PC 168 Singapore

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Singapore lies at the bottom of the Malaysian Peninsula, just north of Indonesia

It’s the warmth and smell of the tropics that hit you as you disembark at Singapore’s Changi Airport; that memory has stayed with me since I first came here in 1986. Sitting just north of the equator the Singaporean temperature ranges from a nigh-time low of 23°C to a high of 32°C; sometimes it rains and when it rains in the tropics, it rains, vertically …… but it’s warm rain!

After a year with Short Brothers, I took over the ‘India and the Far East’ sales patch. Singapore Airlines became my favourite and its hub was convenient to travel further into Asia. My last visit had been in 1991, staying as normal in the Marco Polo hotel on the corner of Grange and Tanglin streets.

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The architecturally interesting Marina Bay Sands hotel

Singapore has changed in 28 years! The Marco Polo hotel has been demolished and replaced by executive homes. Down in the business district what were ‘high rise’ are overshadowed by some stunning buildings reaching up into the clouds. We stayed in the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) hotel down on the waterfront, as it had featured in Giles Coren and Monica Galetti’s “Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby” a BBC series covering six extraordinary hotels.

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The MBS infinity pool on the 57th floor

The statistics are mind-blowing: three towers joined together on top with an infinity swimming pool, fifty-seven storeys, 2560 rooms, 10,000 staff, the laundry department has 160,000 different uniforms. You don’t need to leave the ‘integrated resort’ as it’s called, as acres and acres of shops, restaurants and traditional food stalls occupy the lower levels. To the south huge trumpet-like towers herald the beginning of a future exotic garden.

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Singapore is a small island (50 kms east to west, 27 kms north to south; about 720 sq kms) strategically situated between the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Pacific, on the trading routes from China and Japan to Europe. Its unique position was appreciated by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who in 1819 developed it as a trading port. In December 1941, during World War Two, Japan invaded Malaya at about the time it attacked Pearl Harbour. A few weeks later, in February 1942 it overran Singapore and some 90,000 troops became prisoners of war. It was subsequently reoccupied by British, Indian and Australian Forces following the Japanese surrender in 1945. In 1963 it gained independence from Britain as part of Malaysia and became an independent republic two years later. Its population is predominately Chinese, but Malays make up 15% and Indians 7% and there is a significant expat community amongst the 5.65 million people who live on this very crowded island.

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The Harding Road PS Café, one of several in the Island State

Lunch on our only full day was at the PS Cafe on Harding Road, away from the concrete and glass, in amongst colonial period buildings, tropical vegetation and monkeys. Very occasionally you hear a distant police siren and are reminded of the C21st! Alison had been a colleague at Morgan & Banks, moved to Sydney, then married and settled in Singapore. Today she and her family live across the causeway in Johore State, where she teaches at the Malaysian outpost of Marlborough College, UK. Her youngish children are almost bilingual in Mandarin and English.

After lunch we drifted (nothing happens very quickly in the tropical, humid heat!) down to the internationally famous Botanical Gardens, where fauna and flora compete. I used to jog here from the Marco Polo Hotel so knew them well, but for Celina it was a new experience.

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The orchids are simply stunning!

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After half an hour our stroll through these beautiful gardens was interrupted by a tropical storm, so we headed for the Mass Rail Transit (MRT) and back to MBS.

Mark started out as a client of mine in the UK in 2004 ……. and as often happens when you work closely with someone, we have kept in touch. So much so that in 2011 he contacted me to ‘chew the fat’ once again. He and his wife moved to Singapore in 2016, from where he covers his company’s Chinese interests. We both agreed that when you’re travelling on business, you don’t necessarily have the time to be a tourist. So, wanting to rectify this, we met in the MBS lobby and took the MRT to China Town,

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……… walked through stalls dripping in the torrential rain and popped into the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. The reverential treatment of bits of hair, bone, teeth of those whose life is worshipped often suggests that the spiritual ‘body’ was a whole lot bigger than the physical one! Then back on the MRT to Raffles, the colonial hotel named after Sir Stamford Raffles and where a Singapore Sling was invented.

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We queued to have a drink in the Long Bar, with the obligatory peanuts’ shells scattered across the floor, and then back into the warm, damp air for a short walk to Chijmes. Situated in an old convent, the restaurant’s name cleverly echoes the historical connection, ‘Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus’ (CHIJ) and is on Victoria Street. It featured in the comedy film Crazy Rich Asians, as did the Gardens by the Bay on the seaward side of our hotel. Interesting to understand that food comes when it’s ready, and if cooked by two or more different chefs, can be more than 10 minutes apart! And so it was, Mark’s pasta dish came ten minutes after my Nasi Goreng.

Some say that Singapore is a ‘nice dictatorship’ but when you experience this clean city, where chewing gum is banned and no one dares to drop litter, where individuals show a huge respect for each other, you begin to think ‘Why not?’ Walking back to MBS through the government district, high into the night sky to our right rose the skyscrapers of the central business district, whilst ahead MBS shone like a beacon of consumerism, extravagance and bling!

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Singapore draws you in, it’s so unique ……..  and it calls you back!

Richard 27th December 2019

PS In our room at MBS the search for an adaptor for charging the iPhone etc was cut short by spying this nifty little socket. EVERY hotel in the world should have one!

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PC 167 “Where do You live, Brighton?” “Well, Hove actually.”

