Gateway to Asia. An arbitrator in Singapore (III)

Somehow unexpectedly- as life is just the things that just “happen” to you while you are too busy planning “it” in your head- my afternoon turns into a crash course in architecture. A fragile, teeny-tiny girl –and mind you, the only true Singaporean I’ve met so far- is my Virgil now that we further venture into the streets of Singapore.

Colorful and festive. Dirty and slimy.With a name that rings like a tongue twister. That is Mariammam Temple, the oldest Hindu Temple in Singapore. Its tapered gopuram (tower) is shaped like a beehive that would defy that of an Amy Winehouse. This rococo visual-show of richly ornamented carved sculptures of Hindu deities is a true architectural ode to horror vacui. Bare feet (I try my best to politely set aside any concerns about germs and fungus in the name of religious respect) we enter the garbha gribha (the inner sanctum) were there are an infinite number of trays with bananas offered to the blue four-armed god Vishnu. There is also (gone-off) milk at the feet of Ganesh – the half elephant god of the Beginning and Lord of Obstacles. My galloping thoughts are absolutely irreverent: but all these paraphernalia does not awake in my any spiritual or religious instinct, but makes me feel as if I were queuing for a casting to join a circus.

After asking a lost Portuguese tourist to take a picture of us we leave this place that seems stolen from Burnett’s novel “A little princess” and we brace ourselves for the Sultan and Jamae Mosques. Forget the over-bearing, all-too-voluptous Hindu iconography and embrace this astonishingly austere yet princepesque works of art. Mosques tend to follow a common pattern: all have a prayer hall, a minaret and a mihrab indicating the way to Mecca. However, later on that night, while phoning my parents letting them know that I am a safe and sound, my dad will tell me that Islam is not represented in one unified style in Singapore as it is, on the skyline of Istambul. That night I will “day-dream myself” to sleep, thinking about the sweet waters of the Bosphorus. Moreover, our “Islamic exploration” is cut short, since we learn with great disappointment that our gender bars us from entering any of the Mosques, not even as visitors.

We keep on wandering Arab street. Then, “I-spy-with-my-little-eyes”… a half hidden shop selling flamboyant devices, useless artefacts, and shiny bits and bobs. I excitedly ask my guides if we can detour and they politely smile and let me run wild. We all end up making “glue-indonesian-bubbles” (transparent balloons made of glue that you inflate with a plastic twig), and chatting with a crazy old man that only spke mandarin rhar showed to us a motorbike like one of those that John Travolta would drive in Grease.

Having survived this eccentric parenthesis, we toddle along the edge of Kampong Glam (once the seat of the Malay Royalty), only to find an exellent example of folly modernity rendered on a gigantic scale: In the middle of a piazza were it feels you are being cross-examined by the 18 pairs of eyes of the statues of Churchill, Dante and Chopin and the like, Parkview building pops up. It’s a trapezoidal, golden, kitsch tower with a 1920’s air. Inside, there is a retro bar, with a black polished piano and waitresses flying around dressed as what I can only call “angelical whore” customs that will gladly fetch you an over-priced alcoholic drink if you care to rest for a while in one of the crimson armchairs.

Like bedraggled cats, we are out of breath, out of energy and ready to enjoy the delicacies of… Japanese food. We have dinner with the fragile Singaporean girl, one Malaysian girl, my adorable host and her boyfriend, and and two girls that will be court officials at the Mootcourt. Needless to say the food –laksa, ginger, Chinese tea- is superb. But the dessert! Oh! God! Yet another downfall to my attempts to lose weight. That night I discovered black-sesame ice-cream from Hokkaido (north of Japan). Black sesame ice-cream is like an ugly yet intelligent boy: you look at it and you would not dream of tasting a spoonful of that disgusting food that is the colour of cement, like the hair of an old-gray-granny. Once you are past you initial reticence, you taste it, and you are hooked with its cereal-feel that is a party for your taste buds.

During dinner, we talked about the wonders of London, the joys of CTLS despite the fact that transnational law as separate body of law is a commercial-bluff, about the peculiar -yet profusely loved by all the students – Mr. “Selares”, about Barcelona and Spain, and the fact that Indonesia is the only civil law country in South East Asia and the fact that Singapore has a written Constitution. And we laughed and we were happy, now that is supposedly the time to be happy, now that we don’t have to worry ourselves to the grave about mortgages and “adult” responsabilities.

The fragile girl renders a tribute to “The sound of music” with her lovely lyrical voice before we all say farewell and take the MRT back to Taanh Merah to get some sleep before we really have to face the music and experience what it feels to be an Arbitrator, what it feels to be the one examining, and not the one examined.

Meritxell Burcet Sendrós, ara ja alumna de 5è a la diàspora, a Bucerius Law School (Hamburg, Alemanya)

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