CNA explores Singapore on foot (Day 2): A near perfect meal and retracing a recruit's steps
Tuesday (Oct 13) was Day 2 of CNA's 110km walk around Singapore, with journalists Matthew Mohan and Gaya Chandramohan venturing out once again to discover the delights on their doorstep when overseas travel is more or less off limits.
SINGAPORE: "This char kway teow is too wet," remarked a regular at Hong Lim Market and Food Centre, an empty red plate streaked with stains of a meal consumed resting in front of him.
Having probably just had the best meal of a trip around Singapore, I was incredulous.
"But, it's usually like that. Their version is not bad, and tastes good. I used to come here two to three times a week," clarified 62-year-old Mr Lee, who only wanted to be known by his last name.
"I come to this hawker centre only for this char kway teow, nothing else."
It was easy to understand why - the noodles were the right blend of spicy, sweet and savoury. Accentuated by the crunch of the beansprouts, crispness of lard and the smoothness of the cockles, this had to be one of Singapore's best versions of the dish.
I had tried Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee on a number of occasions in the past, and as we made a beeline up the stairs to the second floor of the food centre, I was bracing myself for a wait.
After all, this char kway teow usually comes served with a 30 minute wait.
But to my utter amazement, there was nobody in line. Fried, dished, served. I scoffed down my meal in less than 15 minutes.
"I had already been patronising this stall since it was at Outram," explained Mr Lee. "After it shifted, I couldn't locate it for a few years. I would give it 9/10, no problem. But I can't give it full marks, full marks would be 100 per cent!"
Who was I to argue?
BLAST FROM THE PAST
It had been a rather uneventful walk to Hong Lim Market and Food Centre. Fresh out of the hotel, and with less than 30 minutes on the clock, we were met by the blaring horn of a car that sped by just inches away from us.
In our early morning stupor, my colleague Gaya Chandramohan and I had mistaken the flashing green man across the street for our own go-ahead to cross. Big mistake.
We were nearly clipped by a driver who was alert enough to sound the horn at two tired journalists who had clearly walked a bit too much the day before.
With that sobering incident not too far from both our thoughts, we spent the rest of the day being extra cautious at stop signs and traffic lights. Better safe than sorry.
Today's 28km route was to begin at Harbourfront, where we'd spent the night at a hotel, and end at Expo, where we'd also put up for the night. Despite the 30km we clocked the day before, we felt surprisingly sprightly. After some stretching the night before, the nagging aches had worn off.
We weaved our way quickly through the Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar district, enjoying the brightly coloured and lovingly restored shophouses.
There were elements of the past along the way, from an old payphone along Neil Road - we could still somehow place a call - to Yip Yew Chong's mural in a quiet alleyway off Smith Street, a beautiful scene packed with stunning details from Yip's childhood.
These were legacies of different eras from those we were born in, but we appreciated them just as much.
Having ticked off Parliament House, the National Gallery Singapore and St Andrew's Cathedral from our list of mandatory landmarks, we charged up Benjamin Sheares Bridge.
And there, in stunning glory, was a mighty view.
Gardens by the Bay, the Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands stood proudly across the water. These monuments to Singapore's modernity make for an eye-catching vista, and were a sharp contrast to the historic districts we had been strolling through in the morning.
The last time I'd had this view while on foot was while I was a National Service recruit, many moons ago. It was in the middle of the night - I was in green, sweating, and marching.
Funny how life has a way of bringing one full circle.
PAIN BEFORE PLEASURE
The toughest part of our journey on Tuesday was probably the long stretch of East Coast Park. A seemingly benign patch of green on the map, it was anything but.
As the sun began to blaze down and cyclists began to whiz past us, we realised just why we probably the only ones foolhardy to tame the stretch.
And yet, even as the sun beat down and our legs became heavier, there were still moments of pleasure.
The sound of the gentle waves lapping on the beach, the occasional cries of delight from a toddler enjoying an afternoon playing in the sand and the occasional oasis of cool shade from the trees along the route were reminders that this is one of Singapore's favourite playgrounds.
And on a Tuesday afternoon, free of the weekend crowds who flock to the area, it was more enjoyable and peaceful than I'm used to.
We gradually came across more signs of civilisation, but also reminders of a pandemic - benches cordoned in bright orange tape a reminder of the times we're in.
And we pressed on, cooled down by slices of watermelon that a friend had kindly prepared as she met us halfway during the walk with her two boys.
This tided us over to our last stop before making the trek to the Expo - East Coast Lagoon Food Village. We'd heard of mouthwatering carrot cake and excellent satay from readers keen to share their foodie tips with us.
But we were there at 3pm.
We settled for cold gulps of sugarcane juice and some admittedly excellent barbecue chicken wings. An oyster omelette stall that I'd been hearing rave reviews about also happened to open its doors just as we were about to leave.
I dug in. It was no 9/10 char kway teow and but it would have to do.
After all as we've been finding out every day along this trek, you win some, you lose some.