Singapore

You know, Singapore – sometimes called Gateway to the East! – must have the smartest, cleanest, tidiest airport in the World!  Well, of course I haven’t seen every airport, but I’d still wager it is.  But then Singapore city / island is probably the tidiest city state in the world too!!  As you leave the airport, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in part of a rain-forest – there are so many wonderful and old-looking trees!  But then you realise that actually, it is ALL  construction!

The highways, the planting of trees, the train lines, everything. But it is also so cleverly done, you react comfortably to it – even if you don’t realise that at once.

I remember years ago reading about the “chewing-gum” police who were employed to make sure the streets were kept clean and clear of such deposits! I’m not entirely sure that it was true, but certainly you’d have to search far and wide to find ANY deposits of litter, gum (whatever) on the streets of Singapore.

I arrived at 4.30 am en route from India to Australia – and with a 11 hour wait for the next flight,  the easiest thing to do was dump all my luggage in the Deposit room and head into the city proper.  I got there by about 6, though of course there was nothing open yet. I don’t know Singapore well, but anyway decided to avoid anything with Raffles in the name; I know there’s a whole Plaza for example, over and around the famous old Hotel (which sits marooned in a sea of high rises).

Talking of high rises, though, Singapore does do them well – I am not much of a photographer, but here’s a shot of part of the skyline. (Incidentally, this is my first attempt at downloading a photo here, so if there’s just a blank space, don’t be surprised!). There are some really very unusual shapes….

I came into the City on the Metro (Singapore$4 each way – about £2 for half an hour). But very high technology! Not unlike the latest London lines (Jubilee?) with barriers on the platform that open in synch with the tube doors. Very high spec systems inside with lights that flash showing the next station – which side the doors will open and when – and so on.

Having decided NOT to go to Raffles station (or City Hall – which I  remembered as the middle of the vast shopping area that is central Singapore), I was heading for Outram Park – as I liked the name.

At the very last minute – literally, as the doors were closing – I changed my mind and changed lines for one stop to Marina Bay. Which sounded more like being by the water and, I surmised, therefore cooler. I was very glad I did. Marina Bay turned out to be a very new development, partly under construction, the centrepiece being a Hotel, built of three adjacent towers and next door, a new art gallery.

The Marina Bay Hotel is 57 storeys high and has a roof garden, with a swimming pool and mature trees, on the Roof. The whole thing sits – like a giant skateboard! – atop the towers and indeed, shoots out into the air at one end. My picture below doesn’t do it or the Art Gallery justice.

Thrilling! I was inside the Foyer about 8am, only to find that Visitors must pay to go up Tower 3 and have a look – after 10am.  The Concierge (bless her!) took pity on my crestfallen face and suggested I should go up Tower 1 to the 57th Floor where there was a Bar / Breakfast Cafe that I could go into. As it turned out I didn’t even need to do that because by blatantly using the Concierge’s name on the desk upstairs, they allowed me to just have a wander and gaze across at the skyline above and (on the other side) look down onto the Bayside where yet more buildings are under construction. I counted about 80 large tankers / container ships sitting waiting in the Bay itself. Singapore is a busy city. I was so awe-struck by the sight that I completely forgot to take pictures from the roof, so you’ll have to visit yourself to appreciate it.

Leaving the hotel, I took myself to the shopping mall below for some breakfast while awaiting the opening of the Gallery – also 10am.  Puzzling over a picture in the cafe, a passing young girl took pity on me to explain what a “Kaya Toast Set” is: 2 half-cooked boiled eggs, with toast (and some sweet stuff) and coffee. Oh and you add this sauce (looked like Soy) to the eggs.

Sounded yummy (?!) but I ordered it anyway. To my surprise – being someone who is NOT keen on boiled eggs, let alone half-cooked – it was delicious! Runny, almost grey, half-cooked soft boiled eggs, and the toast that came with was heavily buttered, made into a sandwich and the sweet stuff tasted very much like lemon curd!

And – joy of joys! – the first decent, strong cup of coffee I had since I left England. (India is not good at coffee!! Sorry. Or tea for that matter,  he added, almost heretically!).

