Monday, October 21, 2013


Ulysses Butterfly
Grumman Mallard
De Havilland Beaver
Missionary Bay, Hinchinbrook Island

Changi Airport, Singapore

When communicating with a fellow blogger the other day memories of a year I spent in Singapore one week in late 1986 came to mind loud and clear. Not that it takes much to rekindle my many fond, fun memories of my wonderful visit to Singapore!  Every time I hear of someone heading to there, I find myself back sitting on a stool at “The Writers’ Bar” in Raffles Hotel. A few years ago I wrote about this brief episode in my life; but that’s not going to stop me doing so again. This time I’ll give a more detailed account.

The “Reef Venture” arrived at the resort's jetty 9.00 am bearing a load of provisions along with a few new guests eager to start their island escape. As was my usual practice each time guests arrived, I sat with them for a short while out on the deck surrounding the pool. Sipping on hot or cold beverages of their choice while spontaneously being lulled into a sense of guiltless lethargy by the relaxing sound of the ocean gently lapping the shore of Orchid Beach, I explained the island’s many pleasures that inclueded the various walks and daily boat trips on offer.  As if on cue a large, exquisite Ulysses butterfly oblivious to the wonder it caused amongst the newcomers idly meandered through the tropical growth drinking the nectar. Once I’d completed the “greet and meet” a staff member escorted the holidaymakers to their respective cabins. Upon entering my office the phone started ringing.

As clear as a bell I remember it being shortly after 10 am on a Wednesday morning, Hinchinbrook Island time - which, by the way, in reality, was (and still is) the same as mainland Queensland time.  Although, on the other hand, island time was “island time” and completely different to mainland time…but that’s a whole other story and explanation!

The caller was my boss, the owner of the resort. He was, and still is, the Managing Director of his own company; a civil engineering-construction company with its head office located in Toowong, a suburb of Brisbane. The construction company has projects throughout this country, not solely confined to Queensland.  The news he had for me almost knocked me for a “sixer”; or put another way..."out of the ball park"

The construction company leased its work vehicles from Toyota; about 30 in total, which was quite a lot for a relatively small firm in comparison to some other much larger construction companies.  Toyota had run a competition of sorts, and "our" Brisbane-based civil engineering company won a trip for two of its employees (of the construction company, not the island resort. The two businesses were separate entities, entire unto themselves).

The prize was a week’s accommodation in Singapore, staying at the luxurious Hyatt Hotel on Orchard Avenue. Breakfast every day from the hotel’s elaborate hot and cold buffet, and one dinner for two in the Hyatt’s first class a la carte restaurant were included in the prize, as well as the return flights, of course. 

The original recipient of the prize, a Ray Arnold, and his wife (I didn’t know who they were…Ray Arnold worked in the civil engineering sector) pulled out at the last minute because of unforeseen family obligations.  The prize had to be taken up within the next week, or it would be forfeited. 

Marj, the ex-wife of the owner of both the resort and the construction company was a good friend of mine of long-standing.  She retained shares in the civil engineering company; and the company still bore her name, as well, even though the marriage had fallen to pieces. Rather than forfeit the prize, her ex-husband, my boss, offered it to Marj and me, with the condition we had to catch a flight to Singapore the following Wednesday. That meant I had to be in Brisbane on the Tuesday.  I had less than a week to get my end of everything, work-wise on the island, into order. Immediately, I went into full-speed-ahead mode!

Unlike my sales-marketing trips to various travel/tourism expos and seminars/conferences, my trip to Singapore was more leisure-based, than work-related; which was just as well because I did no “work” when there.  That word was absent from my mind, to be truthful!

Excitement ran rife for the next few days, not only within me, but throughout my staff, as well.  I wasn’t sure if they were happy for me, or excited knowing I’d be off the island for a week, out of their hair; perhaps, it was a blend of the two!

Even when I was younger, unlike many of my peers, I bore no burning desire to travel overseas.  However, my lack of the travel-bug gene didn’t mean I lacked knowledge about other countries; nor did it mean I had no interest in foreign and not so foreign lands; their cultures or their people. I’ve always been an avid reader of whatever I can lay my hands on, be it fiction, non-fiction, historical, geographical; the list was and still is endless.

When it began or how it began, I really don’t know, but for years I’d promised myself if I ever did happen to venture to Singapore – never thinking that I ever would – Raffles Hotel would sit at the absolute pinnacle of my list of places to visit. 

Raffles was probably the main reason each time I visited Cairns, I stayed at the Tradewinds-Outrigger Hotel.  With its white plantation shutters, marble-tiled floors, lush, green potted palms and tropical plants throughout, The Outrigger Hotel, to me, exuded the tropical romanticism of Singapore’s legendary Raffles Hotel. For years I’d retained the fanciful image I'd conjured in my mind; and the promise I’d made to myself; a promise no one else was aware of; it was my secret desire.

