Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Singapore 2005’ Category

10 Things I Learned About Singapore

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 20, 2005


1. Singapore defines itself as a ‘young’ country. According to our tour guide, its history starts with its independence and its colonial past survives only in the historic buildings. For Australians, this is a bit confronting, because The Fall of Singapore to the Japanese in WW2 is one of the defining moments of our history.
2. On the other hand, they celebrate Raffles as a man who saw the potential of the place as the crossroads of Asia. The plaque on his statue reads ‘On this historic site Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first landed in Singapore on 28th January 1819 and with genius and perception changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis.’
3. It’s an interesting mix of fiercely competitive private enterprise and government intervention. Their economy is based on tourism, finance, trade, biotechnology and education, and it’s a city of merchants, with a tax rate of 2.5%. The government, however, pays women to have babies and offers a $S30 000 subsidy to couples buying a home of their own if they take their parents with them. It also spends a good deal of money painting and upgrading public housing so that it always looks nice and doesn’t detract from the shining clean and modern image that Singapore presents to the world.
4. In a curious deference to world opinion, their Year 12 exams are examined in Cambridge. The rationale is that this gives the qualifications credibility and acceptance all over the world, which they might not otherwise have.
5. Their national language is English, not an Asian language, though children must learn other languages at school. Very pragmatic.
6. Grace Kelly stayed at Raffles.
7. The old Supreme Court Building has a dome like St Paul’s Cathedral. The new Supreme Court Building looks like a space dish.
8. Singapore never stops rebuilding itself. There are always cranes on the horizon.
9. Everyone seems to take great pride in what they do. People with the most menial of jobs – cleaning a glass shelf, for instance – could be seen doing their work carefully and with attention to detail. No surly taxi drivers, no cranky shop assistants or waiters. Their airline service is fantastic. It’s very pleasant, and it’s not just in expensive hotels and restaurants.
10. There are more museums and an art gallery to visit on our next stopover!

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Singapore: High Tea at Raffles 27.9.2005

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 19, 2005


Here we are in the most famous hotel in Singapore, in the Tiffin Room. That’s a Singapore Sling, the real thing this time, in a glass with the Raffles logo on it. This is the recipe: 30ml gin; 15 ml cherry brandy; 120 ml pineapple jiuce; 7.5ml Cointreau; 7.5ml Dom Benedictine; 10ml Grenadine; dash of Angosture Bitters, garnished with a cherry and slice of pineapple.
We took High Tea International, a smorgasbord of finger food from Malaysia, India, China and good old Britain. Not exactly as it would have been in Somerset Maugham’s day, but close enough – as I discovered when I foolishly chose a sandwich which turned out to be made with Peck’s Paste.
Like much else in Singapore, Raffles is all white lattice and palm trees. The waiters wear crisp white linen suits, the napery is white, and the service is superb. And after enjoying a scrumptious tea, there’s the Raffles Museum to explore, full of fantastic memorabilia. Wonderful old postcards and photos from the 1930s in its heyday in society. Naturally there is a souvenir shop, where I bought some Raffles coasters to use in The Left Wing and a copy of the Raffles Cookbook for my beloved Tim so that he can recreate these splendid meals at home.

There is also the Writers’ Bar, named for Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad amongst others. I wonder if I could get an Australia Council grant to write The Great Australian Novel there??

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Singapore: Asian Civilisations Museum 27.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 16, 2005

After a good night’s sleep in the lap of luxury we made an early start for the Asian Civilisations Museum. (http://www.nhb.gov.sg/ACM/acm.shtml We had a terrific tour guide, Sandra, who showed us around the museum in Empress Place. (There are two, the other one covers a later period in Singapore history). Her theme was the voyages of a C13th Chinese admiral who made seven voyages before there was a change of emperor and all trade and contact with other countries was shut down. The emperor ordered that all records about the admiral be burnt, so all that is known about him is from records of places that he visited and from journals of those on the journey.
She showed us beautiful Chinese artefacts including an imperial bowl with a seal so fine that only the user could see it, and some less fine quality porcelain made for trade. There was also a bowl for a Sumatran emperor and some chinoiserie that my mother would love!
Singapore, she said, was a place between the two great civilisations of India and China, so there are elements of both cultures in some artefacts – like a Buddha with a top-knot, and on Chinese pottery, the Hindu swastika, for them, a symbol of hope for happiness. Islamic culture was influential too, because of their interest in continuing to develop knowledge during the European Dark Ages. There was a book of medicines, a pharmacopia, and navigation tools – which were developed because Muslims need to be able to orientate themselves towards mecca.
There was also a wonderful display of the Tang Ship, the wreck of an Arab dhow discovered only in 1998 and the contents restored and put on display. Wonderful pottery, especially the green splashware which I’d never seen before. There was a ewer with a lion’s head stopper, and some enchanting soup bowls which had tiny 3D animal figures in the bottom of the bowl… perhaps to encourage children to finish eating their dinner??
Definitely a place to visit again on a Singapore stopover.

