|Marj and me at Raffles|
|Tanglin Club exterior|
|Tanglin Club interior|
|The Billiard Room/Tiger Bar - Raffles Hotel|
|Palm Court Dining|
|Palm Court Restaurant, Raffles...the night I dined there....|
All the stories we’d heard about Chinatown and the once notorious Bugis Street heightened our interest, making us very keen to visit those areas.
Over another delicious breakfast we planned our day’s agenda. Marj was even managing to hasten her self-preparations for the day ahead. I think it was because of my tuneless humming, feet and finger tapping as I waited impatiently for her to finish her make-up, hair-drying and dressing
Unfortunately, by late 1986, the time of our visit to Singapore, changes were well underway in the once bustling, colourfully-wicked Bugis Street. It had been a tourist mecca, particularly to Westerners unused to seeing flamboyantly-dressed Oriental transvestites blatantly and unashamedly teasing the curious visitors; and those interested in other pleasures. To the untrained eye of a visiting Westerner it was very difficult to tell who was a real female, and who was not. Naturally, the mystique of Bugis Street was its attraction…its exotic intrigue mesmerised. The closest heartland of wickedness or “red-light centre” in Australia at the time was Sydney’s Kings Cross. However, The Cross was very, very tame in comparison to Bugis Street. Kings Cross was always lots of fun to visit back in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, but it didn’t quite have the exotic, erotic aura of the old Bugis Street.
I used to love visiting The Cross, particularly the “Bourbon and Beefsteak Club”; and a wonderful little bookshop in Macleay Street that I frequented often when I stayed in The Gazebo Hotel, Kings Cross. I always stayed at The Gazebo. It was within walking distance of everywhere I wanted to go. More stories for another time….
The old Bugis Street was rapidly fading away in the rear vision mirror. A new Bugis Street had crossed the horizon. It loomed forth, taking giant strides. The changes were unwelcome in many quarters. In the mid-Eighties Bugis Street underwent redevelopment; a modern culture had arrived, shoving the colourful culture of old into history. Sad in a way, I believe…
When having a drink in Raffle’s Tiger Bar early one evening further along during our Singapore stay the young Dutch fellow pictured in Chapter Three of “Singapore Fling” and I spent quite a while trying to convince Marj that the very attractive, slim, young bar girl serving us was, in actual fact, a boy. Marj was very sceptical at first, but finally, with a little lingering hesitancy, she believed what we were explaining to her to be correct; that our pretty young bar “girl” really was a “boy”. We could have cared less whether he was a she; or vice versa. It didn’t matter one way or the other what the sex was of our most pleasant and efficient bar attendant. We were just making a subtle observation. No embarrassment was caused to our bar attendant. That was not our intention.
With Chinatown and Bugis Street in short proximity of each other we decided to knock over two birds with one stone the morning of our designated visit, without causing any damage to either; or to ourselves, if we could help it. We’d woken up the first two mornings in Singapore without hangovers, not for the lack of trying, however!
Our day was spent wandering the streets lost in a world that was so uniquely foreign; one that immediately captured our interest. The traders, busily going about their business, still had time to share a smile and offer a warm “Hello”. The atmosphere, even in the modernised areas, was magical. Before we realised, we found ourselves in Little India; how we weren’t sure; but it didn’t matter. As we meandered down streets and up alley ways, stopping when a shop or vendor’s stall caught our attention, we unconsciously became absorbed in our surroundings. We let the morning flow freely by, taking us along with it at its will. Conversation was unnecessary. Marj and I were lost in worlds of our own where words were an intrusion.
Lee Kuan Yew, referred to by many as being the “Father of Singapore” studied in England after the Second World War. While studying in England he learned how the British had failed in their defense of Singapore from the invading Japanese. During the occupation of Singapore by the Japanese the young Lee was asked to join a group of segregated Chinese males. Lee felt suspicious of the situation. Innocently, he asked if he could return home to collect his clothes before joining the group as ordered by the Japanese guard. Because of Yew’s foresight and wariness he survived the war. Those who were segregated were taken to the beach and shot.
