Tag Archive | Shanghai

Where’s home?

To end every year of the Chinese calendar, I participate in two family re-unions. Reason: I have 7 brothers with whom I share the same father and one sister with whom I share both parents.

After my grandfather passed away in 1986, my father for reasons best known to himself initiated the mammoth re-union dinner for the extended family. Which was never on Chinese New Year eve itself but on a night close enough. That’s a nod to the fact that majority of the extended family members already have families and in-laws of their own and their priorities for New Year’s eve might not co-incide with the minority.

The reunion dinners with Dad were always in a vegetarian restaurant — mostly at Kingsland (now gone with the wind as has the complex where it once was — Albert Complex, now renamed OG) but occasionally there were deviations, such as once in Coronation Plaza This was because Dad was a full-blown vegetarian.

When he left us in 2001, the extended family wanted to carry on with the reunion dinners, tho with one important change. We forsook vegetarian restaurants: we went from buffet outlets (eg Princess Terrace) to sit-down fare at Old Hongkong one year and Zhou’s Kitchen another year, both at Novena Square.

We might have gone to another restaurant for the latest mammoth reunion but as there were easily 50 of us, even when the full complement is never present, someone thought a potluck at a condo club house might be more economical and relaxed especially now that the extended family includes some restless early primary school kids who are less easy to restrain that babes in arm!

So there we were on Saturday night (Jan 21) at a condo (where No 1 nephew lives) on Dunearn Road with a satay man working overtime to feed the hungry mouths. In addition, there were home fried beehoon Putien style (we are more or less Putienese), chicken wings from Ikea, brocoli and cauliflower vegetarian dish, tofu vegetarian dish, vegetarian fried rice, vegetarian vegetable curry, tradional Cantonese “chai”, Peking duck, pizzas, whole soy sauce chicken from Chinatown, home made Drambuie fruit cake, papaya, Jeyu grapes, white nectarine, bean curd gingko nut soup and Belgian chocolates.

potluck lucky mish mash

Alas, I overlooked to take any pictures of the ecclectic spread but managed too late to take one of what I was eating in my third round, as I listened to my oldest brother explain why he’s still nostalgic for Singapore.

P said: “I’ve been living in Melbourne since 2005 but the longer I’ve been away, the more I miss home. I don’t feel at home unless I’m in Singapore.”

I postulated that it’s because he and wife live with their daughter and family Down Under.

“No,” he replied. “We feel at home when we are there. It’s only during the 3 nights every week when we are in our own house that we feel home-sick.”

Shorthand? Family makes for home and reduces home-sickness when away from Singapore.

I looked around the room as those who share my bloodline or are related to me through marriage cluster in small groups bonding over food and catching up.

Two nephews have relocated from the Middle East; one after 5 years in Egypt; another after 3 years in Qatar. Another absent nephew has worked in Kuala Lumpur longer than he has worked in Singapore.

There’s a brother who is almost a China permanent resident having been there since the early 1980s, not to live but on short stints that lasted several months a time in places like Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu — till more recently when one factory he’s overseeing in Xian is finally done and he like all of us are getting on in age and prefer the bubble of S’pore to the wide expanse of the world.

His daughter, however, has globe-trotted for one year even be4 she had completed her tertiary education, calling many parts of the US and parts of Italy her temporary home.

Yet another brother makes such regular and extended trips to Shanghai shepherding his Singapore students to a twin school there that he feels quite an expert on the former “Paree of the East” :lol:!

I wonder how many of my nieces and nephews and their offspring — or even my younger siblings– would feel like my oldest brother feels: nowhere in the world other than Singapore feels like home? After all, unlike us – ie their parents and/or grand-parents —  the wider world would be where their own family would be scattered as more and more places would be accessible to Singapore and Singapore to those places.

By contrast, my reunion dinner at my sister’s last night was less of a thought provoking affair. It’s always good robust Chinese cooking as her late MIL used to serve the family. And my sister and her hubby have been living in the same home for the last 39 years — which is really rare in a world of rapid and constant change! :roll:

Not sure if this is exhilirating or plain depressing, especially when I consider that after many, many house moves I too have settled in one place for gasp-gasp (!!) 22 years! Have I grown roots or have I just become moribund?

Done this for 39 reunion dinners

Nothing for me at GSS, TQ!

Perhaps it’s age. Perhaps it’s my bank account. Perhaps, just perhaps, there’s simply nothing worth buying at the Great Singapore Sale any more.

