A Manipuri mistaken for an Indonesian in Singapore
By Natalia Ningthoujam
Singapore: Owing to my Mongoloid features, people in India often think that I hail from Korea or China instead of the northeastern Indian state Manipur. It was no different when I set my foot in Singapore for the first time. People of the Lion City thought I must be from Indonesia or Malaysia or anywhere else – apart from India! But this time, it wasn’t because of my facial features.
As I was the only Indian journalist chosen for an assignment, I had no one to accompany me to my maiden visit to Singapore, where Indians are said to make up 9.2 percent of the total population of 5.5 million.
And I am one of those people who are dependent on others – even for crossing roads!
So, during my almost six-hour flight, which had a good number of Indian passengers, from New Delhi to here, all I did was pray to god that everything goes well.
Once I landed, the heat and humidity reminded me of India. But as I boarded the cab, the music made me realise that I was miles away from my home country where most radio stations play Bollywood chartbusters. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the 1990s English pop songs by some of my favourites like the Backstreet Boys and Michael Learns to Rock.
As soon as I reached my destination, I felt like crashing out. But the picturesque view, from the 16th floor, of Marina Bay and the city skyline through the floor-to-ceiling window caught my attention.
The next day was packed with presentations and interactions for US film production studio Disney-Pixar’s next animation film “The Good Dinosaur”, set for a December 4 release in India. So, I didn’t step out to explore the local cuisine or do anything ‘touristy’.
I started my day with a heavy breakfast. The hotel’s buffet was an exhaustive one, but it was dominated by beef and pork dishes that I don’t like to dig into. So, I went for the usual hash brown potatoes, baked beans, chicken sausages and breads with their perfect partner – tea. Sadly, there was no masala tea. Yes, be it India or any foreign land, my standard question for the hotel staff is “Do you have masala tea? ” Since they didn’t, I asked for Darjeeling tea. I also tried chicken teppanyaki. The thinly sliced chicken breast reminded me of the chicken dish prepared by my mother. I believe it was because of the strong soy flavour.
While relishing that, I spotted short-grain Japanese rice from my table. Being a hardcore rice eater, I couldn’t resist myself from taking a few spoons of it. For a few seconds, I looked around and wondered what to team it up with. Then I saw some of the Indian dishes like chole, sambar and bhatoore. I couldn’t help but notice that the bhatoore (fluffy deep-fried bread), looked more like puri (another deep-fried bread but unleavened). So, I told the chef about it.
And the first thing he asked me was “How do you know?” I replied saying “Because I am an Indian and I like bhatoore especially the ones stuffed with cottage cheese”. He looked at me with raised eyebrows and said: “But you are too fair to be an Indian! I thought you were an Indonesian”. That comment was absolutely new to me.
Anyway, I thought that was an exception. But as the day proceeded, three more people doubted my nationality because of my light skin tone. In fact, one of them had roots in South India. She said: “In Singapore, most Indians are Madrasis (from Tamil Nadu). Since they are dusky, everyone assumes that all Indians are dark”. Okay then!
After wrapping up my work, I headed to Makansutra Gluttons Bay that serves Asian dishes under the open sky. It seemed to be a big draw for tourists, who mostly indulged in seafood.
Soon, I found myself staring at numerous food stalls. If only I had a bigger stomach. After giving it a lot of thought, I ordered prawn dumplings with my all-time favourite chicken rice. Served with a spicy sauce, the steamed dumplings in clear soup was quite filling. The chicken was tender and juicy though the crispy skin didn’t tantalise my tastebuds. The rice was again short-grain and went well with the chicken. All this just for seven Singapore Dollars (over Rs.300).
All stuffed, I walked around for a while before going back to the hotel, which was right across the road.
As I just had a few more hours in my hand, after sleeping for some time I had a quick breakfast and set out on foot to see the icon of Singapore – the Merlion, which is half-lion and half-fish that gushes a water fountain out of its mouth.
Like other tourists, I also posed in front of the statue and took selfies. But the outcome wasn’t great, thanks to the haze caused by the forest fires in Indonesia.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed my one day and two nights stay in Singapore. Hopefully, if I visit the spick and span city again, the citizens won’t confuse me for an Indonesian.