Tuesday arrived quickly.  I’d barely had time to catch my breath it seemed. Many loose ends had to be tied and in order before I left for my unexpected, unplanned adventure. I had faith in my staff, but there were still many things that needed attending to before I boarded on the Air Whitsunday’s seaplane, the Grumman Mallard en route to Townsville airport to catch a connection flight to Brisbane.  The Grumman Mallard was an amphibian aircraft.  Air Whitsunday operated out of Airlie Beach, the mainland centre for the various Whitsunday islands that are dotted over and about the Great Barrier Reef.  Airlie Beach is approximately 465kms (289 miles) as the seagulls, terns or seaplanes fly.

Depending on the number of holidaymakers travelling to Hinchinbrook and/or Orpheus Islands, Air Whitsunday sometimes flew the De Havilland Beaver to the islands. The Beaver was smaller than the Mallard. It was fun to fly in; but there was some extra special about the old Grumman Mallard.  I loved flying in that plane.

Upon the arrival of the Grumman around 12.30 pm on the Tuesday, a couple of my staff members and I leapt aboard the AIMS’ punt (Australian Institute of Marine Science). I was gallantly ferried out to the seaplane.

AIMS regularly conducted research on and around the island.  The mangrove forests that line the western side of Hinchinbrook Island fringing the Hinchinbrook Channel, along with the dense mangroves that grow extensively along the creeks that run from the island’s interior.  The waters emanating from Mt. Bowen, Queensland’s third highest mountain flow into Missionary Bay. The area is claimed, by many of the experts in such matters, to be the most diverse in Australia.  Many have likened the area to the Amazon Delta.  AIMS asked me for permission to leave their punt tied up to the island jetty. In return, AIMS gave us permission to use the punt for sea plane pick-ups and drop-offs when it wasn’t being used by them.

So there I was - off on the first leg of my trip. Townsville airport would be my first port of call; and then, I'd jump aboard a flight to Brisbane. I was on my way.  All I could think of was Raffles 

Late in the afternoon, Marj was waiting for me at Brisbane airport. We spent the night before our flight the following day at her riverside home in Chelmer, a Brisbane suburb. There we enjoyed a few wines over dinner, combined with a lot of talking and much laughter.  Marj had physically seen more of the world than I had.  A few years before our planned joint trip, she and her family traversed Russia from its far east coast across to Moscow on board the Trans-Siberian Rail ; and then, continued on through Europe before returning home to Australia. There was a trip to the United States somewhere along the line, too, from memory.

I told Marj of my plan to be at Raffles Hotel every afternoon on the dot of 4 pm; and that on my very first visit I intended to wear white. I had no particular reason for my desire to wear white, but, somehow, in my romantic imagination, it seemed fitting.

During a trip to Melbourne a couple of months prior to my Singapore sojourn I’d bought a very expensive, Italian-designed and made white cotton shirt-maker dress from newly-opened Diorama. An ex-guest of the resort had an interest in the venture and he had personally invited me to visit the new shopping outlet; a complex filled with many individual high fashion salons. At the time, Diorama was a risky, adventurous, ahead-of-its-time venture. A group of like-minded aficianados of fashion brought their dreams into fruition, and under one roof in a building in Collins Street, Melbourne they created a wonderland of unique, exclusive fashion salons. Diorama’s glamorous salons, some of which allowed entrance “by invitation only”, showcased the best well-known and respected overseas designers, along with the crème de la crème of Australian designers.

Having accepted the invitation to be personally escorted through Diorama’s myriad salons, I fell under its captivating spell immediately, and weakly I succumbed. The only excuse I can offer for the flaw in my character is - I’m a woman. Place me amongst a cluster of alluring salons filled with beautiful clothes, all “one-offs”, shoes and seductive perfumes what do you expect a girl to do?  What increased the temptation  at the time was the fact that my bank balance was far more healthier than what it is today!

I fell in love with the dress the moment I laid my eyes on it.  Trying it on was the mistake I made. From that moment on, I was defenseless. I was putty in its threads.  It was a stunning dress; simple, but stunning. It was meant to be mine; damn the price tag!

I’d only worn it once before the Singapore trip, and I felt like a million dollars the night I'd first worn the dress; as well I should because it cost almost a million dollars; a slight exaggeration, of course.

It was my dream to walk into Raffle’s Writers’ Bar dressed in my “million dollar” white vestment; or investment! 

So with my game plan firmly in place, I continued explaining it to Marj my intentions, telling her if we ever became separated while out and about in Singapore, or if there were times she wanted to go her way, alone, to see and do whatever she wanted to do without my company, from 4 pm each day she would know where to find me. I’d be sitting in “The Writers’ Bar” at Raffles Hotel.

I think we were both as excited as each other; but unlike me, one who always packs her suitcase well ahead of time, to my amazement, Marj hadn’t even begun to pack hers. Last minute packing is not my style. It never has been. If going on a trip, even if only for a couple of days, I’m always packed and ready well in advance. I think what intrigued me most about Marj’s lack of urgency was she always took so long to get ready for a simple night out or similar. Here we were going overseas for a week and she had nothing ready at all! At some ridiculous hour in the morning she dragged out her ironing board! 