Especially when everywhere I’ve been any day of the week across the length and breadth of  Singapore, in classy new malls and tired HDB centres, for longer than I can remember, I’ve been coming across sale signs that promise anything from “up to 70% off” to “everything must go.”

This explains why in response to the query — “So going to sales after this?” —  from my friendly lady doctor at Raffles City , after picking up another OK medical check-up report, I said: “I don’t shop in Singapore any more.”

Which, strictly, isn’t the whole truth.

I buy a lot of medical products, mostly for my mother. I buy a lot of medical services too, again mostly for my mother. She’s 85 after all and i want to do my darndest to keep her going for as long as Johnny Walker has been going, if fate and destiny permit.

I also spend a heck of a lot on food at our wet markets, supermarkets, food courts and mid-range restaurants, and for special occasions, swanky and somewhat pretentious restaurants.

Money goes on wine and social club bills as well. In addition, two constant big ticket expenditures are the car and the maid for my mother.

Further, regular sums go to utilities, personal hygiene and beauty items, unavoidable taxes (where applicable) and a smidgeon to charity causes, especially for the hungry old and sick.

So what is there left for discretionary splurges on clothes, shoes and handbags? Why should I wait for the GSS when any time I want, and must replenish, I can find special offers practically everywhere I go. Like for my preferred brands of footwear — Hush Puppies and Scholl.

For casual wear, unless one can’t live without top brand names, there are plenty of cheaper look-alike alternatives. For the less pricey labels like Zara, Chomel and Madam Butterfly, I certainly don’t need to wait for GSS to get the desired bargains, assuming I desire their bargains.

I can afford to buy Kipling and LeSportsac from their official outlets in Singapore but the prices of their items, even when on sale, are sometimes 10 times what i’ve loaded up on while travelling that I’ve resisted, with a couple of exceptions, from buying them here.

And frankly, I can’t really tell the genuine stuff that I own from what i buy from abroad, which because of the steep price differences are always assumed to be knock offs. But really, who knows? And who cares, so long as I didn’t pay top prices thinking I was buying the real McCoy, only to discover that I bought a fake.

Talking of abroad, any clothes I’ve had tailored for myself in the last five years, have been tailored abroad — as close as Kuala Lumpur where a friend’s maid doubles as a nifty tailor, to as far away as Hoi An and Shanghai.

For the ultra cheap off-the-peg clothings which i used to pick up from open air bazaars while travelling, I now do just as well at a no-name outlet at Block 27, at Bendemeer Road, just outside Boon Keng MRT station.

Tops and bottoms are priced between $1.50 and $3, cheaper far than at any of the budget departmental stores here or abroad and our yesterday’s cheapies like This Fashion.

With globalisation, cheap-cheap airfares and fantastic networks and connections and Singapore being such an open economy, it’s not as if we are starving for bargains.

So GSS, you are as last century as when you started… when? 20 years ago?

Taxi-drivers: lost without direction

When an old friend back home in Singapore from the UK for her regular holiday complained about how clueless Singapore’s taxi-drivers are about directions compared to those in her adopted home, I listened half-heartedly.

Yeh, I thought to myself, your place is in Keng Chin Road, not the best known place in Singapore, unlike Orchard Road or Geylang.

I was soundly punished for such mean unsympathetic thoughts this morning.

I was going to the official opening of a friend’s hard-won enterprise and would have driven direct to the venue, had it not been for the sudden and heavy downpour that refused to go away.

Being always kiasu, I decided that the venue might not have enough car park lots and so compromised by driving half-way and parking at Bugis Junction — one of yours truly’s regular haunts — and continuing my journey from there by cab.

I was fearful that there might not be taxis and so rushed anxiously towards the North Bridge Road stand outside the covered walkway that lined one side of the Intercontinental Hotel/Bugis Junction complex.

Luck was with me. Two taxis at the stand, the first a Trans Cab, the second a Premier taxi. And no competing passengers in sight.

Got into the Trans Cab and stated my destination. Deathly silence and the driver made no attempt to drive the vehicle.

“Do you know how to get to Keppel Towers?” I asked, slightly irritated.

“No,” the taxi-driver shot back.

“Sorry?”

“You better take the taxi behind,” was the reply.

I was really taken aback by this but because time was tight, I didn’t want to hang around arguing. So I got out but I gave a parting shot in Putonghua which was simply “you are ridiculous!” or “你是荒谬的”.

That seemed to startle him in return and be4 I could close the door, he asked, a little contritely: “Do you know how to get there?”

