Sunday, November 24, 2013


Marj and me at Raffles




Bugis Street

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....
With our first full day and night in Singapore successfully under our belts nothing was going to stop Marj and me.  We had arrived! We were on our way; in full swing – onwards and upwards!  Like participants on the Hollywood Walk of Fame we were going to leave our footprints behind for posterity.  We might never get the chance again, we thought.  We thought correctly; we never did get the opportunity again to run amok in Singapore!

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!

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Cedar Creek Estate Vineyard-Winery-Restaurant, Mount Tamborine 

Cedar Creek Estate Restaurant

Cedar Creek Al Fresco Dining

Livingstone and Stanley

I am in the process of writing Chapter Four of "Sling Me a Singapore Fling". Well, to be honest...I've written three lines only; but I will get stuck into it tomorrow!

I'm being a social butterfly today; I am having lunch with the "girls" at the Cedar Creek Vineyard/Winery/Restaurant. So my time will be spent readying myself for the occasion before I venture out into the wild world; wherein I shall become absorbed in imbibing a wine or two and indulging in a delicious lunch.  

In the interim, I'm posting an article I wrote for our local little weekly rag up here on the mountain. Each week I write an article for the paper. This post is much briefer than my Singapore story; Chapter Four of Singapore will be up and running before the end of the week, hopefully.

Some folk have the gumption to adopt the presumption of assumption. There are those who think they know you when, in truth, they haven’t a clue. Too readily scenarios are made to suit one’s presumptions with no basis to draw upon other than their overworked, overzealous imaginations and suppositions.

Don’t make your enjoyment at a party evident; don’t laugh or rid yourself of inhibiting inhibitions; never make inane conversation just for the fun of it. Uninformed assumptions will be promptly made by the uninformed who cast accusatory glances your way. It’s presumed you’ve downed a glass too many, when the simple truth is you’re in a good mood; wishing to let your hair down ever so slightly. Maybe you’ve kicked your heels up higher than usual; an action that could cause an accidental stumble if you’re not careful, but you‘re feeling carefree, urged on by your inner devil. Judgmentally, it’s assumed you’ve over-tippled the tipple. It’s never assumed you’ve shrugged off daily restraints and reserves, and are just having fun! 

Girls just want to have fun; so do boys, by the way!    

Someone once said to me quite emphatically; “Oh! But you use so much cream in your cooking!”   

Confused by her erroneous declaration, I hadn’t a clue how she’d arrived at her false notion. Perhaps, when taking a peek in my fridge she’d mistakenly thought the yoghurt to be cream. Cream isn’t a frequent dweller in my fridge, but yoghurt is.

Of course, there have been times I’ve made sauces and desserts that required cream, but, in the majority of instances those sauces and desserts were made when I was cooking in restaurants. Cream isn’t a regular ingredient in my home kitchen. However, if cream is integral to a recipe I’ll use it without guilt. 

Almost every weekend I catered for a wedding when I was cooking in a Gympie restaurant.  If I’d excluded cream from the most popular dessert chosen by the brides for their celebratory feasts – pavlovas - I’d have had a contract out on me! A disgruntled bride is not someone you want in your face! 

The only time I might prepare a decadent, cream-laden dessert is when entertaining guests. I rarely entertain these days; and I never prepare desserts for me.   

In restaurants and at home I’ve cooked Garlic Prawns more times than I care to count. I always prepare them the classic Spanish way with loads of garlic and olive oil; served in too-hot-to-handle cast iron ramekins; the oil bubbling and spitting; with not a skerrick of cream in sight.

Let’s take a leaf out Henry Stanley’s book. He had the good manners not to assume when, tongue-in-cheek, he asked the question: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

Garlic Prawns: Combine 1c olive oil, 10-12 peeled and finely-chopped garlic cloves, a pinch of dried chilli flakes, salt and freshly ground black pepper in bowl. Add 24 peeled deveined 24 medium green prawns, tails intact to garlic/oil; stir to coat. Cover; chill overnight. Preheat oven, 220C; divide prawns equally among four cast iron or ovenproof ramekins. Combine 1tbs lemon or lime juice and 4tbs dry white wine or dry sherry (optional); add to marinade; whisk well. Pour over prawns; season; cover; bake 8mins. Sprinkle with finely-chopped parsley; serve immediately with crusty bread.  

