can?

Mr Ng nodded. "We want to send the positive message that we are all 'One Happy Family'. Like this where got other people from India want to come here to work. So strict one."

Minister of Man-Woman-Robot Power, Mr Tua 'Always Higher Productivity' Peh Chek, disagreed. 

"We cannot let this cancer take root. Once it happens, got to cut cut cut. Make sure message is clear. You either follow Singapore Way or don't. Very simple."

"Besides, we have Thai, Bangladeshi, Myanmarese workers queuing to come to this Garden City to work. You know, after Gardens by the Bay opened, more foreigners want to come here to work, smell the wonderful flowers," said Mr Tua, smelling his armpit to illustrate the point. He reminded this reporter of Kevin in 'A Fish Called Wanda'. Unlike most offices, Mr Tua's was strangely devoid of plants. In a corner slumped a robot.

"Ah, that one," indicated Mr Tua with his index finger, "is our first robot that can fry fried rice. Very groundbreaking."

"We are training others to make wanton mee, mee rebus, hor fun, etc., and that elusive Singapore Noodle. Free the local labour to do more important things. Best of all, this fella works 24x7 without complaint, sick leave or maternity leave. Great right?"

"At the moment we are also working with Google to introduce driver-less taxis and delivery personnel. Next time, peak hour sure got taxi. Next time, a robot will deliver your mail. Next time...," Mr Ng paused. "You just wait." 

Google was in the news recently for buying over a military robot company that created the BigDog army robot-dog load carrier. It can run and jump over incredible terrain like a real dog whilst carrying more than a few bags of NTUC rice. Traversing Singapore's landscaped HDB estates would be a cinch.

"Next time, BigDog can accompany our SAF Relief Effort and help deliver relief supplies to countries laid in ruins by earthquake and what-not. More savings in personnel, heheh." Mr Tua laughed, feeling very triumphant.

Er, what would the 'savings in personnel' be doing instead?

"Oh, make babies lor," concluded an even bigger smiling Mr Tua. "Haven't you heard? 50 is the new 30, so our folks can still have babies, like that getai singer Lingling. No point asking young folks to have babies. Too busy, they say. No money, they say. Houses too expensive, they say. So, we let them cheong when young. When old and slower liao then have kids, heheh."

"It's all worked out in a 25-year plan. 'Less Workers More Babies' is what we are aiming at. Our next generation will be trained to supervise transient workers better and push buttons. No more riots! No complaining workforce! Oops, not supposed to disclose that," apologised Mr Tua, looking no less perturbed.

"Ok, got to go. Any more questions, make an appointment with my robot secretary over there. Just wave your phone in front of her and she will sync your calendar and mine for a meeting. Fantastic, right?"

"Oh, make sure your NFC is on first, yah?"

With that, Mr Always Higher Productivity stepped out of his office and into his waiting car, a driver-less and electric one no less, almost running over his migrant worker-employee who had just polished it to a shine. But the foreign man did not complain. He simply slipped back into the shadows to return to his dormitory somewhere. For him, tomorrow is just another day same as today until the time comes for him to return to his family well fed and kept by his hard earned wages. -A true replay of what many of our ancestors similarly went through here more than half a century ago - minus the gleaming buildings, skyscrapers and clean river. There's a price to pay for such pristine-ness, some say. 

How true, a black bird seemed to crow, as it dove and slammed itself into a glass window pane smudging it. Poor thing. Don't think it could have seen that coming!

- A parody by TC Lai

Back to Part 1: Click here

News: Google's BigDog purchase: Here; Fried Rice Robot: Here

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Singapore Little India Riot II - Alcohol Ban

Saturday, 14 December, Singapore: News of Sunday's Singapore Little India Riot, unsurprisingly, took the nation by surprise. Some local citizens were clearly traumatised, wondering if their jewel of a "velly safe, velly orderly" island home had become a thing of the past. A few kiasu ones quickly went to NTUC and emptied its shelves of kaya jam and soda piah. Toliet rolls too, temporarily spiking its value by a few plies.

A PAP stalwart was heard saying "Die lah, LKY not yet dead and we are making him turn in his grave! Jialat. Aren't we supposed to be in a Golden Age?"

All Golden Ages eventually lose their lustre and fall into the Dark Ages, countered someone in all-blue attire, a former MP. 

A person in all-white attire heard that and looked aghast. "Wah lau eh, how can you be so 'orh sim' (blackhearted)!" he said, waving a Lightning sign in protest. He then screamed "Choy! Choy! Choy! Touch wood!" and began smacking the guy in all-blue repeatedly as if to fend off an annoying cockroach. The guy in all-blue tried to protect himself with his Hammer sign but to no avail. In the end, he could only run and hide and was not seen or heard of for quite a while. Some said he ran away to Australia with a mysterious woman that was not his wife.

