Posted on January 9, 2016
Cold Tiger beer oozes to the brim of the frosted mug and freezes into a boozy slush within seconds. A minute more and the beer will be cool, a few minutes later, bordering on warm. The trick is to drink it before the temperature forces abandonment.
It’s Friday evening at our local – Jackie’s Bar, at the beachside hawker market on Singapore’s sultry East Coast. Most Friday afternoons we cycle the seven kilometres from our house in Jalan Nuri, along Meyer Road, under the ECP and onto the East Coast linear park. It’s a hot and sweaty ride. Every activity in Singapore is hot and sweaty, even turning over in bed at night. Especially turning over in bed. For months we resisted sleeping with the air conditioning on, maybe most of the first year we lived here. Eventually we found a compromise. Switch on the aircon pre bedtime to cool the room to almost arctic level, then switch the overhead fans on and the aircon off to sleep. It became our way to deal with the extraordinary climate assault of a house with a separate aircon unit in every room—for us, nine in total.
Back at Jackie’s bar, the first two beers evaporate. By seven the sun is setting, painting this not-ugly-but-not-beautiful city in a far more flattering light. Palm trees and crimson skies, gentle waves, the queue of container ships now a ring of fairy lights circling the island. Our dinner routine never altered. Hawker markets can be a bit hit and miss depending on the quality of the vendor. Once you find a good stall, stick with it. Food poisoning is said to be extremely rare in Singapore. Don’t believe it. Our go-to dishes were a plate of sotong and a plate of kebabs. My daughter and I would race past the kebab dealers, laughing as they pitched their wares with the enthusiasm of used car salesmen, and head straight for the back of the markets to the seafood stall for a plate piled high with barbecued calamari garnished only with a handful of herbs, fresh chilli and a wedge of lemon. Four dollars. On the way back to our table we stopped and chatted to the satay chefs, grabbing a combo plate of chicken, lamb and beef kebabs with peanut sauce.
The same Uncle would clean our table each week. What he lacked in teeth he made up for with personality. He’d hobble over as we parked our bikes and direct us to a table that hadn’t been chomped. Locals place a packet of travel tissues on a table to mind it while they go and order food. It is unheard of in Singapore to sit at a table that’s been chomped. Uncle would clear the dirty plates, empty bottles and overflowing ashtrays and hover while I fished out a few dollars in coins. No sooner had we tipped Uncle when the blind tissue vendors turned up selling three packets for one Singapore dollar. Always an easy sale with expats, a bit tougher with the locals.
Within in an hour of sunset it was time to go. The crowd is now less local and more rowdy. Expat families with small children on bicycles are noisy and disruptive. The tinny eighties music has reached saturation point – there’s only so much Bryan Adams even I can bear. Back on our bikes and onto the now-crowded cycleway for the trip home. In probably a hundred trips, only once did we come a-cropper, a wobbly young cyclist crossed our path and in our haste to avoid hitting her, Matilda and I hit each other and ended up a twisted mess of bikes, legs and laughter. No harm done, no angst and not even a backward glance from the child who caused the crash as she cycled on.