Cream-less Carbonara: Grab 240g thickly-cut pancetta; cut it into small squares; cook in 3tbs olive oil until crisp, golden brown; add 2 cloves garlic, chopped into medium pieces; sauté 1-2mins; remove from heat; don’t drain; set aside. Cook pasta al dente. Using a ladle, scoop some water from the boiling pasta; set it aside in small bowl. In different bowl, beat 3 large egg yolks, 1 whole egg and 1c freshly-grated Parmesan or dry Pecorino Romano and ground pepper; add pancetta and the oil. Drain pasta; place in large serving bowl or platter; quickly add the sauce; mix well; then add a couple of small scoops of the reserved pasta water. This creates the creaminess. Garnish with grated Parmesan or Pecorino and a drip of x-virgin olive oil. 
Black Forest Pavlova: Preheat oven, 150C. Mark out 23cm circle on baking paper; place on baking tray. Beat 4 egg whites and a good pinch of cream of tartar on high, just until soft peaks form; add 1c caster sugar, 1tbs at a time; beat between additions until sugar dissolves and mixture is glossy with stiff peaks. Add 1/4c quality cocoa and 1dsspn Vino Cotto; fold in with a spoon. Pile onto circle in baking paper; smooth sides; make centre slightly lower. Bake 40-50mins until firm and slightly cracked, but not browned. Turn off oven; leave oven door open a crack; cool 1-3hrs or overnight. Put 500g seeded cherries in1c water; add 1tbs sugar; bring to the boil; then simmer 10mins; drain; cool. Add 50ml Kirsch to cherry liquid; reduce to thicken; cool. Pile whipped cream and grated chocolate in pavlova centre; top pavlova with cherries; drizzle with syrup; sprinkle with grated chocolate

Monday, November 11, 2013


Arab Street Circa 2013

Raffles Hotel
Raffles Doorman and Me during one of my visits to the hotel
Marj on the left; Ho in the middle; Me on the the Writer's Bar
Me in my infamous white dress with a young Dutchman and a fine, elderly gentleman enjoying a drink in the Writers' Bar
Same Dress; Same Place; Same People with the Finnish Marine Architect sitting on the right.  These last two pictures were taken on my first visit to Raffles.
An article taken from the book "Year of the Tiger"; it was published in 1986 in celebration of Raffles Hotel Centenary. At the beginning of the article mention is made of Ho Wee How (bar manager of the Writer's Bar) being Somerset Maugham's bell boy.  Click on picture to enlarge it...making it easier to read.

After only a few hours sleep Marj and I were up bright and early; awake and rearing to go.  At least, I was ready and rearing, having showered, donned make-up; dressed with hair done.  Marj ran on Mexican Time I quickly discovered. Fiddling around taking forever to get ready was her way.  I’m not the most patient person in the world; however I accepted the fact she wasn’t going to change overnight (even though it seemed to take that long for her to change from her night attire into her day wear).  Realising there was no point pacing the room while waiting until Marj finished her preening and fussing, I decided to bury my frustration.  Fortunately, before our departure from Brisbane Airport I’d bought a couple of interesting books from the airport bookstore. They became my pacifiers as I waited for Marj to complete her daily ablutions and dressing.

Finally, Marj appeared, dressed ready for the day ahead.  Spontaneously, we remembered we’d not eaten anything the previous evening; we were both starving.  Wasting no further time with our waists dwindling, off we raced to graze upon the tempting array of the hot and cold dishes on offer at the Hilton’s breakfast buffet.  The hotel catering staff certainly knew how to put on an elaborate breakfast. The choice was limitless. Over breakfast we discussed our plans for the day.  Our first point of attack would be upon Arab Street.  We’d been told Arab Street with its myriad exotic vendors would capture our imaginations and open our wallets. Once our appetites were sated, we approached the reception desk to arrange for a cab, and also to ask a few questions about our destination.  

