The Road to Singapore (Walking the Civic district and ending up with a 'Sling'!!)

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Asia » Singapore
November 25th 2018
Published: January 14th 2019
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The Civic District

We arrived at the MRT station, Raffles Place, south of the Singapore River located in the Downtown Core of Singapore’s central area where we met Adeline. She led us along the riverside for a few minutes before entering, what is now, the Fullerton Hotel. This neo-classical building was built in 1928 by the British to commemorate their centennial celebrations. Before it was converted to five-star luxury, this building was home to Singapore’s General Post Office. However, the hotel has a somewhat checkered past being used as a hospital for the wounded in the last days before Britain surrendered Singapore to the Japanese in 1942. Indeed, the Japanese even used the building as their Headquarters for their military operations for this part of the world. We passed the fluted two storey colonnades and entered the lofty portico over the main entrance. The Royal Coat of Arms above the main entrance reminded the visitor of the Hotel’s colonial roots. As we walked through the swing doors of the hotel constantly manned by a doorman donning a traditional uniform, the golden décor that ran throughout the balustrades of the central staircase was complimented by the tasteful festooned yuletide garlands. On the central landing that separated the flights of stairs that connected the street level to the lower ground floor stood a twelve-foot Christmas Tree decorated with miniature teddy bears. These cuddly ursine dolls must be some sort of mascot as giant versions, dressed in GPO uniforms stool by the concierge desk awaiting the next photo opportunity.

Behind the Fullerton hotel is Merlion Park. At just over eight metres tall, by the water’s edge stood a Merlion spouting a constant cascade of water from its mouth in to the Marina Reservoir. With the head of a lion and the body of a fish this iconic statue symbolises Singapore's humble beginnings as a fishing village. It was then known as Temasek, meaning 'sea town' in Old Javanese. The head of the merlion represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura or ‘lion city’ in Malay.

A short stroll from Merlion Park is the only suspension bridge in Singapore. Cavanagh Bridge is also one of the oldest bridges in the country. From here we crossed the mouth of the Singapore river from the Downtown core and entered the Civic District. There are only three mobile kiosks that sell ice cream in bread. We encountered one in Orchard Road. We now came face to face with the second one of this food of the gods (I know ambrosia is the food of the Gods. Ice cream in bread was more of a dessert for them!!) As we were here it would be rude not to!! The vendor sold the usual vanilla, chocolate chip, raspberry ripple but one flavour stood out; Durian fruit flavour. The short time we have been here in Singapore, we have passed many market stalls all displaying stocks of an unusual looking fruit. About the same shape and size as a pineapple with similar thorns on the rind, A Durian fruit can weigh anything between 1-7kg and is considered an acquired taste. Emotions evoked from this fruit range from deep appreciation to intense disgust. Some people regard the durian as having a pleasantly sweet fragrance, whereas others find the aroma overpowering with an unpleasant odour. This sounded like the marmite of the fruit world. Descriptions of the smell and taste have been said to represent everything from rotten onions and turpentine to raw sewage. Adeline said her Aussie friends thought the smell was like old football socks!! The odour is so pungent the fruit has been banned on the MRT. Whilst there is no food and drink signs on the trains, the durian fruit has its own sign!! Curiosity got the better of me. Durian flavoured ice cream it was!!! And that is where I will never speak of this experience again!!!

The others sat enjoying their refreshment on a low wall of a small lawned and paved area adjacent to the Asian Civilisations museum.

Heading further into the Civic Centre we passed both the Arts House; an arts and heritage centre and then the National Gallery, both in close proximity to each other. The former used to be the old parliament building and the latter, City Hall and more recently the Supreme Court of Singapore. It was here, we were told of some of the more ‘unusual laws’ that had been passed. I thought I’d misheard when we were told of an Act of Parliament to legislate ‘Gum control’. Perhaps the legislators misread an ‘n’ for and ‘m’ in the legal documents which actually said ‘Gun control’. But no, it is actually illegal to chew gum in Singapore…unless you have a medical certificate!! To be accurate, the ban is actually against buying chewing gum or importing it into the country, but it’s essentially the same thing. If you can’t have it, you can’t chew it and, more importantly to the Singaporean authorities, you can’t spit in out in the streets. I was reassured, however, that you’re not going to be thrown in to jail for smuggling a stick of Wrigley’s in your suitcase, but you can be fined up to $500 if you dare to chew and spit it out. An exception is made for those who need to chew gum for “therapeutic purposes” and have a medical prescription from a doctor or dentist. I wonder if the frustration of watching your soccer team counts as a medical reason? After all I’ve seen many signs (in the past) that have read: ‘WARNING! Watching Liverpool can be bad for your health!!’

