Raffles - British Colonialism at its Best

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Asia » Singapore
May 25th 2009
Published: May 25th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY


The Beach Road entrance once faced the sea.
One of my very favorite places in Singapore is Raffles Hotel. If there is one place that epitomizes British Colonialism in tropical parts of the world, that place is Raffles. I kept expecting to see Somerset Maugham coming around a corner. Cool, solid, stately, and elegant, there are many legends around Raffles - and most of them are true. See if you can tell fact from fiction:

Raffles was actually built by four Armenian brothers.
True. Even though the hotel is named for the English founder of modern Singapore, Raffles was actually built by four brothers from Armenia. The Sarkies brothers had already built one plush hotel in Penang; they later built another hotel in Rangoon.

Raffles was originally built overlooking the sea.
True. Beach Road, which runs along the front of the hotel, was once actually the road that ran along the beach. The hotel is now quite a distance from the shoreline, but it was the coast that moved, not the hotel. The original sea front was marshy and prone to flooding. The shoreline was filled in and moved back, and is now home to the enormous Suntec City shopping plaza and Convention Center.

The last
Bas Basrah EntranceBas Basrah EntranceBas Basrah Entrance

This is the entrance to Raffles you see in the movie "Saint Jack"
tiger in Singapore was shot in the Billiard Room.
True - almost. Tigers from the northern part of the city, along with those who swam over from Malaysia and Palau, were quite a problem, killing an average of two or three people a month. The Bar and Billiard Room at Raffles at that time was built on stilts, partly for air circulation, and partly because of the periodic flooding mentioned above.

When the tiger was spotted beneath the floorboards of the Billiard Room, Mr. Phillips, head of the Raffles Institute, was summoned to dispatch the beast. He duly shot the animal, which was later found to be not a wild tiger, but one that had escaped from the circus that was in town. The tiger was later immortalized in an oil painting that still hangs in the Long Bar.

The Long Bar is the longest in the world.
Not even remotely true, at least not now. Cad's Alley was the original site of the Long Bar, facing Bras Basrah Road. It was later moved to the Beach Road side, and then to its current location on the second floor. Today, the bar itself is only about twenty feet
The DoormanThe DoormanThe Doorman

The Sikh doormen at Raffles are among the most photographed people in the world
long. The room is cool and dark, with rattan fans hanging from the ceiling, and it is air conditioned to almost glacial temperatures.

The Singapore Sling was invented at the Long Bar.
True. Invented by Hainanese-Chinese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in the early 1900s, he kept the recipe locked away in his safe. It was originally touted as a “ladies’ drink” probably because of its reddish pink color. However, there is enough alcohol in it to make any lady behave in an unladylike fashion in a hurry.

Somerset Maugham lived at Raffles.
True - at least for a while. There is a small plaque commemorating his stay in one of the courtyards. While at Raffles he wrote “The Casuarina Trees,” which apparently caused a great deal of consternation among the British expatriates. In the postscript to that book, he very pointedly remarks that the expats he knows are far too "flat" to be characters in his stories.

During the Second World War, Raffles was used as officers’ quarters by the Japanese.
True. Once Singapore had fallen to the Japanese, they promptly kicked everybody out and took the hotel for themselves and renamed it the Syonan Hotel. When
Billiard Room entranceBilliard Room entranceBilliard Room entrance

Where the tiger met his demise
Japan surrendered Singapore to Lord Mountbatten in 1945, a number of the Japanese officers, in true samurai fashion, committed suicide in the hotel rather than surrender. It later served as a transit point for Allied POWs.

Which of the following people have NOT stayed at Raffles: Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain, Ava Gardner, Laura Bush?
Trick question - they all have stayed at Raffles. Other guests include Elizabeth Taylor, Rudyard Kipling, Queen Elizabeth, and Charlie Chaplin. (But not me, sigh….)

Mark Twain wrote advertising copy for Raffles.
Not quite. An ad in the local paper famously misquoted Mark Twain as saying that the food was as good as the beds were excellent. In fact, he wrote that the food was good, but the beds were awful, and you would be better to stay at the E & O Hotel, and dine at Raffles.

Raffles has its own Museum
True. In the Raffles Museum - located on the third floor - you can see the safe in which Ngiam Tong Boon kept the original recipe for the Singapore Sling, along with photos of celebrities and old advertising posters for the hotel.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Cad's AlleyCad's Alley
Cad's Alley

This shady arcade was once the home of the Long Bar
The Great LawnThe Great Lawn
The Great Lawn

This is a popular spot for weddings
Long BarLong Bar
Long Bar

Cool and dimly lit, this shows the rattan ceiling fans and the marvelous staircase
Raffles ArcadeRaffles Arcade
Raffles Arcade

a good spot to sit with a cool drink
The limoThe limo
The limo

This BMW with the Raffles crest is used to ferry VIPs
Rickshaw driver at restRickshaw driver at rest
Rickshaw driver at rest

You can just glimpse the driver through the foliage

27th May 2010

tiger tiger
In the mid eighties i was working on a circus in Singapore it was the year of the TIGER and the Raffles hotel managment asked if we could bring a real tiger and do a photo shoot in the billard room which we did and i still have many photos of the day, should anybody want copys i would be glad to send them, happy days and a fab hotel i look forward to returning one day

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