To our surprise, who should be standing at the desk barking orders - none other than Herr Commandant!  There she was in full flight, waving her arms around as she gathered together her flock.  Once she had them under control she went through the day’s schedule. When satisfied everyone had absorbed every minute component on the plan, she then began detailing the next day’s organised outing. 
The cold glare I received from Herr Commandant meant she recognised me from our previous evening’s encounter. As she moved closer to me with evil intent in her eyes it was obvious she’d chosen to ignore my explanation given that Marj and I weren’t members of her little group of disciples; and we had no future intentions of ever being dedicated followers. She probably didn’t believe my words because no one had ever dared cross that line with her before! 
With Marj and I once again rounded up to be recipients in her methodical commands, after completing her orders of the day at hand, she then began to sprout off about the following day’s trip to Kuala Lumpur. Like a gruff headmistress she gesticulated towards a form that required completion with one’s personal details, agreeing to whatever needed to be agreed to before embarking on the safari into Malaysia.  
Eventually,she paused for a second to take a breath.  I grabbed the opportunity to reiterate what I believed I’d made very clear less than 12 hours previously.

“Excuse me for interrupting…” I said, looking directly into her eyes. Looking down into her eyes because she was only about two feet tall…give or take!  “As I explained to you last night, my friend and I aren’t in your tour group. If we want to go to Kuala Lumpur we’ll find our own way there, thank you very much…that’s if we wanted to go, of course; maybe we won’t want to go!  Who knows?  We’re going to play it by ear. We’re going do whatever we feel like doing whenever we feel like it; and we’ll go wherever we want to go…whenever.  If we don’t feel like doing anything….that’s what we will do…nothing! We’re quite content to go our own way, thank you.”
I didn’t smile while explaining our point of view. On the other hand, I wasn’t rude.  I spoke firmly, succinctly, but politely. I will admit it was difficult to maintain a level of politeness with her, but I did!  Our message and purpose had finally set in. 
Why is it that when some people don a uniform an inflated sense of power goes to their head?  Her khaki uniform, complete with epaulets and a few other indistinguishable badges she probably purchased off a hawker for next to nothing made her feel like she was seven feet tall, bulletproof and indestructible, I think.
As we crossed the lobby to exit hotel, I was sure I noticed a few daggers flying past us; mainly directed at me. 
The distance between Orchard Road and Arab Street is around 3kms only, but as we were new to the surroundings we figured rather than walk we’d hail a cab. On the way to Arab Street, we’d draw on and learn from the cab driver’s local knowledge.  Who better to ask about the “lay of the land” than a cab driver?  Surely he wouldn’t brusquely communicate like a carnival barker; and he didn’t. 
During our stay in Singapore we used the services of taxis often. Never once did we find a driver who wasn’t willing to expound the virtues of his city. They were always very pleasant and obliging.   I’ll expand upon Singapore taxi drivers a little later; as there is a vignette to tell.

Arab Street was a-buzz with life when we arrived there.  I could feel the electricity in the air; I could see it all around me. Marj and I looked at each other.  I could also see her excitement, as well; I wasn’t alone in my feelings. Which way do we go?  Where do we start?

At the time of our unplanned trip to Singapore, Marj owned and operated a little dress shop in Graceville, a neighbouring suburb of Chelmer, the suburb in which she lived.  Chelmer, situated on the Brisbane River, is considered by some as being one of Brisbane’s prestigious addresses. It’s only 7kms west of the CBD.
As well as not being a “group” or “club” person, I prefer to browse and shop alone, too. I’m the first to admit I stand outside of the circle of “normal”.  In my defense, there’s nothing more boring than to hanging around, tapping your toes; fidgeting; balancing from foot to foot; twiddling your thumbs wishing to be somewhere else other than waiting for the person you’re with while they pour over whatever it is they’re interested in; things you’ve no interest in at all.

Because of her store, which, along with pre-made clothes, offered fabrics for sale together with all the “bibs and bobs” enough to satisfy the most discriminate dressmaker’s needs, Marj was interested in the shops/stalls selling silk and other exquisite, colourful fabrics, lace, sequins and baubles of diverse fashionable descriptions and uses. The shops along Arab Street, particular down one side of the street when we visited the area in November, 1986, were filled to overflowing with boundless stock to satisfy the most discerning tastes. Myriad textiles of vibrant colours; prints and designs one could only dream about. They were overwhelming. 

