Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Singapore - Raffles, a parade and a disappointment

Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam
So I've talked about a few things that we did like in Singapore, and those few things would probably be enough to do in a short stopover, but sadly our overall opinion of Singapore was not that good.

We did a few other touristy things; we visited Fort Canning. That was OK, but really nothing exciting, and could have made so much more of the history of the place.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore
We went to Raffles. After all, it is probably one of the most famous hotels in the world, and whilst I'm not keen on the Singapore sling itself, which by the way was invented here by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, having a cocktail in the Long Bar seemed a necessity. The hotel was developed into its heyday by the Sarkies brothers; if that name sounds familiar for regular readers, it was the same people as were behind the Strand Hotel in Yangon.

Raffles, and its Long Bar, were favourite haunts of the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Somerset Maugham. So we were looking forward to drinking in a little bit of history.

Singapore Slings at Raffles
What we hadn't realised was that as part of the refurbishment that was completed in 1991, the Long Bar was moved. And though it has been rebuilt to resemble the old one, it clearly isn't the same. Whereas if you go to the equally famous and well visited American Bar at the Savoy, you feel like you are in a top bar of a top hotel, and whilst you do pay for the privilege, the experience, service and cocktails are all excellent, this was nothing more than a bad tourist attraction.

Chingay 2015, Singapore
The new location is up where the shops are, and the only people in the bar are tourists, still dressed in their shorts and loud shirts, most of whom seem quite oblivious to the fact that they have been banished to a lousy pretence that is obviously intended to simultaneously keep the tourist riff raff away from proper guests whilst still taking their money. We didn't stay, although as we'd made the effort to put on our best clothes - having expected that we would need to look presentable to get in to a good hotel - we did make our way to one of the actual hotel bars, and had a drink there instead.

Chingay 2015, Singapore
We also went to the Chingay Parade. We had bought tickets in the Grand Prix stands well in advance to get into this annual event that celebrates Singapore and its people. With this being the 50th year of the country's existence, we were anticipating a good show and an excited crowd. We weren't disappointed by the parade. There were some great floats and some very good performers to keep us entertained. We were seated almost opposite the president and his VIP guests, so we got a good display in front of us and got to watch them too.

Chingay 2015, Singapore
The downside was the feeling of being stage managed. On arrival, we all received a goody bag, which had water (sensible), some snacks (always welcome), and some things to wave and make noise with (a bit of fun). This seemed pretty good, until we discovered that we would be expected to use this collection of glow sticks, tinsel pompoms and rattles in a very prescribed way.

Chingay 2015, Singapore
The parade was being televised live, but before it started, we were taught  various songs and chants that we were expected to do at various stages of the parade, while 'spontaneously' waving the correct item. We had to practice. And just to make sure that we were all seen to be having fun, there were lots of people around to encourage us to wave the right things at the right times.

Chingay 2015, Singapore
Don't get me wrong, we did enjoy the parade, and I am quite happy to join in with the waving of pompoms etc, but it did all feel a bit like we were being told to enjoy ourselves and putting on a display for the cameras.

Which brings me nicely to why we didn't much like Singapore. I know it is a relatively new country, and that it has amassed a lot of wealth in a very short time, and that this is a considerable achievement. However all of that seems to have come at quite a cost.

Chingay 2015, Singapore
Like us at the parade, Singapore is stage managed. People are controlled, and cautious of being caught doing something that is not ' the Singapore way'. The media are largely controlled by the government, and people are aware that their social media can be watched 'big brother' style, so they effectively constrain their own behaviour.

Chingay 2015, Singapore
Singapore doesn't feel real. We concluded it felt a bit like something out of The Truman Show, the film where the main character's whole life is in fact a television show, and he is the only person who thinks it is real, while everyone else is an actor. And to us, that pervading feeling of things and people being controlled, all the while under a facade of freedom and sociality, felt stifling, soulless, and not especially inviting.

Chingay 2015, Singapore

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