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Friday, July 19, 2013

A Return to Singapore

Today, 19th July 2013, saw me heading to the airport to do my annual 'visa run'. Part of life on an annual contract, even an extended two year one like mine, is that if you leave the country for an extended amount of time, you need to return on a tourist visa and then go back to Singapore for the full visa transfer. Somewhere else on this blog I have already gone into the reasons for this but, it's a great trip. Apart from the waking up.

Yes, the day starts at 4.00am with a shower and dressing the part. This includes shorts and a t-shirt plus flip-flops. The bonus of dressing this way is that you speed through the airport check-in scans, the downside is there is absolutely no chance of a free upgrade to Business Class (not that there ever was, as we use the lowest cost low-cost airlines)

Anung, the school driver was there to pick me up, on time for a change, and we winged our way to the airport with my much improved Indonesian, meaning we could talk about my imminent new motorbike and Anung's impending trip back to his village for the Idul Fitri celebrations at the end of Ramadan. The roads were empty and we arrived in plenty of time for the check-in. Plenty of time, that is, until I realised I'd joined the queue with the slowest check-in person possible. I frantically looked around for another queue, but all that I saw were sad, sympathetic eyes, empathising with my plight. At least this was what I saw on the outside, on the inside they all had that smug, self-satisfied grin that screamed "sucker!".

As the clock ticked towards boarding time, I decided that breakfast would have to wait.

Boarding went without a hitch, other than people trying to get on the plane before their seats had been called and snarling up the entrance to the boarding tunnel, and we arrived in Singapore ninety minutes after leaving Jakarta. Ninety food free minutes. I know this is a low cost carrier, but they usually offfer you food and a drink to buy. Not today.

This meant that the first sustenance to pass my lips since an apple juice and toothpaste cocktail at 4.15am was, yes, a Singapore Sling! On numerous visits to Singapore, the one experience that has escaped me was this country's contribution to alcoholic cocktails. The reason I've never felt ispired to find the eponymous concoction before is that it contains gin, my least favourite spirit. Today though I decided to find the Raffles Hotel where the cocktail was first created, and down one.

....Actually, that's not entirely true. The real reason for my Search for Sling was the lack of new movies available to watch in Singapore. This, along with a couple of pints of cider, is how I usually spend my trips. I was hoping for 'Wolverine', or at the very least 'Red 2' but no, they don't open until at least the following week. So with no cinematic goodies to fill in my time I'd decided on unearthing Raffles.

I'm glad I did actually as, after dropping off my passport and details, I realised I was pretty close to the MRT station known as Raffles Place. Yep, you're ahead of me, aren't you?

That's right, Raffles Place is actually 1.5km away from the Raffles Hotel, which is something of a let down. I know this, not because I carry a pedometer, but because it was a great way to interract with the locals and they wanted to make sure a walk that far wouldn't kill me.

"Hey, I'm new in town. Can you tell me how to find Raffles?"
"This is Raffles"
"Yeah, I can see that, but I'm looking for a Singapore Sling"
(after checking her watch suspiciouslyand seeing it was 10.30am)  "oh, you can get those everywhere"
"Yeah, I know that, but I want the old colonial place where they were invernted"
Really? Let me find it for you"" and so she entered the hyperspeed world of the internet via her handphone.

I know, it would be like someone in London having to check directions to Buckingham Palace, but this poor girl was just in awe at my story of the invention of a drink she had no doubt tried at least once.

And then she made me take a picture of the directions on her phone.

It was a great walk and I got to see the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel, three towers topped with what looks like a stranded ocean liner. I walked past the Singapore Cricket Club, another excellent old building situated in the heart of the modern glass financial district and then, there it was. The Raffles Hotel.

The hotel part of the hotel is off limits to non-residents (as was the wi-fi, I was later to find out) so I wandered in the direction of the billiards room. Turned around by a kindly porter and advised that this was now a restaurant, he gave me complicated instructions to find The Long Bar. To say this place is a maze is an awful understatement. It was 20 minutes before I found a sign informing me that the bar wasn't on the ground floor! However, once setlled in a wicker chair with a copy of the Singapore Times (Friday's edition makes the Sunday Times look lean), I took a sip of my first Singapore Sling. You couldn't taste the gin, was a pleasant surprise. It really is a refreshing drink and on a day as humid as this one I applaud old Mr Raffles for his creation.

Thirty Singapore Dollars later, I can only assume the monkey nuts had been laced with gold leaf, I noticed I was hungry and the best place to eat your fill and still have enough for a bottle of water is Little India. Only two stops from Raffles on the MRT, I found myself on the Racecourse Road and outside the Gayatri Restaurant. The chicken biryani I had here is the best indian food I've ever eaten, and I've travelled in India. True, the two ice cold large bottles of Tiger were pretty damn good too and a total of 26 Singapore Dollars for the lot (including popadoms) was exceptional value.

Food over it was time to head back closer to the Visa office. I'm sat writing this in a coffee shop callled Tom 'n' Tom's on Tras Street and now can't wait for people to know about Gayatri and Singapore Slings and coming back again with Uciel to try them too.

And you too Mum!