But I wasn’t going to give him a second chance for who knew what might happen once we were on our way! I slammed shut the door and went to the Premier taxi behind, got in and found a most amenable taxi uncle. He knew the way, and drove fast but safely.

Altho I’m not into talking to taxi drivers as a general rule, I felt so incensed that I had to share my shock that there are cabs on our roads driven by people who don’t know the way and make no attempt to find out.

Keppel Towers may not be as famous as Vivocity or Raffles City but it’s still a prime office landmark in the heart of the city.

What’s a taxi driver doing inside the CBD — which the Trans Cab was — and declaring that he had no idea how to get there? Shouldn’t he have a road directory at least or a number at his hirer’s office to call to give him directions?

Even in Bali which is far less developed than Singapore in all ways, the taxis I’ve taken –always Blue Bird — have drivers who have the initiative to find out from their office, when they don’t know. Some even have GPS to guide them. And the “gangs” (tiny lanes) in Bali are far more difficult to locate than any of Singapore’s roads.

Ditto for the taxi drivers I’ve come across in Shanghai. I’ve got them to locate out of the way places that they didn’t always know and yes, they found out, by calling their office or stopping by the roadside  to ask passers by or even while waiting at traffic lights, the vehicle next to them.

So why are our clueless taxi drivers in Singapore not more proactive? Not hungry enough? Driving taxis as a hobby? Or simply because our Land Transport Authority is too lax with them?

Stay in hotel or with friends?

This is a question that always vexes me when I travel.

Stay with friends and save on hotel money, have some company and also be certain that the accommodation is safe ( ;) too many stories about haunted rooms, you see).

Stay in a hotel, not knowing who or what had been there before you; waste good money when you are hardly there enough to justify the price etc.

Of cos, put like that, there seems to be no contest, but that is to load the stay-with-friends option with all the good things and the stay-in-a-hotel option with all the bad things.

In truth, the drawback to staying with friends isn’t minor. When you are the guest in someone’s home, even a very good friend’s home, you have to obey his/her house rules and some of them could strangle a potentially good holiday.

I know of a Singapore woman, settled in New York, who is such a neat-freak that guests don’t dare put down their cups after sipping, because she whips them to the dish washer, even if the coffee is only half-finished. They don’t dare to leave their beds to go to the toilet early in the morning, because when they go back for a further snooze, the bed is already made.

I myself had experienced something similar when staying with a Malaysian friend who had settled in Switzerland. She dries her stainless steel sink so thoroughly after every use that no water mark ever appears to mar the shiny surface. And she expects the guest who should touch the sink to do the same!

And when I stay with friends in Malaysia, they somehow give me the impression that the whole country is unsafe, insisting on accompanying me everywhere I wanted to go, or if they can’t, they will make me stay home till they are free to take me, as exemplified by a visit to Penang I made late in 2008.

An even worse experience was a stay at an ex-colleague’s Bali home. The hostess, whom I’ve known for decades, is a very temperamental person and for whatever reason, during that visit she was downright hostile and rude to me throughout.

When I tell people about that experience, they suspect I exaggerate, as they can’t imagine I would suffer the insults for more than one minute, without packing up and checking into a hotel.  

In retrospect, I too wonder at myself. I put it down to the fact that I wanted to save the friendship but on returning home and on calmer reflection, I decided that there was really no friendship to begin with.

Thus the next time my erstwhile hostess made contact, I simply cut her dead, something that was a bit belated but nevertheless still gave me a kick!

So there’s some wisdom in my mother’s stand, that if she doesn’t have money for hotels, she won’t travel (altho she did accompany me to visit friends, once in New York and another time in Hongkong — not the most enjoyable of her trips, I suspect, even tho, she being an elder, my friends were more accommodating with her than with me!).

My mother isn’t alone in her stand, as I stumbled by chance on this declaration by Siutuapui, a Sibu-based prolific bogger, whose site I dug through recently, looking for nuggets of information on Kuching, where I would be heading in a couple of weeks.

The Sibu pacik wrote: “I prefer staying in hotels. Every time I travel, I will gracefully decline any invitation to stay at someone’s house, never mind whether it’s a relative or friend. Maybe it is because I used to travel a lot when I was still in government service and I stayed in hotels all the time…and I enjoyed the freedom and the privacy.”

I had begun to think like my mother and Siutuapui too, especially after the Penang experience, till I remember there are hosts/hostesses who are mostest by doing the least for their guests.

I always remember with pleasure my visit to MK in Shanghai in 2006. She just let LW (who travelled with me) and me have free run of her home, which was most central and convenient, since it was on Huaihai Lu.