Don’t forget to flush!! The second unusual piece of legislation is closer to my heart. Whilst using a public convenience, always check, even after you flush to ensure you haven’t left a little present behind!! According to the law, it is your civic duty to provide a clean toilet for the next customer! You could say, unlike other crimes, it is an offence not to get rid of the evidence!! I was at a loss to understand how this law could be enforced but was assured there are spot checks carried out to ensure compliance. Is that a real job? Someone has to hang around public conveniences to safeguard against anyone is ‘poo-pooing’ the law!!! (so to speak!!) You’ll be relieved (!) to know the offence wouldn’t be heinous enough to carry a custodial sentence but it could cost you up to $150.

The National Gallery stands on St Andrews Road, the kerb of the junction was painted black and white. We had entered on to a section of the Formula 1 circuit. Similar to the Monaco Grand Prix, the Singapore F1 race is a street circuit. One lap is equal to just over three miles. During our stay in Singapore, we had considered (at some stage) to walk the distance (one lap) but due to the humidity, Roisin and I had collectively taken less than a nanosecond to reassess our options. The pit lane and start finish line are adjacent to the Singapore flyer, a giant Ferris wheel that adds to the aesthetic to give Singapore its unique skyline. Our itinerary told us we had the pleasure of visiting this landmark this afternoon.

The National Gallery has over 8,000exhibits of Singapore and SE Asian Art making is the largest public collection of its kind in the world. On the opposite side, St Andrews Road is dominated by the Padang. This is an open playing field (in fact Padang means field in the Malay language) that has hosted everything from soccer matches to celebratory parades. It reminded me of the Circus Maximus or a Greek Hippodrome (but with grass). This oblong playing field is currently shared by the Singapore Cricket Club who have its pavilion at one end of the Padang whilst the Singapore recreational Club have their headquarters at the other end!!

Alcohol in Singapore is expensive. The few bars that we had passed today both had sandwich boards outside advertising beer at only 12 dollars/pint (£7 or US$9)…and that’s Happy Hour prices!! For me, it would be difficult to remain happy at those prices. I’d be happy to remain miserable for the hour!! (Is that a paradoxical oxymoron or something??!)


that said, I was about to embark on purchasing the most expensive drink I had ever bought. I had no excuse. I wasn’t caught out or misread the drinks menu. We had both done our research so knew what we were letting ourselves in for. It had to be done (as a one off). Introducing the Raffles Hotel. Arguably the most famous hotel in Asia. (They have made two movies about the Best Exotic Marigold hotel so therein lies the argument!!) Anyhow, the Raffles Hotel is a luxury colonial style hotel opened in 1887 and was named after the British statesman Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore and not, as I once thought, a high-end jewel thief, portrayed by Anthony Valentine made famous by a TV series of the same name!! This hotel has accommodated royalty, actors and pop megastars. Both Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling had both stayed here (albeit not together!!) Indeed, Kipling once said he enjoyed the food especially the cakes. He said they were exceedingly good!! He then went on to say that the accommodation was not up to scratch!! Thankfully this all happened before Trip Advisor!! Other patrons that had frequented this establishment include Charlie Chaplin and John Lennon. Charlie Chaplin visited before the age of talking movies so didn’t say anything whilst John Lennon was reported to say that the Beatles were bigger than God. It was realised, however, that this was reported by a rather deaf journalist and what John had actually said was that the Beatles were bigger than Rod, meaning Rod Stewart who wouldn’t have a number one hit until eight years later!!

