Tropical Topics

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Faithful Correspondents,

I have a brief pause in the whirlwind that is Singapore to catch up on some very pleasant details.

This is my second time the Tropics. Last year, I was in the Caribbean and Yucatàn, and now in SE Asia. This is MUCH hotter (I was in the Caribbean in January, and it is almost April now). And Humid. Wow. I am moving slowly and languidly, lizard-like. But it is doable, and their air conditioning is excellent.

On Thursday when we checked in to the Residence at the Singapore Recreational Club (since 1883) in the heart of the city, we had lunch, and immediately fell in love with a Malay dish, Nasi Goreng Ikan Bilis. It is a fried rice with fresh shrimp, fish cake, egg, vegetables and little dried fish called Ikan Billis, with green cut spicy chilli.

It had just the right blend of heat and flavors. This was an auspicious beginning.

Later that evening, we enjoyed the nightlight of the old historic center of Singapore, Chinatown. The old shop fronts have been preserved and converted into shops, clubs, bars, and restaurants. One of the features of Singapore, I have found, is varied levels: a step down here, a step up here. Cobblestone, humid heat and people everywhere contribute to the festive atmosphere.

On Friday–a National Holiday due to its being not only Western Good Friday, but also major holidays in all the other religions here too–we began with a visit to St. Andrew’s, the Roman Catholic Church nearby, where the Mandarin Good Friday service was going on. It was packed to the rafters, and I noticed something I had seen in one of the Churches in Australia: video screens up and down the aisles of the large church so that everyone can see clearly.

From there, not wanting to disturb the worshippers, we went to the huge Raffles City Mall in search of ATMs (which are scarcer than one would think).

This is a mega-mall, four stories, modern, immaculate, and totally western style. We were greeted by McDonald’s and Starbucks at the entrance, and every store you could imagine is there: Tommy Hillfinger, L’Occitan en Provence, etc.

This could easily be anywhere, but for a couple of things. There is some Chinese signage (not much), and most tellingly, the entrance to the very efficient transit system opens right into the Mall (of course, we have Muni right under the San Francisco Center…).

Signage in downtown Singapore (Central Business District), and on the Busses, etc., is all in English. When you venture into more traditional neighborhoods (Chinatown, Little India, etc.) the languages multiply, but usually English is there as well.

It seems to me that the entrepreneurial spirit that is strong in Western, Chinese and Indian Cultures (and presumably in Malay and Tamil cultures too) has been perfected here. This is one of the world’s most important financial centers, and “the easiest place to do business,” and along with New Zealand, the “least corrupt country on earth.”

I am getting used to what to Americans seem like restrictions, and my conversations with Singaporeans is that they are on the whole, happy with their clean, safe country. And they have fun: the national passion is eating!

After the mall, we visited the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple on South Bridge and Temple Street in Chinatown. Singapore’s oldest Hindu Temple, it is a riot of color, vibrancy, sights and sounds. Originally founded in 1827, it is built in the South Indian Dravidian style.

There was a wedding going on, and several other holiday worship activities, as well as individual devotions by the faithful. We all deposited our shoes before entering, and immersed ourselves in the vibrations.

Having completed our visit, we retrieved our shoes (no shoe theft!) and re-emerged to walk down a few blocks to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a magnificent example of Tang Dynasty style, its construction was begun in 2005, and completed two years later for S$62 million. It houses not only an active temple, but a museum, and the relic of the Buddha’s tooth, unearthed in the ruins of a collapsed Stupa in Burma in 1980.

Holiday rituals were taking place, with sonorous chanting, lines of faithful leaving offerings of fruit, and a truly spectacular stupa of pure gold. The parallel to Byzantine Liturgies was hard to miss. Perhaps this is the legacy of Greco-Buddhism!

Following the Temple, we ran through the typical noon-day downpour to a small restaurant on the incredibly crowded Smith Street, which is filled with stalls of all kinds. The highlight of our Chinese meal was “Century Old Egg,” the famous dish which features an egg buried in spices and mud for a considerable length of time (not a century). It was a taste treat: salty, succulent and spicy. That’s a repeat!

Lunch was followed down the street by an hour-long foot massage, and then back home for a brief respite before being a wonderful dinner with AMORC Members.

Pronaos Master Jay picked me up in a cab at 7pm, and we met the others at the hotel where they hold convocations. In the huge dining area Grand Councilor Richard and quite a few of the members of the Pronaos. Warm fraternal greetings were exchanged, and then for the next couple of hours I enjoyed one taste treat after another.

The group is diverse, as befits AMORC, in age and background. All were uniformly welcoming. The restaurant is famous for its Peranakan cuisine, gathered inn Malaysia and faithfully brought to Singapore and perfectly presented. It is like being at a famous Food Hawker Court, with the comfort of a luxury hotel.

Leaving you on the tip of your gastronomical seats, I will continue the very pleasant–nay sumptuous–tale of the Rosicrucian Dinner when we return this afternoon. The Botanical Gardens await!

… Sorry for the brevity and typos: Sent from remote on the phone.

Thank you!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant, Member and Customer Services

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