JOURNAL : Oct. 2004
3 October 2004 :
Apart from a few bumps on the way, the flight from Hong Kong went well. Nice meal. Was able to watch the new version of "Around the World in 80 Days" on the video screen, starring Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan - not the best film I've seen by any means ... I would still rather see the Michael Palin TV version - the programme was one of the long-ago inspirations for my own travelling.
Had to complete the Singapore immigration card - with its warning of "Death to Drug Traffickers under Singapore Law". Suddenly thought about all the Disprins and Diocalms that I'd packed, but hoped these would be exempt **.
Singapore is in the same time zone as Hong Kong, so for a change there was no need to alter my travel clock.
All the guide books talk about taxis or the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT underground) as the modes of transport from the airport. For 7 singapore dollars (less than £3), I found the better option of the hotel transfer service - 20kms right to my hotel door in a 7-seater people carrier. I was joined by passengers from Phillipines, Japan and Indonesia.
The driver (by law) has to avoid discussing controversial subjects such as politics, so it was funny hearing him steering his Japanese inquisitor onto more mundane matters.
The budget hotel has seen better days (despite the word "New" in its name), but the staff are extremely friendly, and the room is clean.
** I later discovered that I had actually fallen foul of Singapore law, by bringing a packet of chewing-gum into the country. It's banned here. It's all to do with the government's strict anti-litter policy. I'll keep the offending gum hidden in the bottom of my bag, and hope the authorities don't catch me. A sticky situation could otherwise ensue ...
4 October 2004 :
Just while you're waiting for the next update, I've just found this Hong Kong story on the BBC News website ...
A bank in Hong Kong has been explaining to customers why it sent 83 security deposit boxes full of valuables to a scrap yard, where they were destroyed. DBS Bank says the mistake happened during the refurbishment of one of its branches.
Contractors working over the weekend were supposed to dump empty ones. Instead they took full ones from the bank's vault.
The difficulty now is establishing exactly what was crushed.
The bank has promised to compensate its customers for their losses, but of course, few of them had told the branch what was in their boxes.
DBS Hong Kong's Head of Consumer Banking, Sunny Cheung, admitted they faced a difficult task establishing exactly what had been destroyed.
"This is a very tough situation because at the end, we have to work together with our customers to ascertain the value of the contents inside. It is very hard for us to say at this point in time what will be the amount, so I think we have to reiterate DBS takes ultimate responsibility for this incident and we will honour our obligation to our customers".
There is some hope though for those who fear they have lost irreplaceable items.
The bank says it has managed to recover some of what was lost.
Its officials are combing through what is left of the boxes, carrying out an inventory of what survived the attempts to destroy them. An investigation into what went wrong is under way.
I decided that I would investigate Singapores British colonial background today, so where better to start than the open field of the Padang, site of the Singapore Cricket Club. This area of Singapore is where you can find most of the old buildings, although these days they are dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers. Many buildings had been demolished in the name of progress, but the Singapore government suddenly realised that they were eradicating an important part of their nations heritage. So the Padang is a sort of oasis in the desert of modern architecture.
St.Andrews Cathedral is nearby it was interesting to see the ceiling fans inside to keep the congregation cool something Ive never seen back in the UK, especially in Scotland.
Officially, Singapores history starts in 1819 with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, who obtained use of Singapore for Britains East India Company. The original landing site is marked with a statue. (He looks a bit stony-faced if you ask me).
In fact, I would say that there is a bit of overkill on the Raffles front. Ignoring the world-famous hotel (more about that in a minute), there is Raffles Avenue, Raffles Boulevard, Raffles Link, Raffles Park, Raffles Place and Raffles Quay. I can see the Raffles Hospital from my hotel window. Youve then got Stamford Road, Raffles City (shopping centre), as well as the Raffles Girls Secondary School and the Raffles Golf Club. Theres also a second statue just around the corner from the one at the Landing Site.
But in the minds of many there is only ONE Raffles. The hotel was founded in 1887. I found it just after midday ! If there was one over-priced (S$18) touristy thing I had to do whilst I was in Singapore, it was to order a Singapore Sling cocktail in the Long Bar of the hotel.
This is also the only place Im aware of in Singapore where it is legal to drop litter youre encouraged to keep up the tradition of throwing the peanut shells onto the floor. Small birds that are flying around the rafters also welcome this anti-social behaviour.
By the way, bartender Ngiam Tong Boon invented the Singapore Sling in 1915 (Ive included that fact for the pub quizzers amongst you).
I didnt manage to find the Bar and Billiard Room, well-known for its legend of a tiger being shot in 1902 after being found under the billiard table. The only thing I managed to shoot today was my camera. I say, jolly good show, what !
5 October 2004 :
Having been well and truly Raffled yesterday (no prizes for this pun), I wanted to seek out things today that wouldnt remind me of home. That ignores (1) the main language is English, (2) they use the standard 3-pin UK plug sockets, and (3) the fact that cars are driven on the left (therefore the right!) side of the road.
So I took a look at the MRT map and immediately decided not to stop off at Redhill, Dover, Lakeside, Admiralty or Somerset.
