Originally established as a trading outpost of the British Empire by Sir Stamford Raffles. Singapore became one of the most alluring and exotic destinations in the world; a ‘must see’ place that had to be savoured by many people at least once. It’s strategic location as the crossroads of Asia attracted many visitors, and indeed it still does.
Unfortunately, in 1942 it also attracted the Japanese Army. The fall of Singapore was one of the great British military disasters of World War Two- the largest mass surrender in the history of the British Army, in fact. The Singaporeans never quite looked at their old colonial masters in the same deferential way ever again. Independence became more or less inevitable.
Today, Singapore remains a unique, almost totally western style city. It seems to have more in common with Vegas or Manhattan than with Vietnam or Malaysia. With a brash, glittering skyline of steel and glass that manifests itself in a multitude of breathtaking architectural twists, the modern city has only faint traces of its ancient Asian heritage. Fanatically clean and almost totally antiseptic, the glittering metropolis attracts both awed glances and intense loathing in almost equal measure.
Expensive and entertaining, if not always totally endearing, Singapore may well leave you more than a little baffled. This is a city stuck somewhere between the past and the future that it is so desperate to be a key part of; in plain sight of both, yet not firmly rooted in either. There’s a sense of disconnect here that is almost tangible.
Standouts do remain. Raffles Hotel is as chic, elegant and hideously over priced as ever. The Long Bar is full of podgy, over weight tourists sipping lasciviously at the local Singapore Slings. A barman once shot a tiger in this same hotel.
As the Japanese swarmed into the outskirts in 1942, the Raffles barmen spent their last minutes as free men by smashing every bottle of hard liquor that they could find. When the Japanese had taken Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, they got roaring drunk, before running amok with bayonets in the local hospital. The scene was indescribably horrific.
The sheer gallantry of those Raffles barmen that day was right up there with that of the dance band on the Titanic. Unlike that famous story, theirs is largely unsung.
You’ll still find some of that old, more authentic Asian heritage down in the food and drink stalls near the old airport road. Here, for a ridiculously cheap amount, you can pick at delicious dishes of the local beef and noodles. Tourists tend to avoid it, preferring the eateries on Clark Quay and its neighbour, Boat Quay, with their amazing riverside vistas.
In Singapore, you can buy almost anything, although you’ll do so at a price.The city is magnificent, pristine, and more than a little maddening. In trying to be all things to all people, all of the time, the Lion City seems to have lost any sense of true purpose or direction.
Should you go see it? Well, if you’re in the region, then yes. The hotels are, of course, world class. And Singapore’s Changi Airport is an object lesson in efficiency and security in terms of travel and transit.
Either way, explore and enjoy and- hopefully- enjoy some of these pictures below.