Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Hilton Foyer-Reception

Having collected our luggage off the carousel, Marj stood guard as I went to hail a cab.

Behind me I heard a loud voice bellow: “Come here!  You! Come here!”  

Turing around to see what all the noise was about I discovered the yelling was directed towards me.  A glaring khaki-clad Herr Hitler was angrily waving her hand about, ordering me to go over to where she was holding court.

With raised eyebrows I walked over to the tantrum-throwing demon. 

“Are you talking to me?” I asked, trying my hardest not to sound like an impersonation of Robert De Niro’s “Travis Bickle”.

Marj whispered: “I think everyone has to get into that bus over there – you and me included.”

“Why, for Heaven’s sake?  Who the hell does she think she is?”  I responded, not in a whisper.

“Oh! Let’s just do as we’re told and get on the bloody bus,” Said Marj as she started to move in its direction. “It’ll keep her happy.  We’ll go along with her – for now!  Anyway, look on the bright side…it’ll save us a cab fare!”

“Okay!  But I’m not going to be part of any tour group I’ll tell you that right now.  I’ll make it clear to her, too, in no uncertain terms! You can join the group, if you want to, but there’s no way I’m going to be part of a mob being bossed around by her for the week!” I stated, nodding in the guide’s direction. “Did you know we were supposed to be a part of a tour group? I've got a mouth; I'm capable of asking for information.  This is totally ridiculous!”

Marj had no idea we were supposed to be part of a tour group, either; but for the moment, we decided to shut our mouths and go with the flow; at least until we were transferred to our hotel in the city's centre.

Like an angry, over-zealous, hyperactive sheep dog the vertically challenged fiend rounded everyone up; and like obedient sheep, one by one we boarded the bus without further delay.

The bus driver, having received a curt nod from Herr Commandant, obediently put the bus into gear, and soon Changi Airport became a distant memory in the rear vision mirror. 

Standing upfront at the beginning of the aisle Herr Commandant conducted her non-stop spiel as we went along.  The bus’s passengers soon began exchanging glances between each other; strangers smiling and winking at strangers. I, of course, found it difficult to hide my amusement as I passed comments out the corner of my mouth to Marj; all done in a lowered voice because I didn’t want to be hauled over the coals by our officious leader. She probably would have tossed me off the bus and made me walk the rest of the way if she'd heard my remarks!

I could see she had her eye on me, though!

A surge of relief flowed through me when we reached our hotel in Orchard Road, The Hilton. Without missing a beat we were promptly marched off the bus towards the hotel’s entrance and foyer by our fearless leader.  No sooner had our feet touched the pavement Herr Commandant began to bark out further orders. 

I went up to her and quietly said out of the earshot of others; “Excuse me...I just want to let you know now so there's no further misunderstandings, my friend and I aren’t part of this tour group. We are “free, independent travelers”.  Thank you for your assistance so far, but from now on it won’t be needed.  We’ll do our own thing, and find our own way around.  Thank you very much.”

I received a steely glare in return; but keeping my cool, I responded with a pleasant smiled as Marj and I entered the hotel…just the two of us, leaving the group in our wake.  There was no need to be rude.  Our position had been made politely, but firmly.

At the reception desk booking in, my presence caused an amount of confusion. The girl behind the desk found it difficult to match “Ray Arnold” and his wife, Barbara with the two women standing in front of her who had produced their vouchers and airline tickets bearing those names, but declaring emphatically that their names weren't Ray Arnold or Barbara Arnold. In fact, those two women were Lee George and Marj Armitage. 

Further confusion could have occurred quite simply.  Both Mr. Arnold and I had names that could be reversed.  For example, he could easily become “Arnold Ray”…and I….well, there I was in Singapore…and my name could be misunderstood to be “George Lee”.  To make matters even worse, in my case…my full name showing on my passport was/is “Lee Frances George”; that helped compound the confusion.  Except for one small letter, my three names can also be a male’s name; as well as being reversed successfully, every which way!

Meanwhile, a queue was building behind us as others waited patiently (some not so) to book in as our conundrum was being unravelled. And all the while I could feel the steely glare of the disgruntled tour guide boring into my back.  She kept me in her sights. 

Marj let me do the all the explaining to the befuddled desk clerks. Because Marj and I weren't a "couple" it was also necessary for us to switch to a twin-share room We had no intentions of sharing a bed for a week if a more favourable situation could be arranged.  We were good friends, but that would be stretching the friendship a bit too far.  It was obvious we weren’t Mr. and Mrs. Arnold; and clearing up the muddle did further delay matters. However, fortunately, a twin-share room was found for us. Eventually, everything was under control. We were ready to board a lift/elevator to take us up to our floor and room.

