The Boat Quay is a bit too tainted with bad memories. The Financial District is a bit too large and the skyscrapers where the brokers work are a bit too high. Chinatown is a bit too crowded and the beer there is a bit too expensive. Still, we love being in Singapore, even though we do not always know why.
The answer probably is that for a European Singapore is western enough to feel homely, yet Asian enough to be exotic. It is big enough to look like an impressive metropolis, but small enough to get to know it in a few days time. Singapore is full of signs that tell you what to do and that threatens you with punishment if you do wrong, but for that very reason the city is also clean and safe. Chinatown is full of colors and the Indian District full of smells of herbs. Even though many of the shops are tourist traps they still have an authentic atmosphere about them. The shiny wooden figures, the intriguing paintings, the silk prints, the little handheld fans of brown wood and thin paper, it all gives a genuine impression of The Far East that not even the cheap t-shirt-sellers manage to ruin.
The Far East is of course not as far away as it once was, but having arrived after a 25 day sea voyage rather than a 12 hour flight gives us the illusion of having travelled a long distance to get there. Coming in December 2019 we just caught the tail end of the 200th anniversary of the British settlement on what is today a tiny island state. Sir Stamford Raffles set up a trading post here in 1819, establishing a British rule that lasted until independence in 1965. English is still the main language, even though the official language is Malay. As for Mr. Raffles he is very much present in the shape of street names, statues, beer brands and tube stations, and above all in the shape of Singapore’s most famous bar and hotel. Still he is not over celebrated. The British did after all not invent Singapore from scratch 200 years ago, both the land and it’s people were here also before he arrived! Or most of the land at least, because 20 per cent of the land making up of the modern day city has been reclaimed from the sea!
Our stay was not only just leisure, however! We had one important task to fulfill! ES had raided a silk shop in Mumbai on the way south with our ship, with the intention of finding a tailor in Singapore to make her some presentable clothes. We headed for Chinatown to do some dealing, but we were hijacked by a bandana-wearing pirate-looking fellow on South Bridge Road before we even entered the area. We spent 20 seconds looking at the signs outside his shop, and that was enough for him to grab a hold of us.
– We are the best tailors in town. What do you want? Where are you from?
– We need to have some clothing done. We were looking for a tailor in Chinatown…
– No need. You are with us now. Why would you go somewhere else? We are the best tailors in town. Where are you from?
– Norway and…
– Ah, Norway, we have many costumers in Norway. One big kitchen chef. Lars Bremen, Barmen something!
– Ah, Switzerland, we have many costumers in Switzerland. One big kitchen chef. Feldmann…Feldstein…something!
…and they both come here all the time..?
– Yes. And when they do not come, they send their orders and we make it and mail it.
– Of course they do. Why would they go somewhere else? We are the best tailors in town.
Of course they were. Why would they ever tell us anything else. Anyway, 15 minutes and several hundred Singapore Dollars later, ES had taken her silk out of the bag and ordered her new outfits. She had her measurements taken while DHH waited patiently in a nearby waterhole. Very patiently actually, there are a few rather nice waterholes in the Singapore Chinatown…
A few days later we returned, and ES had a few arguments with the pirate in the bandana over the quality of the work. A few days after that she returned for a second time, and this time she was more happy. She got what she wanted in the end. She always does, as a matter of fact, and the pirate would have made life a bit easier for himself if he had understood that much the first time he met her.
The second time DHH waited in the shop while ES’ deal was finalized. He got some free beer form one of the pirate’s associates, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. He spent his time drinking the beer with one hand, and fighting off a constant flow of sales attempts with the other.
– What about you Sir? What about a new shirt Sir?
– No thank you, nothing for me today.
– Are you sure Sir? What about some new trousers, Sir? You know, we are the best tailors in town.
– Yes thank you, I am sure, I have all the trousers I need.
– Are you sure Sir? What about some new jackets Sir? You know, we are the best tailors in town.
– Yes thank you, I am sure, I have all the jackets I need.
– Are you sure Sir? What about some new shirts Sir? You know, we are the best tailors in town. and bytheway Sir, would you like one more beer Sir?
Und so weiter, und so weiter. But in the end, DHH finally gave in and said yes. To one more beer, that is!
As for the rest of Singapore, we visited the tourist traps of Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and The Raffles Long Bar where a pint is roughly twice the price of even the fanciest bars in Oslo. We did the roof bars of both the classic Fullerton Hotel and the new and fancy Marina Bay Sands, the Three Tower hotel and casino that opened in 2010 at the cost of several GDPs of several neighbouring nations. We did a good bit of bars actually, including our favourite water hole in Chinatown and Lau Pa Sat, a nice and rather inexpensive food market near Marina Boulevard. It was a good thing our stay only lasted some 5-6 days altogether, neither our livers nor our travel budgets would have benefited much had we stayed longer!
As for the bad memories of Singapore, they seem to follow us around. In 2016 we were in town when Donald Trump celebrated winning the US elections. Now it was 2019 and we were there when Boris Johnson celebrated winning the UK elections. We will never plan a trip to Singapore when there are elections coming up in Norway or Switzerland, that much is for sure! We owe our countrymen in both our two home countries to not take any stupid chances!