Perhaps it was the yellowing fluorescent lighting. Or the sticky plastic chairs. Or the fleshy young girl in the black fishnets, scuffed-up heels and too-short shorts sashaying in for her nightly order of chicken wings.
But I had the distinct feeling: I’ve been here before.
Not here, at Cafe Supunsa in Singapore, specifically. But at a saucy place of ill-repute, enduring the mental undressings of men wondering if I’m one of the crowd, all in the name of searching for a good meal.
My friends and I, we go to red-light areas quite a bit in these parts. This often surprises my American friends, who are floored that Singapore has a red-light district.
We’re all thankful that it does, however. It is the reason for the existence of truly great food stalls that sell super-tender beef with noodles in a divine, silky sauce. And gingery rice baked in a claypot with Chinese sausage and then tossed in oil and sweet, thick soy sauce. And soft-shell crab dragged through a coating of five-spice powder and chopped, flaming-hot chilis and then deep fried…
It’s cheap of me, I know, but I’m willing to set aside my feminist ideals many a night and celebrate the fact of these glorious byproducts of the seamy sex trade and its hungry, hungry patrons.
And so my dear friend Jeanette and I, we snake our way through the narrow, dank corridors of seedy Orchard Tower, a mall in which every floor holds a plethora of promises for any drunken sailor with more than $10 in his pocket.
The air is thick with the trace of cigarettes furtively smoked; the too-loud bars are filled with lonely men and lonelier girls.
But Jeanette, her husband, Eudon, and I, we fill our flimsy, fold-up table with a hotpot of bubbling tomyum soup, deliciously sour and stuffed with more shrimp than you’ll find in most restaurants, garlicky chicken wings, kra pao chicken, thickly laced with basil and chili, and a refreshing papaya salad heavy on the roasted nuts and crackling, dried shrimp.
We speculate in hushed tones about men thinking Eudon could be our pimp. And we laugh, merry with satisfaction from the feast we have had.
But then the next round of fishnets comes in for their wings, a little respite from the onslaught.
And the feeling, it passes.