Within a second of turning away from the reception desk a couple of obliging, smiling, young porters arrived out of nowhere. Grabbing hold of our luggage, at a pace, off they headed in the direction of the lifts.  I had a friendly, humorous tug-of-war with the porter who was about to disappear with my luggage. 

After all the name confusion when booking in I believed if I lost control of my personal possessions there was a strong possibility I’d never seem them again - ever.  After a brief tussle; all the while explaining to the young man that everything was just fine, and for him not to be offended; that I was perfectly capable of looking after myself and my luggage; and explaining I was happy to do so, I slipped him a tip for his efforts.  He was only doing his job; and he was doing it well, but a vivid scenario of misplaced possessions was running through my imagination. It was one I didn’t wish to become a reality.  The porter graciously accepted my tip. His face beamed with gratitude.

After what seemed like an eternity; an eternity filled with “Mr. Bean” moments, Marj and I reached our room. 

Marj let out a loud sigh of relief as she threw herself onto her bed.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I exclaimed.  “Come on!  We’re going out! It’s our first night in Singapore.  We’re not staying cooped up in a hotel room!”

“But it’s 11 o’clock at night!” She stared at me as if I’d joined David Bowie and had become “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”!

“So?  I don't care!  I could be midnight for all I care!  Let’s go!  Let’s get out of here! We’re only here for a week…I don’t know about you, but I’m going to make the most of it.  And I’m not at all tired.  Surely, you’re not!  It's time to check out our surroundings in readiness for tomorrow!”

Coming to the realisation that even making an attempt to put up a fight would be fruitless, Marj waved her white flag; she surrendered, knowing when she was beaten.  Anyway, I was going whether she came with me or not! Nothing and nobody was going to hold me back!   

Less than 15 minutes later after the obligatory bathroom visits we were in the middle of Orchard Street; in the middle of the night; but we weren’t alone. 

Orchard Road never sleeps. The air was electric; the street was alive with people; some strolling at a leisurely pace, others bustling along in a hurry to reach their destinations. Multi-coloured neon lights flashed brightly. A hawker here and there approached us as they unsuccessfully tried to sell us cheap watches or whatever else they had attached to the linings of their jackets and elsewhere. The busy boulevard back then was separated by a treed island running along its centre into two one-way thoroughfares. Cars and cabs buzzed up and down. Oblivious to the motorized vehicles the odd rickshaw and/or trishaw passed by.  The sight of rickshaws was odd to us. They were something we weren’t used to seeing every day, or night of the week.  While in Singapore I never went for a rickshaw ride.  It didn’t sit well with me to be ferried along by such a method. Yet, all the rickshaw operators seemed happy in their jobs; but it wasn’t for me.  I had two legs to carry me everywhere. If and when the need arose, I’d travel by taxi.

One dared not jay walk; not only in the fear of being fined because jay walking is illegal in Singapore; but also in the fear of being run down.  I’m not sure if the traffic would stop for a pedestrian.  However, a few days later when caught in a tropical downpour that uncertainty was allayed, in a manner of speaking; more about that incident further down the line.

The emotions I felt during our first night in Singapore were like nothing I had ever experienced before. The night mood was contagious.  From the pervading ambience, the general vibrations, the cheerfully relaxed state of mind was widespread. I couldn’t contain my joyful emotions, and I had no desire to do so.  I felt like a child let loose in a candy store, or in the centre of the biggest celebration of life in the world.  Initially, Marj didn’t feel similarly, but it didn’t take long for her to catch the bug. She soon fell under the spell, as well. It was inescapable; all-encompassing. Even if she hadn’t succumbed, my own feelings of excited elation were too powerful to be dampened or crushed by anyone or anything. 

We came to a pedestrian crossing at the end of Orchard Road. When the lights indicated permission to walk, we complied with their orders; and crossed safely to the opposite side of the road.  If there had been any flies around I would have caught every one of them.  I think my mouth was constantly open in awe of what was going on around me. 

However, I doubt there are any flies in Singapore. Singapore is sparkly clean. There is no litter, anywhere. If you're caught discarding chewing gum, you're gifted with a heavy fine.  If you have the mind to; and don't mind, you could eat off the toilet floors...they are that clean!  Everywhere you roam people are cleaning. Travelling from place to place you see others trimming the verges alongside the roads; the streets; toilets; foyers of the high-rise are filled with.non-stop activity; non-stop cleaning and tidying. It's safe to eat at the myriad street stalls without fear of food poisoning. Health regulations and food-safety practices are strictly adhered to.  It's amazing; and it's a shame the rest of the world doesn't follow the examples set by Singapore.

