Tuesday, 22 March 2011

13 Singapore memories – or lack of them!

In-Room Breakfast

Terror Club

Sembawang Patio

Food-court lunch

MRT Train

Light rail train

Rasa Sentosa Resort at night

Dining in Casserole

Farewell to friends
I’m hugely impressed with the lighting design in my room. It has every conceivable combination you could ever want, including some splendidly subtle night lights. When they come in to do the evening turn down service, they actually rearrange the lighting. It’s a very nice touch. My only criticism of the room is the lack of storage and drawer space, but I am told that most visitors are here for only three days. But they have actually raised the beds up a couple of inches, so that suitcases can be slid underneath. Clever.
My panorama room would cost around 220 pounds a night. But a family of four could have a room for less than that and, of course, you could spend up to 350 for a top of the range suite.
This morning I go for a swim before breakfast as I always like to do. The rain is absolutely bucketing down, the sky is leaden grey and all the ships in front of my window are invisible. In fact, it appears to be a perfect morning for a swim. I’ve only done a couple of lengths when a member of staff appears, sheltering under a rapidly soaking towel. I am ‘advised’ that swimming is not encouraged during a rainstorm. When I ask if that actually means ‘would I leave the pool’, he smilingly tells me that it does.
Oh well. Another of life’s little pleasures withdrawn by Health and Safety.
While I don’t especially like eating in my room, it’s a lot better than being in the food factory. My table is beautifully laid, the presentation and food is excellent and I don’t think I have ever had a hotel breakfast trolley that incorporates its own warm cupboard. There’s even a drop leaf to the table. All most impressive.
One of my Navy chums Sheena Thomson, has sent me a Facebook message from Abu Dhabi, recommending that I visit the former Admiral’s House near what used to be the Naval Base in the North of the Island. As today is my ‘being a tourist day’, I’d planned to travel on Singapore’s wonderful Mass Transit Railway anyway, so it’s a good call.
At Sembawang, which I remember only as jungle, there are now countless skyscrapers, shopping centres et al. I find a very friendly taxi driver who takes me to the swimming pool I remember from 1972, now rebranded the Terror Club, rather than the HS Terror of yore. I did my formative Tiger drinking here and was subsequently led astray by some Australian Naval Officers in Bugis Street. But I need to have sunk a LOT more Tigers to tell all about that episode!
The Sembawang patio used to have Naval Tailors, rowdy bars and market traders, but it’s just a few little shops now with a three lane road where a little country lane used to be.
The Admiral’s House, supposedly open for lunch according to its website, isn’t, so I repair to a food court near the Sembawang MRT for a most excellent pepper beef and rice lunch for an incredible two pounds.
In a way I’m not disappointed about the Admiral’s House. When I was last there as a Royal Navy Midshipman, it was immaculate, with smartly dressed stewards serving drinks and nibbles. The whole area just looked tired, neglected and a bit depressing.
At Choa Chu Kang, I leave the MRT and take a spin on its little brother, the light rail transit. I complete a circuit of the Bukit Panjang LRT and now know where Singapore’s five million residents hang out. The little elevated railway is amazing with its little one and two coach driverless trains whizzing along between the stations carrying folks to and from work and school. I am hugely impressed with the youngsters. They are beautifully turned out, respectful; give their seats up for older folk (like me!) and there is none of the inconsiderate larking about and noise you would get from their European equivalents.
After hammering my MRT card to death while visiting some of Singapore’s renowned shopping malls, I repair to the Rasa Sentosa Resort.

I am meeting the French-Algerian General Manager, Ben Bousnina, for pre-dinner drinks. We are joined by an Australian, Paul Christian, who is completing a video about the refurbishment programme. Paul disappears off to have dinner with a client and is replaced by Ben’s clipboard-yielding Singaporean hotel manager, Tina.
Ben decides that he will join Ching from Communications and I for dinner and poor Tina, who’s about to leave for home and to administer to her teenage family, is persuaded to join us.
But it’s a great evening. We are in the Casserole restaurant and Ben orders an amazingly eclectic mix of Indian, North African, European and Asian dishes. The lamb soup is divine, the tagine is simply splendid and the bread and butter pudding simply wonderful. There was a lot more and a very decent bottle or two of red, but you’ll have to take my word that it was a tremendous feast.
I enjoy a visit ‘behind the scenes’ to see spaces like the staff recreation rooms, locker spaces etc. Ben takes up my challenge of a game of table tennis, but sadly no undamaged balls can be located, so France/Ecosse is declared an honourable draw.
At reception, there’s gathering of staff and musicians. A German couple are leaving after a long-stay winter break and Ben and the staff has a tradition of singing a farewell song. It’s a splendid occasion, quite moving, with the GM pulling in all sorts of young staff members to ‘do a turn’.
I participate enthusiastically in a rendition of ‘Love Me Do’ and end up in the lift with the musicians doing more Beatles tunes. I was totally sober. Honest.
But what the episode showed me was worth more than any number of press releases and media briefings. Running a resort is completely different from running a corporate hotel. Yes there is always the necessary teamwork, attention to detail and that sort of thing. To succeed as a staff member in the resort business, you need to have fun!

In the morning, I have a splendid swim and another excellent breakfast before throwing the entire contents of my two cases on to the bed. Tomorrow I will be in the southern hemisphere, with shorts and t shirts out and trousers and jumpers in. That sudden change requires quite a lot of reorganisation. I also need to start thinking in much more detail about my activities Australia and New Zealand and despatch a flurry of emails to the Antipodes reminding folk of my impending arrival.

Singapore – and the Rasa Sentosa - has been great.
Like everywhere on this trip so far, the destination just deserves more of my time.