Track work between Bournemouth and Southampton. How typical and on the day I needed to get to London. There went my plans to take a comfortable afternoon train to London. It would have been convenient, easily managed. Of course I had to take a morning coach. Hey ho. I survived. As usual, I went to a small, Romanian-owned hotel in Camden, not 10 minutes from the Heathrow Express. It’s clean, they’re friendly and it’s not terribly expensive.
All went smoothly from then. I managed a quick visit to the Victoria & Albert to see a temporary exhibition of Ethiopian art acquired during the Abyssinian Campaign. It was interesting, to say the least. I like Ethiopian art and seeing an Abyssinian gold crown was worth the trek. London is growing ever more tedious, however, and were it not for airports I doubt I’d go there. Too many people, too many tourists and far too much aggro. A few years ago I would have enjoyed it more, but since Khan was elected mayor, a grey haze has descended over the capital reminiscent of the Obama years in the USA.
A flight from London to Singapore takes 13 hours. My flight departed at 11 AM and arrived in Singapore at 8 AM. The A340 was not terribly full and I had a row to myself. Still, I didn’t get much sleep simply due to the timing. I arrived at midnight British time. Singapore Airlines was disappointing. It’s rated as being the best airline in the world, but I was not entirely impressed. They had minimal drinks services and no snacks/mid-flight meal services. On a flight that long, at very least a substantial snack should be offered mid-flight. Even penny-pinching Scandinavian Airlines offer that much. Hey ho. I got to Singapore in one piece.
There’s an Australian joke. “How do you know that an aeroplane full of Poms arrived? You can hear the whining even after the engines are switched off”. For whatever reason, the crew did not offer us landing cards before landing. As a result, we had to find them at the arrivals hall. It was painless. I was finished within 2 minutes and the passport control officer was happy to wave me through. A British couple in their 50s, however, proved terribly inconvenienced. The notion that they might have to fill in a basic form requiring general information was too much for them. They loudly made their displeasure known to anyone within earshot. Had I not been shattered, I probably would have told them to bugger off back to Europe and to stay there.
I was pleasantly surprised by my hotel. The neighbourhood was interesting in a good way. It was well-preserved Straits Art Nouveau all the way through. There were many hawker centres and small restaurants. My hotel was clean and convenient. My room was an abject nightmare. It was right by the air conditioning intake valve meaning that there was a constant drone at all hours of the day and night. After several hours of wondering around waiting for check-in time to open, I happily collapsed and was able to sleep for a few hours.
Singapore was surprisingly interesting. Well, it has long interested me. I’m deeply interested in trade ports, in places where different peoples come together. Moreover, Singapore is very clean and civilised. Some accuse it of being sterile and a bit boring. Perhaps, but I prefer that over slums. Singapore’s Chinatown is remarkably well-preserved and well-maintained. Its Little India is less so, but still interesting. It feels grittier, but not unbearably so. Kampong Glam, the old Arab quarter, was just as interesting albeit ruined by bogans with class pretensions. Um, I mean, free-spirited young backpackers. I had a few new experiences in Singapore. I visited a Hindu temple, an Islamic shrine and a mosque for the first time. Chinese temples are nothing new, so that doesn’t need to be mentioned.
Singapore’s food culture is excellent. Everything tasted so fresh. The fruits and vegetables were superb. Fresh juices, well-made teas and coffees. Singaporean cuisine is “fusion” without the pretensions. As is my wont, I visited a colonial Anglican cathedral. As is my wont, I read the names on the plaques and their stories. I visited an Armenian church — 19th century. That was another first. Singapore’s Peranakan museum was fascinating. They are a caste of blended cultures and blended peoples, descendants of Chinese, Indians, Europeans and Malay nobility. Walking past the statues of great figures in Singapore history, I started down one of my typical ambulatories of thought that belong to my visits to Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. We have an entire world to live in, a mad assortment of colours, tastes, sounds, touch, sights and scents. Yet, we’re worried obsessively about such a small, stagnant, increasingly irrelevant part of it. In this enlightened age, we fail to even match the brilliance, the genius and triumphs of those whose legacy, good and bad, we have inherited. We are, with apologies to Sir Isaac Newton for brutalising one of his most famous quotes, pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.
I ended my extended stopover in Singapore with a visit to the ballet. It was my first time to the ballet in years. It was all very well done. The piece, “Don Quixote”, was a good laugh and the dancers were excellent. The expressions captivated me more than the dancing — the need to show emotion, to disseminate pathos: to force the audience to empathise and understand, without the use of words, the choreographer’s intent.Naturally, there were far too many Continentals. At the first intermission, they migrated to the wine bar to show how sophisticated they were by spending far too much money on plonk. Perhaps I was unfair, but I was exhausted after having not had nearly enough sleep for days.
The flight to Melbourne went smoothly, but it was obvious that I was more zombie than person…