I had a second coffee and more kaya toast – without the eggs this time – to enjoy more of the lemon curd. Incidentally, I have now looked up the “lemon curd” and according to my research, this is what it is:

Kaya (pronounced “car-yah”) is a jam or paste made from slow-cooking coconut milk, eggs, sugar vanilla and a hint of pandan leaves.  Well, now I know – not lemon curd for sure!

Feeling much fortified – I headed for my final tour stop – the Art Science Museum – you see it on the right in the picture above.  A very boring Van Gogh exhibition got my attention for 5 minutes (no actual pictures, just giant projections!) but next door was a breathtaking collection – mostly ceramics – from a Chinese shipwreck found close to nearby islands in 1998. Hundreds of porcelain plates destined possibly for the middle east – and mostly made around the years 825 – 850 AD!  That’s 1200 years ago and, whilst we British were struggling out of the Dark Ages with Alfred the Great and the Vikings, China was trading with Iran and Iraq, and copying their stylistic motifs onto their own plates.  Many survived because in the sudden shipwreck they were still packed tightly inside much bigger storage jars!  The exhibition also has some solid gold and silver pieces, but the ceramics are its glory: there’s even a wonderful one-metre high china ewer (jug) with animal head stopper and beautiful colouring. If you’re interested, there’s a brief YouTube and other information / links here  – if they work:

http://www.marinabaysands.com/ArtScienceMuseum/

And so, reluctantly,  back to the Airport. Though this time I was grateful for the giant shopping malls that Singapore is heir to! I stumbled out of the glaring midday sun (didn’t Noel Coward write “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” whilst in Raffles in  Singapore? how apt!). I found this Mall connected, via several others, with the City Hall Mall – from which I could take a direct Metro back to Changhi (Airport).

Tiger Airways – who kindly flew me on to Perth (and indeed, flew me from India, too) is the local Easyjet airline – the staff spend most of the time rushing up and down the aisles with food and drink or merchandise trolleys – all of which are available –  at a cost!  But at least they are friendly, efficient and very well dressed.

From the sublime richness of Marina Bay back to the reality of budget air travel!

Singapore:

City of More.

Shopping Malls and countless halls

Of air-conditioned luxury.

Marina Bay – brand new – has every store

From Prada to Dunhill, from Cartier to LV

There is nowhere you’d go to get more.

In the end I just bought a bunch of watches

At the airport – 4 for 10 Dollars which I bartered

Up to 12 Dollars, as I wanted a bunch of five!

On for each of my friends and me –

Needless to say they ain’t Swiss!

City of More – and less –

More bling than Sing!

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Lavatory Humour

In my younger days – say at St Josephs College, London SE19 in the 60s, they used to dish out punishments for ‘toilet humour’ – these days I notice we sometimes hear the phrase ‘potty mouth’ directed at someone using smutty / graphic language (whatever!).

I only mention this to forewarn those of a sensitive nature that this little blog will be touching on matters somewhat closer to the earthy side of life – and believe me in India, you can’t escape that!!

Now that I am basking in the cleanliness and tidiness of Western Australia (more of that later) I find I shall be able to stop collecting toilet paper, or tissues from restaurants or indeed anywhere I found them.

For the uninitiated, there are two types of loo in India (especially in public places): the “western” style – which you can work out for yourself – and the other one.

This one consists of two parallel foot places – usually foot-shaped, though much larger – each side of an oval hole which heads off downwards.  These are especially fun to use (as you might imagine) on a moving, swinging train!

Obviously, for the westerner, unused to the techniques – not to mention the angles – involved, these are best avoided. In some up-market versions, there is a wall-attached shower nozzle; the intention being for you to use it like a DIY bidet! Even less appealing for the novice user!  But avoidance is not always possible.  My paper-collecting mania started within days of my arrival in India.

Picture my plight if you will – hot, sweaty, a bit lost – on day 3 in Bangalore. And in pressing need of a loo.

I had sought out an AA meeting (often a fun spiritual chore in a strange country!) and actually found it without too much trouble, arriving 20 mins before the scheduled start at 7pm. It gets dark – always – at 6.30 in this part of the world. So it was dark but a small group had gathered outside the closed school where the meeting is held.

