Country number: 47
Territory number: 52
When? April 1997
How? Returning to KL from KK via Singapore
Who? With friend, Barbara
‘Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine. I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.’
Lee Kuan Yew
When? September 2000
How? Side-trip from Manila
A Singapore Airlines flight – very nice free champagne and the best landing ever. I am very pleased with myself until I check my belongings in the arrivals hall and find both my purse and diary missing. that takes a while to sort.
Then a taxi into the city. The hotel is lovely and I can’t get over the cleanliness and order after Manila. There are lane markings and everyone overtakes on the outside. The Chinese staff in the hotel though are not nearly as welcoming as the Filipinos. The hotel is on the river and has about 40 floors- fabulous views.
Work today and then a big treat – I’m being taken out to dinner at colonial and renovated Raffles Hotel. Next, a buffet meal in the Tiffin room which specializes in a huge variety of lightly spiced dishes. You can eat as much as you want. It’s very good and very opulent.
I meet a friend of a friend, Claudia, outside Scott’s shopping centre. My taxi driver informs me that this is the most expensive shopping in Singapore and the tenth most expensive in the world and that I should go to Chinatown instead. No doubt he has a brother with a shop there. Claudia is delightful – a very mature 22. She takes me through all the malls in Orchard Road and I stock up on salad cream, Branston pickle, shampoo, shaving foam, shortbread and CDs unobtainable in Manila (some items have been ordered by colleagues). Then on the bus to Holland Village and a complex of little Asian shops full of furniture and embroidered clothes. The latter are irresistible and I buy a waistcoat and a dress.
Claudia has a barbecue to go to and I can hardly carry anything else, so back to the hotel and then a walking tour of nearby Chinatown, full of enticing little shops – very cheap. A tailor tries to sell me a beautiful Shantung suit – only £450, handmade to fit. I buy a blue elephant sarong for £3 instead.
I have been invited to have dinner with Claudia’s parents at the Swiss Club out in the jungle edge of Singapore Island. Claudia’s father is Swiss, her mother Indian. These people I do not know welcome me and buy me dinner though I have to resist the local special – pork knuckle with sauerkraut. A beautiful chalet setting under the palms with an ancient billiard table. Five minutes after arriving an Indian called Rajat invites me to go to a nightclub with him.
The club is called Anywhere – stuck on the top floor corner of a mall, but packed with expats. It is run by the band themselves, called Tanya, playing good rock music (old stuff of course) and with a lead singer who is a cross dresser with very long false eyelashes. I have a great time dancing and trying to be sociable with the two other Swiss who are with us, but the music is too loud to talk. Rajat turns out to be a brilliant cliché. Married, but his wife does not understand him – they lead separate lives. Can he come in for coffee? Just coffee – we don’t have to do anything else. How quaint.
There is just time to wander along the river and around the shops on humming Clarke Quay before Claudia arrives to take me back to the airport.
When? May 2001
How? First leg, going on to Indonesia
Who? Staying with Donna, who I met in Nepal
When? September 2019
How? Last leg, coming from Perth
An eight mile walk in steaming Singapore,revisiting old haunts. At least that’s what I set out to do, but Singapore has changed considerably over 20 years. as usual it’s grey and humid (i’m not sure i’ve ever seen the sun here), but Chinatown has become a bustling tourist centre, with a brand new temple, bright signs and a bustling, formal food court. Admittedly, it was previously quiet and not the most exciting of experiences, but now it no longer feels authentic. Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, along the river, had already been over restored. They’re’ mostly modern glass and steel restaurants, suspended over the water now. And the whole of the Bay Area, to the south, has been remodelled. There’s a very glitzy shopping area, and some new museums (one inside a giant lotus). The new Bay Gardens are visible for miles, Kew meets Star Trek, with huge Stonehenge shaped futuristic apartment blocks, towering illuminated sculptures and glass exhibition domes set amongst the tropical greenery. It’s very easy to navigate if you’re up for hiking. There are walkways, escalators, lifts and linking bridges, creating a circular route. On the east side, a monstrous spiky silver sphere, housing yet another display. We have the armadillo, they have a hedgehog. The famous merlion fountain has been moved and placed at the end of a new foot bridge, leading towards the Padang and its cluster of colonial buildings. The whole area is teeming with camera-wielding tourists; there’s plenty to photograph.
Singapore is now one huge theme park. I can’t decide if I like it or not. Part of it works, a sci-i panorama, with the backdrop of the skyscrapers and the business district. But it’s over-cooked at times, ‘older’ buildings too pristine. There are sprinklings of decidedly tacky plastic looking objects in the new lakes. And the knot of historic buildings around the Padang is being swallowed up, in the midst of all the high-rise, though some civic buildings have been converted into stately new galleries. The rectangle of worn grass that is the famous Padang itself is fenced off and teeming with men in overalls. They’re getting everything ready for the impending Grand Prix.
I’m exhausted after trudging around in the humidity, so I decide to adjourn to Raffles Hotel for a sentimental drink. Most of the arches around the square of the building are papered over – I’m not sure if it’s being renovated. Raffles City Mall has sprung up opposite – of course. And there’s a very, very long queue winding up the stairs to the Long Bar. I think it’s home time.