Lee returned to Singapore in 1949 with one goal in mind…to make Singapore independent; for Singapore to govern itself. Lee Kuan Yew became Singapore’s first Prime Minister on 3rd June, 1959.
Times they were a-changin’!
After years working towards a merger with Malayasia, the merger never happened much to Lee’s intense disappointment. He had wholeheartedly believed a merger between the two countries would be beneficial to both. Malayasia severed all ties with Singapore in 1965. The Republic of Singapore was born; 9th August, 1965.
Singapore faced major challenges ahead; but Lee was made of strong stuff. His fortitude was unmatched. It would take more than a failed merger to keep Lee Kuan Yew down!
He was a tough cookie, and it was Singapore’s fortune to have him at the helm.
For three decades Lee held office, and in that time Singapore became one of the most developed nations in Asia; quite a feat; quite a legacy. Lee’s leadership and strength of purpose made Singapore what it is today. He may have been a hard task master, but look what he achieved! Singapore is one of the cleanest places on this earth, if not the cleanest. The people have a work ethic to be admired; one worthy of emulation elsewhere.
Everywhere we ventured in Singapore we could see the handiwork of Lee Kuan Yew; and the view was comforting. It made one feel safe.
Again, we found a street vendor where we purchased something light to eat. There was never a fear of food poisoning. Singapore’s health regulations were very strict and of the highest standards, as was the food on offer at the many street stalls
Upon our return to Orchard Road, Marj and I decided it was time to do some personal shopping. There was a vast array of inviting boutiques to choose from in the shopping centres within the commanding, sparkling towers along the boulevard. We felt an urgent need for a session of retail therapy; and why not? We were surrounded by stores, stores and more stores! Any self-respecting girl would be foolish not to succumb!
Before going up to our room to off-load our purchases Marj and I made a detour to the Lobby Bar for a refreshing refreshment. Once again we were made feel welcome by the friendly bar staff. By week’s end we’d become part of the gang there, as well!
The view from the bar through the hotel’s large plate glass windows showed an endless parade of people passing by along Orchard Road. The people of Singapore were forever on the move, buzzing about like ants on an anthill. There never appeared to be a lull in the traffic; day or night; whether it was by road or by foot.
After the laid-back style of living on my own island paradise, where, at the most, the population was 30, give or take a few; and at times even far less; a place where we had only one vehicle, a Toyota tradesman ute. The ute was used for the transfer of provisions, gas bottles and guests’ luggage from the “Reef Venture” on its arrival at the island jetty up to the resort and further along to the guest accommodation
Singapore was a brash jolt back into the real world.
On Hinchinbrook Island there are no roads. Around the resort were a couple of primitive tracks that allowed only the sole 4x4 vehicle and human foot traffic access. One track led from the jetty up to the restaurant area; and then it continued, meandering leisurely and unintrusively up to the guests’ cabins, the total of which, when I managed the resort in 1986-1987 was15. Another humble track led up to the generator/work shed, and onto the staff quarters.
My private little abode, situated quite a distance away from the restaurant, staff accommodation and guest accommodation etc., sat at the base of Cape Richards, at the north-eastern tip of the island. My home was accessible only by foot (and, mostly just my own feet because it was pretty much out of bounds to everyone else other than me; unless in case of an emergency; or if I gave permission to venture forth. It was my sanctuary at day and night’s end). On the island those few tracks and the one land vehicle were the limit of our acknowledgement of and compliance to 20th Century transport/vehicular requirements.