My request to use a loo if possible had me directed to a far corner of the school courtyard where (it seemed) the kids’ toilet blocks lay. I have no idea which ones I entered, could find no working lights, but on trying the second door and seeing a row of sinks, I figured I must be close and gingerly stepped in.  By now, bear in mind, it was almost completely dark and I waited a moment or two to get used to the lack of light.

Ah, a row of cubicle doors and, inside each, inevitably, one of ‘those’ loos – and (of course) no sign of a paper holder (ha ha!) much less any paper.  Of course, up to this point, an encounter of this nature had never crossed my mind. My nephew’s apartment of course, has “western” style en suites!  Though I noticed later (apropopos of nothing) that the daily woman’s little room in said apartment, has the other type. Make of that what you will, in this day and age!

So……. without going into too graphic a detail – I had to go – and not just for a wee!!  Carefully removing the little wallet (money, passport, credit card) I habitually carry round my neck on my travels, I hooked it over the lockless door (I knew I would hear anyone entering the room anyway). Hoping against hope, I searched all pockets for a paper tissue, a bill, a receipt, anything? To no avail. And even if I dared consider it, this dark and unappealing place didn’t have as much as a tap, let alone a bidet-style hosepipe.

In the face of increasing desperation – both for relief and a solution any way you look at it – inspiration struck.

I have – also in the little travel wallet – a very expensive notebook and matching pen!  Montblanc supplied by Smythsons of London for those who care for such detail. I bought it as a client-impressing tool in my Butler days; it also holds my credit card(s) and driving licence.

For today’s needs, though – it held the notebook – albeit that the replacements are about £7 each – and the sheets are approximately three inches by two!! Just think about that for a moment……..

I draw a veil over how many special Smythsons/Montblanc  sheets were used that dark evening, and resolved to Never (never, ever, ever)  venture from home without at least a few tissues, some sheets of loo paper, or at minimum a copy of the Bangalore Times or equivalent.  Needless to say, I mostly forgot to do that, so each lunchtime (coffee-time, tea-time) I was the one sneaking off to the loo whether needed or not, to grab a few sheets. Or half-emptying the paper napkin holder on the dining table.

You may laugh – but believe me, there are times, especially travelling around India – when the sudden onset of that phenomenon “when ya gotta go, ya gotta go” – means business and you can be having a gentle walk through what passes for a temple rain-forest garden when it happens.  Then the only thing between you and total disaster might be – a rather small bush!  At times like that, it pays be at least partly prepared with that little stash of paper! And a prayer for rain!

But that’s another story which I won’t tell.  But, there are two post-scripts to this tale;

One: I cut out an advert from the in-flight magazine en route from Chennai (Madras) to Singapore; the Shower Toilet Seat (from Ideal Merchandise in Japan) : a toilet seat with a built-in shower!  Can be installed on any toilet, improves personal hygiene and even helps ease the pain for people with haemorrhoids!!  Now – if I could just find a way to adapt that into a small knapsack, like those ones that already have a water bag inside, I reckon I could make a fortune!

Two:  5 minutes after the Lavvygate tale above, I was in need of more water and ducked through the traffic across the mad Bangalore street and, on the point of paying, realised I had no money! My little travel wallet also holds whatever money I am carrying – and it was still hanging somewhere in the dark on the back of one of those kids loo doors!  Fighting rising panic as I rushed back – had it been stolen? Worse, had it dropped off a moving door, down into an unmentionable (and irretrievable) abyss?  My heart was pounding. To my great relief – for the second time that night! – things worked out OK in the end!

Poetry from the sub-continent

1. Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan, the ‘Tiger’ of Mysore,

Was a constant thorn in England’s side for sure;

He led a people who, though filthy poor,

Could nonetheless engage in heavy war!

The British were determined that the Raj

Would be the power, and with them in charge;

Tipu disputed this and fought with style,

For 20 years he fought with grit and guile;

He kept a bunch of tigers out the back,

In case he got to use them in attack.

