Everybody’s looking for the sun / people strain their eyes to see/ but I see you and you see me

I should lis­ten to myself. I was well and tru­ly suck­ered. As recent­ly as last week I railed self-right­eous­ly against the over­priced, and sad­ly very preva­lent, pre­ten­tious eater­ies that Auck­land is full of. And yet, there I was last Fri­day night in Soto, just off the top of Col­lege Hill. And to make mat­ters worse, I’d sworn two years ago nev­er to vis­it this place again after a shab­by expe­ri­ence which I’d grum­bled about way back in the ear­ly days of this blog.

To be pre­cise I said it would be a cold day in hell before I ven­tured there again. Well, that day came, although it was not my idea. Again: it was not my idea….

Blame my dear friends; in par­tic­u­lar, Sandy Doll who sug­gest­ed it then announced she couldn’t make it, leav­ing anoth­er eight of us to suf­fer gross­ly over­priced aver­age Japan­ese food in unimag­i­na­tive sur­round­ings after a two and a half hour wait.

When the food arrived it was, and let’s be gen­er­ous here, less than aver­age, small, slight­ly cold and greasy. There was none of the imag­i­na­tion, flair, humour and del­i­ca­cy that fine Japan­ese din­ing demands (and I’m used to at even the cheap­est places here in Indone­sia). The sushi and sashi­mi tast­ed less than fresh, which is the worst thing you can ever say about a Japan­ese eatery.

The sign on the door announc­ing its 2005 Metro Restau­rant award should’ve been enough of a warn­ing. I long ago learnt nev­er to trust any­thing in their food reviews. As long as I can recall Metro’s pos­i­tive food reviews are an indi­ca­tor as to what is best avoid­ed, with their cel­e­bra­tions of the shal­low and plain shit­ty places of which Soto is a per­fect exam­ple.

The only diver­sion in our ruined evening was the large, and offen­sive­ly loud (they don’t teach man­ners at Med School obvi­ous­ly), table of drunk­en Auck­land Hos­pi­tal doc­tors, one of whom had dropped their phone under the floor. As we watched it rang and flashed blue repeat­ed­ly and we could only assume that its soz­zled own­er was want­ed in urgent surgery. Giv­en their state we thought it best not to alert them to the call.

But with­in 48 hours we were sit­ting on the seafront in Sin­ga­pore at the, always fan­tas­tic, Long­beach Seafood restau­rant eat­ing crunchy baby Squid, and it all seemed so far away, thank god. The food was incred­i­ble, the ser­vice impec­ca­ble, both unlike sad old Soto; and the Tiger Beer hit the spot in the 35-degree heat. It was lunch time and we couldn’t see more than twen­ty metres out to sea cour­tesy of the Suma­tran smoke that hangs over large parts of Asia at this time of the year.

Sin­ga­pore is a fun­ny place, so absolute­ly obsessed with mak­ing mon­ey, tech­nol­o­gy and being num­ber one. It’s build­ing this brand new under­ground line at vast cost, both human and finan­cial, to add to its already impres­sive and com­pre­hen­sive sys­tem. And yet the com­mon wis­dom seems to be (and a look at the map con­firms it) that they don’t actu­al­ly need it; they just need to keep on build­ing and prov­ing that they are supreme. Their mil­i­tary is incred­i­bil­i­ty over the top both in size and in tech­nol­o­gy. Indeed its air force is so large they need to base bits of it in oth­er coun­tries, beyond nor­mal train­ing require­ments. The death notices in the con­trolled state media (The Straits Times to you…) usu­al­ly empha­sise what a sol­id employ­ee or a beloved boss the depart­ed was. Even the death of a spouse comes attached to a cor­po­rate: “beloved wife of…, trust­ed employ­ee of Han Yoo Wiring Corp….”.

It can be an unpleas­ant­ly Orwellian place despite all the shop­ping and food.

And yet this, large­ly soul­less, nation, with all its mon­ey and tech­nol­o­gy is pow­er­less to stop a few peas­ant farm­ers from cov­er­ing its lit­tle island in great wafts of grey smoke for large slabs of the year. There seems to be some nat­ur­al jus­tice in that, although obvi­ous­ly, the smoke is less than desir­able for a vari­ety of rea­sons.

But that said, the tech­no hunger in me, loves a place like Funan IT, where I can look at all the things I can’t buy in Auck­land or Bali. I’m a lit­tle sad and I get excit­ed by DSL routers and uber grunty lap­tops that have more pow­er than I could ever want.

And then, a few hours lat­er home to Bali, to the land where noth­ing actu­al­ly works as it should; where the roads have long ago fall­en apart and no-one seems to real­ly care; where we have to explain to a cus­toms offi­cer, with his hand out, that the old Pen­tium III we’ve brought up for Isabella’s room, is not a new “CPU” with the asso­ci­at­ed “duty” required.

But you realise that there is per­haps some­thing more than a new train line, and even the sim­plest warung has bet­ter ser­vice, ambi­ence and food than a thou­sand begot­ten Sotos can aspire to….

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