She didn’t offer to show us the sights and we met for meals only if convenient, so neither she nor we felt obliged to work to the same time-table. She didn’t “look” after us yet she did enough to make us welcome, without suffocating us.

So we had the best of both worlds, a safe, comfortable and clean place to stay but with the freedom we enjoyed, we could have been in a hotel — but without any price tags.

My conclusion is this: I would stay in a hotel only if the friend who invited is more likely to spoil my holiday than improve it. And the best way to improve my stay is generally to leave me alone!

Making lemonade

After my shock parting with my fav necklace (from Bangkok, gift of C who has generously promised to get me another one, without saying that I should have accepted all three sets that were bought for me in the first place!), I thought that was that.

But remember, I managed to rescue a few pieces from falling to the toilet floor of the Tian Jin restaurant in Bras Basah Complex plus the wire and the clasp that held all the dangle-pieces together.

So I passed what I rescued to Daffy who is rather deft with assembling bits and pieces together into very passable and price-assessible jewellery.

And voila, when I returned home after lunch today I found that she had dropped the re-incarnated necklace on the sideboard.

I’m glad to say that the loss of a few dangle-pieces doesn’t seem to have harmed the design. Indeed, the necklace is lighter and more friendly to my neck.

Which incidentally brings me to my fav bracelet made from pieces of shell from Chengdu, that could be worn two ways, or reversible. It was given to me after a visit to an erstwhile friend with whom I stayed in Shanghai in 2006. A twin of the bracelet was presented by this erstwhile friend to LW who had gone along with me for the visit.

LW who prefers diamonds and all the usual blings was less enamoured of the gift than I was and still am. So not surprisingly, when doing spring cleaning recently and coming across the hardly worn bracelet she decided to pass it to me, “since you seem to like these things”.

I do, I do. Now, I can wear the bracelet singly, together on one wrist, separate — one on each wrist. As the bracelets are reversible, the permutations are many.

Pity that the person who gave me the first bracelet has decided to be mad with me and deleted me from all memory! I continue to wear the bracelets not as reminders of a good friendship gone sour but heck, because I really, really like them.

U see, I’m the orginal lemonade girl. When life hands you a lemon, such as seeing your fav necklace snap and most of the dangly pieces on the public toilet floor, you make lemande. Not only that, you add a dash of Absolut vodka and some honey :-D!

my fav body ornaments

tragic end for fav necklace

I almost walked out but

thank goodness I didn’t or I won’t have had the pleasure of eating genuine China food in Singapore.

The meal had started so unpromisingly that I almost walked away while waiting for it to be prepared — a tantrum I could contemplate since I was eating alone and didn’t have to consider anyone else’s perspective or persuasion.

I had, against my inclination and better judgement, decided to try the Chicken Hot Pot cafe outside Fairprice Supermarket at Square2. 

Inclination and judgement told me I should eat at the foodcourt nearby because it would be faster and cheaper and I would have more time for my Tuesday grocery shopping to take advantage of the senior citizen discount. But inertia made me sit down and order the cheapest set available which was the chicken hot pot at about $9.80.

It seemed like a mistake from the start when no food came after 15 minutes while other diners who arrived appeared to be regulars, who moved around helping themselves to stuff from the fridge. (I later discovered they were “extras” for the hot pot).

When I asked abt my set, I was told firmly that the chicken had to be cooked and the cook couldn’t be rushed. When the clay pot came it was so blackened with soot that I wondered when it was last washed.

My heart sank further when the pot’s cover was taken off and I saw what appeared to be pieces of chicken so randomly chopped — no piece was the same size! — that it might have been the work of a frenzied killer! The gravy was greasy and what vegetables I could make out from the mess, overcooked.

My head told me to pay the bill and walk away rather than swallow the unattractive mess but my heart reminded me of the millions who are hungry in the world. Moreover, I was ravenous and had already wasted almost 30 minutes sitting, waiting.

So gingerly I started to spoon the stuff from the pot, separating the chicken pieces from the vegetables, laddling the latter onto a bowl of rice. And would you believe it, the more I ate, the more I liked the stuff, because strangely, each spicy, fragrant spoonful took me back to far away places with strange sounding yet familiar names; reminding me of happy memories and great times, good food, good shopping and a timeleness that lulled my senses. What I ate reminded me of China!!

