Laziness, Inadequacy, and Pride
It’s not every day I wake up to find eight messages awaiting my attention, blinking patiently and reminding me of my inadequacies as a modern, connected, supposedly social media savvy individual. I know people who would, having received only eight messages within an hour, wonder if the apocalypse had come and gone and taken everyone else except them. (I’m actually perfectly aware and somewhat proud of my digital non-engagement). I sometimes sneer in derision when a social media algorithm congratulates me on my latest post—I shall not be tempted by likes, you foul machine. What am I, a puppy slobbering after attention? Ooh what’s that? A puppy video? Aww…
Which brings me back to the eight messages, still patiently waiting:
Would you like to be my foreign correspondent writer for my new online food journal, The Food Project SG
There's a section called Op-eds where there are articles written that are inspired or dedicated to food.
I thought it would be a good perspective coming from you as a Singaporean living so far away.
You can check out the website first. And click on the op Ed section to see what's published and then you let me know what you think? thefoodprojectsg.com
WHY YOU NEVER READ MY MESSAGE?
It’s generally not considered polite online etiquette to YELL, but a memory from NS surfaced: Zat yelling, not unkindly, but just because he was too lazy to walk up the stairs and I was too lazy to go downstairs. This was many years ago (How many, you ask? Why that’s none of your business), and within the context of years of friendship, you find out that you can indeed be yelled at kindly. I don’t remember what was so trivial that we couldn’t be bothered to take the stairs, yet apparently important enough that the entire building should hear about it.
The next part of the story is very unflattering (to me), so TL;DR, I didn’t know if it would be too much work (laziness is becoming a recurring theme here) and I wanted an expense account like the Michelin food critics. Zat’s answer to both was no.
When I lived in Singapore, food was never a big part of my life. Not that I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t important enough to spend significant amounts of time on. I could tell good chicken rice from bad, but the prospect of waiting in line for good chicken rice was enough for me to settle for bad chicken rice. And it wasn’t just the kopitiam stuff that didn’t appeal to me. I was equally blind to imported culinary culture. I have an uncomfortable memory of me mispronouncing ‘quiche’ (like cliché) and being stared to death (like the uncultured cliché I was).
Similarly, why buy branded bubble tea at $7 when you can get generic bubble tea ($2.50) from the kopitiam downstairs?
Perhaps I was a culinary late-bloomer. Family events were often held at restaurants, and as a child, I could never understand why one establishment was better than another. Once we were out of the bad chicken rice vs. good chicken rice league, all food seemed rather the same to me. Only as an adult, I slowly began to have an inkling of the unnameable nuances that always accompanied the different establishments. Nuances that meant that reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve had to be held at the same establishment every year, and the one year we didn’t get a table there became That Year We Didn’t Eat At _____, a shameful stain on the honour of our family that would be brought up with much head-shaking and sighing at least once every Lunar New Year.
I say that as an adult, I became more attuned to the intricacies of the Singaporean culinary landscape. But I might be irreparably damaged, my late development forever unable to catch up. I’m sure the food at _____ was perfection itself, but I honestly can’t remember what it tasted like. I can’t even remember what the place was called.
Upon moving to another country at the far end of another continent, Singapore’s reputation precedes me. Here, Singapore is almost mythical. I’ve met very few people who’ve actually been to Singapore, but almost everyone’s friend’s cousin’s in-laws have been there—it’s very clean and very modern, and there’s so much food from all over the world, you must miss the food so much, I was there for only a week, and now I feel that there’s so little variety in here. I would just smile and nod, and inwardly wonder if it was something I did or did not do that caused me to never have experienced the emotional roller-coaster of missing food so deeply and urgently. Once, someone even had the nerve to ask what I craved the most; which dish from the plethora of the great Singaporean dishes would I run to, tears streaming down my eyes, minutes upon landing at Changi Airport.
Like the eight blinking messages reminding me of my inadequacies as a human being of the Digital Age, these questions reminded me of my inadequacies as a Singaporean. Why wasn’t I crazy about food? Why didn’t I have a favourite food? Why didn’t I have a list of must-eats for the next time I was in Singapore? And why, in the name of laksa, bak kut teh, and all the other gathered Gods of the Singaporean culinary pantheon, was I so utterly uninterested in that chicken rice powder that so many Singaporeans living overseas swore by?
After living overseas for almost seven years, those questions have long since peaked and now hum silently at the peripheries of my self-identity. The first six months I lived overseas, I kept a photo album on Facebook called ‘So the people in Singapore know I’m not starving’, proving to everyone back home that I could find my way around a kitchen (nothing at all to do with the likes I got). But six months after moving to a new city, people stop projecting their post-travel depression onto you, and you get fewer questions about the food in Singapore.
After those first six months, those questions peaked and ebbed away, not just in my social interactions, but also from my consciousness. And in the same vein, my updates in that photo album fizzled out. In its own way, that says something about my attitude to food. Which Singaporean would be able to stop thinking about food after only six months?
So, seven years after moving away, and six-and-a-half years after I stopped pondering the mysteries of my non-engagement with food, perhaps Zat’s offer was a chance to examine the issue again. Much has changed. Apparently, I’m now known amongst friends as the one who eats everything, and a lot of it, so some Singaporean-ness must have survived the long, dark, and cold Scandinavian winters. Something else must also have taken root, as I’ve made (to varying degrees of success, far away and safe from the prying eyes of Facebook) chicken soup, roast chicken, gyoza, mussels in white wine, fried rice, rendang, roast beef and artichoke salad, curry, and on one occasion, a whole roast duck stuffed with prunes.
Maybe I’ll finally figure out why and how my initial non-engagement with food has gradually been replaced with pride. I’m proud to be able to confidently navigate a kitchen, and proud to be the one to explain that no, we don’t eat live monkey’s brain (though I was given pig’s brain soup as a child). And at some level, mostly bashfully though sometimes brazenly, simply proud of my own food-obsessed heritage.