Unfortunately, the Raffles Hotel has been partially closed for the past few years while it undergoes a three-part restoration so we were unable to marvel at the highly polished marble décor and the ornate foyer that the hotel is reputed to possess. However, that wasn’t on or itinerary. What was on the itinerary was a visit to the Long Bar, a licensed pub and a part of the hotel that had managed to remain open through the renovations. The entrance to the bar was situated on the exterior of the hotel, up several flights of stairs and along a balcony. A queue of about a dozen people were waiting to be shown to a seat. Why is this establishment so popular? It is said to be where the Singapore Sling was created in 1915 by the bartender. Raffles hotel was the gathering place for the community and it was common to see the gentlemen nursing their whisky or gin. Unfortunately for the ladies, etiquette dictated that they could not be seen in public consuming alcohol. The talented bartender saw a niche in the market and set about creating a cocktail that looked like fruit juice. The gin-based cocktail also contains pineapple juice, lime juice, Curaçao and Benedictine. Giving it a pink hue are cherry liqueur and grenadine. Masking it in pink gave it a feminine flair and together with a clear alcohol he cleverly led people in to thinking it was a socially acceptable punch for the ladies. With that the Singapore Sling was born. I thought that a load of pissed up ladies dancing on the tables would have been a dead giveaway but hey-ho, this was the roaring twenties. In fact this is how the Charleston was created!!!

We were finally at the front of the queue after a 20-minute wait. We were shown to three stools at the bar. The décor was more modern then I expected. The bar ran half the length of the room. A plain wall adjacent to the bar was adorned with photos of famous ex patrons. An Art Deco spiral staircase, leading to another level dominated the centre of the floor. Drinks menus were handed to us. I knew what I was having. It’s the reason why we were here. I dare not look at the menu as if I saw the price, I knew I’d change my mind. As neither Roisin nor Adeline drink, they both ordered a lime juice. Adeline reached for the peanuts on the bar. They weren’t displayed in the usual dish or bowl but small hessian sacks, and unshelled. She explained that it is customary to throw the discarded shells on to the floor. As dropping litter is another ‘no’, ‘no’ in Singapore, this act releases the little bit of rebellion in us all! The bartender prepared the cocktail in front of us and within a minute was presenting this iconic drink in a highball glass complete with slice of pineapple and cherry. For the next half hour, we enjoyed our drinks in the comfort of aircon whilst chatting about Singapore and our return trip in a few months’ time as well as reminiscing about the Trans-Siberian Railway where we first met.

Empty glasses, it was time to pay. I received the bill. There must be some mistake, I thought. That large group of twelve seemed rather cheerful as they were leaving. Surely I must have been given their bill by mistake. Then I checked the items: 1 x Singapore Sling – 32 dollars; 2 x Lime juice 35 dollars and a 10%!s(MISSING)ervice charge. Total bill 75 Singapore Dollars. £42. That’s equivalent to £18 for the Sling. I don’t remember asking to buy the bottle of gin!! And if I did, I don’t remember him leaving it for me!! £10 each for lime juice. The bartender was maybe not used to someone buying non-alcoholic drinks at the world famous Raffles Hotel ‘Long’ Bar. He probably asked a colleague:

‘Hey! how much shall I charge for these?’

’10 no wait…15 no..erm try 18 dollars’

‘Isn’t that a bit steep even by Singapore standards?’

Nah. He’ll be too busy being blown away by the cost of the Sling to notice!!’

That said, we knew exactly what we were walking in to. Travel is all about trying out new experiences even if the experience is a tourist trap. Don’t hesitate in making these decisions as life is too short for regrets. Although I am not a cocktail drinker, I would highly recommend ordering a sling next time you are in a cocktail bar. It’s rather Moorish. Even better, if you ever visit Singapore head over to Raffles Hotel and order from the Long Bar - Home of the Singapore ‘Sling’. (or should that be ‘Sting’!!) but clear it with your bank manager first!!

Our next itinerary item, the Singapore flyer, the F1 pit lane and the grid. It had been a long two days. We had seen many marvellous things through our fantastic host. Roisin and I decided to give Adeline the rest of the afternoon off as we headed back to our apartment in Niven Road to chill out and recharge our batteries for tomorrows trip to the zoo!!

Additional photos below
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15th January 2019

An enjoyable read about your stroll around Singapore’s historical centre. Glad that you tried the durian and Singers Sling, which I only had a sip of years ago as it was so disgusting. Prefer G&T occasionally. John paid AU/Sing 22.50 at the Marina Bay hotel and wasn’t even allowed to view the infinity pool! Loved the photo of you drinking from lion 🦁 fountain. Very artistic.

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