But Wellington broke through in ’99

And, despite his French allies, a fast decline

Was the end of Tipu Sultan and his plans.

His dreams, like water, faded in the sands.

2. Bangalore

They call it the ‘garden city’

It isn’t that no more!

They call in Bengaluru,

It used to be Bangalore!

Stinkin’, stonkin’ traffic

Cycles by the score.

I wonder how many died here

In those Raj-rich days of yore?

Dysentry, typhoid, prickly-heat

Would have carried off  more

Than now; we take the jabs

And don’t drink the water –

Some of us take malaria tabs

The rest of us probably oughta.

3. Mysore

( misquoting of Julius Caesar)

I came, Mysore. I’m conquered.

Indiana James and Temples of Noon

Mad Dogs and Englishmen (as Noel Cahrd wrote – just say what you see, it’ll sound just like him!) go out in the midday sun……. and this Englishman no exception.

Hard to avoid – in Mysore at any rate – bustling, puzzling and damn-near impossible to navigate, it nonetheless opens and shuts early.By 10pm most shops are putting up the shutters and they sort of start, to slowly, try, to open them again around 9-10 in the morning!Me being the early bird (yeah, right!) I am scrabbling around – well lets say about 9.30, looking for a snackette.

Today was a pineapple dosa. Dosa is pretty ubiquitous here and comes in a million types – mostly too spicy for me, especially at breakfast. But the pineapple one was fresh pineapple (of course) and the dosa is a sort of pancake/omelette made (I think) with rice flower, sort of slightly dry omeltty texture. Always with little side dishes, this one has a sort-of raita (yog, onion and mint) and another more like a sweeter hummus! Everything is “sort of” – in terms of descriptors – because no matter how obvious the name (tea, coffee, sweet biscuit etc) the reality will differ. Bit like living in a parallel universe! Expect the unexpected – and rarely am I disappointed.

My last day in Mysore last and I tried to get into one of the four (yes four) palaces the last Maharaja built for his daughters – inevitably each one on a hill in a different  corner of the city, Tis now part of the Uni and has what seems to be an intersting mix of history, fashion, art etc. Like the V&A perhaps. Alas – despite quite a search by rickshaw in that midday heat, turned out it was closed today – no explanation. I am fascinated by what happened to all that wealth and land – will be on that case later.

Spent part of each evening for the last 3 nights wallowing in Indian music – magical stuff. Which includes an ornate blessing at the end, plus holy water and some jasmine flowers and even a little palm basket with something edible in it. Telling this story to my nephew, his first question was : any trouble with Dehli Belly?!  Rama is looking after me just fine…

Right!  NOT going into a lengthy travel thing. Suffice to say I am back from Mysore to Bangalore this early evening. First class train – BritRail could learn a trick or two. AirConditioning – and 10 minutes into the journey:  various staff pass by with bottle of water, then little biscuits and chocolate eclairs, then little mango drink carton. All included in the ticket price – which was about Four Pounds for the 2 hour high speed, non-stop journey. Compare that (shall we say) to London to Birmingham or further on InterCity!

A few random thoughts – and images:

Remember Sean Bean as Sharpe on TV?  Well there’s a whole series of books set in the Indian wars – including one called Sharpe’s Tiger – and it covers the Battle of Sringinapatnam (excuse spelling – not got my notes!)  where I visited the Fort and bathed in the River etc (this Tipu Sultan stuff is going to run and run I fear). I ordered a copy via Amazon and it will be waiting for me in Oz!

Cows are vegetarians, yes? At least I thought they eat only grass etc. Today – amongst the many cows grazing the streets of Mysore (I called one street Cow Alley as there were so many – including calves) I saw one nibbling at ? (or drinking fluids?) from some road kill. Looked like a rat……. I looked away sharpish. You probably want to do the same. An odd image.

On the streets of Mysore, young pavement artists decorate the hands and arms of young girls with intricate dies and designs from what looks like a mini cake icing cone. . I think the boyfriends pay as they are sitting nearby as I stop to look. One cheeky girl invites me to have something done and after some laughter and a trial sample on my hand, I am now sporting a very fetching an ornate temporary design on my upper arm. Done with Henna, I think, it initially had a black crust all over – which was enormously satisfying to pick off when it dried hours later. (Dare I say, think of picking lots of little scabs!!).

