I had a great time in my few days in Singapore – I had forgotten how hot it had been in HK, as it is much cooler there now, but about 30 Deg C still in Singapore. I arrived early at 12, on the Thursday so I had half a day to explore, then the interviews on the Friday (plus a lovely Chinese meal with other members of the RVC staff, followed by a walk along the beautiful sea front at the Penisula and a sit outside in a bar), followed by a full day for me to explore again on the Saturday, flying back to HK on the Sunday. I was put up in a hotel I could never afford! Students had flown in from India/Taiwan and HK just for an interview for the RVC (apparently rated the 3rd best Vet school in the world now).
Singapore is definitely in a much higher class to HK. Everywhere much neater, and obviously planned. Much more greenery and space. Even the apartment blocks look much better built and all attractively painted. Many of the old buildings have been kept; this is in stark contrast to HK where away from the central, area a mis-match of poorly built tower blocks are just stuck in everywhere, with shopping malls, and the old worn, roads/pavements and buildings seem to be continually being changed as nothing lasts very long. There is very few old buildings and no obvious planning I suspect or attempt to blend things in with other buildings in HK, where everything is just cluttered in. The Singapore “sky line” around the Peninsula, in my opinion is far more attractive than the famous HK “skyline”. Walking along there or sitting out in one of the bars/cafes on a lovely warm evening is exceptional!
The whole place is so very different from when I was last there as a boy. Names came back to me – like Serangoon/Bedok/River valley road/Raffles place/Orchard road, as I went around. The airport (now not at Payer Lebar where we landed in a propeller aircraft) is so utterly different!
I have some very vivid memories of Singapore, all those years ago when I was a 13 year old boy and we lived there for a time.
They are very vivid because everything there then was so very different from the UK – not a place to forget/so unique and impressive.
Here are some of them:
I remember landing at the airport after a horrendous, 24 hour plus flight on a propeller aircraft called a Britannia after vomiting all the time, and straight away seeing the scary looking police in Khaki Drill and black boots everywhere, wielding and twirling great long black truncheons as a sort of deterrent I assume. Lee Quan Yew, the then prime minister, ran a very strict, disciplined country. Even dropping litter was an offence, as was chewing gum – and even long hair was not allowed then! We boys had to have ours cut before we would be allowed in. My brother, with very ginger hair which I think must have stuck out, had to have his cut again at the airport before we were allowed in!
The guest house in Singapore city that we lived in for about a month – Tanglin Court, I think off the River Valley Road?. The heat in the room in the afternoon with only a fan, and the servants bringing in afternoon tea with condensed milk. (The British were always expected to drink tea and have servants).The novelty and stares you got as a Westerner with blond hair – obviously then Westerners were very rare in Singapore. Some people would even honk their horns!
The very different clothes and huge straw conical, “coolie” hats to keep the sun off, that the locals wore, and the smell of burnt woks everywhere from the tiny road-side restaurants always cooking and full of locals sitting cross legged on stools eating huge amounts of noodles and vegetables at what seemed an incredible rate. Old bicycles everywhere on the streets, with racks on the back. Often carrying unbelievable loads on them all piled up, plus another person on the cross-bar or a small child bundled in somewhere. The Rickshaws and Trishaws scuttling everywhere, propelled by what seemed a piteously thin Chinese man, wearing just dirty shorts and a coolie hat (I think often also no shoes?). All the tiny shops, sometimes selling what appeared to be very weird food items, and the pick- up taxis (Mercedes) always honking their horns if they saw a Westerner as they thought Westerners never walked but only used taxis. Occasionally, poor very old ladies shuffling along on crippled tiny feet – wearing those terrible tiny, wooden shoes to stop their feet from growing, as tiny feet were considered beautiful in their day.
When we moved to RAF Seletar, I remember the secondary school – so hot in assembly with lots of people and just fans; wearing immaculately starched (by our maid) Khaki shorts, with white, short sleeved shirts full of perspiration, and the small bottles of school milk you had to drink (chocolate and strawberry) left out in the sun, so had to be consumed quickly – too quickly in some cases as the greedy ones had huge stains down the front of their shirts.
The quarter we lived in (2 different ones; one was in Birdcage Walk, the other possible Nightingale Crescent or something?) with the gardens in the back with banana and pineapple trees. You had to have a gardener to look after them – ours was called Samadus. He was scared stiff of my dad – but everybody was as he was the discipline flight sergeant, feared by many! And I remember our maid called Kim – again you had to have a maid (called Ahmas I think), who always wore what seemed to be short pyjamas, but I guess was some sort of maid work suit. My father would roar out Samadus’s or Kim’s name and they would come running, saying “yes master, yes master”. The huge RAF, 27 inch bicycle my father had to ride – he was barely able to reach the peddles as he was only 5 feet 2 like me. He always used to park it in the monsoon drain by our house for some reason. Because I was so small my parents had to order me a very expensive, rare Raleigh bike – the common Chinese ones were much too big for me, and inevitably it was soon stolen. But the Chinese police soon got it back from the local village as it was the only one around. I had a turtle as a pet, with a big long neck (I do not know what sort) that I kept in a home- made pond outside, and fed it on mince.
