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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