Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Steamboats in Singapore

More or less restored, Big John, Tina and I headed back into town for a long-promised night out together at a restaurant. We didn’t quite so much ‘head’ as ‘race’, for Jimmy and Salleh were scheduled to close shop at 9pm, and I was clutching what they call my ‘Alibaba pants’, ready for reproduction. As I’d promised them, I was also giving a first outing to the already cherished crimson shirt…
We made Abba’s at 8.58, and they certainly didn’t close at 9 that night. While I picked out fabrics for my trousers (no, Salleh .. NOT silk, cotton!), John got measured for a handsome suit and a beautiful shirt and … I missed the rest. A couple of thousand dollars later, we were ravenous, so Salleh – having first presented Tina with a very lovely scarf ‘compliments of the house’ … led us a few doors down to what he recommended as our restaurant for the night.

Chinatown is absolutely elbow-to-elbow restaurants. Our one was Chuan Jiang Hao Zi, number 12 Smith Street, where we served by a delightful young lady who dissolved in fits of giggles over the fact that – none of us having ever before dined ‘steamboat’ fashion -- we really didn’t know what we were doing.

But we got the idea quickly... we learned how to drop the delicious raw Chinese vegetables, the shrimps, the meat and fish balls (the others, alas, jibbed at the pig’s liver and kidney – next time!) into the boiling pan of spicy and slightly less spicy water, fish out the bits with a slotted ladle, and consign them (via even spicier self-constructed sauce) by chopstick to the mouth. It is a wonderful way to dine, and I shall certainly do it again.
Smith Street was bright, lively but not crowded, the Chinese beer was cold and good, the food delicious, and a simply great time was had by all.
The occasion was propitious for the camera, so I got my favourite picture of Big John, he snapped me in the famous crimson shirt (you see, I didn’t exaggerate), and you won’t look at either of us because there’s la treès belle Tina at our respective sides…

I could have, and perhaps should have, been back at Singapore at the crack of dawn, but somehow I didn’t want to risk spoiling the memory of the first day by doing anything less splendid on the second. In the end, I waited till mid-afternoon before taxi-ing in to Smith Street to pick up my new trousers. Almost total success. They are beautifully made, better than the London-tailored original, but … as I looked at the parcel I noticed a violent lilac colour. The tailor had misread the order, and I had three pairs of demure brownish pants … and one of the most abusive lilac. Most colours I could take, I who cheerfully sport crimson, but I‘m sorry, not lilac. Salleh rang and berated the workshop, we sorted out the right material, and John will pick up the replacement trousers during the week.
For, yes, my grand new friend has left the ship here. Life will be much less colourful without him, and I shall miss my morning bearhugs dreadfully, but we shall have to get together in Europe now, as he has my trousers…

Now its Friday morning – heavens, March must be nearly over! – and we are anchored off Singapore taking on our final cargo. Soon we shall head for Port Kelang. Last year I didn’t go ashore … have I learned my lesson?

Coda: Visitors to Singapore, if you intend to buy clothing here – and I mean the top quality hand-made clothing for which Singapore is famous, and not the cheapo stuff which you can get at any bazaar back home – do go and see Jimmy and Salleh at Abba’s Department Store (it doesn’t actually have departments, just clothes) no 2 Smith Street. They are a class act, they are great guys, and hey – they even do mail order. (email: And, no, I’m not on commission, its just that when I hit lucky I like to share the good news!

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