Strolling along Orchard Road we were on a reconnaissance mission, planning our movements for the following day.  We needed a bit of a mud map for our future adventures, I informed Marj. By that stage, she’d become my willing ally in whatever adventures or wicked deeds I had in mind!

Absorbed in our surroundings, I spied an exclusive Davidoff cigar salon situated at the end of a marbled entrance to one of the many high-rise buildings fringing Orchard Road.  I dragged Marj along with me to investigate my discovery.  Unable to control my urges upon entering the timber-lined, temperature-controlled salon with its inviting, plush leather-seating, I purchased a box of Davidoff half corona cigars.  The aroma emanating from the classy, elite, specialised boutique had lured and seduced me.

With my inaugural Singapore purchase clasped in my hand, my co-conspirator and I re-entered our hotel, but before we drew the curtains on our first night, we decided a celebratory nightcap would be a fitting finale to toast the beginning of the unknown fun that lay in store.

At the time of our visit, late 1986, the Hilton had a sunken lobby bar.  The hotel has since been refurbished; I’m unaware if the lobby bar still exists in its form of those days.  By the end of our stay, Marj and I had become familiar faces at the sunken bar. The friendly bar staff always greeted us with much fanfare when we arrived. They showed genuine interest in learning what we’d done and seen during any given day.

On our maiden visit we didn’t linger long at the lobby bar; only long enough to fine tune our movements for the next day.  A visit to Arab Street was at the top of our “places-to-see–things-to-do” list. It was settled that Arab Street would be our first port of call the next day. Of course, Raffles had not been forgotten, nor had my longstanding promise to myself. I had an unbreakable appointment for 4 pm. I'd be there come hell or high water or tropical downpour! Nothing was going to stop me!

Brisbane, Queensland and Australia seemed so far away as Marj and I sat chatting at the bar. We’d both had a long day and night. Weary, but exhilarated, we downed our drinks and headed off to our room to catch a few hours sleep before the party began.  The night had only been a rehearsal....


  1. George Lee! I love it. I can't imagine you shutting up and going with the flow, however ;)

  2. I can't either, RK! ;)

    But sometimes, when necessary, I'm very good at pretending! ;)

  3. Resistance is futile. Which Marj knew and the tour guide discovered.
    It is an incredibly clean city isn't it? Some of ours would look a lot better for going down the same path. Singapore is clean, but it isn't dull. At all.

  4. Hello there, EC...yes, Singapore really is spotless....and how great that is to see. And as for no litter...what a revelation that is! I can never understand why people litter.

    Nice to see you. :)

  5. Singapore is one of my all-time-favorite cities. It's clean, the people are polite, nobody drops litter ... and as for the food, well ... it's fantastic!

    Wonderful post, Lee!

  6. Thanks, Wendy. :)

    Singapore really does have a uniqueness about it, that's for sure. It's quite wonderful.

  7. What a wonderful adventure! I would love that.

  8. Hey there Lynn...we had lots of fun, that's for sure! ;)

  9. Tsk! Still not in jail!

  10. Sorry to disappoint, Adullamite! ;)

  11. Women armed with cigars, the very definition of 'road trip'! That reminds me of my first ever trip to London on business and we'd end up in the hotel bar at the end every night. After a week, the bartenders seemed like old friends as we shared our daily experiences. Good times!

  12. There's no place like home, Dexter...and those cosy little bars can sometimes replace home when one is away from home1 ;)

  13. What an extraordinary sounding woman, Lee! just about the last person in the universe who would be employed as a tour guide, you'd have thought :) Sounds like you dealt with it in just the right way though.

  14. Hi Jenny...she was something else again, that's for sure! lol

    I had one more run in with her, and then never laid eyes on her again. That final little tryst I shall write about in Chapter Three.

    Thanks for coming by. :)

  15. Singapore sounds so exciting as you tell it! Is there more to come?

  16. Hi Molly...yes...there is more to come...I've only just started! :)

  17. Thanks so much for letting us tag along memory lane with you. I cannot wait for the next chapter to see when your promise to yourself is completed. Peace

  18. G'day, Lady Di...it's a pleasure taking you along with me in the ride. :)

  19. Sounds like you two ladies had a fun time.


  20. That we did, Janice! ;)

  21. I'd love to go to Singapore! Sounds like you had a great time.

  22. Hey! Pat....we certainly did have a ball! ;)

  23. Well, my breathless anticipation remains, but it is now leaning more toward you finding yourself in jail. For I was under the impression that Singapore is a rigidly-controlled society that is not all that tolerable of freespirits from other countries wanting to do their own thing during their stay.

  24. I see that you're in collusion with Adullamite, Jerry! ;)