Similar sentiments were just as widespread all over the country. "What is this country coming to?" was the most oft-heard lament in the heartlands, followed by people knuckling themselves in mock distress on the head, what 4-D punters do when they forget to buy a 1st Prize 4-D winning number.

"Yesterday bus strike, today Little India strike, tomorrow what liao? PME strike?" was what some punters decried before it dawned on them that any future strike was itself a punting opportunity. Many went to the Totalisator Board to enquire and make suggestion.

Some uncles at the kopitiams were more academic. Mr Gian 'Live Well' Fai See wanted to know where all the jobs for skilled Singaporeans have gone to. 

"Government say must study and upgrade, so I go get MBA. Now that piece of paper like sai juak, not worth shit!" Mr Gian was visibly angry and spat to emphasize his point. A little of that landed on this reporter, who then took a wary step backwards.

Mr Gian continued his tirade: "Employers only want cheap.They say no need pay $100 for seasoned screwdriver when a $2 new one from Philippines can do. What the $%@&! Don't they know old screwdriver screw better?"

Reflecting on the situation, some citizens contemplated moving to Johor, Malaysia, where new, safe private estates were being marketed to inflation-averse "silver hair" retirees. But black-haired residents had also been spotted at these resort-style retirement homes too, giving proof that a 'dye also never mind' under-table arrangement did, in fact, exist.

According to Google satellite pictures, these silver hair/black hair estates featured high security walls and jeeps that patrolled with machine guns. Or wooden guns painted to look like real. Malaysia after all, could ill afford another embarrassing insurgency after what happened at Gerik, Perak in July 2000 where a host of guns were easily looted from an army camp. Or the more recent stand-off with Sulu terrorists that lasted weeks. Where was the border defence, everybody asked, including one seldom seen albino Orang Asli gentlman.

Ms Ho 'Filial' Sim Kia, a self-styled private banker (aka bookie), concurred. "The government, after all, is advising us to send our aged parents there. I hear they are paying us children a $20k Filial Piety Grant to offset any hardship. Wait, is this in Singapore dollars or ringgit?"

Ms Ho's brother, Pie Kia, felt putting his parents in Johor made sense. "The durians there are cheaper and better." Pei Kia had recently taken to photographing food during his meals. His BMI index was once mistaken as blood pressure reading, so high it was.

"Or we could stay on the Singapore side Marsiling," whispered Ms Ho, in a rather conspiratorial tone. "It would still be within the 5km limit and eligible for grant. After all, no one wants to take the chance of being killed by a motorcycle snatch thief in downtown JB! Like my brother always believed, better die with full belly than purse full of unspent ringgit! I mean exchange rate so good why waste???"

Elsewhere, reactions of Singaporeans to the Riot ranged from "bochap" to "aiyah, the government will handle lah!" 

And handle the Government did, with the Prime Minister of the country ordering a Board of Inquiry to be formed immediately to investigate the incident.

"But sir," said Home Matters Minister Blanga 'Barking Dog' R Jaga. "We have already ascertained that the riot was due to drunken workers, not dissatisfied workers."

The Prime Minister shot Minister Jaga, also his Dy PM, a stern look. It was to tell him that he was not playing ball. "The BOI will find out many things. Many things!" 

Minister Jaga in turn wondered if his Dy PM post was all for show. How come the PM never give him chance one? Is it true then that an Indian will never be PM of this country of supposed equal race and opportunity? A country with the crescent moon and five stars on its flag? Minister Jaga was beginning to see the crescent moon as a smirk. Gotcha! it seemed to sneer.

Minister Jaga hoped not. His father worked himself to the bone as a PWD worker so he could become a lawyer. And become a lawyer he did, even if it was all about handling divorcee and Ah Long cases. How he longed to tackle the more interesting cases like Apple vs Samsung, for instance.

Minister Jaga sipped on his Irish coffee and slipped another sugar cube into his boss' tea. Heheh, no harm sweetening his tongue some more, he sniggered.

A journalist present at the press conference raised his hand and asked the difficult question no one else dared to ask. "What 'many' things, sir?"

The Prime Minister straightened his non-existent tie and pointed a thumb at the daring but clueless reporter. (Pointing with a thumb is dumb but regarded as a sign of good upbringing in this island country.) 

