Of course I had to visit Raffles Hotel. Not only to sample the obligatory Singapore Sling, which I did. But the building of this iconic hotel is truly beautiful. Now it’s surrounded on all sides by the modern life of high-rises and busy roads.
But it also sits in a garden that somehow keeps the outside world at bay giving it a serene splendour. This however is slightly taken away by the fact that it’s also swarming with tourists, well that’s includes me too I guess.
Oh well there’s always a place in the bar so I went there and had a Singapore Sling instead. This classic cocktail was invented by the bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. At this time women were not allowed to consume alcohol in public. But he cleverly thought out a way to create a cocktail that looked like fruit juice and so the women could join in on the fun. And now 100 years on they are still flying out of the bar.
The bar itself seems to be totally intact even though it’s moved from it’s original position. All polished mahogany with fans whirring and crunching peanut shells on the floor. Littering is otherwise a big no no in Singapore but here it’s evidently totally ok.
I lived for a while just over the road from Haji Lane and all the other narrow streets in the Kampong Glam Malay Heritage District. This area I liked with it’s bohemian vibe of colourful shop-houses with lots of small cafes and quirky one of a kind boutiques.
I popped into a Japanese restaurant around the corner called Kitikitoki one evening for a quick meal and ended up coming out in the small hours thanks to the gentlemen Trevor and Edwin. They packed up their guitar and Cajon drum right next to me and started playing and singing in such a catching way that I found myself singing along and later sharing a meal together and having a whale of a time! I even learnt to say “totemo shiawase” in Japanese thanks to Wataru, which means being very happy. Which I was! Totally!
One day I had a photo shoot in a very interesting building called Pearl Banks Apartments, standing on the top of Pearl’s Hill Park. It is something of a architectural icon. It was one of the tallest and densest residential building in Singapore when completed in 1976 and influenced urban development both in Singapore and other cities in southeast Asia. I was fascinated by it’s round shape, how it folds in into itself, witch was best experienced standing at the centre and looking up.
The apartment itself was small but had a lot of nice period details intact, which is rare to find here, such as the cool tiling in the original bathroom. Situated on the 36th floor it has a fantastic view, which unfortunately I couldn’t see for the haze. More about this home in my upcoming book.
One thing that struck me was the diversity of religions who seemingly live peacefully side by side. There seem to be no friction between people caused by religion as there are in so many other places. Here the Sultan Mosque and the gopuram of the Sri Mariamman temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple.
On recommendation from my friend Ping I went to Demsey Hill one day. Situated in one of the old Tanglin barracks that housed the British troops from the late 1800s, throughout the World Wars I and II. After the Japanese surrender in 1945 British forces retook Tanglin Barracks and assigned it as General Headquarters of the Far East Land Forces. There is still a bit of a ”The Bridge on the River Kwai” feeling over it. Even though that movie was about the Burmese railway the Japanese were here too. In my minds eye it was easy to see the jeeps screeching to a halt in the yard making huge clouds of dust rise and men standing on attention while the sun belted down relentlessly. Which it was doing now. Military life here must have been so hard. For one thing heat really saps ones energies.
Had afternoon tea at Jones the grocer on Dempsey Road. Being back in Southeast Asia, old childhood habits seem kick in again. Afternoon tea is a craving nowadays. Well that in itself isn’t a bad habit if it wasn’t that I also crave to have a nice big slice of cake with it every time! Anyway Jones is a cool gourmet grocer and restaurant housed in one of the barracks. I liked the ceiling height and the shaded verandah.
Copyright and photo: Anita Martinez Beijer
(except old postcard Tanglin Barracks from Flickr photosharing)