The Balestier area is famed for its tau sar piah, chicken rice, bak kut the, fish head steamboat. But there are other sides of Balestier not known to many.
Every day, as I sit in the coffee shop eating my lunch (not this dingy coffee shop, another one), I see a microcosm of the whole Balestier Road area. I see them all- the four categories of the non-resident population of the Balestier area; centered around the various activities in the area.
1. The Novena Medical Center, Gynaecology and other specialist clinics
· So in the coffee shop, I see lots of pregnant women and their husbands/boyfriends some of whom look very worried- the men occasionally going to the toilet to make furtive phone calls.
· Indonesians, Indians, Thai and Malaysians who have come here to seek medical treatment combined with shopping. On the whole, they don’t look sick, but are enjoying the medical tourism.
· Medical students, post-grads doing medical research; eating the cheap food. From France, Germany, USA, with their local girlfriends in tow, the girls showing off their mastery of the French language.
2. The budget hotels, the Day’s Inn, Ramada, Value Hotel, Quality Inn etc
· Mostly the archetypal American tourist. An old couple on their first trip to Asia, wanting to but hesitating on whether to strike up a conversation with a glum-looking local (me). Fascinated with everything, the strange languages, strange smells, strange manners (reserving a table with a pack of tissue paper-a local custom. Also the young back-packer types gamely trying the local laksa and chicken rice.
3. The Bars and KTVs and Spas-
· The hostesses from those places and living in rented apartments in the area, mostly mainland China girls, come to buy food too. The eyes of the economical rice seller light up. He doesn’t mind even if they cut the queue. The economy rice seller tells me which ones are from the KTV a few doors away and which ones (the young, incredibly beautiful ones) are from the millionaire’s nightclubs like Kabuki or Lido or whatever. There are also the girls from the bars that open from 0900hrs catering to those who entertain strictly during working hours, and hen-pecked husbands who must get home by 7.00 pm.
4. The animal lovers- acupuncture for the dogs
· I don’t see these people in the coffee shop (pets not allowed). But I see them on my walk back-which takes me through a cluster of pet shops with names like Woofy Hugs and Born Free. There is a bird shop selling songbirds and men sit for hours debating the merits of each bird’s singing. Then there’s the veterinary surgeon who does acupuncture for dogs. So I see old ladies bringing even older dogs (14 year old dog x 7 dog years= 98 human years old) for treatment. One lady tells me that her dog has arthritis, high cholesterol and kidney disease.