Hungry ghosts and hungrier tourists

We woke to the sound of a laughing baby. Alex is usually cheerful in the morning, something he definitely didn’t inherit from his mother. After we fed him he didn’t seem to want to go straight back to bed, so it was time for us to eat!

We packed Alex into the lightweight stroller and set out across the footbridge to the area opposite our hotel. Hawker centre alert! Oh, the choices for breakfast! We sat down on an empty table and had nasi lemak (coconut rice) and carrot cake (fried pieces of soft radish cake in a spicy sauce), washed down with Milo ais (iced Milo drink) and Kickapoo (a soft drink).

Our table was right next to some small shrines with burning incense and food offerings. More were being added as we ate. Then we stopped for some kuih, local sweets.

Once finished we wandered around the shops and stalls of cheap clothing and household items in the Marine Promenade, before walking across to the airconditioned coolness of the Parkway Parade shopping centre. Most of the shops were still closed as the city wakes late, but works later.

Back in the hotel we tried to get Alex to sleep again, failed, fed him lunch, then set out again, up Joo Chiat Road. I wanted to show B where I had explored on the last trip.

It was hot and humid outside, but the verandas of the old Chinese shophouses afforded some protection from the sun. Streets and buildings were adorned with red and white Singaporean flags left over from the recent National Day celebrations. We passed all sorts of eating houses and B became very excited.

Some of the shops housed colourful paper decorations. Across the road shopkeepers were tossing paper money into burning bins. It was the Hungry Ghost festival, when the Chinese burn paper replicas of money and possessions for the benefit of departed ancestor spirits. They also leave special pink and brown buns at the little red shrines that dot the buildings for the spirits to eat and pray for good luck.

Hungry tourists also required sating, so we sat down at an open air “coffee shop”, a collection of food stalls sublet by the owner who runs the drink stall. There I sipped on sweet lime juice, B on barley water and we shared a prawn noodle soup. Alex slept, the fans blew cooling air over us. This was how I wanted the holiday to be!

We continued up colourful Joo Chiat street, next stopping to eat popiah (a savory pancake wrap) and kway pie teh (a kind of savory pastry cupcake). B was too full by this stage so it fell to me to eat most of it. Alex did his best by spilling some.

Some more walking and we were opposite my hotel from the June stay. But Geylang Serai looked very different. Covered muslim markets covered both sides of the street, selling carpets, colourful muslim dress and household furnishings. Decorations spanned the roads, celebrating the upcoming muslim festival of Hari Raya, the end of Ramadan.

We walked under the canopies of the markets, admiring the patterns and colours. Across the other side of the road were food stalls. Despite our very full state I couldn’t resist buying more kuih and B otak-otak (spicy fish paste grilled in banana leaves, apom balik (pancake) and a bag of rambutan fruit.

It was a long walk back to the hotel down Joo Chiat road. We stopped by a Cold Storage supermarket to buy (Australian made) yoghurt and foods for Alex, then returned to the hotel for a swim. Alex loved the warm pool, splashing and kicking away happily.

We had arranged to join Ryan, a local I had met on the website for dinner in the evening. He picked us up at the hotel and took us out past the airport to Changi village, where we ate a wonderful feast of duck, stir fry and satay while chatting about Rockhampton, military service and life for a young gay man in Singapore.

Homosexual acts are still illegal in this traditional country and family acceptance is often not forthcoming. It’s always sad to see state and culture interfering in the personal happiness of the individual. But Ryan is a happy enough soul and hopefully we’ll catch up again when he moves to Australia.

Alex, as he had done all day, was meanwhile attracting loads of attention from waitresses, admiring his rosy cheeks. One person even asked if we put make up on him, rosy cheeks are so rare in this part of the world! He bashed away at his high chair, making lots of noise. Eventually, however, he became too exhausted by the day’s events and it was time to go home.

One the way back we drove past more of Joo Chiat road, with yet more eateries for us to try. One thing is for certain. We ain’t going hungry here!

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