As readers of this blog may remember, for the past several Januaries I have been privileged to travel to South-East Asia for the day job; and even more privileged, so far, to have visited a different country each time. This year, I was also extremely lucky, for another reason: I had spent four days in Singapore and a weekend in Malaysia (which I had visited previously) and returned safely home before the coronavirus outbreak began to take hold. I have many friends and acquaintances in South-East Asia; if you are reading this post, please know that my thoughts are with you during this crisis. Stay well.
Singapore is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. My first full day there began with a 7 a.m. visit to the Botanical Gardens, a World Heritage site.
The early morning is the best time to see them, before the humidity takes hold. At that time of day, the gardens are already busy with people: joggers, groups practising Tai chi and people just using them to walk dogs or take a short-cut to work. The many varieties of exotic tree – and the even more exotic creepers intertwined with them – defy description; you must make do with a photographed example!
The wildlife is equally striking. I was particularly fortunate to get a shot of a lizard basking at the top of a tree.
The business meetings took place at the National University of Singapore, whose global university ranking is eleventh; it is first in Asia. Amenities include a very advanced library which, like other university libraries in South East Asia, is experimenting with a variety of artificial intelligence applications to improve the experiences of its students and researchers. The hotel in which I stayed was also making good use of advanced technology: as I was waiting for my cab to the airport early on the Saturday morning, when there were few staff around, what was ostensibly a waste-paper bin – I’d noticed it several times but didn’t know until then it served a dual purpose – trundled up to me and asked me if I needed any help!
The Marina Bay is home to some of the world’s most spectacular high-rise buildings. Primus inter pares is the building shaped like a boat on top of three towers.
I took the photograph of this astonishing hotel complex from the rooftop bar at the Fullerton Hotel.
By walking round to the other side of the bar, I could also see the famous Raffles Hotel.
Like most of my other visits to Asia, this one coincided with the run-up to the Chinese New Year. 2020 is the Year of the Rat. The streets and markets were exuberantly decorated and packs of child-friendly toy rats abounded! Everyone was very happy.
The weekend that followed was not about work, but a literary adventure. I’ve begun to plan a novel which isn’t primarily crime fiction, though it may very well contain some crimes. (I have a theory that all novels are about crimes, one way or another, but I won’t sidetrack you with that now.) It was inspired by a fifty-five-year-old BSA motorbike, which really exists, to which I am going to attach a story. The motorbike was painted Port Dickson Green and exported by the British Army during the Malayan Emergency. Somehow it found its way back to the UK: that is the nub of the mystery. Watch this space!
I won’t say any more, except to add that, in quest of the motorbike, I was able to spend an afternoon at the military museum in Port Dickson, in the company of its curator, a soldier in the Malaysian army who is also a forensic archaeologist. His specialism is repatriating the remains of soldiers who have been killed in conflicts, not just in Malaysia, but worldwide. The stories he had to tell were fascinating. I hope I shall be able to do them justice! Also amazing was the reconstruction of an underground Communist terrorist hideout at the museum.
My journey ended with a visit to Malacca. Originally a Portuguese, then a Dutch, colony, it was taken over by the British after almost two centuries of Dutch rule, but the essential character of the old town, which is now protected, remains Protestant Dutch.
It’s an extraordinary feeling, walking through streets containing so many prim, plain, sturdily constructed North European buildings, but interspersed with hugely contrasting places of worship, according to religion,
and fishermen’s houses.
Then it was time to board the plane and embark on the long journey home. It lasted thirteen hours – the longest single air flight I have ever taken – but it seemed to pass in the blinking of an eye – doubtless because I had so many recent memories to ponder.
12 thoughts on “To Singapore and Malaysia…”
Very pretty photographs there! It sounds like you had a nice trip.
Thank you, Lydia. Yes, it was a good trip. I enjoyed Toronto, too, last September, but that was pure holiday! 🙂
What an interesting life you lead, Christina, and what an amazing place Singapore is. I have to confess I’ve never been drawn to the far east, but I very much enjoy reading about it and your photos are wonderful illustrations. The idea fro your new book sounds very intriguing. I never had you down for a vintage motorbike enthusiast but you constantly amaze me.
‘had you down for’ makes me wonder how I come across on social media! (I don’t really think much about that!) I’ve had a very varied career path which has opened up all sorts of interests and led me to a huge range of fascinating people and their unusual skills and activities; family also is a rich bed of shared experiences, as I’m certain you know. No, I’m not a vintage motor bike enthusiast myself, but I can’t avoid absorbing related knowledge by osmosis from someone very close to me! 😉 But you of all people know how writing sends you off on figurative voyages of exploration – in this case, it was a literal quest that I was able to pursue as it was geographically close to where I was on business. I thought I’d posted a motorbike pic, but maybe that was to friends elsewhere.
Touché, Christina 🙂 However, I must admit to having pre-conceived notions about bike lovers based on family members who are, shall we say, somewhat scruffier than I’ve ever seen you 🙂 I tend to associate old bikes with oil covered jeans, long hair of the male variety and beards, definitely male. My image and not necessarily an accurate one to use for general purposes. I do indeed understand about figurative voyages, and literal ones too! I shall watch with interest.
Hi Christina, you could write a travel book for all the countries you have been welcomed to. What a brilliant “Business trip”. Fantastic stuff. Love Majorie Lacy aka mauveone xx
Hello, Marjorie! Thank you. (It really was a business trip, but I extended it!!! All for the sake of art! 😉 )
Hi Christina, You were in my neck of the woods, another six hours and you would have been in Perth 😀
I love Singapore and all it has to offer. Haven’t been in years and enjoyed seeing your photos.
Oh, dear, Luciana! What must you think of me for a reply so late? I have only just come back to my blog again after a very busy opening to the year. I’m well aware of how close you are to Singapore, relatively speaking 😉 – I was in Australia – Melbourne – last year. I’m wondering just how my timing could have avoided those truly terrible bushfires and then the coronavirus which struck not long after I left Singapore and Malaysia. I hope that you are well and sustaining your wonderful portrayal of the ancients. Please accept my apologies for not being in touch. XX
No apologies needed, Christina. It is a very busy time and a lot is going on. I am dealing with students and parents on a daily basis and with the onset of a partial shutdown, my head space isn’t very clear. The bushfires were devastating and now with COVID-19, it will and has started to ruin a lot of businesses and families. I only hope we can ‘weather’ this storm and be stronger across the globe. Take care and stay safe xxx
Thank you for understanding, Luciana. I agree with you – there is so much to worry about at the moment across the globe. I know that teaching online is a huge challenge – both time-consuming and demanding. I hope that you do get some personal space and stay well. xxx
Working on the personal space! It’s been very exhausting to say the least. xxx