I spent an awesome weekend in Setember '07 shooting a guide segment in the streets and shops of Serangoon Road's LIttle India with the crew from "Bizarre Food" (shows on Discovery Travel and Living) which stars the inimitable Andrew Zimmern, he who will place literally anything in his mouth in his quest for the undiscovered realities within food cultures across the globe.
Granted, Singapore doesn't score too high on the bizarre scale these days - at least not with food. Gone are the times where crocodiles were skinned in the backstreets of Chinatown, or pythons were hung to drain their blood before being chopped into just what the TCM doctor ordered, or simply as a smidgeon of something different for the dining table.
I saw those things. I miss those days. I miss that Singapore. The possibilities are no longer endless or the mysteries as alluring as they were then. And the side streets of Chinatown in particular today exude all the charm of a cheap trinket, ironically available in copious plastic mounds, everywhere.
Boring, sad, and should never have happened. But it did.
Which is why, when I'm hankering to really "feel" Singapore, you'll find me traipsing the streets of Serangoon Road, weaving and and out of alleys and lanes, paying homage at my favourite chapatti stall, searching for some new Ayurvedic brand in a small dusty shop, stocking up on sandalwood soap at Jothi Flower Shop, listening to Chinese goldsmiths rattle off in Tamil, then paying further homage at Sir Mohd Mustafa's emporium of all things necessary and unnecessary, before winding down the day by exploring the little area I've come to call Bangladesh Square.
Serangoon Road is "alive", varied and integrated in ways that many other enclaves in Singapore are dead; it moves and breathes and changes and anticipates and provides, not just for the religious, cultural and dietary needs of Singaporean Indians and our diaspora of guests from South Asia, or just for the tourists trying to find the last vestiges of Singapore exotic, but for a huge varied combination of everyday folk who swirl through its streets doing normal everyday things.
Which made it an absolute treat to play guide to Zimmern and crew here.
Zimmern, a former New Yorker now based in Minnesota, is an astute sort; he scans a place and its people fast, and comes to the smarter conclusions easily. He seems to "see" Singapore exceptionally well, quickly understanding how it is both complex and simple at the same time. That's more than most people who actually live here.
And how was he to work with? Straightforward. Simple. Easy. Funny. Focussed. Even when a flock of pigeons threatened to steal his thunder while he recorded a video blog by crapping themselves silly and dangerously close to his shiny bald head. Even as he sucked a large fish eyeball clean and taught me to do the same.
it's delicious, by the way.