Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

The Legend of Raffles Hotel

Posted by Monica Johansen on November 2, 2008

When you read my blog you probably sometimes think to yourself “why on earth did she move to Singapore?”, Or maybe you don’t, but I know that a lot of people do, and I often get the question from strangers.

The truth is actually quite a silly story. When I was about 12 years old I saw an American TV show called “Bring’ Em Bank Alive”, where the famous actor Bruce Boxleitner was playing the perhaps not so famous American adventurer, Frank Buck. The movie is based on a book with the same title, written by Frank Buck himself, and it is telling the story of this hunter and animal collector who lived in Southeast Asia in the beginning of the 20th Century.

Raffles Hotel

Raffles Hotel

In real life Frank Buck was hunting in many exotic places around the world, and the TV show is telling the story of his adventures in British Malaya (which included several Malaysian states and Singapore). In the show he is operating in Singapore and lodged at the legendary Raffles Hotel. I have no idea if he actually stayed at Raffles when he was alive, but when my father told me that the hotel still exists I was very exited and I promised myself that I would one day be entering the doors of this beautiful hotel named after the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles.

Raffles Hotel has an interesting history. For instance were no Asians accepted as guests until the 1930s, and the building was housing Japanese troops during World War II. In 1987 the Singapore Government declared the hotel a National Monument, and from 1989 to 1991 the hotel was closed for an extensive renovation. Today the building has been enlarged from its original size, and it is now functioning as a combination of a hotel, a museum and a shopping arcade.

By the way, you have probably heard of a drink called Singapore Sling, and this famous Singaporean drink was in fact invented in the Raffles Long Bar some time between 1910 and 1915. Having a Singapore Sling at Raffles is one of the mandatory tourist activities when visiting Singapore.

So, is Singapore everything I hoped for? The answer is both “yes” and “no”. I must admit that I have found it very difficult to make friends here, and I have been told that being a single white female in Singapore is more difficult than being a single white male, which I tend to agree on based on my own experience. I spend most of the time in Singapore on my own, but luckily my job allows me to travel around in the region.

White Tiger in Singapore Zoo

White Tiger in Singapore Zoo

I am also disappointed in the Government’s obvious discrimination of singles, and the lack of interest in the growing problem with prostitution and trafficking. And please don’t come and tell me how clean Singapore is. Yes, it might be cleaner than other Asian countries (but then again, that doesn’t take much), and the business areas are well maintained, but you don’t have to travel far from the city centre to find filthy places with garbage lying around. Nevertheless, there are lots of things that I really like about this place, and that I know I am going to miss when I finally leave.

One of these things is Singapore Zoo. I have heard that it is one of the best zoos in the world, and I am willing to believe it. It is not very large, but it is built almost like an open plain zoo where people are protected from the animals (or maybe it is the other way around) by moats instead of bars, and it makes you feel that you are seeing the animals in a more natural environment. I have been there several times, and it is a very nice place to take animal photos.

Another thing I will miss is Clarke Quay, which is one of the most popular dining and party areas in Singapore. I live only 5 minutes walk from Clarke Quay, just across the river, and I often go over there on the weekends just to get out of my apartment and meet people. I have a couple of favorite restaurants, and sometimes I go there simply for the company. The waiters are probably feeling sorry for me since I am always alone, so they usually come over to my table and talk to me for a short while.

When I move out of Asia I will definitely miss the prices on food, clothes and technical stuff. I have never been a big shopper, but it makes shopping much more enjoyable when you know that it is not going to ruin you. In addition, the service level is great, and when you buy a business shirt in one of the more high-end stores (which still is cheaper than buying shirts in for instance Sydney or London) they will alter it for you for free if you would like to shorten sleeves or make any other changes.

The Merlion

The Merlion

But the best thing about Singapore is definitely the central location. Singapore is a travel hub, and from here most countries in Asia are only a few hours away by plane. There are a number of very affordable travel offers to the getaway resorts in the region, such as the islands of Malaysia and Indonesia. Thailand is also close, and if you have the opportunity to take some time off from work every now and then there is so much to see and do just outside of Singapore. Europe is also relatively close, at least compared to traveling from Australia, so if I start to miss my Norwegian and British friends too much I have the ability to fly over without being stuck on a plane for 24 hours.

Of course, many things have changed in Singapore since the 1930s, and a lot have changed in my life since I was 12 (for instance, I have started to realize that men like Indiana Jones and Frank Buck are very hard to come by these days). Nevertheless, being in Singapore is to me a dream come true, and the dignified Raffles Hotel is still standing there, just as impressive, shining white and stunningly beautiful as during Frank Buck’s time, and it is reminding me that some things will persist despite inevitable changes in this world…


One Response to “The Legend of Raffles Hotel”

  1. Teo said

    I never felt that u move to SG is silly… Everyone has their own little dream, the difference is who will be able to reach those dreams…

    But quite surprisingly u mentioned that u r lonely, a friendly and outgoing friend like u should be hard to reject I guess…

    Anyway I believe that u take good care of yourself and don’t worry I’m always with u…

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