Today it is pale brown, on my pale brown arms – I will get a picture for later downloading. Rumour has it it will last 7-10 days, and judging by the young Mysoreans’ reaction, I am the only mad they’ve ever seen wearing one. Oh well, mad dogs, as I said.

From an odd newspaper item: supplicant talking to a God about a dream says “I dreamt I saw my hand and it was covered with honey” God replies that he saw his hand and it was covered with urine. Supplicant smug  that he is doing better than the God, who says “I am not finished yet; I also dreamt that I was licking your hand – and you were licking mine!”

Make of that what you will……. off now to change my rail ticket down to Chennai so I can stay for a 20/20 cricket match Tuesday night. The Royal Challengers Bangalore  v the Rajasthan Royals!!

What’s happening to me ? If you’d offered me a box at Lords for a test match I would have said thanks but no thanks! Here I am, quite hooked on 3 hours of nail-biting, will-they-won’t-they, bowl the others out, and get enough runs etc.  This is Not amateur local stuff – Tendulkar (Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2010) made 100 last night and another guy hit a Six a distance of 99 metres – that’s over 300 feet!! They have a league very like the Football League and are all playing matches almost every day! OK, stop snoring at the back there!! O dear, and to think I mocked Mick Jagger……..

Behind me (by the way) as I finish this – the Delhi Daredevils have just beaten the Royal Challengers (Bangalore) – which is not good news for my adopted team – they are about 10th out of 10 in the League!

Bye

Voodoo – or Who Do?

I had my palm read today – and my star signed looked over. Oh, and cast some shells to be read.

I hadn’t intended any such thing, but I’m glad I did!  For now I shall be able to seek out and tippex from address books certain jealous enemies who (as we would say) have it in for me. (Infamy, Infamy, they’ve all got it informe! as I believe Frankie Howerd said).

All that aside for the moment, I was standing outside a little shop, simply perusing the signs and thinking whether there was any merit in further investigation, when fate took a hand. In the form of a gentleman who arrived by moped, with his wife sitting (as is the norm here) side-saddle on the back. Before I knew it, I had agreed to a 50 Rupee palm reading and was seated inside, amongst a gallery of deities, shrines and flowers. (Well 50 Rupees is only about 70p and what the heck, I am on holiday – sort of).

It began very well – he worked out I was 61 – I had written by D.o.B on a piece of paper along with my name and Starsign.

I was successful in business / I had at least one property / I had travelled extensively / I had 3 children / oops…….

Oh, and I was going to live to between 85 and 87. That bit I liked.

Strangely,  he did identify I had had some health problems when young – and again in mid years –  but that generally I was in good shape. Well, of course, anyone can see that!!

Then came the crux of the matter – and this is where You (my friends, acquaintances and family) come in.   It seems that for the past 5/6 years I have been subject to a curse,  placed by someone jealous and envious of my life and achievements!  Well, that took the wind out……….

NOW  I understand why I left Dolphin Square, went to Margate, ended up in Seaford.  Changed jobs, location and now here I am – adrift and of no fixed abode in India (or elsewhere, for that matter)!!

But whoever you are – posing as my friend, if you please!

Rest assured, I will be finding you out and all your hexes and spells will be to no avail.   I am just trying to decide if I want the Rupees 5000 version or the Rupees 10,000 version of the work my friend can do with me to straighten things out. Oh, the 5K sorts it for 10 years, the 10K sorts it for 20.

I turned down an offer to include my 3 children in the (shall we call it?) cleansing process?  That looked like it might double the price. And anyway, my imaginary kids can fend for themsleves.

The only other question that troubled me a little was : if I went for the 20 year option (and the golden life that would ensure me) – that takes to me 81-ish years of age. Since I am going to be around till 85-87 ish (see above) does that mean my final half dozen years will see a return to the hex-ridden life I have known of late? Oh dear…..

Only he would know of course – and I expect there would be a cost implication to finding out.

