On A Little Street in Singapore …

I’m on my holidays in South-East Asia. First I went to Singapore for a few days. It’s one big shopping-mall-cum-outdoor-sauna. You need to be fit to traverse its malls, as they go on for miles, and many are underground. Fortunately, most shops have air-conditioning.

It’s very clean, orderly, and the natives are friendly. They also speak good English. If I had to have a base in the Orient, Singapore would be good.

It’s a small island, imports its water from Malaysia, and has no natural resources. It has therefore to work very hard at its finance and retail industries. Even the lift doors have ads on them.

The Long Bar at Raffles Hotel is worth a look, if you can find it. There’s Raffles Plaza and Raffles City, and Raffles Hospital as well. Raffles Hotel has let out ‘rooms’ to businesses. If you squint your eyes you can imagine the fine hotel it must have been. Now it’s hard to find the hotel amidst the concessions.

Then we went to Penang, which is a small island off the west coast of Malaysia. The standard of living is not as high here. It reminds me of how Spain might have been, before it got over-developed. They are building towers by the beach good-oh. Very warm, and very humid.

This is a Muslim country, which means there is a tension between the trend toward consumerism and self-expression, and the ethnic minorities, and the puritanism of Islam.

What is fascinating is that the Government has just barred the creation of an Islamic ‘snoop squad’ or moral police. They wanted to spy on courting couples, and the like, I think. The Government realised quite rightly that it could easily get out of hand. Another scandal lately is the using of faeces to feed farmed freshwater fish, or ‘patin’. The national paper ‘The Star’ seems to carry a fair bit of critical news of the ‘we must improve our standards’ variety, which is encouraging. The fact remains that this is a two-tier society; the Malays, and the rest. The former get preferential treatment.

Eating out is often done in open-air cafes, with just a roof to keep off tropical rainfall, and overhead fans to ameliorate the heat . Reminds me a bit of rock festival catering. The food can be quite tasty. I have read one would be wise to avoid ice and salads. In Muslim countries toilet paper is not traditional; a hose is often provided in the lavatory instead, so if the cook doesn’t wash his hands thoroughly …!

Outside my window, they are tearing down a couple of hills for sand and gravel, I think. A great pity, as the local wildlife is quite charming. When they’re gone, you can’t just put them back again. I saw an iguana and a monkey climbing a tree in the back-garden. Very warm and humid here, so you need air-conditioning if you are European and need to think straight occasionally.

I don’t mind the heat _too_ much, but I resent having to wash two or three times day just to remain decent. It’s a chore, for an Irish farmboy. Regardless, ever since HK Express now flies to Bangkok which makes it quite easy to get here, I recommend my friends and folks to come explore. There’s tons to do and for cheap, as long as you can withstand the heat.

I have also had to concoct an insect repellent, as I’m afraid of malaria and dengue fever. Some relatives of my travelling companions have caught the latter recently, so it’s no joke. Citronella (mixed with olive oil for spreading on the skin or you can use under eye masks) is reputed to work. Also using unscented toiletries, wearing light-coloured clothes, and washing the latter with unscented soap powder. Here’s hoping!