Thursday, March 09, 2006

Singapore, Day 1 - II, Chinatown

Finally, I went to the Chinatown wet market (see pictures). The place was mobbed with local shoppers. Stands were covered with fish of different hues, red snappers, flounder, yellow tail; what a wonderful photographer’s opportunity. I didn’t even know what they all were. Fish butchers were quite busy preparing fish for display; gutting, scaling, filleting. Discarded fish heads were everywhere. Many fish were sold whole. There were also live produce to be bought; fish, eels, frogs and turtles. A huge turtle was in a rectangular metal baking pan on the floor and so to get the scale, I put my sneaker toe in the picture. Its carapace had to be at least 28 inches (71 centimeters) long. A woman walking by commented that it would make a great wedding feast and smiled largely. I smiled back. Later, when I saw just how common these turtles were here, I felt better about it.

There were also the native black skinned chickens on a metal counter with their heads and necks hanging off, never seen in the US (see picture, they are absolutely black when freshly butchered).

Also there were many brightly colored tropical flowers for sale, including orchids of all kinds, and again I wished that I knew something about tropical flowers. There was also a colorful spice market with its proverbial spice lady.

Back out on the street, I stopped into Chan Foon jewelry and saw 22 karat gold fish pendants in three sizes. I noted that the little fish (asking S$74 each) would make nice earrings. There was also a hinged, flexible fish (asking S$65) with the loop placed in the position as if it was hooked on a line and was hanging. That would make a nice necklace pendant. I made a note of it and planned to return.

I then found Hong Wan Jade Company on Jade Street. There I found spectacular jade bangles, but decided to wait on those since they were inexplicably expensive compared to all of the other jade pieces. The jade fish were mostly white with red tails or there were lots of pale green twin fish. I was feeling let down when on the wall I spotted two smallish beaded (each bead 4-6 mm) jade necklaces with pretty good color (see picture; not actual size or color). Asking price was S$280 for one (for my twin) and S$390 for the other (for me), total S$670. They were strung on nylon fishing line. I quickly negotiated down to S$500 with the young pretty friendly female clerk and tried to get to S$450 when the old woman in the back started to get upset, ranting something in Chinese. The young clerk told me that the old lady was saying that I was getting too close to the wholesale price. So, they sold them to me for S$450 (US$317). I had no idea if I had a deal, or had just been had. I had heard that any bead can be dyed green and only someone who really knows these things can tell. Now, what to do with my goods? I certainly didn’t want to wear them. Fortunately, there is very little crime in Singapore, because of the severe punishments imposed, so I squirreled my booty away in my backpack.

I also saw many Chinese clay yixing tea pots in all sizes. I have collected these for some time now (see picture at right), more on that later. Not nearly as nice as what could be gotten in the US, but prices were dirt cheap.

I took a taxi back to the hotel and it started to pour as the monsoon moved in.

The company business dinner that night was at a Malaysian restaurant called Akifs (sp?). The building was a beautiful hilltop mansion with an outside wrap around porch. The food was so spicy it was unpalatable and nobody ate much although it looked and smelled really tempting. I was pretty tired from my busy day shopping. Needless to say, I slept pretty well that night. Tomorrow I get to earn my keep.