My interests lay elsewhere. After visiting a couple of textile shops with Marj, I suggested she went her way in search of her Holy Grail, and I go in search of my own.

My desire was to visit the vast array of fresh food vendors and spice shops rather than tag along with her. She felt similarly; fortunately, we were in accord, as often we were about many varied things.  We decided our best plan of attack was that we each went our own way to wallow guiltlessly in whatever our own individual pleasures were. 
With both of us being supposedly mature adults in our early 40s, it was my belief if we weren’t smart enough at the age when “life begins” to find our own way back to our hotel if we lost track of each other in Arab Street we were past the point of no hope.
Before separating I said to Marj if we didn’t catch up again during our wanders she would know where to find me at 4 pm…I’d be at Raffles Hotel in the Writers’ Bar; and for her to join me there if she wanted to do so. We then each went our own way, happily alone.

If it’s possible to be at peace with the world and in an emotionally roused state of excitement at the same time, then how I felt the morning I entered Arab Street proved such emotion is possible.  
Very soon I came upon a spice shop. 
Dingy and dark, but yet inviting, upon entering I found myself engulfed in a multitude of brown hues; sepia, taupe, tan, russet, burnt umber; all fifty shades of brown. Hessian bags filled with a potpourri of spices crowded the floor and the long, wide, unpainted wooden shelves that ran the course of the shop on both sides. Down the centre of the narrow store ran an island bench; it, too, was laden with bags and boxes of spices. With barely room enough to move, I became lost in a world of extraordinary aromas. The air was pleasantly heavy with the scent of spices.  They were nigh impossible to differentiate. A man, the store owner I supposed, and I began to converse.  He’d noticed my keen interest the moment I’d set foot into the shop. Even though he spoke broken English; more broken than a smashed China tea cup, and I didn’t speak his language, whatever his language was, we managed, somehow, to understand each other.  His swarthy complexion blended with his shop’s dusky interior.  I had no idea what nationality he was; but he was a kindly person.

As the spice man and I were bantering back and forth I noticed, to my amusement, Herr Commandant march by.  Her dutiful disciples followed close at heel.  She pointed towards the spice store as her obedient group paused briefly, marked time, and dutifully cast their eyes in the direction of the store.

In a stern, knowledgeable voice, “She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed” declared: “And this here is one of the spice stores that Arab Street is known for.”

If not for their illustrious leader’s perceptive, concise information the captive tour members wouldn’t have known it was a spice shop!

I couldn’t help but break out into a wide smile. I realised how fortunate I was; and how unlucky those in the tour group were.  They were missing out on a wonderful experience.  They weren’t mixing with the locals. Being regimentally ushered along at a pace difficult to keep up with, they were given no chance to mingle and talk amongst the locals, nor were they able get to know them, albeit only fleetingly.

Standing in the middle of the foreign, unlit, dark, narrow hole in the wall, surrounded by spices beyond my imagination; inhaling not only the exotic aromas, but an ambience that was almost tangible; an ambience impossible to describe to do it justice unless personally experienced, I felt so at home.  Talking with an interesting, intriguing stranger I was in my element, and totally at ease. I wouldn’t have traded places for the world; and definitely not to become a member of the tour group.  That brief glimpse of Herr Commandant was the last time I saw her during my Singapore sojourn.  I didn’t fret

Movies are made with scenes similar to the one in which I’d found myself. As a child, engrossed, lost in the stories, characters and sights on the silver screen during Saturday matinees, the mysterious, fanciful adventures that unfolded seduced me Saturday after Saturday. I was beguiled by the romance of the Far East.
My first morning spent in Singapore made me feel as if I was the star in one of those movies I’d become hypnotised by all those years before.  I wanted to hug myself; I wanted to hug the dark stranger before me; but I refrained from doing either.  With difficulty, I contained my joyful emotions, but they were very close to bubbling over.  I enjoyed feeling like a kid again.

