One upon a time in the U.SA., I was exploring and came across a bakery. Upon entering, I saw three different counters to choose from and a dining area that was ambiguously full-service. So, I made one looping stroll around the place and exited right back out the door.
The moral of the story is that I don’t do well without clear ordering procedures. The unnecessary complexity (or perhaps, my inability to immediately figure out the new system), overwhelms me with the strange anxiety that I will order incorrectly, be in the way, and everyone will wish I would just leave.
I would not blame you to raise an eyebrow and think, “She has a fear of ordering a cookie the wrong way?” Well, when you put it that way, yes, it’s absurd. But, irrationality the nature of most anxieties, is it not? This being said, not much can get between me and dessert.
Here in Singapore, not only must I decode an entirely new system of ordering, but I don’t always know what I’m ordering and the person taking my order, more often than not, doesn’t speak much English. To surmount these obstacles, I channel Julia Child, throw self-consciousness to the wind and charge full steam ahead. Like Julia in France, I submerse myself in a new world without fear, hoping I don’t end up with fish heads or durian.
My first food-ordering test was the “Hawker Center.” Found in almost every neighborhood, hawker centers act as social meeting areas and are, essentially, the “food courts” of Southeast Asia. With the cheapest and often, the most delicious food, different food stalls in the hawker centers showcase the regions’ traditional dishes – chilli crab, chicken rice, roti prata (flat bread), dim sum (mini dishes), etc. At the center nearest to the apartment, one vendor even hand pulls noodles to-order.
Most of the menus have pictures and numbers, which is enormously helpful. Using some combination of speaking, saying numbers and pointing usually gets the job done. Generally, items are ordered and received at the counter, while a comrade can scout out a place to sit. Drinks, on the other hand, are ordered tableside. It took some time to figure out the procedure of the thing, but now, we’ve got it down to a science – Put up two fingers, say “Tiger,” and two beers magically appear (Tiger is a popular brand of beer here).
Napkins and toilet paper are obsolete at the hawker centers, although you can find people selling packs of tissues on the street. As a result, I’ve made a habit of loading my purse with tissues. No one wants to be paperless with a full bladder and peanut sauce on their fingers. Lesson learned.
So, prepared with tissues and the procedural basics, I’m becoming more and more comfortable at the hawker centers. I’m becoming much better at de-shelling shrimp, I have a newfound love for longan fruit, and in the meantime, I’ve grown to love the uncertainty of a new adventure.