Instead, I headed for Orchard Road this was recommended by the receptionist at my hotel who said that I should try and find the Kinokuniya bookshop which, at 40,000 sq. ft, is probably one of the largest bookshops in the world. Succeeded, and was pleased to (eventually) find a couple of good travel books that would keep me contented for the next few days. On reflection, I should have bought a map as well, just so that I could find my way back out of the shop !
Popped into a Singapore hi-tech barbers shop for a haircut - S$10 for 10 minutes - in this rat-race world of Singapore, they don't muck around wasting time, so to capture all the stray hairs on your head and clothes at the end of the cutting, they simply use a vacuum cleaner - no kidding !
Later on, I went for another walk at The Padang, this time continuing through to the Financial Centre, and along the riverbank. Couldnt miss seeing the roof of the Esplanade Theatre, designed to resemble an old-fashioned microphone. Needless to say, many people have criticised the design, but I expect thats no different to what originally happened with the Forth Rail Bridge or the Sydney Opera House.
Didnt manage to find the Merlion (the symbol of Singapore, being a cross between a mermaid and a lion), but did come across a rather colourful Chinese dragon instead.
6 October 2004 :
Headed out back towards the airport this morning, by MRT and bus, in order to visit the Changi Prison Museum and Chapel. It has been built in commemoration of the Allied Changi POWs and the civilian internees who were captured, imprisoned and suffered horrific treatment at the hands of the invading Japanese forces during WWII. A very moving and humbling experience.
To continue the WWII theme, I spent the afternoon at Fort Canning Park. Amongst the various buildings of the park is the Battle Box the former Malaya Command Headquarters. It was the British Militarys South East Asian equivalent of the Cabinet War Rooms in London. Its a maze-like complex of about 25 rooms and corridors 9 metres underground. Lot of focus given to 15 February 1942 the day the decision was taken to surrender Singapore to the Japanese.
The complex was sealed after the end of the war, and largely forgotten until about 10 years ago.
Apart from the Battle Box, the Park contains many tropical trees and exotic birds, making a welcome change to all the concrete and tarmac of the city below. The sound of these birds also made quite a contrast to the seagulls at Leith.
7 October 2004 :
The early bird catches the worm, so the saying goes. Well, this early Jeremy catches the early birds. Took the MRT and connecting bus to the Jurong Bird Park, which is situated on the west side of Singapore. (If you can imagine Singapore as the Isle of Wight ... bear with me .... it's shaped the same - then the Jurong Bird Park is roughly where Freshwater is).
Entered the Park at its opening of 8am, which meant that I could walk round the place before the real heat of the day, and before too many crowds arrived.
The best part of the park for me was by the waterfall - 30 metres high, with the sun breaking through the mist, it was a sight to behold.
While many of the birds are invariably kept in cages to stop them flying away, the space they did have seemed to be more than adequate.
There are over 8,000 birds in the park, made up of over 600 species. I think it's the different colours of plumage that makes such an interesting contrast to the birds I normally see back home.
I was too early for the Penguin Parade (scheduled for 3pm, and not a minute sooner) - but I did at least see them swimming and see them trying to 'walk' as best as possible.
Later on, having returned to the city, I found the Merlion. (Of course, if I had only looked a full 360 degrees properly when I went to the Esplanade a couple of days earlier, I would've seen it then.)
Lunched at the deli at Raffles. Surprisingly, it was very good value.
Spent the rest of the day wandering around Little India (with its different temples, and supplies of incense sticks and henna dyes), before returning to Orchard Street, and then finally home.
8 October 2004 :
Checked out at 6.30am, and then wheeled my bag to the Bugis MRT station (fortunately, just a 5-minute walk from the hotel) for the trip out East to Changi Airport.
Reflecting on my time in Singapore, I've certainly found it to be a very safe, clean and friendly place. There is no litter anywhere, courtesy of big fines and lack of chewing-gum. Everything seems to be extremely well-ordered (almost too well-ordered, at times like a Disneyland Theme Park). There is a lot of investment in the public infrastructure.
It's hot here, with temperatures averaging 28 degrees all-year round. Air-conditioners account for one-third of Singapore's electricity consumption (in fact, the Prime Minister nominated the air-conditioner as the most influential invention of the 20th century).
There is a huge focus on success and wealth-attainment - there is no welfare state to support or be supported by. People thinking of emigrating are called "quitters" in order to try and shame them into staying.
Singapore has no natural resources of its own, so it wants to create a nation based on knowledge, leading to business success. It is one of the most successful economies in the Far East, even taking into account the recent recession.
There are some strange laws, including 'Filial Piety' - the one where parents can sue their children for the cost of bringing them up! How's that for PayBack ??!
There is political and, to some degree, artistic censorship - you can speak freely but you cannot speak frankly - criticism of the government can quickly land you in jail. But it seems that this is all accepted by the population as a small price to pay for the type of society they have.
All quite different from home.
Australia now beckons, courtesy of the "Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service" (more commonly known as QANTAS). And it'll be the first time I've been on a 747 Jumbo Jet ! Excited ... I should say !
© Jeremy Cousins, 2004-2014