Marj and I continued on our separate ways. Our paths didn’t cross again during our Arab Street meanderings.  Marj contentedly immersed herself in silks, satins, sequins, buttons and ribbons. For me the spices sufficed; as did the stores laden with hand-woven rugs and basket ware.  I was in my glory following my own trail.
Until that day, other than in films and books, I’d never seen a mosque.  Pausing briefly, I watched with innocent interest as men, some dressed in unfamiliar garb, discarded their sandals or shoes outside the entrance to a grand mosque.  The Adhab echoed through the air calling all believers to prayer.  I didn’t heed the call.
I had another call to heed later in the afternoon! It was the only call that beckoned me; and the only one I would obey!

With my eye on the time knowing I had a date to keep, I grabbed a light snack from a street stall somewhere along the way before going back to the Hilton to shower and change for my most important rendezvous!  There was no way in the world I was going to be late for my most momentous date!
There was still no sign of Marj, but I wasn’t concerned.  Butterflies started fluttering in my stomach, however.  My excitement was growing; my expectations high.  I was becoming closer to satisfying one of my dreams; of fulfilling a promise I’d made to myself long ago.

My white dress, made of pure cotton, had been the first item I’d unpacked the previous evening, to allow enough time for the creases to un-crease.  Before showering I ironed my precious, chosen garment, ready for my grand entrance into Raffles.  I felt like a debutante must feel making her debut into the “grown-up world” - going to her first ball!  No one else other than me knew it was a “grand entrance” I intended making through the entrance of Raffles Hotel. It was my own private bit of personal fun; and I was going to enjoy the moment to my utmost.  My desires may sound a little self-indulgent; but they weren’t.  I was going to indulge my dreams; and make the most of the experience that had been handed to me the day I collected Ray Arnold’s airline ticket at Brisbane Airport!

I didn’t wait around for Marj; I knew she wouldn’t expect me to. I also knew she’d understand. She knew where I’d be.  I wouldn’t be difficult to find if and when she wanted to join me.

Without difficulty and no time wasted, I hailed a cab directly outside the Hilton.  My eye was on my watch and the time. I was on my way; and those excitable butterflies were accompanying me!
A few minutes later, I arrived at my destination…1 Beach Road, Singapore. 
At first sight the exterior of Raffles Hotel was everything I had imagined it to be.  I was not disappointed. If it was a dream I was experiencing, I hoped no one would wake me, not even the smiling doorman dressed in white with a pith helmet firmly planted upon his head. Gallantly, he held open the cab’s door enabling me to gracefully alight my chariot.
I beamed at him. He reciprocated in kind.  From that moment on to the week’s end, he and I became close friends. Every visit thereafter, he greeted me warmly.

My White Knight escorted me up the stair towards the hotel’s entrance.  I asked for directions to the Writers’ Bar. He kindly obliged by giving me a detailed run-down of all the bars.  Did I look thirsty?
Entering the Writers’ Bar I was greeted by a man whom I soon learned was the head barman; a man of indiscernible years
Ho Wee How was his name.

Immediately Ho and I struck a rapport.  It was as if we were old friends, he and I.
Ho had been bell boy to Somerset Maugham when Maugham frequented Raffles Hotel years and years before (see pictured above).  Ho recalled Maugham, each morning clad only in shorts, having his breakfast under an umbrella in the garden area; and there he worked diligently until lunch time.

Ho was a fascinating, gentle man to speak with, and again, over the course of the week during my daily afternoon visits to the Writers’ Bar, Ho and I became firm friends.
Oh! The spirits that lingered in that bar; and I don’t mean those of the bottled liquid kind sitting on the stained wooden shelves. 
The ghosts of Rudyard Kipling; Herman Hesse, Maugham, Hemingway, Noel Coward, along with so many others of note; writers, actors, statesmen, royalty; all haunted the hallowed halls of Raffles, particularly the Writers’ Bar. Their spirits remained there in a most welcoming, friendly way. 
It was at Raffles that Noel Coward discovered a young actor called John Mills. 

At the time, R. C. Sheriff’s “Journey’s End” was being performed at Singapore’s Victoria Theatre.  The lead actor fell ill.  Coward had turned down an offer to take the lead role in the Broadway production, but when asked to replace the leading man in Singapore, Coward readily agreed to act as substitute.  Within three days he was word-perfect, and he gave a performance Singapore had never seen before.

