05/07/2013 06:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Not So Shiok!

Eat Durian, shiok. Eat ice kachang on a hot day, shiok. See animals in a night zoo safari, shiok. Eat hawker food, say "shiok".

After touting a series of campaigns aimed at selling the "real" Singapore (like Surprising Singapore, Uniquely Singapore and Your Singapore) to a class of modern travel warriors with more discerning tastes, the tourism bodies are now hawking Singapore Shiok! In a recently produced video to show all that is shiok about being in Singapore (like the above examples), I feel it came, short of shiok (safe for the local food experience and ice kacang on hot day part).

Shiok, if you aren't familiar with this part of the equator, is a local slang that describes all feelings that's fantastic, indescribable or sensational -- like that first bite into a Peter Luger steak after a one year vegetable and fish diet hiatus. Selling shiok is like selling your real soul or your packaged DNA, as an experience. It's like catching a glimpse of the enchanting Taj Mahal on a cold, moody and misty morning -- like it's a painting that beckons a thousand words, with you in it. Or it's like being consumed with joy, pain and sorrow when you encounter the spot where the Last Supper is said to have occurred in old Jerusalem, or at the Wailing Wall, nearby. Perhaps more, shiok is the thrill of learning How-to-Use-A-Hawker-Centre-at-Peak-Hour in Singapore from a Singlish-spewing, Chinese-educated, local Ah Pek (old uncle) trying his level best in his brand of English to ensure you get your food and seat fast and comfortably.

"You must wait one. Don't anyhow anyhow buy food then look for seat hor. Sure don't have one la. Anden, food cold liao. You see who wan to finis already, then bluff bluff lidat wait next to table, smile smile pretend a bit, then, chiong in when they leave. Then one fella go chope the table and the other buy food la. If you alone only, then put tissue paper pack on chair, like the fella there, and people know this one chope already, so you can go buy food...line up long long also no problem one.

This one is hawker centre law." Go figure. You might want to consult Dr Jiajia


Durian ice kacang a hot day in Singapore anyone?

For when you do, you would have consumed a real taste of Singapore. And right after that meal of spicy Bak Chor Mee, sweetened with a bowl Tau Suan washed down with sugar cane juice with lemon, only then can you truly say shiok! And why not? To begin with, Shiok is a Singlish word and is a slang of the Malay term "syok," which denotes everything that feels good and fantastic. Singlish is a unique pidgin local language derived and adapted from the various dialects and languages worldwide that came to roost in Singapore centuries ago and regurgitated in unstructured English. How much more unique can you get. In Cincinnati, a Yale and NUS (National University of Singapore) collaboration program has a Singaporean girl conducting Singlish courses for her international academic colleagues. In the words of one Boston native, "Yale-NUS college ah? Damn power sial!"

Then, if you, a westerner, have the urge to head out of your hotel at 3 a.m. in jammies and flip flops to buy Chinese almond biscuits at Mustaffa's from Malay service staff in Little India, your chances of getting this strangely comforting Singapore experience is very high at this 24/7 mega monster of an emporium. You can even get your Euro dollars exchanged there, no problem. So Singaporean.
There's also not many places in the world where visitors and local alike head to the red light district of Geylang, in search of good food. The top Michelin star and Best Restaurant chefs head there, just like our taxi drivers here. Shiok is what these side lane cooks do with white pepper, wine and crabs, salted egg yolk cream with tempura prawns and even fermented black soy beans tossed with yau mak (a derivative of romaine lettuce). And when a woman saunters up and asks if "you want?" when seated in these back lane seafood specialists in Geylang, she's not talking about chilli crabs -- perhaps, shiok for a seafood-loving geek who's never been propositioned.

If there is a guideline for any travellers seeking a true Singapore experience, stay away from the "zoned and gazetted" tourist area. Seek areas like Ang Mo Kio, Jalan Besar, Joo Chiat, Balestier, Changi Point and even the likes of Sembawang. What's left of the original and true Singapore soul, resides in places like these.