When we’d returned to our room a message awaited Marj; an invitation to dinner that evening extended by one of the Americans we’d met the previous night at Raffles. A phone number was given along with the invitation. I urged Marj to accept the offer because the two gentlemen from Texas with whom we’d shared a couple of drinks were that…gentlemen. I'd noticed the previous evening one had captured her interest. I could tell she was keen to accept the offer to dine, but was hesitating because of me. I told her I’d be fine. I was happy to “do my own thing”, which was, of course, being at Raffles at 4 pm, and whatever happened after that, happened. I'd go with the flow. I’ve never shied away from doing things alone. It’s the way I am; it’s how I’ve always been. Dining solo has never worried me. Enjoying a few drinks alone at a cocktail bar has never concerned me, either. Having allayed Marj’s solicitude for my welfare, I then proceeded to ready myself for my second visit to the Raffles, leaving her to her own devices and decision
Our plans for the following day were already in place
Before leaving Brisbane airport Marj bought a bottle of Bundaberg Rum at the duty-free shop. Under instructions of one of her friends, the rum was intended to be a gift for the brother of the friend. The brother, whom neither Marj nor I knew, lived and worked in Singapore. Apparently he loved Bundy rum. One couldn’t blame him for that! However, Bundaberg Rum was not available in Singapore in those days. I don’t know if the status quo remains. Apparently, every time a friend of the brother of Marj’s friend; or friends of friends; or friends of the sister, and so on, visited Singapore they were encouraged to arrive bearing a gift of Bundaberg’s best for the brother.
Marj rang the brother in question to arrange a meeting. He invited us to join him for lunch at the Tanglin Club the following day
Singapore’s Tanglin Club is a prestigious, prominent social club along the lines of the Tattersall’s Club. It was founded in 1865 to cater to the local British officials and ex-pats. Very stiff upper-lip, if you get my meaning! Primarily a men’s club; women were allowed entry and membership, but not voting rights. Finally, in 1995 the situation changed for women; now allowed to be full members, from that year forward, women were also granted voting privileges
The clubhouse was originally constructed in 1866. Only the best materials, brick and timber were used in its construction. Purportedly, cast iron supports were used for the club’s dance floor
During the Second World War, as with Raffles Hotel, the Japanese army took over the Tanglin Club for their officers’ use; as well as being a storehouse for rations and weapons
Construction of a new clubhouse began in 1977 and continued through to completion in early 1981. Since then further upgrading has continued. I feel sure I can safely say that the ambience hasn’t change. The real wood-panelling, green light shades etc., no doubt remain…the Tanglin Club in appearance and atmosphere would still be very “British”!
In 1986 we had to be signed in by a member; and be a guest of said member to be allowed to drink at the bar and dine there. We arranged to meet with our rum-loving ex pat at noon the following day. I’ve nothing against rum-lovers; I’m one myself…of dark rum only, of course, as Bundy is
However, we had the night to attack to first before we invaded the Tanglin Club.
Off I headed to Raffles; to Ho in the Writers’ Bar, arriving on cue at 4 pm. I’m a stickler for punctuality!
Both Ho and Din welcomed me like a long lost cousin. I ordered a Johnny Walker Black on the rocks and settled in, ready to absorb all that would unfold around me. My hospitable bar hosts were keen to hear about my day’s exploits. I was happy to oblige. I particularly enjoyed talking with Ho. He was such a genial gentleman; and a knowledgeable one, as well. I think the word “gentleman” had been created for Ho; he personified the meaning of the word.
After a while I excused myself so I could take a stroll through to the Tiger Bar. Standing beside the billiard table, I became lost in another Raffles’ legend.
The story of how the last tiger to be killed in Singapore was shot under the billiard table in the very room I was standing in is legendary. No doubt it wasn’t the same table I was standing next to, but that didn’t diminish the emotions I felt within.
Back in the 19th century tigers roamed freely throughout Singapore, to the stage of being a menace. On average, two deaths due to tiger attacks were recorded a week . The legend of the tiger that met its Waterloo in Raffles grew as all worthy legends have a habit of doing through the passing years.. By the time the early 1900s arrived the tiger menace had been taken care of.
