Fortunately, there was a café there under the awning of the National Library and so it didn’t matter much that it was raining or that the rain was coming down so heavily that, when I looked out at the church, if it was a church, on Robinson Road, if it was Robinson Road, it seemed as if I were seeing it from a cave behind a waterfall. Some rain blew under the awning and wet the tops of the tables and chairs, but I took out a paper tissue and wiped the moisture from my table and chair and then the wind changed direction and my spot stayed dry.
I ordered an Americano and a plate of yam cakes, and then I waited for my food. I didn’t know what a yam cake was exactly, not here in Singapore and not anywhere else, but I liked yams and I liked cakes so I figured I had ordered safely. My stomach rumbled as if it was saying something and I tried to listen to my stomach to see what it was saying and it seemed to be saying that it was glad I had sprung for the yam cakes, and I thought that if my stomach was glad I was glad too.
Then the waiter brought my Americano and the yam cakes. They were round and had a puff-pastry shell. When I bit into the first yam cake, I held it in front of me to examine the filling. It looked like mashed raw sausage. But that didn’t matter really because the filling tasted like a yam paste, and if I tried hard not to think of the fact that its contents resembled uncooked pork, the cake kept tasting nice.
Although the yam cakes were good, delicious in fact, I wished I could have been eating the satay I’d had at Lau Pa Sat on Cross Street the previous night, even though only eighteen hours had passed since I wolfed down forty sticks of it, twenty of the chicken and twenty of the beef.
Torrential rain continued falling, and the great hollow space at the center of the National Library seemed like it had been designed as a sort of water park attraction—The Dome of the Cave, whose advertising bill would tantalize visitors: Eat Fried Bee Hoon in a cavern between two waterfalls! Enough rain poured off the glass facades of the library that it was hard to believe it (the rain) wasn’t ornamental, a product of the edifice’s high-tech ingenuity, a curtain of rain feature that recycled the ‘fallen’ rain and pumped it back up to the top of the building to fall again.
And as I sat there, licking the remnants of the yam cakes from my lips and fingers, for some reason I found myself remembering a passage in Xu Xiake’s Ming Dynasty classic, A Record of Traveling from Cloud Peak Temple to Heavenly Pool Temple, where the author had said the combined sound of a warbling stream and the wind rustling through the trees resembled a chorus of monks chanting in Sanskrit, and it seemed to me right then that the noise of the rainfall all around me sounded like the thunder of a huge audience clapping—applauding, perhaps, the very feat of my sitting at this table and writing these words.