View from the top of the bed and breakfast.
Tuesday, the morning after Christmas. It was raining when we had our late breakfast of local delights. And it was still raining in the late afternoon.
Me: Argh! This rain is depressing! I wanna go out! I wanna show you around!
Cart: Having a relaxing day indoors is good too
Eventually the rain abated a little and by then it was already evening. It would be too late to go to Sim Lim Square, a location where many electrical things that would interest both Cart and me, who are technophiles.
In the end, I brought him to Funan Center and I hoped that there were still shops which were still open.
City hall was still raining when we reached there and we had to huddle close together in my tiny portable umbrella as we walked unsteadily towards Funan Center.
Cart: Wait! The traffic light is still red!
Me: What? Lets just cross! No cars are passing right now
Cart: Ahh … We’re crossing the road the Italian way 😛
We stopped a while to have coffee at the Coffee Club Express where Cartcart had his much needed coffee. Once, he said that coffee was part of the Italian DNA and that it was a daily necessity.
Cart: This espresso isn’t the best, but its still good.
Me: This hazelnut latte is really lovely
Cart: This pamphlet here says that people who likes ‘pick me ups’ like lattes are sociable, gregarious and likes to party
Me: Really? I didn’t know that. Its funny cause my favourite thing to do is to slack all day 😛
Most of the computer shops seemed to be closing as we were done with coffee (why do they close so early?) that the only place we really spent time in was the Times Bookshop where Cartcart seemed transfixed in a local cookbook.
Cart: Look at the recipes, are they good? Do you think it is authentic? What do you think are the food that I’ll like in here?
We looked at the pictures and the recipes together and the recipes looked pretty good. He liked it enough to purchase it. We then walked around the bookstore and poured over the interesting books like, “Different toilets of the world”. (Did you know that there is a toilet entirely made of gold in Hong Kong?)
I noticed the language section and was looking at the learn Italian segment. And that was when I noticed a small Malay book.
Me: Hey Cartcart, maybe you might want to buy this one, so that you could easily talk to my mum and other Malay people 😛
He took the book that I was pointing to, scanned through it, and then said, “This looks useful. I’ll get it” He actually bought the book!
There were absolutely no shops opened from the second floor onwards. (It was only 8.30ish pm) The ones which still had their lights on were scrambling to close shop for the day.
Cart hadn’t eaten for the entire day, save for breakfast and I was concerned that he might have a stomach ache like what I felt yesterday. I didn’t want him to feel the same.
Me: Aren’t you hungry?
Cart: No, I’m fine. I ate a lot at the business class lounge remember?
Me: Yes, but that was days ago! I insist that you eat!
In the end, we went to have dinner at Sakura, a Thai-Chinese restaurant that was nearby. We had to be careful in ordering food as cart was vegetarian.
Me: Hi, I’d like some vegetable soup, bean curd hot plate and some fried kangkong please. But please, no meat or fish in them whatsoever. My friend is a vegetarian.
Waitress: Ok (scribbles in big letters “Vegetarian” in the receipt)
When the food arrived, happily I tucked in to the dishes and rice. “Try this bean curd dearest, it’s really nice ” I invited him.
I saw him chewing, and then he spit out his food.
To my horror, I saw a piece of chicken! I was stunned! We quickly called the waitress to have it taken away.
Cart: I cannot eat this. There is meat in it. I’m vegetarian.
Waitress: Oh! Sorry sorry! *rushes away to the kitchen*
Cart: I’m surprised. I thought we made it clear. We saw her scribbling in big words.
I felt really bad. When I was in Rome, Cartcart was extremely careful with the food that I consumed. He made sure that I did not consume any meat or meat products, especially pork. And here we were, our dinner out together and I blundered. I poked around the fried kangkong and to my utter shock found tiny shrimps in them.
It was really upsetting. Cartcart assured me that it was okay, but I still felt bad anyway.
The waitress came up with a fresh dish of hot plate and we continued our dinner.
On Wednesday, mum wanted to bring cart and me to Darul Arqam, a Muslim convert association. After parking the scooter at the car-park nearby, mum and me had breakfast together with Cartcart at the bed and breakfast and headed off to the Paya Lebar Mrt Station.
Darul Arqam was near Geylang and Joo Chiat. The place looked very different compared to the last time that I went there. The Geylang that I remembered was demolished and relocated in a temporary location while waiting for the new construction to be completed.
Mum pointed to a roof at the Malay Heritage Building which was next to the road we were walking on.
Mum: Do you see that Cart? The roof is pointed and curvy at the sides, that’s our traditional kampong house. We have houses on stilts like these because we were prone to floods.
Soon after, we reached the place and enquired at the head office upon whom to speak to. A young woman invited us to sit in the office and we had an informal talk together.
Mum whispering: This is such a special day! I’ve never been in Darul Arqam before. I’ve always wanted to go here!
Me: I absolutely don’t know what to ask her! How you doing Cartcart?
Cart: I feel nervous …
But our fears were for naught as the young woman went through the steps for understanding Islam and eventual conversion.
Young woman: How long will you be here? A week? Then it would be hard for you to attend classes here. Where are you from? Italy? So far there are two Italians in Singapore whom converted. Why don’t I hook you up with him as it would be easier for you to converse with him in your native language? I’ll do a check for you on the internet to see if there are any Islamic institutions in Rome.
Young woman returning later: Oh I’m sorry, the network is down at the moment, but if you pass me your email, I would be happy to send you the details as soon as I can.
(I found out later that the internet connection in Singapore was slow due to the earthquake that effected the Taiwan network cables)
All in all the meeting didn’t go too badly. It was a relaxed and casual environment and it wasn’t pushy and evangelical.
I observed the conversation of an ustadz with two Japanese men sitting in front of me talking about the existence of God and was quite transfixed at the quiet and patient demeanour of the men.
“Shall we go?” Mum asked, as I went out of my observation.
We made a quick stop at the bookshop where mum bought a book, “It’s a souvenir for the first time that I visited this place” Mum whispered to me and I chuckled. There were plenty of interesting things there, even a Koran MP3 player, some DVD’s and some books that I used to study in Sunday classes.
Me: I’m kind of hungry mum, Cartcart. Shall we stop a while at the hawker centre?
Mum bought for Cartcart a plate of rice with some peanut sauce, crispy tempe and begedel, a potato cutlet. She was extremely dismayed when I conveyed the story of our dinner last night and was clucking and went up to the stall owner to be doubly sure of the contents of the food.
Cartcart was really enjoying his food and I was amazed!
Me: Do you really like the food so much? I mean, its just plain, ordinary food to me
Cart: I like it! Especially the potato. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t eat it.
Mum: This is chendol, you should try it, and Chng Tng too.
Cart: Mmmmm!!! This is tasty!
I must say that I was very surprised to see that he likes our local food so much. Cartcart’s taste-buds are made for Singaporean food.
And I sat there in amazement and smiling at mum and Cartcart and thought at how surreal everything was. Mum eating her ayam penyet, and this white man happily eating his food in a hawker center in Geylang Serai.
I think I’m dreaming.