However, a tiger escaped from a travelling circus. It found sanctuary under a billiard table in Raffles’ Billiard Room; sanctuary, that is, until the boy in charge of said Billiard Room spotted the beast peering at him from beneath the outside verandah. The alarm was raised. The headmaster from the school next door was woken from his sleep. It was in the middle of the night. The headmaster was supposedly a crack shot. He grabbed his rifle and in his midnight haze, still clad in his pyjamas, stumbled over to Raffles believing the tiger was now holed up in the Billiard Room. Peering groggily under the nearest table (he’d not long arrived home from a ball at Government House before being rudely roused), the headmaster thought he saw the beast under the billiard table. Firing three shots in rapid succession, he successfully demolished one of the table legs and the table came crashing down to the floor.
Eventually, Mr. Charles Phillips, the said marksman, spotted the gleaming eyes of the beast, which, by then, no doubt was terrified, cowering under another table or wherever else. Phillips did the deed he was called upon to do.
Where fact begins and fiction takes over we will never know; but a trail of painted tiger footprints now leads to the Tiger Bar where once upon a time the tale of the tiger began. And it makes for a good story to pass on down through the ages….
As was my wont, I propped myself up on a stool at the bar in the Tiger Bar and ordered myself a drink. One gets thirsty in the tropical heat.
And that’s when and where I met the young Dutchman pictured in my previous Chapter Three of this saga. We struck up a conversation. He was a very pleasant young fellow. Eventually, upon taking my leave to rejoin Ho, Din and the spirits of Noel, Coward, Joseph Conrad, Maugham, Kipling and Co., in the Writers’ Bar. Hans, my new found mate asked if he could join me. I didn’t have the heart to deny his wish.
I warned him that there was a possibility we’d bump into Arthur Hailey, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, or, perhaps, Charles Chaplin; or maybe a chance meeting with Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman or the inimitable Maurice Chevalier; among hundreds of other notables, too many to mention, as we made our way back through Raffles to my bar of choice. Even a young Indira Gandhi was a possibility; and other persons of power, such as Haille Selassie, Lord Mountbatten, Adlai Stevenson, Pandit Nehru…the list goes on forever.
Once settled back in the Writers’ Bar Hans and I conversed with a very pleasant elderly gentleman whose name now escapes me. Shortly thereafter, to my surprise, in walked the Finnish marine architect, Aarne, whom I’d met the evening before. He asked if he could join our little party of three. We then expanded into a party of four
After a while Hans and the elderly gentleman excused themselves saying they had made previous plans for the evening. They left us to our own devices, and went their individual ways. Aarne invited me to be his dinner guest in the Palm Court dining area (as pictured above). I agreed to accompany him.
A wonderful meal and evening ensued. Aarne was a man of intelligence; he was an interesting, amusing dinner companion.
The white-clad waiters were beyond compare. They were extremely efficient, never allowing a wine glass to remain empty, but never were they intrusive. Alert to all that went on around them, they served one’s every whim and need without fuss or bother. I’d never experienced such professionalism in restaurant service before, or since. The waiters weren’t stiff, nor were they pompous in their approach; always attending with a smile; but as I mentioned above, they were not at all intrusive. It was as if one’s wine glass refilled magically, or an empty plate was removed by unseen forces; you never noticed same had been done.
Dinner that evening in Raffles’ Palm Court was memorable; made so by the expert service we received; by the delicious meal served, and by the pleasant company shared in a most wonderful setting.
I have no idea what time the evening finished up, but I beat Marj home; not by much, though. We had stories to share about our respective exploits before we finally drifted off to sleep.
Marj had dined in one of the restaurants in the Glass Hotel; a hotel that was a fairly new back in 1986. The Glass Hotel is now part of the Holiday Inn Chain; and, coincidentally, is known as “The Holiday Inn”. My travel buddy suggested it would be in my best interests to make time to visit the Glass Hotel because the hotel’s atrium was a sight and experience to behold. I was told it was magnificent!
I always do as I’m told…well…sometimes I do; not often…but I do….
Chapter Five of this epic is to follow; and I promise that will the be last chapter because I don't want to bore you...if I've not already done so, that is!