Going Home, Singapore, Langkawi and Overt Nationalism (Racism)
‘We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time’
I’ve always been a fan of this stanza, but it has never seemed so apt as it does now. It’s strange how living somewhere else can give you an original view of what you have taken for granted as normality for so long. It was nice to see all of my family and friends, but I didn’t find the country itself as welcoming as I expected. I think of myself as someone who can adapt quite quickly but adapting feels like a process that should go in a straight line and not draw back onto itself. I’m not going to list the faults and positives for something that is in essence entirely subjective, but something has, as the poem suggests, fundamentally changed in my perception of my home town and country. A fact has dawned on me that is so glaringly obvious that I feel a fool for not seeing it before. How can you judge your own country, and indeed be patriotic, without a frame of reference? Anyway, more on secularism and cultural ignorance (an infliction which I am often prone to) later.
First and foremost it should be said that Singapore is a very diverse city/country. At times it does feel like a bit of an Asia club (more on that later too), but the language most people communicate in is English, for lack of an agreed medium amongst the many other languages at play. For this reason, Singapore is considered an easy access point for anyone wanting to experience Asia.
The city itself is a strange mix of the desolate feeling that only intense heat, arid landscapes and seemingly never ending construction can produce (think Egypt with shinier buildings), and stunning architecture that any major city would be proud of. Most of the people were very friendly and spoke a level of English that was communicable in almost all situations.
The buildings in the financial district rival those that can be found in Otemachi, whilst restaurants, in the centre at least, were cheap and of a good quality. The focal point of the city is the Marina Bay Sands resort, complete with a replica cruiser seemingly balanced along the top of three buildings. The replica can be accessed day and night for incredible views of the city. There is even a pool on top (an infinity pool if you can believe it – I would probably faint) where you can swim under the stars. The boat also runs a stunning light show (pictures attached) where images are projected onto jetted water mist at ground level.
Another highlight was having the original Singapore Sling cocktail at the famous Raffles Hotel (named after a British statesman who signed a trading treaty and helped confirm Singapore as a British territory). The bar in the hotel has historically been the only place where it is legal to litter, and they have carried on this tradition by allowing customers to discard the shells of their bar nuts onto the floor. There’s something very therapeutic about throwing things on the floor. All that suppression, eh?
When you are approaching Langkawi you will think that you are travelling to the island from Jurassic Park – that’s how uninhabited the place looks from a distance. When you arrive, you realise that besides the airport and a few modest buildings, a lot of the island has indeed been left to Mother Nature. This is evident in the various types of animals we were able to see, including: monkeys, Monitor Lizards (think small Komodo Dragon – it’s actually the same family) and little camouflaged crabs that lifted themselves right up onto their hind legs in order to travel at speeds I didn’t realise a crab could manage. The latter also burrowed into the beach to form little tunnels from which a cautious head could often be glimpsed. Outside the holes were usually some type of clam or similar that they would leave to dry out in the sun and open slightly, allowing the crab to feast on whatever was inside.
The hotel we were staying at was the Tanjung Sanctuary, a beautiful little hotel with cabins dotted around a largely unchanged wooded area, and complete with a private beach! When we arrived we were also told we had been upgraded to one of the seafront rooms. Waking up by effect of the sunrise rolling along the water was a pretty special experience. The nights were somewhat less peaceful what with the monkeys running along the roofs up to some mischief and birds the likes of which I will probably never hear again mournfully wailing to each other. In actual fact, this all added to the feeling that we were indeed locked away in our own little beach-side paradise.
I would recommend this hotel highly. The staff were friendly, the food was the best I have ever eaten in a resort – or in most restaurants, and the private beach never had more than eight people on it for the three days we were there.
If you want to make any of the photos bigger, right click and open them in a new tab.
I just want to preface this by saying that we didn’t seem to be able to go anywhere in Asia without being exposed to huge Chinese families arguing in their language which, by God, is so suited to the argumentative soul.
In Singapore we tried to enter, and were turned away from, two Chinese run restaurants. In both cases the way we were turned away left no room for interpretation. While both owners suggested, in not friendly terms, that they were closed. We found this hard to believe given the fact that it was around 8pm and the restaurant was at least three quarters full. In the first example we actually saw Chinese people enter the restaurant after we were walking away. They were immediately seated. All I could think was: ‘this wouldn’t happen in England or any European country I know of, at least not in a major city’. It’s not a great example, but I remember a religious English couple being threatened with jail because they refused to let a homosexual couple stay in their hotel. Surely this sort of baseless race discrimination is, if anything, a little worse, without even the most tenuous of justifications as it is.
The very existence of a ‘China Town’ in several countries, does suggest a not entirely dormant sense of territorial-ism, as well as a seeming reluctance to integrate into another society. I obviously don’t want to generalise. In many cases, China towns are fun places to visit and are, on the whole, welcoming. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my experience in Singapore. I should also mention that the Chinese seemed quite prone to staring at anyone that should be Caucasian.
As a final note, one of the Singaporean newspapers was featuring a story about the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands being contested by Japan and China. Maybe you haven’t heard about this, but it’s obviously pretty big news here. Neither side is backing down at present. Recently there was a nationalist protest in China. One of the signs being held up read something to the effect of ‘Even if China is filled with the graves of thousands of Chinese, we must wipe out the Japanese race!’ There’s a comforting sentiment…
Without integration people compete. When people compete, they get nasty. I may have pointed out the homogeneous nature of Japan before, but now that seems a bit daft in comparison (although it is true that there are nationalist rallies also being held in Japan at the moment).
On a lighter note (I don’t want to finish on that dreary point) – when I was taking some of the photos of the monkeys, I accidentally got a little close to the one of the babies. Suddenly a chorus of cries surrounded me. I turned to see the alpha of the pack (a big fellow with only one eye) and another who seemed to be the next in line charging towards me with their considerably large and sharp teeth bared and their arms flailing. I Forest Gumped it the hell out of there, instinctively dodging the swipes of the pack as I did.