"Well, for one thing, we can confirm that it is the drink. Second, if it is the drink's fault, we must find out if it is because of lousy quality. If it is Tiger, we must feedback to our good friends at the APB brewery. We cannot have a Singapore brand suffer, right or not? Whatever we do, we must put in 100% effort. If we want to get people drunk, we better do a good job. No, a GREAT JOB. Get them so drunk they cannot lift a finger to riot. Where are my scientists? Call BIOPOLIS. I tell you again, this is the Singapore Way, Singapore Way. We find targeted solutions."

Later, a government official elaborated on what the PM meant (off the record, of course). He said with a BOI, the next time something like this happened, it would be easier to get funds.

"This in Law is known as a 'precedent', meaning the same-same has happened before. If it happens again, say, at Golden Mile Complex, then we can allocate funds to replace the burnt out vehicles, street clean up and hospital bills of those injured. It makes accounting easier. If not, IRAS will jump on our backs," he said. IRAS jump on a government agency's back? Kah-kee-nang pak kah-kee-nang? Seemed quite implausible.

The government official saw the strange look on this reporter's face and strived to reassure him. "I know it is all Ah Gong's money. But black and white better lah. No one wants to be accused of taking The People's money. No, no, not at all. Singapore is corruption-free as you know. COR-LUP-SUNT-FLEE, I say." 

"Plus, BOI members also got expenses to reimburse. So, you see, proper thing to do. PROPER THING TO DO," added the unnamed official, winking his eye as he said so.

According to government plans, finding a solution to the riots would be an inter-agency effort. Minister Without Portfolio Mr Chor 'I Not Free Want' Sim Mit has been tasked to head the task force. Its working name will be 'Singapore Little India Riot BOI' or SLIRBOI, later leaked to the public as The Ten Little Indians. ('SLIRBOI' sounded gay, someone worried.) The BOI will draw 10 members from the various relevant government agencies.

Minister of State for Interesting Affairs Mr See 'Everywhere Man' Kah Juak is one of them. But when asked why he was selected, he could only say, "Interesting!"

Another BOI would-be member, Minister of State for the Preservation of Hawker Dishes, welcomed his appointment, believing his involvement would encourage more people to consume Indian curry and live better as One People, Many Spices. Isn't it One People, Many Cultures? asked this reporter. Same-same lah, the minister said as he munched on a take-away chapati roll filled with mutton rendang, taupok bits and dipped in Devil's Curry. He sipped on what looked like a bandung drink mixed with Chinese herbal tea. He threw up.

"Traditional dishes still better," he said, weakly, leaning on an aide as his knees buckled once again. "But maybe not Indian rojak or this kind of rojak."

Minister of State for Clean Toilets saw his task as nothing new. "I told those chaps many times we had a challenge on our hands, but they never listened. 32,000 buggers descend on Little India every weekend. You tell me, where to find a clean toilet? No wonder the workers find the grass here greener than from where they come. They crap all over the place!"

Speaking on accountability, BOI chairman, Minister Jaga (aka Dy PM), said the first people to be hauled up for questioning would be the Mayor and MP for Little India. But since the redrawing of constituency lines the last election, no one knew who was in-charge of what or where anymore.

Further more, a recent survey of school kids aged 14 and above could not name one single thing a Mayor's job entailed. "Collect pay, lor," said one cheeky youngster in immaculate Singlish. Others wondered if the Mayor and MP did the same job, i.e. give away prizes at end-of-school term ceremonies.

When asked about the alcohol ban in Little India, Minister Jaga (aka Dy PM), became livid. "Ban is ban," he said, rather testily.

"You have to forgive my colleague," said PM. "You must understand the stigma his kind, er, his race, had to go through over the past few decades."


"People used to think Indians were all "todi kings", you know. Drink like siao," explained the PM. "Drink and cannot work."

"Can you imagine not being hired because of that?"

Minister Jaga looked at his PM and his eyes softened. Looks like the sugar cube worked, he thought. But he was wrong. The PM went on to say:

"But we have made great strides since. We even hired an Indian for the top job of president of this country! But sadly, his gene expression overwhelmed him and he could not resist, even when on the job.So you say lah, how to trust these people?!"

Minister Jaga suddenly realised why his Dy PM title was more ceremonial than actual. They couldn't trust him to be sober! His bloodshot eyes again became livid, and he was lost for words. I need a drink when I get home, he told himself. "This is getting too much to bear!" And so, unknown to the BOI chairman, he had already unwittingly unearthed the very reason why the rioters drank, and got violent.

- A parody by TC Lai

Continued at: Little India Riot III - The Charge Sheet