Sunday, 18 August 2013


After two days here our impression is of a great city, for me one of the best we’ve seen so far. Its clean, law abiding and confident of its place in the world and not afraid to show it in its architecture. 

There are so many unusual, unique buildings here it’s difficult to single one out as the icon of Singapore, but one of the more impressive is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel which comprises three tapering towers, 56 storeys high, arranged in a curve and topped with a huge plinth that makes it look like a giant Stonehenge. But this building is
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel
by no means alone, the art and science museum is like a giant upturned bunch of bananas or an opening flower, the supreme court is like a huge flying saucer atop a huge structure, skyscrapers that look from many angles as though they have no depth as they are built with shallow angled sides and there are many, many more, all equally unusual, impressive and large.

Jackie outside Raffles
In amongst all this brash modernity are the classical buildings constructed in the British colonial period before the Second World War, including Raffles the 180 room hotel built in this period and reflecting the laid back exclusive colonial living where every need is catered for, but in a classical colonial setting – a room for the night? A mere US$600 per night!

In the grounds at Raffles
It is possible to walk through parts of Raffles without having to be a guest and we did do this, including walking into the Long Bar on the second floor, where baskets of monkey nuts are provided on every table and you just drop the shells on the floor when you crack them open. The Singapore Sling cocktail was famously invented here, a red coloured drink provided in a tall glass with decorations on top. 

The ballroom at Raffles (where's the dance floor?)
I really wanted to have one of these as it would be a real tick on the bucket list to say you’ve had a Singapore Sling in Raffles (to be fair I have done this in the past, some years ago) but Jackie wouldn’t let me spend the S$26 each! There’s plenty of money here and the Rolls Royces and Ferraris parked outside were testament to this, so we felt somewhat out of place, but couldn’t help thinking ‘wouldn’t it be nice, if…’

Singapore has a long history of Chinese traders in the 14th century, but it wasn’t until Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, an employee of the British 
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffle's stature at the point where he first came ashore
East India Company, came ashore on 28th 
January 1819 looking to establish a port in the region to try to exploit the lucrative spice trade, then monopolised by the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, that the modern Singapore was born and flourished. He established the city, built himself a house on Fort Canning Hill, oversaw the layout and building of the early city and established some spice gardens in which he planted cloves, nutmeg and all the other spices in order to try to break Holland’s monopoly. Many of these things can still be seen and we walked round the recreated spice gardens and saw the well-known spice plants and trees and a whole host of other spices we’ve never heard of that all go to make the special tastes of Asian cooking that we find so hard to recreate at home.

In the Spice Garden
A nutmeg tree
Also on Canning Hill is the Battle Box, a place I really wanted to visit, but when we got there a note on the outside said that it’s closed until further notice. The Battle Box is a fortified underground command centre that was used in WW2 and recreates the final moments of Lieutenant-General A.E.Percival the GCO of all forces in Malaya, before he surrendered to Japanese troops under the command of Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita on 15th February 1942, completing the total humiliation of Britain and with it destroying forever the legend of the invincible British Empire.

These are cloves
As it happens, I’m reading a book that Jackie picked up for me in Australia titled: Defeat in Malaya, the fall of Singapore, by Arthur Swinson. It’s quite an old book, but it’s a very revealing account of events that led up to the total destruction of British Malaya and Singapore in 55 days and shows a catalogue of errors, indecision, lack of understanding, lack of preparedness and a disbelief that the Japanese would ever launch an attack and declare war against America, Britain and Holland simultaneously. It was far too late when reality finally dawned on the ‘never-never land’ of what was then laid back colonial rule. Lieutenant-General Percival does
These are coco beans growing straight from the branch
not come out well in the book, being described as a ‘colourless character, more a staff officer than a commander and certainly not a natural leader. He played everything by the rules, no matter how ludicrous and if he did not lack urgency, he certainly lacked passion. He was not the man for a crisis and certainly not the man for a desperate campaign.’ Mistake after mistake led to utter humiliation, but to be fair Japan were well prepared and used the element of surprise, landing in Siam (Thailand) and northern Malaya (Malaysia) only a couple of days after formally declaring war and attacking and destroying most of the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, then destroying two powerful British warships in the South China seas a few days later. Within a couple of days they had destroyed American and British naval power in the Pacific leaving them in total control.

We decided not to have anything from this hawker stall
The Battle Box was where Lieutenant-general Percival emerged carrying a white flag to seek terms of surrender, but nearby is the Council Chamber building where Lord Louis Mountbatten received the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, but never again would Britain be held in the same esteem in the Far East.

I think they mean it!
We are staying in Little India, which is a small area to the north away from the general affluence of the city. Here hotels are more modestly priced, we’re paying  S$135 per night (about £70) for an average 3 star type hotel and surrounding us are loads of Indian restaurants, which is great. We’ve had three nights out so far and been to one restaurant twice now, but still not had a really hot curry. I asked for a reasonably hot curry last night, it was good but not particularly hot and tonight I asked for a really hot curry and it was OK, but still not that hot. When we go to Thailand I’m going to take the advice of an Australian who told me to ask for ‘Thai hot, not Australian or European hot!’

Views from the top of Marina Bay Sands Hotel
Today we took the ‘City Sightseeing’ open top bus tour with commentary which gave us lots of facts, for example, 85% of housing is publicly owned, only 15% private and, as a result (they say) there is almost no homelessness. Also, traffic congestion is kept to a minimum by electronic charging of certain roads by overhead cameras reading number plates, also by a 100% tax on imported cars and a CO2 negotiation system that keeps old cars off the road and efficient cars on the road. It seems to work as traffic does flow well even at busy times. Another thing was that the land area of Singapore Island is growing as land is reclaimed from the sea. The city is now 25% bigger than before, the sea being up to 1km further away than before.

The quantity of large shipping in this and the previous picture I think is quite amazing
The Singapore Flyer in the foreground
The hop-on-hop-off bus meant we could get off to look at things during the day, so the one thing I wanted to look at was the Marina Bay sands Hotel. We’d been told that for S$20 you can go to the top and stand on the plinth that, on one side is a cantilever that overhangs the third tower by a huge amount (the height of the Eiffel Tower was mentioned, but I think this must be the whole length of the plinth, not the overhang). Anyway, the view was absolutely amazing, being higher than the Singapore Flier, which they tell us is ‘bigger than the London Eye’ (yeh, whatever!). From the top we could see the size of the port and the massive quantity of large ships anchored there, islands
Bottom left is the biggest floating stage in the world
of Indonesia all the huge high rise skyscrapers of the business area and the apartment blocks going off into the distance (did we tell you 85% of it is publically owned…). A great visit and well worth the money.

Bottom left is the art and science museum (looks much better at ground level, but I didn't get a good picture)
Looking along the 'plinth' containing the swimming pool
So tomorrow we’re off to Thailand. We’ve packed a bag we’re leaving here at the hotel and will collect it when we come back here on 26th October. We’re still coming to terms with the heat and humidity, 33-35⁰C in the day, 27-28⁰C at night with very high humidity. Air con is required to be on all night and we go into a shopping centre wherever we can to cool off, you just can’t be out for too long. How did the British get on in the old colonial days before air conditioning? I just can’t imagine!

The red roofs are the Raffles Hotel
Jackie on the cantilever on top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel

The skyscrapers of the business centre

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