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Singapore – dining in style 26.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 15, 2005


Did we check out Singapore’s fabled cuisine? Of course we did!
Our first meal was lunch: crispy fried noodles for Tim, Tandoori chicken for me and champagne cocktails too.
At night, we dined at the Ritz-Carlton and started with a Singapore Sling (as you do). There was an appetiser of watercress soup in a tiny glass, a tiny mousse and bread & dukkah, followed by a seafood platter groaning with prawns, sashimi, smoked salmon, crayfish, mussels, oysters and even yabbies! To follow, snapper en cocotte, made by placing butter and the seasonings in the bowl of a special plate like an inverted bishop’s hat, sealed with puff pastry so that it steamed inside. Dipping the crispy pastry in this buttery sauce was just sublime.
Tim has to learn how to do this at home!

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Singapore Aquarium on Sentosa Island 26.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 15, 2005


It’s also worth heading over to Sentosa Island to see Underwater World, an aquarium with a fabulous collection of exotic fish, up close and personal, as they say. We circled their tank on a conveyor belt full of shrieking Chinese tourists and their cameras. The aquarium is basically a zoo that has, alas, failed to provide a natural habitat with places to hide for the fish, but it’s interesting. And, Singapore being a hi-tech sort of place, there are holograms of sharks to amuse the visitors.

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Singapore Botanic Gardens 26.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 15, 2005




So what do you do in Singapore if you don’t want cheap gold chain, tailor-made suit, fine silk gown?
You take a taxi to the Botanic Gardens. Taxis are cheap, plentiful and air conditioned, and the gardens are shady and cool. Orchids grow like weeds and there are all kinds of lush tropical plants that gardeners in Melbourne can only dream of raising in a greenhouse.

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Melbourne – Singapore. Monday 26.9.05, Ritz-Carlton Hotel

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 14, 2005


The flight from Tullamarine was uneventful and arrived half an hour early because of a tail wind. Singapore Airlines is terrific – very attentive, and the seats are a bit more comfortable than Air Lauda to Vienna in 2001. We didn’t sleep much, but listening to Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letters from America’ on my new i-Pod was great – and Carl was right, noise reducing headphones do blot out the drone of the plane and the bawling babies!
$32.05 for two coffees and a muffin! Our first mistake, but it was nice coffee… The Ritz-Carlton is very pleasant, expensive and new, and full of obsequious waiters, some of whom actually bow. We arrived by bus transfer, abandoned our luggage to the porter and went in to register. Popping into the hotel cafe for a snack and a coffee afterwards, however, meant that they charged us for a hotel breakfast at $44 per head, and having just forked out an extra $30 for a room with a harbour view from the 21st floor, Tim asked for the bill to be amended. It was, but it was still the most expensive coffee I’d ever had.
Check-in wasn’t till noon, so we took off on a city tour (in an air conditioned bus, of course). We saw (briefly) the things I wanted to see: the City Hall where the Brits surrendered to the Japanese ; the old Supreme Court Building – and its ultra-modern replacement like a space dish; Raffles Hotel, made famous by Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway and Co, as well as film stars like Grace Kelly; and the Old Colonial Post Office – now Fullerton’s Hotel on Fullerton Rd.
We ‘did’ the Indian Quarter and Chinese Town, the same the world over, but still the scents were intoxicating and by the time we took a walk through Chinatown we were starving – body clocks still on Melbourne time two hours later and well past our lunch time!
The shopping doesn’t interest me, but Singapore is a lovely city. I like the contrast between the dynamic modern buildings in sparking glass and the crisp white Colonial buildings, cheek by jowl with the colourful clutter of the markets.

Flowers and plantings – palms, bougainvillea, frangipani, and orchids – are everywhere, on the forecourts and balconies of buildings, on the pavements and roadsides, in parks and gardens.
The whole island is smaller than Melbourne (approx 22km x 42km, with 4 million people) but they have a thriving economy based on biotech, education, trade and finance. They are doing nicely despite the Asian economic crisis, SARS and 9/11 because it’s safe and clean, and it’s a hub for conferences.
If only it weren’t so hot!

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