From Singapore, Feasts for Your Eyes, Palate and Skin

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From Singapore, Feasts for Your Eyes, Palate and Skin

A small crowd gathered around an ethnic Malay Singaporean woman sitting by the Cafe Royale at the Westin Chosun hotel. Murmurs of "What is she doing?" and "Is it permanent?" could be heard as Rashida Husain held a woman's arm, creating intricate lines all over her palms and half-way up her arm.

Henna is an age-old form of body decor: The hands and feet are adorned using a paste of ground henna leaves. From the Middle East, the art form spread to India, and eventually found its way to Singapore and the surrounding region. Ms. Husain is in Korea as with the Singapore Food Festival.

The annual culinary feast in Singapore ended April 30, but several chefs, a henna painter, a Chinese opera performer and a master candy maker have now hit the road. With the help of the Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Airlines, the festival came to Korea June 1; several restaurants will be serving Singaporean food throughout June. These include biz baz at the COEX Mall (02-6002- 7777), Cafe Royal at the Westin Chosun hotel (02-317-0357), and Dong Back at the Westin Chosun hotel in Pusan (051-749-7434).

Singapore is famous for its diverse food and culture. The population is 77 percent Chinese, 14 percent Malay, 7.6 percent Indian and 1.4 percent other ethnic groups.

While the chefs delight the palate with regional specialties, the artists will always oblige a reporter about their transplanted art forms. All three artists speak English and offer their services for free. They have now left Seoul and will be at the Westin Chosun hotel in Pusan from Tuesday to Sunday.


Henna has an important place in traditional Indian celebrations. During important occasions, such a weddings, pregnancies and holidays, female friends and family will gather to have their hands and feet decorated with henna.

When Madonna reinvented herself yet again in the late '90s with a penchant for Eastern culture, henna went mainstream, crossing cultural and sexual boundaries and meandering all over the body.

In Korea, Ms. Husain, who learned the art from Indian Singaporeans, has had several men request tribal designs. She will draw a design on your skin with henna paste. Let the paste dry for at least two hours before gently washing it off. A dark brown stain will remain on your skin for one to four weeks.


Edmund Wan was visiting Beijing when he saw a master making dragon beard, a candy eaten like dim sum. Fascinated, he asked for lessons, but was flatly rebuffed. Mr. Wan, who used to make noodles by hand, returned to Singapore and instead taught himself the dying craft. It took him three years and eight months, but he finally mastered the art of stretching honey into whisker-like threads.

The threads are wrapped around a mixture of crushed roasted cashew nuts and peanuts. The candy is supposed to be eaten in one fragrant and slightly chewy bite.

Dragon beard is eaten during festivals such as Chinese New Year and a mid-autumn festival. The candy symbolizes prosperity and gathering wealth. "With one lump of dried honey, you create all these strings," Mr. Wan explained.


Robert Ho Seepeow grew up in a family of Chinese opera performers. At 16, he took some opera classes and decided to follow in the footsteps of his family. When asked why, he replied simply, "I'm Chinese. We love it."

The Chinese opera is considered the highest form of Chinese culture. The large Chinese community introduced the opera to Singapore and it took hold in the 1950s.

Mr. Seepeow demonstrates the elaborate theatrical painting that is integral to the opera. For the festival he paints masks instead of faces. A black and white mask usually signifies a monster or a villain. A red mask signifies a hero, a government officer or general.

by Joe Yong-hee

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