So,  as I paid my 50 Rupees and left (feeling like a NoW reporter and saying I might be back later!) , I thought, I really must look through the address book /iPhone and see if I can work out who the spell-caster can be? 

So I can thank him or her for what seem to me to have been a few years of great adventures!!

Tipu Sultan – the Tiger of Mysore!

It must have been a life of untold luxury in the 1780s and 1790s – if you were the Chief!
I suspect the harshness of life here today – for most people – would seem luxurious to the pesants of the late 18th century!
Just returned from Srirangapatnam (good luck with pronouncing that!) – the island city / fortress and HQ of said Tipu Sultan – ruler hereabouts who so harried (and hated) the Brits that they tried 4 times to oust him from ower. Finally suceeded in 1799 – the troops led by (wouldny ya know it!) the Duke of Wellington…………
some of Tipu’s belongings now in the Queens cllection at Windsor (the gold and diamond bits, natch) and there’s a working “toy” showing a Tiger mauling a British soldier to death – clockwork and now in the V&A in London!! which he had made after the first 3 winning battles.

Srir etc etc (see above) is a magnificent walled city set on a p[roontory where the river Cauvery divides. It sits at one end – so can be better defending on the landward side as the rive rproects the back. The island itself is diamond shape, which provided fuher defence. It loks almost like a Mayan or Aztec ruin – where the walls are huge blocks of stone, so neatly fitted together, but in many places now overgrown. The complex ccontains two ancient (8th/9th) century temples – left unharmed by the conquering Brits! And further down the ‘diamond’ are Tipus summer palace and the Mausoleum where he, his father and mother all all interred.
The summer retreat- so cleverly designed, is superbly cool on the hottest day -a combination of location above the river, and ingenious use of windows, blinds etc.

I bathed in the river – well up to my knees anyway. Since the Temple guide leaflet – in wonderfully eccentric English – tells me that all my sins will be forgiven.
That’s a great relief after all these years…

My favourite bit was where I spotted a old gate by the road – not part of the tour stuff at all – and it turned out to be the ‘River Gate’ from the city – some of it’s old walls still there – other parts laid alongide the river for ladies who were doing there washing there. I had another paddle there to be safe and even noted some carvings lost lost from the walls on the stones as I clambered in and out of the water.
Photos etc will have to wait till I can download them in Australia.

For now – I am off to re-arrange a chnage of hotel tomorrow. Chnage for the heck of it – different part of town etc.
Dusk settling in – it is dark by 6.30/7.00 alll year round.

I wrote a poem for Tipu Sultan but didn’t expect to see an internet access today so that will have to wait. Dripping with jewels or not, I’d quite fancy the role!

Tipu Charles, Raconteur of Mysore.
xx

Bangalore or Bust (do I mean dust?)

Gosh – but it’s hot!

I don’t know which sense  is assaulted the greater : hearing, smell, sound? All of the above…

If you’ve never been to India, try and imagine Oxford Street (London) on the busiest Thursday night, and add into the traffic and teeming hordes of people, as many motor rickshaws and scooters till the street fills to capacity.  Somehow the solid mass edges and weaves forward and moves like a giant, hooting, hissing machine. The smells that waft by – diesel, burning, flowers, drains (urine!), hot spices really do assault the senses. It’s airless, clogs the nose and mouth and yet has an intoxicating  and unsettling appeal. Keep your arms in as the rickshaw zig-zags and stop-starts through; or you’ll lose one.

There are tower blocks, here – maybe 20 storeys – plenty of a/c shopping malls but the hordes of moving people, the choked and heaving streets (let’s not forget the cattle!) ensure you can’t forget you are NOT in a sterile, controlled western city.  Every other building holds a restaurant of some kind, and a mobile phone supplier.  I watch with heart in mouth, as telephoning pedestrians (and I) skip between the twisting traffic to cross the road, jumping the cracked and broken paving that could funnel us down into the street-side sewer system in a second. There would be no point in holding your breath then!

Cannot decide if I want a cold mocha (Starbucks-style) or a fresh lime and coconut refresher from the street stall. Maybe both – and a lie down.