February 24th 1984

posted in: The way back | 1
Chinatown in Singapore

Being in a big commercial centre, this was our opportunity to settle some outstanding business.  No 1 was to have some films developed, so we popped them into a handy little film shop right opposite the crash pad.  No 2 was to collect our mail, safely secreted, we trusted, with American Express.  The address was Orchard Rd, quite a way away.  We almost took a bus, until we remembered we didn’t have any Singapore cash.  That was no 3, finding a bank, but we had to walk to find one.  Naturally, we ended up walking the whole way.  Finding the American Express office was a hell of a job – we wandered up + down Orchard St for ages before we finally discovered the Ngee Ann building, the one to which all our letters – we hoped – had been sent, was  not quite derelict, but was  not in operation either.  With sinking heart, we made further enquiries about where AmEx had relocated to, + after much searching, many questions, + much frustration, we found it.  It was, therefore, with much relief that we found it, + discovered that we hadn’t been forgotten.  We delayed reading them, however, until we had finished our chores + could relax.

Air Niugini (chore no 4) was next dealt with – fortunately their office was just a stone’s throw away from the AmEx.  We were attempting to reclaim some money from them for unused tickets.  (To be entirely honest, we were also claiming on a flight that we had taken but for which the stupid Indonesian officials hadn’t ripped out the vouchers – we thought we might as well try.)  They didn’t question that aspect of things at all, but wanted to give us an MCO, instead of the cash we had been promised.  Naturally, we protested, + after some discussion we were asked to return tomorrow.  Next, we cashed some money, then retired to the nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken, to eat chicken, burgers, + attack our mail.

We had individually addressed letters from the Tilleys + Bob, but mostly our mail was contained in 2 packages forwarded from our mums.  There was a letter rom Pat Corless + a card from Angela – 2 welcome surprises – a card from Steve+ Chickie with a picture of their new baby son, a letter from Steve Blakesley, one from Mike Power, + Val + I each received a Christmas card from Jim Cranna.  Most annoying + upsetting of all was the fact that Yopi from Indonesia had sent 4  cards, or rather 4 envelopes, each containing 2 cards.  I don’t mind him wasting his own money, but he’d also wasted mum’s, having to send them on.  In  addition, mostly they contained utter gibberish, but also nauseous stuff such as “Send me the pillow you dream on”, “Don’t ever forget me”, + endless repetitions of “Valerie”.  Puke.  There were also 2 letters from my  mum, + 3 from Val’s, + most promising of all there was a tape included, which promised to be “Pete + Mar” on one side, + “Christmas at Peggy’s” on the other.  (Peggy’s is where Val’s uncle + aunt live.)  We were completely immersed, + enjoyed Col Sanders hospitality for 2 hours.  And that took care of the morning.

In the afternoon, we wandered around Singapore.  Most of what it has to offer is shopping facilities, + we spent quite a time checking those out, looking particularly for a small shortwave radio with which to obtain the delights of the BBC World Service.  I’ll confess I had not too much enthusiasm for the enterprise, + wasn’t really sure for that matter that I wanted to spend the money.  But we wandered around anyway all over the city, + I chanced on the idea of replacing my glasses, which are not only dirt cheap but can be made in an hour, even with chromatic lenses.

We strolled thro’ the old Chinatown area, rapidly falling before the teeth of the bulldozers, + then back thro’ the financial district to the old part of town, the Govt district.  We saw a couple of Singapore’s famous food centres, a sort of open-air market where a huge variety of different food stalls offer their wares.  One chooses one’s food from whichever one one wants, or even from more than one, + eats at the central communal area.  We were looking for on particular stall at one particular centre, where we understood they served fish and chips.  When we eventually found it (that seems to be a problem here) that particular stall was shut.  However, we found another one that had it on the menu, so that did just fine, tho’ I changed my mind + had a pepper steak.  Both our meals were quite delicious, + not at all expensive.

We stopped at a good bakery on the way back for further indulgence of chocolate eclairs + banana bread, then back to the pad to listen to the cassette.  It was quite quite superb, just the present we could have asked for.  Pete professed nervousness, then gave the lie to that confession by sounding chatty + natural.  There was a lovely moment when Val’s mum popped her head around the door to offer a cup of tea – we could picture the scene exactly.  For the second half of the first side, Mar joined Pete – we’re looking forward to seeing her again, + seeing if we’re able to relate more on a level of equals.  She still sounded the same tho’.

Side 2 was not nearly so satisfactory from my point of view, since most of it was from Christmas Day when the tape had simply been switched on + left to record what was going on – theatre de vie, if you like.  With so many voices, so many broad Cornish accents.  And then it finished off with Merry Christmas + Happy New Year from all + sundry.  Which was  nice, I make no complaint, but not as intimate as Side 1.  They’re my feelings anyway – Val has experienced Peggy’s Christmases, so is better able to picture the scene.  It made a magical 60 mins anyway.

Considering we spent the majority of the day on administrative chores, it resally was pretty successful, and all the more pleasing that we received a big bunch of mail. I suppose that nowadays, people pretty much stay in touch on a permanent basis, what with social media, let alone plain old email, but that does take away some of the excitement we used to feel when, after being deprived of contact for so long, we would finally receive news.

  1. Pamela Blair

    I do know the joys of picking up mail at AmEx, and even poste restante in less-developed areas. It affirms that people back at home still think of you enough to send you a letter. I also envy you your time in Singapore–it’s the one city in SE Asia that I’d love to visit. I suspect it’s changed radically since you were there–have you ever returned? I’m sensing that the end of your odyssey is nearing (it is, after all, three-plus years), so will read on until your landing at Heathrow (or did you walk all the way to Calais?).

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