Crew: Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon
Tokomaru in Singapore
Singapore, situated at one of the great maritime crossroads, claims to be the busiest port in the world. The waters around here are certainly busy, and negotiating a passage across from Indonesia was quite a heart-stopping experience. We have never seen such a procession of ships. It made the Straits of Dover seem like a quiet backwater. We were happy to get through it all and slip in to Raffles Marina (nothing to do with, and nowhere near the hotel), on the west side of the island, and here we have stayed for two months, though most of that has been in UK.
After Indonesia, Singapore lifestyle was quite a shock, especially the shopping malls, -
vast and modern and glamorous and everywhere. They are quite bewildering at first with their gleaming escalators which carry you to ever more shiny walkways past ever more glitzy displays. Until you get the hang of it, it’s hard to say if you’re in a shop or a metro station or a hotel foyer as they appear to be seamlessly connected. After managing with the dark and dusty shops in fishing villages you wonder who needs all this stuff. But we caught on quite quickly and were soon consuming away with everyone else.
There are plenty of attractions apart from shopping, especially characterful old quarters
where the culture and traditions of Singapore’s diverse communities thrive amongst
mosques and temples and markets. Eating out is a major activity. In Little India, noisy
and colourful, we scooped up our lamb biryani off banana leaves; in Chinatown we
joined the hoards of enthusiastic diners in hawkers’ food courts, not always sure what we were eating, but always interesting and delicious. One night we went to the People’s Theatre to see some Chinese Opera. This was more like pantomime and the story was clearly a much loved and familiar tale. There was lots of that high Chinese singing and plenty of dialogue and clowning around. The audience walked in and out, munched on their snacks, answered their mobiles and chatted continuously, but they clearly loved the performance and cheered their favourite characters. The atmosphere was wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves though we couldn’t begin to guess what it was all about!
Another highlight was the switching on of the Chinese New Year decorations. Everyone
had brought their children to be there for the big thrill. The lights went on to a surge of
oohs and aahs from the crowd, and long chains of firecrackers exploded for about five
minutes. The decorations are truly brilliant, - strings of lanterns and flowers, coiling
dragons, and to top it all, splendid roosters (this being the year of the rooster) with red
blue and yellow tail feathers all lit up and turning gently in the wind.
Chinese New Year illuminations
More restrained and familiar are Raffles Hotel, all white and graceful beneath shady
trees, and St Andrew’s Cathedral, also white. They must once have been the most
imposing buildings around and originally overlooked the sea. But the sea has been filled in and the skyline is now made up of the tallest, most elegant skyscrapers. These
skyscrapers dominate everywhere, competing in dramatic design, and symbolize the
extraordinary energy and confidence which has made Singapore develop such a thriving economy. Some of the old waterfront buildings remain, shop-houses and ‘godowns’ along the river, picturesquely restored and now housing chic bars and restaurants. Old wooden ‘bum-boats’, the same that used to work the river, carrying cargo to and from the quayside and out to ships anchored in the harbour, are now in service to take tourists on river trips. They are skippered by weather-beaten old men who remember how it used to look.
Introducing the year of the Rooster
We have become dangerously accustomed to life at Raffles Marina, with its smart
facilities: swimming pool, air-conditioned ‘business centre’ (for interneting), hot
showers, the ‘Straits Times’ delivered every morning to the cockpit! The paper has been full of the tsunami of course, extensive coverage still dominating the news. The
Singapore army has been very active in Aceh, and lots of NGOs and volunteers have
been involved. The message coming to the press from Malaysia and Thailand is that
they want their tourists back, needing the tourist dollars again as soon as possible to
rebuild their livelihoods. Thus encouraged, tomorrow, 25 January, we are heading off up the west coast of Malaysia, stopping along the way. The first place we reach which has suffered from the tsunami is Langkawi, where we will be joined by Liz’s son Nick and friend Danny. The plan is to sail on up to Phuket. We’ll play it by ear, see how it goes and let you know.
Meanwhile, Happy Chinese New Year! And best wishes from Liz and Nick
|Website © Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon 2008|