The woman in her sixties sitting next to me on the flight to Singapore was reading a porn novel, which didn’t bother me because I was too. I only noticed because it was the same imprint. “Erotica written by women for women”, said the flyleaf of mine, which must have made her wonder somewhat about my sexual orientation. Still, needs must on a thirteen-hour flight. I was hoping for great things in Singapore but it didn’t really deliver. Immaculately clean, well organised, and quite bereft of atmosphere – a sort of oriental Geneva.
I headed for the neatly manicured Jurong Bird Park and enjoyed some impressive birds of prey swooping in to impress their trainer. The crocodiles in the reptile park sat bored and motionless – a bit like the supermarket checkout staff back home – so I headed back into town. I was looking for rough edges – a bit of character, so I made a beeline for Little India and Arab Street. To my disappointment, it was all as neat as everything else, barring a few whiffs of jalfrezi round the odd corner.
Severe boredom demands desperate measures, so I strode purposefully towards Raffles, the old colonial hotel, for the tourist’s obligatory Singapore Sling. It was so sweet I had to chase it rapidly with a bottle of Empire beer and two pints of Tiger. Mmm. Things weren’t improving, least of all my vision.
By now it was raining stair rods, so I took a short break to dry off but there’s no point sitting in a hotel room the whole time in a foreign city, so I set off again, this time to Clarke Quay, supposed home of music and riverfront bars. There were two tourists and a sparrow in the whole place, so I crossed the river and took refuge in a microbrewery with a couple of pints of IPA. I was taken by the Head Brewer’s four pint test, which involves having four pints of a particular beer and being severely tempted to say yes to a fifth. Know the feeling mate.
He based this on the principle that part of the enjoyment of a beer is waking up the next day feeling as fresh as the beer drunk the night before, and not as though you have been “mauled by a tiger”. Assuming, that is, you can remember her name and which bar you picked her up in.
I’m a firm believer that there is a direct correlation between the amount of rainfall in a foreign city and one’s propensity to get drunk. Put simply, if it’s tipping down there’s nothing for it but to have a beer or two, or three. As I write, I can see across the river a bar called Hooters, named of course after the American word for tits. On the grounds that all the staff in every other Hooters bar in the world have large charlies, I expect the same to be true here. And yet I am curious. Asian women are not normally blessed in this department, so how will the establishment live up to its billing in this mammarialy-challenged city?
Later that evening I discover the stark reality: the breasts in Singapore Hooters are no more demonstrative than those at a teenage disco. All the usual whimsical features are there – the signs saying “Caution: Blonde thinking”, “Hooters waitresses are flattery operated”, and the waitresses in tight orange shorts and t-shirts reading “Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined.” But no hooters. In fact, Baby Hooters would have been a more apt name for this bar as some of the girls were so petite they struggled to heave the beer pitchers to their tables. I’m sure the boys in Brussels would have them under the Trades Description Act, but the locals didn’t seem to mind.
I was just about to leave when I was offered another beer. Something made me accept it and I’m glad I did, because minutes later two of the waitresses started doing interesting things with Hula Hoops. Western readers with perverted minds may have visions of intimate jugglings involving a popular snack made of extruded potato. This was altogether more innocent. These girls could stick a selection of hoops round various bits of their body and keep the whole lot going for ages. The mind boggles and, presumably, some other bits of some of the onlookers’ anatomy. I was impressed, and wondered whether they should audition for a slot in the Cirque du Soleil, which had just arrived in town.
I tried everything to find a bit of character in Singapore. I went to Chinatown, Little India and the Arab quarter. To Boat Quay, to Clarke Quay, and Collyer Quay. The highlight at the zoo was a couple of racoons who were shagging non-stop and embarrassing the locals. I avoided the Curry Fish Head but I did have the Bak Kut Teh (boiled pork in rice). I also gave the Eight Immortals Vegetarian a wide berth but there was precious little action to be found. There is no spitting on the streets. No litter. No fag butts allowed. Singing is frowned upon. Smiling is only permissible between 4 and 7 on the third Sunday of every month beginning with J. And so it goes on. So if you fancy Canary Wharf run by communists, head on over. If not, don’t bother.