She used to dilly-dally about so much when we’d be getting ready to go anywhere…and “anywhere” might sometimes mean just going to the beach, it would drive me insane.  I'd be tearing my hair out in sheer frustration. It shouldn't take anyone so long to get ready! I’ve never understood why it takes some people forever to ready themselves.  Get on with the job, I say…stop fiddling about!  So when she hadn’t even thrown a single pair of panties into her suitcase, my eyebrows were raised to the ceiling and beyond!  I had to walk away, out of her bedroom. I could feel my temperature rising!

I told her if she wasn’t ready the next day when the taxi transporting us to the airport arrived, I’d leave without her. Taking control of the situation, or at least one small part of it, I booked the cab to arrive well in advance of our flight’s departure time. Again she accused me of being silly and of panicking. She poo-hooed and ridiculed me for doing so; but I didn’t weaken in my resolve.  I’d rather wait at the airport in leisure than be held up in traffic having an anxiety attack. 

As the following day unfolded, it was just as well I was so insistent because when we reached the airport the bag handlers and booking-in clerks had gone on a last minute strike; and there was only a skeletal staff working!  One single outlet was open to accommodate check-in travellers. The queue leading to the one and only bay was endless.  It was pandemonium.

We had just reached the end of the line and were in the middle of checking in when our flight was called.  We had to run like hell to board the plane before its doors closed. We were the last to board.  Out of breath, we found our seats.  Marj and I exchanged looks.  I didn’t have to say anything; but I knew she knew that if I hadn’t persisted in being at the airport early, way before our scheduled departure time, we would never have caught our flight; but we did. I was a good friend - I refrained from saying - "I told you so!"

Finally, we were in the air en route to Singapore.  As each moment flew by, my Raffles’ dream grew closer into becoming a reality.  I could hardly wait.

We landed at Changi Airport at night. There we were greeted by a very bossy female tour guide. I was certain she was a female reincarnation of Hitler!  Up until that point, we'd not realised we were part of a tour group.  I've never been a "group" person; and neither was Marj.  It was a situation that had to be rectified promptly.

I'd arrived in Singapore with a name like "Lee George" that can be either female or male; and "Lee", in particular, was a very popular, common name in Singapore. On top of that, Marj and I were flying under the names of  Ray Arnold and his wife!  

I sensed there could possibly be some confusion ahead.


  1. Dear Mrs Arnold,

    I look forward to your time in Singapore jail, and the story of your escape to the Writers Bar!

  2. Hahaha, Adullamite...patience, dear man...patience! ;)

  3. That's a lot like St. Pauli Girl and I travel. If the planes leaves at noon, she thinks we can be at the airport at 11:58.

  4. Oh! I can't be like that, Dexter. I'd go crazy!

    I have to have much spare time up my sleeve. No last minute rushing about and panic for me! :)

  5. My smaller portion packs for three months away an hour before he leaves. Which sends me silly. How lucky that you got to the airport, and I am looking forward to the next installment in this saga.

  6. Hi EC...many people are like your Smaller Portion, but I'm not one of them, that's for sure!

    It's more like me starting to pack my suitcase three months away from departure time! lol

  7. Hello girl - I have never ever been there.

  8. G'day was a fun place to visit...and oh, so clean. No litter anywhere....the people take a pride in keeping their country tidy.

  9. Waiting for the next installment!

  10. It will be arriving soon by special delivery, Riot Kitty! :)

  11. Great post, Lee. Looking forward to reading the next instalment.

    The Writer's Bar at Raffles...sigh. However, I'm very keen to know how the white million dollar dress went down!

  12. Hi Robyn...I just close my eyes and I'm transported back to The Writers' Bar...wonderful memories.

    And I loved that dress!

  13. I haven't been there but certainly would like to. Another entry on my bucket list, I guess.:)

  14. You have had the most interesting life - I love these stories. I also look forward to the next installment.

  15. Hi there Serena...thanks for coming's good to see you.

  16. G'day Lynn...I'm glad you're enjoying my stories of times in my life. I'm enjoying revisiting this one particular week, that's for sure...I had a wonderful, fun time in Singapore...and I'm enjoying, also, sharing the tale. :)

  17. I was just watching a programme about Singapore on TV. How fabulous to have lived there - and to have had such adventures!

  18. I only lived there for a week, Pat...but I put a year's worth of fun into that one week! ;)

  19. What an amazing story, and opportunity. But ooh, bossy tour guide would be a big offputter for me. I look forward to hearing what you made of the situation!

  20. Hi there Jenny...what made it even more fun is the shortness of notice.

  21. I have been reading this with breathless anticipation of you meeting up with Humphrey Bogart somewhere in Singapore. For I can imagine you looking a lot like Lauren Bacall during her prime in your stunning white dress, which requires Humphrey being there, as well. Will this happen in the next chapter or are you going to make us wait longer?