During my first afternoon visit to Raffles, I also met Din, Ho’s bar assistant.  Din was a handsome Sri Lankan fellow in his early to mid-thirties. When Ho was busy elsewhere, Din stepped in to regale many stories of his own.  At 4 pm the bar wasn’t busy.  Most patrons were either in the Long Bar, while others were playing billiards in the Tiger Bar, or mingling in the Palm Court.  As the afternoon progressed a crowd, not large in number, of the conservative kind, entered the Writers’ Bar.  The bar exuded a gentle atmosphere of quiet reverence.

After about an hour of my arrival Marj joined me.  I introduced her to Ho and Din before we excused ourselves and headed off to visit the Long Bar to do what every honourable tourist should do; we ordered a Singapore Sling each. There are few who have visited the Long Bar and not indulged in a Singapore Sling; but I’d bet my bottom dollar none have repeated the legendary feat by five guests who once upon time, as the story goes, downed 131 Slings in less than two hours!  If in fact that is a fact and not fiction, I’m sure they wouldn’t have survived to tell the story.  Only those who witnessed the legendary deed lived to spread the tale; either that or those who committed the exploit are still sleeping under a palm tree in the Palm Court!
Being an independent person, not unlike myself, Marj had enjoyed her day, too. We always had lots of fun together, but we never crowded each other, either. We were and still are very good friends; friends who understand each other’s quirks and ways. She filled me in on the details of her Arab Street adventures, and of the exquisite fabrics she’d discovered. As we sat at the long bar in the Long Bar with its polished teak floor, outside a tropical downpour pounded the pavement slowing the passing traffic. The street and footpaths glistened; some folk scurried to find shelter; others strolled with not a care in the world as they enjoyed a respite from the day’s heat; a pleasant interlude of coolness from the intense humidity.  At a similar time each afternoon, Singapore was drenched by tropical downpours. The rain stopped as abruptly as it started.

After our Singapore Slings (with which, by the way,  Marj or I weren’t overly impressed  – but we couldn’t not have one.  To not indulge one’s self with a Singapore Sling in Raffles would have been a sacrilege), we ventured back to the Writers’ Bar for a couple of pre-dinner scotches.  There we struck up a conversation with a couple of fellow imbibers; two Americans visiting the city on business and a Finnish marine architect.  They invited us to join them for dinner, but Marj and I had already made plans. We politely declined their generous offer.  However, our respective paths were to cross again a day or so later.
We returned to the Hilton.  We’d made a booking the `a la carte restaurant on one of the upper floors.  The restaurant’s name escapes me, but it was a fancy establishment of highly-polished silverware and glassware; white starched tablecloths adorned the tables with quality porcelain dinnerware. The waiters were suitably attired in black and white. Pleated cummerbunds completed their outfits. Marj and I had a couple of drinks at the bar before we were escorted to our table.

An exemplary meal followed.  All the while a jazz quarter or quintet played softly on a slightly raised dais on a highly-polished dance floor.  As the evening progressed, so did the music tempo; and the mood of the diners.  Very soon without much prompting, we were cutting quite a rug on the dance floor, having ourselves a whale of time!   I loved music; and I loved dancing.  What more could I ask for?

I have no idea what time we finished up that night, but it was late! We'd had a wonderful night; quite a wild night, actually, with a bit of dancing on tables thrown into the mix.  I admit to nothing!

When the time came for the final curtain to fall, we somehow found our way back to our room, exhausted, yet exhilarated from a wonderful day and night; a little merry, but nicely merry; knowing after a few hours sleep, we’d be ready to do it all over again!
Chinatown; Bugis Street and the Tanglin Club were on our list, along with a few other places…and, of course, it goes without say really….Raffles was permanently on my list!

This is not the end of the story....Chapter Four will follow...but not today!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


LEST WE FORGET....may we always honour our brave men and women of the Forces...past, present and future...

I do have Chapter Three of my Singapore Fling almost ready to be posted...I was going to do so today...but the best laid plans of mice and Scorpios....

It's my birthday I've been waylaid!  I was born on the 11th hour, too...actually, around 11.05 am!

In the words of Scarlett O'Hara..."Tomorrow is another day!"