Singapore Adventure

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hunger Pains
by venitha

On the interminable drive from airport to hotel (Shanghai is vast), five rumbling stomachs provide a growling undertone that contrasts with our cheery moods and friendly conversation.

"The weather here is so nice."

"Are those crabapple trees? It's spring!"

"You're the only one who can speak any Chinese, Rohit, so we're counting on you."

Rohit, four, is painfully shy, though he has clearly fallen under his Uncle Jim's playful spell as four-year-olds the world over are wont to do. So far the only Chinese I have managed to coax from him is the Mandarin version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star".

Our hunger pains grow more insistent as we drive by fruit stands crammed with Fuji apples and wheeled carts selling pineapples.

"Do you think it's safe to eat the street food?" The general consensus is that this is not recommended. Rats. Jim and I reminisce droolingly about the pineapples in Thailand. And the mangoes.

"In the Philippines, it's the same," adds Amol. We are none of us helping.

At last at our hotel, we are foiled first by the completely inedible lobby and next by the completely un-fruit-bowled room. Taking matters into my own famished hands, I ignore the mini-bar's overpriced and unpalatable prawn crackers and dial room service. They have no fruit bowl (they are adamant regarding its utter unavailability), but they can provide a fruit plate or a fruit platter or a fruit salad or, well, something that starts with, I think, the word fruit and then gets a bit vague. The delivered epicurean masterpiece is, in this food critic's opinion, a fruit bombe, a colorful melange of local delights severed into violent spikes and arranged in an explosive yet artful three-dimensional yin yang balance.

Hunger satiated to the point that we are fit to eat in public and freshened up to the point that we are fit to be seen in public, I turn my back for a second, and Jim... is ringing the doorbell?

"Sorry, lah," he calls through the door. "I locked myself out." And we soon discover the opposite is true as well: He's locked me in.

The exceedingly cool and exceedingly dysfunctional mechanical door chain is stuck on, so we can open the door, but only a crack. I pass Jim his key, not that it does him any good, and he passes me... "Hey! Do you have any chocolate out there?"

Not one but two engineers helpfully tell me many times, "Push the button." But, alas, frail fragile females like me are neither smart enough nor strong enough to push the button no matter how many times we are instructed to do so.

"Perhaps you could pass me a hammer." A sense of humor is very important in a crisis. The people of Shanghai understand this as well: when I finally get an English speaker on the phone, he tells me to come right down to the lobby and he will give me a new key. Wild jokesters under pressure, these crazy Chinese!

I almost regret having turned my nose up at my Singapore Airlines dessert of "jelly of snow fungus with red dates and lotus seeds". (I took photos of both the menu and the luscious dessert so I can appropriately savor the dietary triumph of resisting such temptation.) I wonder if a beverage exists that might make even prawn crackers appetizing. I think that a quiet evening at home on the 33rd floor, just me and the mini-bar and the lights of the Bund glittering through my picture window, and I could become downright fond of Shanghai.

But before I even open the fridge, two men and a screwdriver arrive to cramp my style. My budding love affair with Shanghai and, I admit it, the mini-bar, is soon sullied by the muddy footprints of the crowd that rushes between us through my now-wide-open door: Jim, Rohit, two men and a screwdriver, and a housekeeper bearing... huh? A basket of fruit?

Jim and I exchange an amazed, confused, bemused glance.

"Dessert." Jim decides with a shrug and looks down at Rohit. "Are you finally ready?"