2003 - Singapore
Friday 14th March 2003
Impressive! Just how you would want an airport to be. Everything clean, smart and efficient. What an introduction to Singapore, and one that would largely hold true for the whole of our experience of this tiny city state of 4m people. Even the company meeting us addressed me by name before we had gone a few steps out of the customs hall. Then a minibus took us to the Hotel Peninsula via beautiful roads flanked with tropical flowering plants. The road side was immaculately kept as were the majority of cars occupying the road.
The hotel was described by a taxi driver as being 3 and a half stars. True. Clearly once a leading hotel it now looked a little tired. A pleasant buffet cost us £15 each - not cheap by local standards but reasonable by ours.
We needed a good sleep having got relatively little on the journey even though upgraded to World Traveller Plus. However, neither of us got that much and Jill was still extremely washed out following a tumultuous term with Belmont conflict, the possibility of a new school, her deputy head giving notice and pleurisy and pericarditis a few weeks earlier.
The next morning we had just a bowl of cereal and a drink but were charged the full breakfast rate of £7 each!
We then went to the Botanical Garden where Jill purchased a small encapsulated orchid and some extra instructions for Brenda Tomlinson who had asked her to keep a look out for these. After a tour of the Orchid Garden, we met David and Cathy Rowlands (ex-Belmont) for lunch. This was very leisurely and pleasant. They dropped us at Clarkes Quay for a river trip. This was not very special but did show us the harbour and the very modern and varied high rise landscape of Singapore.
After a little wander around the shops and the purchase of some new shoes for Jill, we had a reasonable meal from a food court for under £2 each. The food on offer was all far eastern and we noticed that we were the only Europeans there. On the whole however, there are many Europeans - about 300,000 ex-pats apart from tourists and other nations. The Chinese dominate but with very many Indians as well.
In the evening we set out for the Night Safari. In reality it was a zoo in the dark with various types of deer, together with lions, tigers, hyenas, wolves, hippopotami etc in large enclosures where the boundaries were not evident. There were areas of very subdued lighting and viewing was by an electric tram or by foot. We did both. It was certainly very unusual to see these animals nocturnally. A taxi home for 10.30 brought the day to a close followed by a better night's sleep.
Sunday 16 March 2003
A very leisurely getting up and packing (a nut bar instead of the £7 breakfast!) and we were on our way. Jill's feet were blistered from yesterday so a taxi took us to Raffles where we were to meet the Rowlands again for lunch.
First though a pilgrimage to the hotel's museum to hunt the tiger!! Trevor Phillips from work had told us how his grandfather had shot a tiger under the billiard table at the hotel in 1904. Yes, there was the story well embedded into the history of this famous hotel. It seems it was a circus tiger which had escaped and gone to ground not under the table but under the floor itself. Charles Phillips was the principal of the Raffles Institute and had been summoned in the night to deal with the problem and did so by shooting the tiger!
An extremely leisurely Indian lunch in the hotel's Tiffin Room occupied the Rowlands and us till 3.00 p.m.. Their daughter Jenny (16) was with us and David and Cathy went off to see her Irish dancing in a local Irish pub.
The hotel with its elegant colonial architecture, courtyards and verandas presented a tranquil environment redolent of the colonial ex-pat past. We left it to see what we could do for a couple of hours before our flight to Sydney. David and Cathy had recommended the Heritage Museum in Chinatown. We asked the staff for a taxi and were shown to a new Mercedes 320. Directing the driver to take us to Pagoda Street, he quickly talked us out of our plan and into spending US$40 on him giving us a 2 hour guided tour of Singapore! He offered stops at the Opera House and for the odd photo on our way to Chinatown. Then we saw the typical Chinese in him! We were taken to a silk shop where we were able to limit the buy to just £6 on a tie (!) but were less successful in the camera shop where we were talked into a £100 wide angle lens for the video camera. Why, I'm still not quite certain, although no doubt it is a good buy. We also bought an extended-life large battery for the camcorder at less than what we would normally pay for a small one.
A brief visit to a Chinese temple, more photos, a stop at the cable car station to see the city and harbour from a hill and then a visit to the Indian and Arab quarters. There may well be economic reasons and even ethnic discrimination in this multi-cultural country, but these areas were noticeably dirtier and more dilapidated.
Then our driver returned us to the hotel at 4.30 (I think he had run out of ideas). I only had a little over $US 35 but he settled for this and did not want my proffered top-up in Singapore dollars.
After a pricey drink in the hotel lobby, we collected our luggage - only to be informed that our flight had been delayed by 2½ hours! This meant we would miss our connection in Sydney for Auckland. Some hard work by the staff got us onto another flight for that leg of the journey. The extra time was spent at the airport but at least we had a free meal (courtesy of Quantas vouchers) and were able to sit in armchairs in front of a large screen BBC World television. This gave us the opportunity to make these, the first entries in our diary!
When we arrived in Sydney, it was to find that we had missed the back-up flight which the staff in Singapore had worked so hard to get us on. We were given more vouchers for food and put onto a LAN Chile flight which would get us to Auckland almost four hours after our scheduled arrival time. A number of other passengers were in the same position.