Thursday, 15 March 2007

The Brilliantined Babu and Callisthenic Carol

I seem fated to sit down wind from people. If there is a seat at a bus stop and I am the sole occupant, invariably the next arrival will position themselves between me and the prevailing breeze.

As you may well presume there are disadvantages in this unfortunate juxtaposition, especially when the sun is at its zenith and my new neighbour has run breathlessly to catch the next bus.

There are products on the supermarket shelves of Asia that once similarly graced the groceries of the western world but no longer do so. Bay Rum is a classic fragrance that brings back childhood memories of barbershops and cut-throat razors. It is a fragrant toilet water with a long history and is made from the oil extracted from the leaves of the Bay tree.

Brilliantine (image left) is another that I had long forgotten but seems never to have gone out of fashion in parts of Asia . I have discovered that there are several different varieties and fragrances ranging from the century-old, Pashana Original whose principal binding ingredient is glycerine, to various others types with combinations of rosemary and sage, blended with castor oil.

Its overly-liberal use is much favoured by some members of the local Indian community and each morning I have a mildly obese gentleman with coiffured and slicked-down locks who obscures my view of oncoming buses.

Another morning favourite of mine is a Chinese lady I have affectionately christened "Callisthenic Carol". She makes her way to the bus stop with regimented regularity, timing her arrival so as to allow her to undertake a set of vigorous warm-up exercises behind the bus shelter. Her flailing arms and muted grunts of exertion are a marked contrast to the posture of the sedentary Babu.

Incidentally, I use the term Babu in its Indian derivation not that of the Taiwanese, where the same name is given to an icecream cart.

Using the public transport of Singapore is a great way to meet the real people of this country. The MRT is often too packed to take in the personalities and private cars tend to shield one from the rest of the world. Buses are our preferred mode of transport.

Yesterday we took the 970 bus to Holland Village. Up until then I had largely resisted any temptation to frequent expatriate haunts. Holland Village is one such location. Having come to Singapore to live with the locals, a visit to this part of town was not high on the agenda. However I must confess that the experience was enjoyable and a I succumbed to a large steak meal at the Hogs Breath Brasserie - they also served a large green salad on the side which was delicious.

And there wasn't the slightest whiff of Bay Rum anywhere!

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