Thursday, July 27, 2006

Singapore Fling!

A friend of mine is presently visiting Singapore causing happy memories to flood my mind of my time spent there. A number of years ago, a girlfriend and I excitedly arrived at Changi Airport around 11pm. After a bus trip to the Hyatt Hotel in Orchid Avenue, which was to be our home for the next week, we hurriedly deposited our suitcases to do a reconnaisance of the city area. This was to be the start of a wonderful week. Little time was spent in our hotel room. It became a necessity only for quick showers and re-dressing before we hit the highlights, full of high spirits again. Sleep wasn't part of our agenda! Every afternoon, without fail, at 4, I visited 'Raffles'. First I'd go to the 'Long Bar' where, for tradition-sake, I ordered a 'Singapore Sling'. From the 'Long Bar' I'd venture into the 'Tiger Bar' for a brief visit and then I'd end up at my favourite bar, the 'Writers' Bar' to soak in its rich history. There I felt surrounded by the ghosts of literary giants such as Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling, Herman Hesse, Joseph Conrad, et al. It's on record the manager of the 'Writers' Bar' at the time of my visits had been a bell hop in the days of Somerset Maugham. Stars of the halcyon days of screen, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Harlow, Charlie Chaplin frequented 'Raffles', soaking up its ambience. By the end of my weekly visits to 'Raffles', dear Ho, the manager of the 'Writers' Bar' (ex-bell bop) and I became friends. He was a fine genteel gentleman. Our parting on my final day in Singapore was quite sad. As usual, I arrived at the hotel promptly at four o'clock, to be greeted by the doorman, who now recognised me from my daily visits. I went straight to the 'Writers' Bar'. Ho organised for one of his staff to take photographs of he and me together. One photo of particular value to me is with Ho and me standing beside the giant silver roast beef trolley with its ornate silver hood. In February, 1942 the governor of Singapore ordered the destruction of all liquor stocks on the island and the manager of 'Raffles' poured most of the hotel's cellar down the drain, no doubt sadly. The Japanese arrived two days later. Most of the European population took refuge at 'Raffles'. The staff of 'Raffles' had barely time to bury the beef trolley and other valuables under the ground in the 'Palm Court' before 'Raffles' was commandeered for the use by high-ranking Japanese officers for the duration of the war. This the Singaporeans had to endure for three long years. When the Japanese finally acknowledged defeat, bodies of Japanese officers who had committed suicide had to be removed from a bedroom in 'Raffles'. One chapter had ended as a new one began.

At the end of the war, the staff of 'Raffles' dug up the beef trolley and the other valuables, returning them to their rightful places in the wonderful hotel. The silver trolley is no longer used but stands proudly in the 'Writers' Bar' for all to see. It was replaced in the fifties by a copper trolley for regular use.

I left part of my heart in the 'Writers' Bar' and 'Raffles' that final afternoon I farewelled its hallowed halls, a part I willingly donated.

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