Tanah Merah (Red Earth in Malay) it´s not just the only significant military sea battle in the history of Singapore until World War II, but it will be my home during my brief stay. I rightly say home, for I am immediately welcomed. My friend (a truly smart Singaporean law student) and her family are the most hospitable hosts you could ever hope for. They picked me at the airport, treated me to all the delicacies of South East Asian cuisine, bore with my incessant and annoying questioning, and most importantly, they gave me so much support and warmth that I never felt alone.
The heat in Singapore was not as sticky as I expected. I suspect that the thousand umbrella trees which have turned the island into a little oasis must have something to do with it. My friend lives in a condominium- beautiful semi-detached houses which have a communal swimming pool and a gym. This is not the norm: 80% of Singaporean housing facilities are government-built flats. More notably, Singapore does not allow the formation of “guethos”, that is, in every area there must be a balance of races. Clusters of flats where only Indians, Chinese or Malays live together are forbidden. This is the result of Singapore’s long-term planning to re-house everybody and scatter and mix the different cultures to prevent the concentrations -such as Geyland Serai- that existed during British rule and were a catalyst to hate riots.
During my first night I am taken to a sea-food restaurant. Food is a national pastime. We eat Black Pepper Crab, Chili Crab with buns, Scallop with Yam- no words can describe the creamy velvety taste of those little thingies- and Baby Kailan. By the time I´ve finished dinner I know that you must ditch your diet if you come here, or your experience will be glaringly flawed.
I spent my first morning wandering through the streets of Singapore with a girl that had just returned from an exchange programme at IESE. It may be a cliché, but the world is a hankerchief. I, on the order hand, have never been to Madrid yet.
We meet at City Hall Metro Station. She explains- in a milder accent that reveals that she is originally from Hong Kong- that the Supreme Court is currently being renovated in order to turn it into a world-class (a word repeated constantly by the government) Arts Museum. Now, the new guardians of the rule of law inhabit a towering building crowned with what resembles a greyish-UFO. The architecture of the New Supreme Court mirrors the values that it upholds. The glass panes that let the sunshine in are a metaphor for transparency. When you enter this crystal-palace, you’re faced with numerous escalators to ascend not only to the Court Chambers, but to ascend to justice. As if you needed to go up and up and up to redeem yourself because you have fallen from grace.
We slip stealthily into Lai Siu Chiu´s Court Room, a tiny, leather-faced woman who has a reputation for being a ferocious judge who enjoys grilling lawyers with her sharp and incisive manner. The chamber is equipped with all the high-tech gadgets that a computer freak could ever covet: laptops, microphones, pen-drives that contrast with the scarlet upholstered armchairs provided for the public and media.
Afterwards, we keep sauntering along the lively streets of Singapore until we reach Boat Quay. A string of commercial and overpriced yet traditional Chinese and Thai restaurants offer exotic meal deals. In front of each restaurant there are huge water tanks with life lobsters and crabs. You choose the one you intend to eat; it´s the freshest of the fresh. We get to a quaint small street crowded with locals who are looking for a place to have lunch, flickering through the shops located under a once-imposing archway that now looks slightly decrepit. A thick, strong spicy smell fills the air. There is an art to getting a table at this place. “Choping” is the Singlish -a variation of English that incorporates vocabulary from Tamil, Chinese and Malay- word to describe the practice of leaving a packet of tissues “reserving” your table while you go to the counter to order your food. I am told I take spicy better than most Europeans. However, I am tried by Ikan Bilis – laminated strings of charcoal fish mixed with peanuts and a hotter that hot sauce. Prepare your fire engine when taking even a small bite of this Malaysian appetizer. We tell the waiter that everything is bagus bagus -good, good- before returning to the Straits Tower Building.
Now, we are in the Financial District. My friend is currently an intern at Rajah&Tann, one of the Big Four firms in the legal arena of S’pore. This partnership, formed by an Indian and a Chinese, is located at a very exclusive address, in one of the few buildings that has a double sky garden. The elevator takes us to the 25th floor. The sight is breathtaking: the little inner bay before Boat and Clarke Quay, the Padang, the 4-part obelisque commemorating those who died during World War II, the glass-paned skyscrapers that shine like enormous needles that defy gravity, the Esplanade…. I was very scared of coming to Asia. One day here, and I am already taken by its welcoming citizens, its efficiency and discipline, and the perfectly welded modern and colonial architecture. I can’t wait to meet the girl who is taking me on tour the next afternoon. My last free day before the start of any moot court duties.
Meritxell Burcet Sendrós. Estudiant de 4rt.