Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Last Friday Night

I've been complaining about customer service in Singapore lately, and it's as if somebody heard me! Last Friday our new flatmate Sophie from Scotland and I went to the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Holland Village to kill some time. That's where we met Andy, whose friendliness and customer service skills blew us away. Good customer service in Singapore does exist, but it's rare, so in order to protect yourself from a huge let down, it's better not to expect too much. That way, when you meet somebody like Andy who remembers your name and uses it in every sentence, you will be completely impressed.

Naturally after such a rare experience we were in a great mood, so Julius, Sophie and I decided to go out for dinner and drinks in town. Sophie, who's doing her PhD research on the British expatriate community told us about an InterNations shindig at a new Miami style bar in Somerset called Lucky 13, so we decided to check that out and then meet our friends Alex and Heath for drinks in Clarke Quay afterward.

InterNations is an expatriate community for expats worldwide. In most countries it's a classy group, but in Singapore rumor has it that more recently the InterNations get togethers have descended into an opportunity for the sleazier variety of expats to pick up on eager SPGs (Sarong Party Girls), which is a derogatory term for local ladies trying to find a western man to bring home the bacon. Speaking of bacon, Julius and I got the pulled porc dish of Cuban origin called Ropa Vieja, which was overpriced and just average. After getting hit on by two Singaporean men and witnessing an expat and SPG making out on the sofa, we started to fear the rumors may be true.

On a trip upstairs to visit the toilet in the adjacent mall "TripleOne," we let ourselves get totally sidetracked by a restaurant called Bilbao. A very tall Frenchman working there beckoned us inside, and upon seeing the Catalan flag, Julius asked if there happened to be any Catalans there. The Frenchman said "Yes, the owner is from Bilbao." Although Bilbao is not even in Catalonia, we decided to check it out anyway and we ended up meeting the owner, the chef, and a couple of their friends. We started conversing in Spanish, and the owner led us to a table on the terrace recommending this and that. We decided on the veal carpaccio and ham croquetes, both of which were absolutely to die for. If that weren't enough, there was even a bossa nova guitar player and accompanying vocalist directly in front of us, which gave the evening a very carefree and "warm summer night" atmosphere.

Estrella Damm beer with veal carpaccio and ham croquetes

Sea Penises
By this time we'd each had a few beers and our stomachs were full, so we decided to make a move. On our way out of the mall we came across a restaurant displaying tanks of live seafood to bait and hook their customers. There were tanks of eel, fish, and lobster, but the one that really grabbed our attention was the tank with the "sea penises." Thanks to Heath and Alex, I now know the name of this species of very large saltwater clam that strangely bears resemblance to a penis. It's called a geoduck or panopea generosa and is one of the longest living organisims in the animal kingdom. It can live to be 100 years old or more, unless of course it's lifespan is cut short and it ends up on your dinner plate.

After photographing the seafood, we took the MRT to Clarke Quay where we met Alex and Heath at the SQUE Rotisserie & Alehouse and regaled them with our stories of expats and SPGs, delicious Spanish food and sea penises whilst kicking back on the terrace with a couple of cold Tiger Beers. This is a picture of us closing the alehouse after everyone else had gone home.

From left to right: Alex, Kelly, Sophie, Julius, and Heath

Singapore is a big city with a village feel to it because it's surprisingly easy to run into people you know when you're out on the town. A lot of people hang out on the pedestrian bridge in Clarke Quay and bring their own alcohol and food. It's a cheaper way to enjoy Clarke Quay's vibrant nightlife, so you see a lot of young people and students there. This is exactly where we ran into our flatmate Tim on our way home, so we took this opportunity to take a group photo with all the roommates together. We're all very sad Tim will be leaving on Friday to go back to Germany. We will miss "Tim Leiter" dearly.

Flatmates: Sophie, Kelly, Tim, and Julius

The MRT trains stop running at around midnight, so we had to queue for a taxi to get back home. The queue was insanely long, but there's a trick you can use to beat the queue: you download an app called Comfort DelGro and just book a taxi on your mobile phone and one should arrive within about 5 minutes. 

Queuing for a taxi on a Friday night in Clarke Quay

Our taxi driver called Steven Soh was an amazing storyteller who told us about growing up in Singapore working on his father's farm. Everyone in his family had a job on the farm, and his was to take care of the Siamese fighting fish. He fed them the best worms and kept them in complete darkness so that when they were brought out to fight once a week, they would always win and the people betting would fill his pockets with some of their winnings in gratitude. Unfortunately his family was forced to sell the farm to the government for a very low price, which resulted in the family becoming destitute, his father losing his mind, and Steven being forced to drive a taxi. 

Steven's native language was Hokkien, a Chinese dialect, and although he left school at a young age, his English was quite intelligible. He claimed to speak several languages such as Japanese and Mandarin among others, all of which he learned from driving his taxi and conversing with his passengers. It was so interesting listening to his stories; the only problem was that he got so into it that he would start gesturing wildly and the car would start swerving a bit and he would change lanes without realizing it. Fortunately we made it home in one piece. 

Steven Soh: The most fascinating taxi driver around


  1. oooh, sooo sweet Kelly...gonna miss you guys too!
    hugs for everyone!!!

  2. Great stories Kelly, thanks for sharing! It is wonderful to follow your adventures on your blog.