A well-known reply by residents of Hove, East Sussex, when asked if they live in Brighton, is “Hove actually!”, thus maintaining a distinction with their less genteel neighbour. Celina and I moved to Hove in October 2012, setting up home for the first time together and choosing it for its proximity to two Hot Yoga studios. Originally Hove was a small fishing village surrounded by farms, but it grew rapidly in the C19th and by the end of the Victorian era was granted Borough status. In 2001 it became a constituent part of the City of Brighton & Hove. (See also PC 13 posted in May 2014)

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Looking west from the top of the i360. Hove starts at the Peace Statute (Note 1) you can just make out at the bottom of the green swathe of grass (Hove Lawns), and continues until Shoreham Harbour in the distance

I am naturally not very inquisitive, just accepting of where I am and observing, but not initially digging into a location’s history. So it was a surprise when last year, on Hove’s promenade, a new plinth was installed, on which sat Jonathan Wright’s Constellation, based on an Orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system, except the planets have been replaced by local icons. Local icons?

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Looking East: the new plinth, with the i360 Observation tower in the background.

There are eleven. The first four are an Elm tree, a skateboarder (?), the Hove ship and West Blatchington Windmill, but of the others it is the ‘Amber Cup’ that I find most interesting ……. as we live in Amber House!!

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The ‘Amber Cup’ was unearthed here in Hove during landscaping in 1856 to create Palmeira Square, about a kilometre east of where I sit. An ancient 6 metre high burial mound was excavated and found to contain a coffin hewn from a tree-trunk. Dated from 1200 BC, it yielded many treasures including this cup, made of translucent red Baltic Amber and about the size of a regular tea cup. The find suggests trade links between Britain and the Baltic States over 3200 years ago??? Wow!

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Naturally Queen Victoria features, for every town in Britain changed dramatically during her 64 years on the throne. She was our fourth female monarch and her reign saw the establishment of the British Empire, possible the greatest global empire ever created. Our current female monarch, Elizabeth II, has of course seen that empire relinquished, replaced in part by The Commonwealth.

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Queen Victoria 1837-1901

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A seagull and beach hut

Then there’s a seagull on a beach hut, the latter lining the promenade in a colourful display. Seagulls are noisy, chatty even, and numerous; part of the fabric of a seaside existence! The seagull is also the mascot of the local football team, Brighton & Hove Albion, which was promoted into the top tier of the professional English football league system in 2018. Currently they are enjoying a relatively successful 2019 season; their home ground is the AMEX Stadium on the outskirts of Brighton.

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The Sussex County Cricket Club Ground is here in Hove. I am not a follower of cricket, although acted as the scorer for a prep-school team, if only to benefit from the cream teas that always accompanied a fixture!! So simply report that the club is the oldest of the eighteen first-class county cricket clubs, having been founded in 1839. They won the County Championship three times in the first decade of this century, and obviously deserve a place in this constellation.

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Another icon on the sculpture is the 35mm cine camera. Hove film-maker George Smith (1864-1959) bought a camera from the Brighton engineer Darling and create a special-effects short called ‘Grandma’s Reading Glass’!!

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The Rampion Offshore Wind Farm 

The last ‘icon’ is very modern! On the plinth the turbine is quite small, but there’s nothing small about the Rampion Wind Farm, established 8 miles offshore in The English Channel at the cost of £1.3 billion. Its 116 wind turbines, 64m high, were connected up in November 2018 and at full capacity will provide enough power for 350,000 homes. The wind farm is named after the round headed Rampion (Phyteuma Orbiculare), also known as the Pride of Sussex and is the county flower.

I became a fan of the American author Bill Bryson from the moment I picked up ‘Notes from a Small Island’, his observations of living in Britain. Some twenty years later in ‘The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island’ (2015) he reflected on what had changed since he first travelled across the country. In this second book he came through Hove from Littlehampton ……. on the No 700 bus.

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George Everest 1790 – 1866

Among the graves in St Andrew’s Church on Church Road, Bryson came across that of Colonel Sir George Everest. Everest was largely responsible for surveying from the southernmost tip of India north to Nepal, just under 2400 kms, a task which took 35 years. He was Surveyor of India from 1830 to 1843. As he was ending this mammoth task one of the mountains in the Himalayas was confirmed as the highest in the world; it already had multiple local names and Everest’s name was put forward for an internationally agreed one. He objected that he hadn’t discovered it, had never climbed it and was not a mountaineer …… but in 1865 his name was chosen. He died in London, but is buried in Hove, possibly as his sister had lived here; the family grave also contains his pre-deceased children.

Six years ago the writer Ian McEwan published ‘Sweet Tooth’, a story of Serena Frome. She’s recruited from Cambridge into the intelligence service and tasked with establishing a relationship with a left-leaning author. “First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man.” I was reading it on a trip to Rio de Janeiro when I suddenly came across: “Then, a few hours later, Brighton beach – strictly, Hove, which doesn’t chime romantically, despite the half-rhyme with love.” Pronounce ‘Hove’ with a long ‘o’ and ‘Love’ with a ‘u’ and I can see what he means, yet the two words share three letters. So in the sand of Barra’s beach I drew out the two words, interlocking the first two different letters. Back home in Hove I cut it out in some wood: I think the results fun huh!

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So that’s a suitable point to end these postcard scribbles, this intertwining with Love and Hove, this half-rhyme!

Richard 13th December 2019

Note 1. The Peace Statue, a winged female figure standing on a globe, was dedicated to Edward VII (1901 – 1910), who raised the profile of Brighton and Hove. It was erected in 1912 in recognition of the city providing a home for the Queen’s nurses and marks the old dividing line between Brighton and Hove.