I loved fishing. Sometimes from Seletar pier catching ling, butter fish or the occasional grouper, and seeing the sea snakes occasionally swimming at speed in the water and the mud skippers (fish that come out of the water and skip across rocks etc). The biggest thing I caught off the pier was my friends younger brother who made the mistake of standing behind me once when I made one of those “epic” casts, and foul-hooked him in the side of the head. We had to take him to the sick- quarters to have the barbed hook cut out!
I often cycled to local fishing ponds where you paid to fish – sometimes staying all night to fish. Here you could not help but catch a lot of fish using tapioca as bait, as the ponds were absolutely ridiculously full of fish (song, grass, java and some ling). I would sell the fish in the local village – Jalun Kayu, to the Chinese who always bought them no matter what the type of fish, and hence I would make a profit ( Not bad at 13!) I was very popular when they saw I had fish to sell! Occasionally I would take some java home for a stinky old tabby tom cat that lived in the attap hut classrooms behind our house and came roaming to our house sometimes. (The huts were like something out of Africa – with straw roofs and low, straw walls, very open at the sides). You could hear the tom cats wailing in the mornings and evenings as they walked through – very eerie! All the cats had broken tails pointing downwards – apparently because it was bad luck if they pointed towards heaven so they broke the kittens tails when first born. Many shops had very thin, scruffy dogs roaming around with lots of fur missing – I assume now because they were full of parasites. Jalun Kayu had lots of little shops and restaurants for the locals, including the little food shops where the shop keepers would always sit the children down and give them a free drink or ice cream while our mothers shopped –all to make a sale, and in the freezer was distorted, weird tasting, Cadburys chocolate, which I assume had melted somewhere in transit in the heat and been re frozen. It also had the night “Ahma’s market” where we used to go, all lit up by stirrup lamps, surrounded by insects. Here we would be “ripped off” as we attempted to bargain like the locals, in the belief that we had “got a real bargain!”
I also camped out in the Malaysian jungle across the causeway, as part of the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme at school. We hacked through the jungle with machetes, slept in parachutes made into hammocks and saw wild- boar drinking from streams that were full of leaches – many of which became attached to my legs as they were also everywhere in the wet undergrowth. I was too small to have proper jungle boots to keep them out. The base ball boots I had to wear, did not. I think these days health and safety would have an absolute fit if schoolchildren did this!
I remember “the bazooka men” who came around the quarters with petrol machines that looked like a bazooka, about once a month spraying probable DDT everywhere to kill the mosquitoes, which were everywhere. You had to sleep under nets and burn mosquito coils at nights. You were just told to stay inside – it would definitely be banned now! Also, men would come around the quarters selling pineapples, which they would cut into pieces with a machete.
I also remember the very popular camp golf course that my father would take us to sometimes to play golf. If you drove a shot out of sight you would not find your ball, as the caddy/ball boys apparently used to take them so they could be sold back at the end of month sale! Also the very old, battered, green buses, with the tiny different coloured tickets, depending on where you where getting off. Absolutely full of people- some hanging on outside the door to the handles as it drove along. So hot and stuffy inside.
And finally I remember the names Change Alley, where apparently you could pick up stolen items cheaply, Boogie Street, where apparently you could pick up weirdoes, Raffles Place, Tiger Balm Gardens and various medicines you could buy, which apparently treated most things and contained opium. Also, the notorious Changi prison if we visited Changi – painted white and up on the hillside, where the Japanese imprisoned our poor prisoners of war in world war 2.
Some pictures I took of some of the places I visited:
1/The first 2 pictures are of some of the old buildings they have retained.
2/ Next 3 are on the waterfront at the Penisula in the evening- the pictures do not do it credit; the last of the 3 is sitting out in a really cool bar there- so very, very nice on warm evening with the sea breeze!
3/ The next 3 are at the famous “Gardens By the Bay”. Very impressive and good.
4/ The next pictures are from Singapore zoo – some of the animals that I dig (I think there is nothing more cute than a baby rhino trotting after its mum!). A really good, extensive zoo – perhaps not quite as impressive as Taipei zoo.
5/ Pictures at the end -quite later on I went to China Town. It is, of course, the year of the chicken. I wondered why there was so many people and police, and was really lucky in that a big New year show was on, with Chinese dancers in traditional costumes and Chinese acrobats. You could not actually see the show, but it was on huge TV screens. Very impressive and spectacular I must say!
6/ Final picture is a random one – I made the HK New Year fireworks after work , and this picture is just before, along the piers. Thousands of people, drinking, eating food and often just sitting at the front for a good view. Musicians playing and people selling things- a very exciting place; just one huge party!. But unfortunately when you are only small, trying to take photos of the fantastic fireworks display does not work -I tried, but all I got was peoples heads or their much higher arms with a camera in, taking photos! Sorry!
I can thoroughly recommend Singapore for a visit. Well worth it. I am so lucky to have been invited, and happened to be free at the time of the interviews!