Stopped by storms

That one cloud yesterday, the one we suddenly hit as we flew in to Singapore, really messed me up. Now those tropical puffballs above us were a threat.

The day starts off well enough, with a swim in the shallow, but long pool. The chill is pleasant compared to what we will experience outside.

Whenever we visit a Malaysian eatery in Australia Alex will insist on one of two dishes. There’s roti canai, the Indian flat bread with dhal or curry, or laksa, that spicy coconut soup and noodles that is on so many menus but so rarely done well.

My first taste of laksa in Singapore and Malaysia was not great. There is another style of laksa, perhaps the curry laksa that my mother-in-law always refers to, that is basically a bowl of curry sauce, meat and noodles. Much as I like eating curry, I don’t really like drinking it.

I have tried many laksas since. To me a good laksa is one rich in coconut but with many of flavours and spices supporting it. Prawn stock and lime leaf are two other very necessary components, a good dash of sambal (chilli sauce), but not so much chilli as to mask everything else.

Katong, where we are located, was famous for its laksas. On a previous visit we had tried the 328 Katong Laksa store, its wall plastered with photos of visiting celebrities, and been disappointed. In doing food research for the current trip I was surprised to find hiding beneath Roxy Square, the complex in which our hotel lies, another laksa stall with an even stronger link to the original laksas. We had to try it.

Janggut laksa claims to be over 50 years old, older than the Republic of Singapore itself. Though we’ve wandered through Roxy Square a number of times before we’ve never seen the small set of food stalls, lost in amongst the tutoring centres and other offices. From the signs around it the narrow seating area obviously got very busy at lunchtimes, but at breakfast there were plenty of spots to sit.

We order only one laksa, hoping to save our stomachs for later. Thick gravy full of pounded fresh ingredients, noodles chopped so they could be eaten with a spoon and prawns completely shelled to allow the same. Not hot spicy, but very, very tasty and so good. I could easily eat a bowl for myself. Alex was very happy.

I’d first discovered Katong, Geylang and Joo Chiat Road back in mid-2009 when travelling alone en route to the UK. We’d been back a few times since and it remains as my favourite area of Singapore. The major streets are still lined with old shophouses. Sadly in the past few years there has been some “beautification” going on and it feels like it has lost a little of its run down charm in Singapore’s ever ongoing quest to sanitise its history.

Fortunately there are still many parts that haven’t been given a fresh coat of paint. We strolled down East Coast Road to the Katong Shopping Centre which retains that worn out feel, its gloomy interior full of service stores and advertisements for maids from Indonesia, the Philippines and Burma, in total contrast to the ultramodern shiny department stores found around the rest of Singapore. The outdoor food level is mostly closed, so we wander back in the other direction, stopping to admire the yellow and orange Sri Senpaga Vitiyagam Tamil temple along the way.

Rumah Bebe houses a museum and shop of colourful Peranakan goods and foods. Peranakans, or Baba-Nyonya, are Chinese that married into or adopted elements of the Malay communities, forming their own unique culture in the process. We buy sweet kuih and biscuits that B used to eat as a child, Alex falling in love with them too.

At the corner of East Coast and Joo Chiat Roads was a small kopitiam (“coffee shop” where the owner sells drinks and sublets out stall space for food), where I had the most delicious mee suah noodle dish. It’s still there, but I had missed it, because now it has been converted to a trendy bar, but with the Yong Huat stall still inside. Talk about fusion, I was just confused!

Anyway, the noodles are still great, especially the fried mee suah. But I missed that timeless run down atmosphere of the original. Timeless but for the current time.

Across the road was a shiny newish shopping centre, 112 Katong. A totally different kind of atmosphere, namely airconditioning, makes it pleasant in one way and not in another. To Alex’s displeasure we have to cross back past the hotel and over Marine Parade to the stalls on the other side, searching for cheap shorts for him.

That mission unsuccessful, we return to the hotel. My guts are about to explode.

I feel sick. I don’t know if it’s something I ate here or before. Maybe it’s stress and anxiety. I don’t know. I feel like I’m losing it.

Over the past few weeks, despite it being the summer holidays, I’ve been under a lot of stress. Trying to finish a major work project while at the same time looking after Alex home from school has meant a lot less sleep. Then there was karate grading before that, a level of physical exertion beyond what I’ve done since high school. The digital packing for this holiday. The strain of all the bumps on the flight in.

I look at the building storm clouds outside. We are supposed to be flying to Hong Kong this afternoon. The though of flying up and straight into those clouds fills me with dread.

All I want to do is to stay here. Stay in this room, in the country. Where the only thing I need worry about is which hawker stall to choose food from.

I feel like cancelling the next leg. Or letting B and Alex go there. I’ll lock myself away here.

With only a few minutes to spare we carry our luggage downstairs and hop aboard the free shuttle bus. B has brought a plastic bag for me to be sick in, if needed.

We reach the airport, Terminal 1. We check in using the kiosk. Impersonal, nobody to ask if we can split tickets, cancel or delay. Can I do this? I’ve backed out of flights before. Can I be strong enough for almost five hours in the air?

My dream of a short transit stop in Singapore, in our very hotel, followed by a flight north. That dream seems like a nightmare today. I’m scared of the storms.

Through immigration and I just want to sit. We have tickets for Jetstar so my Qantas Club membership will allow us into the Qantas lounge. Only it doesn’t open until 2.30PM. But Alex wants a lounge and I don’t mind the chairs.

It opens and we enter. We are just walking towards a seat when my mobile phone rings. It’s probably somebody from work who hasn’t read my away message.

It’s our next door neighbour, the one who will be joining us later in Singapore. Sydney has just had a huge storm and both our houses have been damaged by a falling tree. There’s a hole in our roof.

How are we going to deal with this, stuck thousands of kilometres away in a different country and about to board a flight where we will have no way of organising anything?

What happens if we need to supervise the repairs in person?

With only 15 minutes left before boarding we walk up to the Jetstar counter and tell them we won’t be flying today.

They are very good about it. No complaints, no pressure, though we have undoubtedly delayed the flight as our luggage must be offloaded. Our apologies to any affected (as we have been numerous times).

We have to wait for a Jetstar staff member to lead us back through immigration. Fortunately we were planning to return to Singapore later and have onward flights back to Australia. Once through immigration there is another wait for our bag. It takes maybe two hours, but we have had internet access and my Singapore SIM card has some international call credit so the time is not entirely wasted.

Now we need a hotel for the night. I find us a deal at the Ibis Bencoolen and we catch a taxi to the hotel. Fortunately, my Accor membership status secures us an extra value room which includes a mobile “Handy” phone capable of making free international IP calls. B, who works for our insurer, sets the claim in motion.

It’s a real pity that multinational insurance and finance corporations usually seem to restrict their customer service to local operations. How nice if you could just deal with issues back home in a local office.

I am still feeling terrible, but we need to get some dinner. We wander around Bugis Market, but it really is for tourists. The food at Albert Street Food Centre is not very good and we return to the hotel room feeling tired and disappointed at the turn of events.

So my flight plans were defeated by a storm. Just not in the way I expected.

Filed under: ,