Monday, January 07, 2008

No Reservations

Typically these days I'm a lame-ass old man when it comes to staying up late on weeknights. I'm in bed by 10pm, and when I can sleep I'm asleep by 10:30. But I saw a promo spot for the season premiere of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, and then saw that he was headed to Singapore, and had to stay up a bit later than usual.

I've done a bit of traveling, and like many travel shows. No Reservations isn't my all-time favorite (Rick Steves' PBS show reigns supreme for its practical advice, which saved me lots of dollars and sent me to totally awesome sites off the beaten path), but it is easily my second-fave. Bourdain is acerbic, opinionated, smart-alecky--but he's also self-deprecating, witty, and writes well about more than just food. I adore his show, because he's all about maximizing experience, avoiding (and trashing) the banal and generic, and eating food purchased from street vendors, which all other travel shows forbid as a matter of course (except for Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods).

I also adore Singapore, where I spent an exhausting three weeks on a business trip for Borders in '97. After working 15 hours in the cash office reconciling million-dollar deposits, I'd stumble across the road and down into an underground food court for the most divine meals ever perpetrated for under two bucks. Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines blended? Can't beat that. Sometimes the locals who sat with me at random would give advice about the food and we'd end up sharing dishes with each other. I'd leave the food court and stumble back to work for another 10 hours training the inventory crew and re-arranging stocking procedures, the food having dispelled my exhaustion and rendered me whole. Bourdain opened his show in a typical Sing food court, pointing out that such places there aren't at all what they are here.

What a strange little city state! Governed by a bizarre benign fascism, with mandated respect for its various cultures, races, and religions, legal prostitution and illegal everything else, and the hottest women on the planet? Gotta get back someday. Orchids grow on the median strips and there are lizards on the skyscrapers.

I recall fondly the ten-course Indian meal I had there, and the restaurant owner who told me he could have a silk suit made for me for $40 while I ate. Or the day my friend Yong took me antiquing and we had a traditional Chinese breakfast--a sort of porridge made from pork broth and flour dumplings. Or the day I watched a Filipino cover band play English and American rock songs in an Irish bar near Boat Quay. Crazy.

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