Sure, it could be because one of the waitresses spoke as tho she’s a China-girl but then in many eating places in Singapore, one runs into service staff who are from China, but none of the food they served spoke remotely of China, not even if when it’s supposed to be a Chinese restaurant.

truly Chinese!

only bones left!

So contrary to my expectations, I ate everything, every bit of soggy veg and mishapened chicken piece and would have licked my bowl and plate, if I had been with friends or family who would shield me from the scorn of neighbouring diners and the service staff.

And what remained was a pile of bones and the plentiful and favourful (but greasy) soup in which the chicken and the veggies were cooked.

When I got up to walk towards the cashier to pay my bill, I saw a proud poster hanging on the wall behind me which I hadn’t noticed be4. It proclaimed that Chicken Hot Pot where I was eating was from — China! Shanghai, no less!

Well, my taste buds didn’t fool me and neither did the food. Every bite did taste of China and the poster confirmed that fact!

Shanghai’d!

I’m in the midst of writing about my Hari Raya Haji holiday to Penang but was shanghai’d by friend Mrs T’s email concerning her week’s stay in Shanghai, which like New York and London, is indentification enough on its own, without one having to add China any more.

Let me reproduce Mrs T’s breathless enthusiasm is infectious.

“Just returned last night from a week in Shanghai,” she wrote. “Had not been there since early 90s and it was a culture shock! Had heard a lot about how much it had  developed  over the years but still I was amazed by its transformation.

“City is just bursting with life and seems even more vibrant than HK. If anyone wants to forget there is a global recession, then just be in the thick of Shanghai Nanjing Lu or at the stations on Sat night. 

“The shoppers and diners seem to be their own people and they must be quite affluent. Some of the fashionably dressed young ladies one sees walking along the road could be those one sees in Tokyo or NY.”

Oh wow, and Mrs T isn’t someone to gush! More about her here and here… which means she really was ‘wowed’!

Which reminds me of my 3rd visit to Shanghai in 2006 which made me think that if push came to shove, it needn’t be Hobson’s choice to retire to Shanghai.

I reproduce that account, tho the cost numbers have to be read with the awareness that prices, like everywhere else, have increased a fair bit since the article was written. But of course still nowhere near London or Zurich levels…

nanjing lu

nanjing lu

My account dated June 22, 2006:

It was Friday night and after a heavy April downpour in the early evening, half the city’s younger inhabitants were out and about, determined to grab as much as possible of what remains of the start of another week-end.

There I was in the crush to get into a train in the Metro that was reached from the basement link below Raffles City. I barely managed to squeeze myself onboard before the doors shut.

To my surprise, a young woman with two bags of shopping at her feet got up and offered me her seat.  There I was in Shanghai, a city of 16 going on for 20 million people, on a Friday night and I was offered a seat! The first time I was inside a Chinese underground train!

It has never happened to me in Singapore and I’ve travelled on the MRT countless times since it was launched in 1987.

Overwhelmed, I stuttered in fractured Mandarin that I wasn’t that old (even though I was dumpily dressed in my casual holiday worst), I was getting off at Huangpi Nan Lu the next stop and thanks, I could stand, really, really, nodding and smiling my gratitude all the while.

unusual moment

SHG Metro: unusual moment

It was there and then that I thought it won’t be a bad idea to retire to Shanghai. It was a thought that was incredible just a few years ago. Certainly, when I was very young, any suggestion of spending time, let alone my twilight years, in China was as good as suggesting a stint in purgatory or worse.

But now, the question is not “why” but “why not”? After all, our forebears had come to Nanyang from China to seek a fortune and then returned to their motherland to die in comfort, supported by the money they had made.

The toll of war, communism and the excesses stemming from the political and ideological struggles that followed put paid to most of those dreams, though I know the grandfather of one prominent Singapore civil servant actually went back to Hainan to die – as recently as the 1970s.

I had thought then the rented room the grandfather lived in in Middle Road, however drab and lonely, was far preferable to far off China but I was very young at that time and really had no inkling what the old thought or felt. Perhaps I still don’t.

What I know is that in the 60s and 70s, the British super rich went to Switzerland to live to escape taxes while penny-pinching British pensioners went to Spain for the sunshine, sangria and to stretch their sterling.

What I know now is that the cost of living has become a strong persuasion for me to contemplate life in China. The savings accumulated  thanks to Singapore’s immense progress over my working life has made it possible to entertain such thoughts.

While I never bitch about the high costs in Singapore because I’m a strong believer in cutting my coat according to my cloth, I always have an eye for a good bargain. In Shanghai, I reckon, I can enjoy the same standard of living as in Singapore at half the price or less. Or live twice as long and comfortably on the same amount of savings.

