Saturday, 19 December 2009

A Journey Down Orchard Road

I took a short 'photographic' trip down Orchard Road yesterday morning. The above are some of the images. Click on the book to enlarge.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Decrepit Piles and Virgin Soldiers

This morning we awoke to heavy rain; a welcome respite from the irritating and oppressive heat of yesterday which had signalled its coming.

It is day two of a short Xmas holiday break and I have been catching up on some local history in the Queenstown library.

There is very little that is memorable about local Singaporean television. One significant, and possibly the only exception, was a series called Site and Sound, written and narrated by Singaporean Dr Julian Davison. The series traced the history of early Singapore through its architecture - the small bits that remain that is, for this is a country of constant urban renewal.

In the library I discovered two sender volumes by Julian Davison; One for the Road and its sequel An Eastern Port. Being contrary, I chose the latter and thoroughly recommend it.

Dr Julian Davison is the son of an architect and grew up in Singapore and Malaysia. At the age of nine he was sent to school in England, though his family home continued to be in Kuala Lumpur until his father retired in 1979. He completed a doctorate in 1988 based on a study of the headhunting rituals and associated oral literature of the Iban of Sarawak.

It is a book punctuated with anecdotes including snippets about the writer and former seafarer, Joseph Conrad's association with Singapore through his maritime adventures.

The chapter about the former Mitre Hotel and its seediness (it was a decrepit pile by the time we arrived in Singapore in 2006) in its later years is amusing, as is the revelation later in the book that a copy of The Virgin Soldiers by Leslie Thomas is hidden in the archive of the National Library but not made available to the general public.

Thomas's book describes the bawdiness of army life in Singapore at the time of the Malayan Emergency. The communist insurgency in Malaya was anything but funny and posed a serious threat to regional stability, although it did ultimately pave the way for the eventual withdrawal of the British from this part of the world and the independence of Malaysia and Singapore.

Many of the old British army bungalows are still in use and rented out to British and other expatriates who are undertaking 'tours of duty' in the Republic. They are airy buildings with echoes of a lifestyle that is long gone. One can almost imagine the punkah wallah sitting on the outside verandah.

No need for a punkah today; the weather is several degrees cooler with the rains.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Bright Shiny And New

Newer is not always better and so it has proved with the refurbishment of the food court in the Singapore Botanic gardens.

It was a place I frequented regularly as the variety of food was good and there were some hawkers who cooked in the old (for that read non-sanitised) style, where one could still savour the richness of a sauce from a well fired wok.

My favourites were sotong pagang (grilled squid, Indonesian style) and the banana leaf curry set which could be had for the princely sum of $5.50.

The fruit juice stall did a roaring trade even though they had a penchant for topping up the glass with sugar syrup.

A couple of days ago the food court reopened and so some of us dutifully returned to this once favourite haunt.

Gone were the plastic chairs and tables and in their place stood rows of environmentally friendly wooden tables; quite in keeping with the mission of a botanic garden.

The food service however seemed to have been inspired by IKEA, with stacks of trays and chrome rails to slide them along. The prices were also a dollar dearer. I can't put my finger on it, but the old food court magic was no longer there.

I guess tourists who eat there would not know the difference but we did. Speaking personally I enjoy the atmosphere of the old coffee shops and food courts, provided they are properly cleaned.

I noted that this is blog posting number 94 for 2009 which equals my best and most verbose year - 2007. In one more day I take an annual holiday and like many people in Singapore I will not be traveling far. Maybe I will try and discover some of the older places to eat during the break?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Sunday Best and Somerset Simplicity

Our sunday meal is usually taken in the AnchorPoint shopping mall's food court. We have two favourite stalls; the Village Smoked Chicken stall (which I have mentioned before) and a pasta outlet which is featured above.

For a modest $S6.50 a largish portion of pasta and chicken cutlet can be procured. What makes it memorable is the tomato sauce which is clearly not out of a bottle.

On the subject of malls, today we visited the latest to be launched in Orchard Road - 311 @Somerset. Not that Singapore really needs another mall!

This one however has risen from the ashes of the Phoenix Hotel which used to occupy the site between Somerset and Orchard Roads. Its design is more akin to that of Centrepoint across the road and I much prefer it to its recently opened neighbour, Orchard Central.

Some folks of a certain age will remember a song by Leo Sayer called "Orchard Road". While older Singaporeans might wish to claim ownership of the locality, it was actually written by Sayer for his estranged wife, pleading for her return from her flat and forgiveness after a lapse of judgement in their 7-year marital life. She had moved out to a flat in Orchard Road in London.

One can't help but wonder what Tiger Wood's composition will be like given the litany of indiscretions that are unfolding in media this past week? A Putter In My Pocket perhaps?

A Fashionable Orchard Christmas

All decked out for Xmas - Orchard Road
Some interesting facts about the name 'Orchard Road'. It was named after the orchard of one of the earliest planation owners who lived in Singapore in the 19th century - William Scott.

Scott's Road is also named after Scott. His luxurious residence, which was called 'Hurricane House, was subsequently bought by His Majesty Somdetch Phra Paramindr Maha Chulalongkorn, the supreme King of Siam who visited Singapore often in the late 1890's.

It is now the Thai Embassy on Orchard Road and the royal connection and reverance for the monarchy is why the Thais will never sell it to the Singapore government nor any other party.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Early Singapore - Before Raffles

There is a common misconception that Singapore only came into existence with the arrival of Raffles and the establishment of the then British colony.

According to a Wikipedia entry, the first written records of Singapore date to the 2nd century, when the island was identified as a trading post in several cartographic references.

I have been reading an excellent history "Early Singapore, 13002-1819" which is edited by John N. Miksic and Cheryl-Ann Low Mei Gek. One of the contributors is an old friend and colleague, Kwa Chong Guan who I first came to know during our Museum days.

Evidence complied in the volume clearly demonstrates that Singapore has had a long existence as a trading settlement and the Fort Canning excavations also discovered the remnants of royal occupation.

What is most fascinating is the ebb and flow of local regional politics over the centuries - the Javanese, rulers from Aceh and the Portuguese to name but a few. Alliances were made and broken as power shifted from one group to another.

This Singapore History Museum 2004 publication is well worth as read for those who are interesting in discovering the true founding of Singapore.

They say that history is often written by the victors. I find this book a refreshing and informative historical journal which proves beyond doubt of the importance of Singapore before the British.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

The Haj Sheep's Lament


I will never return
to the pastures of Canterbury
fleeced and flocked
dipped and docked

Now interned in holding paddocks
with the Alps behind
the panicked prodding
from cattle truck to waiting ship

It's the dry dust of the desert that waits me
the ritual of the knife
a slash
a thousand blessings

My carcasse given to the poor
in a plastic bag
as an act of piety

So far removed
from the green of Canterbury

Roger Smith - November 2009

Make My Day