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Singapore: The Gruffalo, ladyboys and big brother

11th February 2011

“HALLO! I bet you never have a taxi driver like me! Hahahahaha!” screamed our driver as he hunched over the steering wheel and managed to make sedate driving seem erratic.
“Where you stay?” he asks.
“Geylang”, we reply.
“Ooooh…Why you stay there? It’s red light? You on honeymoon? Maybe he want to try other cuisines? Hahahahahaa! Yeah, he try other cuisines! Maybe if he go out to get something from the shop you must follows him incase he’s gone to try other cuisine! Hahahahaha! Maybe he try before he settles down! You watch him! Hahahaha! I bet you never have a taxi driver like me! You remember me, when you leave Singapore, you’ll remember me and think, oh, funny. Hahahahahaha!”.

And so, our wonderful if not slightly delirious driver continued in this vane for the duration of our 30min drive from the airport to our hotel. His Kim Jong Il from ‘Team America, World Police’ laughter was still ringing in my ears as we pulled up to our hotel having received an extra ‘guided tour’ of the red light district around our hotel. “Look, look” he says as he points to yet another scantily clad woman tottering with intent down an alleyway. I made some comment about it being a man, which clearly thrills him and he commends me, “oh yes, she good, she good!” as though I had passed some test.

The streets around our hotel were full of black vinyl and leopard print clad creatures prowling for business. Rows of windowed concrete cubicles, like lobster tanks in fancy seafood restaurants, displayed dish de jours dowsed in purple light. Hordes of oriental and western men clung to bottles of beer as they filled the red plastic seats of the street restaurants. There was a sense of watching. The men watching the produce, the produce watching their prey and bystanders gawping at the entire scene. Despite all this, I wasn’t worried about our hotel. It was one of a few in the area that didn’t charge hourly rates so I figured it might be ok. Plus, it was cheap for Singapore. It turned out to be perfectly nice and spotlessly clean. I wasn’t too keen on the plastic cover over the mattress that made the bed slippy but given the area and possible previous bed guests, I wasn’t about to complain.

Central Singapore is a peculiar place. There are rules for everything, and I mean everything; from the prohibition of chewing gum to proximity rules for smoking. And just in case you still attempted to think for yourself, there are video screens in the subway stations accompanied by painted areas on the concrete, to instruct you as to the proper way to wait for and then board a train. In the UK I am quite used to hearing the stuck record ‘it’s a nanny state’ rant from people but Singapore makes the UK look wild and lawless. The result is a city that is clean and efficient. However, this is at the sacrifice of any overt atmosphere or personality. Singapore is a pretty machine rather than the heaving, breathing beast that is Hong Kong or the vibrant termite mound that is London.

None-the-less we found our little slice of enigmatic enthusiasm in our friend, Owen. We were lucky enough that our arrival coincided with his Asia tour as the Gruffalo in the stage show. Together we toured the streets, wandered through China Town, devoured a vast supper in Little India, referenced and quoted entertainment media ad infinitum and hubbly bubblied.

On the third day at some ungodly hour we sleepily departed Singapore, glad to have seen it yet eager to move on…to ‘Nam!

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