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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

“…carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.”
Odes, Horace

Trust is a funny thing.  Not the trust we have in each other – that’s personal, a measure of judgement and disposition, a prediction not only upon past behavior but of emotion and love – but rather of our world, of what it holds, of fate, the future, what have you.  We trust in many truths – that the sun will rise in the east every day being the most prevalent and poignant, for it is that trust that gives us hope.  Trust isn’t just about hope and holding on, however, it’s about the unknown and the fear thereof.  Horace’s famous words gave us a blueprint for shedding such fears – one that now borders on the cliche, carpe diem, “seize the day.”

This blueprint is one that must be a motto for all expatriates and travelers.  Isn’t that the point, what we’re doing when we sacrifice the routine, the comfort of the familiar, the trust that tomorrow, the sun will rise, we’ll go to work, or to school, or towards whatever our daily destination is?  That we will acknowledge that we are no more sighted than others, who boldly approach each day as a known quantity, as each before was?  Leaving your home, be it for two weeks or two years, does more than upset a routine, it’s willing putting on blinders to what we have learned so we may learn to better see.

This windy philosophy had an intersection with reality last night when Bev & I decided to attend a free concert in Admiralty Park.  The question had come up regarding dinner.  We were planning on taking the MRT1the subway, loyal readers! towards Woodlands where a shuttle service was operating to the park.  The nearest station is a short walk in Holland Village, where we often have dinner – either at the multitude of restaurants within the area or at the excellent hawker food centre.  The question, should we just eat before we get on the train or just head out towards a previously unknown area of the island and figure it out when we get there?

Me being me, I looked laboriously at Google Maps, Hungry Go Where, any source of information that I could to see what options we had.  Not seeing anything conclusive, I was hesitant.  That there was a mall at the stop gave me enough gumption to agree with Bev to boldly venture forth.  The devil in the back of my head complained.

When we arrived at Woodlands MRT, we immediately found the shuttle to the park.  After a 45 minute train ride, though, our stomachs grumbled and decided for us that finding food came before going out to the park.  I, with a smile as wide as I could, asked in good nature of the girls manning the shuttle queue where the best place was locally to get a bite to eat.  Confusion filled their faces, as worry started to bottle up.  One of them apologetically shrugged, “You could try back in the mumble mumble.

I didn’t get the words she mumbled, but she pointed back to a tented area that I hadn’t previously noticed.  Was it a carnival?  Now that I was grounded, food smells filled the air.  It was a carnival?  Either way, the prospect was appeasing so we ventured forth to find our first night market– the girl had said “pasar malam”, Malaysian for night market.

The night market had a carnival-like feel.  Fried street food was offered, including any and all chicken parts deep fried and served on a stick, like any self-respecting county fair in the US would.  We settled on Turkish kebab, with two large spindles of chicken and beef dripping with slow-cooked juices.  For my part, I had a “Turkish pita”, which was served in a more bun-like bread than a Greek pita might, and with chili and garlic sauce, instead of the familiar tzatziki.  Bev had beef kebob, so tender that it fell off her fork, on a bed of rice.  We grabbed seats on a nearby curb, the closed alley running along the market filled with bazar goers and smokers, enjoying our dinner as the sun slowly set and a gentle breeze erased any traces of the humidity.

As well known as the phrase carpe diem is, it’s the second half of the phrase that I find more poetic – translated it means “trust tomorrow as little as possible,” which I’m finding really is the point to living in a new country.  We passed by a churro stand where a team of three pumped out freshly fried churros – two operated the press where dough took shape and length while a larger, sweaty guy toiled on the deep frier, rendering dough into the delightful.  As we finished our street-side dinner, Bev asks, “Is it bad that I want some churros?”

Of course not.  Carpe churro, I say.

As I stand in queue for desert, I notice each serving of 7 bite-sized churros2just like regular churros, only one-eighth the size, number two is served with a single pointed stick to impale and lift the churros from the bowl in which they’re served.  I make a note that I should ask for two sticks.  I make a note that they have both chocolate and caramel sauce and that I should ask for both sauces, for a little extra.  I make a revision.

“One chocolate, one caramel, please.”

Carpe churro, I say.  In any language, its meaning is unmistakable and without ambiguity.  Seize the churro, and trust not that tomorrow shall provide churros.

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