A part-time maid in Shanghai costs 8 yuan an hour compared to S$10 in Singapore. For live-in help, the cost in Singapore and potential problems are far higher.

In Shanghai, cabs are plentiful and the sifu – as taxi drivers are called there – honest. Once when I queried a route taken, the driver immediately replied I was to pay what I normally paid, whatever the meter showed. He wasn’t peeved, only trying to allay any suspicions I might have he was taking me for a ride.

Taxi fares are 10 yuan for the first three km versus $2.40 in Singapore for the first km. (Cab fares have gone up about 10 per cent in May in China but are still very reasonable by Singapore standards).

Other public transport – buses, trams and the Metro – is cheaper still, though I don’t know whether they are efficient, as I used only the Metro.

An unfurnished three-bedroom flat in security-guarded new condominiums in Puxi, located conveniently a few minutes’ walk from the main shopping streets of Huaihai Lu and Nanjing Lu, can be rented for 5,000 yuan a month. I won’t get anything similarly priced in Singapore, if I were planning to live next to Orchard Road.

view from my window

view from my window

Food and drinks are inexpensive, even in restaurants, so long as one limits visits to five or six star establishments to special occasions. But then, I don’t do that regularly in Singapore so why should I change my spending habits when in Shanghai? Not enjoying fine dining shouldn’t be a sacrifice at all.

For my April visit, three of us spent under S$300 for meals during our entire stay—and this was at places where there was waiter service. Every meal saw us eating meat, fish and plentiful fresh vegetables cooked in different Chinese regional styles, all washed down with the ubiquitous Chinese tea and Tsingtao beer.

Tipping isn’t expected and in fact on the few occasions we decided to leave the change, it was politely returned to us, not because it was considered too small but because, as the waitress or waiter would explain with a shy smile, it wasn’t necessary.

By contrast, on my first week-end back to Singapore, I was taken to dinner at a classy restaurant on Sentosa where the bill set my hostess back by the same amount that was spent in Shanghai for food over six days! And the service didn’t even match what I got in Shanghai.

For those who enjoy a little tipple, Shanghai’s supermarkets will make them think they have entered a duty free paradise. Local beers have always been cheaper than imported soft drinks but now even American and European brands are plentiful and priced as though they are duty-free. Wine is plentiful too but the labels rekindled a little of my snootiness about things Chinese. I think I’ll pass for the time being, unless drinking at the Grand Hyatt!

Polite service is encountered everywhere even in little shops in out-of-the-way lanes. At the popular, some would say notorious, Xiangyang market, the little stalls offered a level of service I’ve never encountered in Singapore — even in places which have won prizes for good service.

I bought a bag at Xiangyang. Costing all of 50 yuan, the stall-holder threw in a small make-up bag in matching fabric for free. Later, I saw that a thread in the make-up bag had snagged. I was displeased but didn’t think it worthwhile to go back to seek redress, since taxi fares to and fro would cost 20 yuan!

Unexpectedly, a couple of days later, I found myself in the Xiangyang neighbourhood and decided to tell the stall holder about her “gift”. She remembered our transaction and replaced the imperfect bag with a new one, even though I didn’t have it on me to support my complaint or to make it a one-for-one exchange. “Mei kwan si,” she said, the smile never leaving her face.

alas, xiang yang no more

alas, xiang yang no more

In Singapore, whenever I complain about a purchase, I have to bring along the receipt and the reception from the sales people would be frosty at best. I am always made to feel I am somehow to blame for not examining the merchandise closely before plonking down my money. Not in so many words but the body language screams the message.

Of course Xiangyang isn’t a store or even upmarket but therein is the rub. In Shanghai, one may pay peanuts but it isn’t monkey treatment one gets!

In the 1980s, the Adam Smith’s Money World TV programme did a show on Singapore and the host extolled the island city’s progress with the words “the taps work, the lights work and the phone works”. Two decades later, I can say the same of Shanghai without hesitation.

Even the dreaded language gap for an English-educated Singaporean like me has narrowed to the extent that my macabre Mandarin allowed me to navigate Shanghai on my own, with no mishap. This was thanks to the fact that English signs were found where they mattered and the service people managed at least a couple of English words.

With cheap air fares, a flight time of four-and-a-half hours and no time difference from Singapore, Shanghai beckons me strongly — if not as a place to live till death, then certainly as a place to live while one is alive enough to enjoy the good things of life.