The Raffles Hotel in Singapore is located on what seems to be a misnomer of an address because there isn’t a beach in sight.
But the imposing colonial-style building eponymously named after Singapore’s founder still squats along Beach Road. That’s because when it was built over a century ago, the sea was visible through shimmering palms in the malarial heat of an island Sir Stamford thought might be a nifty port.
The malaria is gone but the heat is still around although it’s dispelled by the many ceiling fans that line the route our guide takes to lead us to The Courtyard.
We have now been stuck in Singapore for over five months largely because we landed a day before Malaysia imposed its movement control order.
Then, just when it seemed that we could return to home quarantine, some idiots were taped breaking home quarantine and that loophole got closed.
So, we thought we’d have a drink at the Raffles which was, at least, vaguely historic. I mean, Somerset Maugham staved off the chills via stiff G-and-T’s at the hotel’s Long Bar.
Alas, the Long Bar was closed due to the virus, Rudolfo regretted but assured us the Courtyard would be just as good.
We are led to a table amid the strains of the Stones’ Paint It Black, which I suppose is sort of par for the course for six in the evening. Rudolfo is from Chile and he’s here because he “followed my girlfriend home.”
You have to suppose that’s as good a reason as any.
We scan the menu and that’s when you realise how good the island is at branding itself internationally.
We learn that the Singapore Sling was invented in 1915 in the Long Bar by one Mr Ngiam, a bartender whose verve with gin-based cocktails endeared him to so many British hostesses that it made his at-first-shyly-offered pink confection an instant hit.
We didn’t have one though: they were priced at S$35 a pop.
But the guy who dubbed it the Singapore Sling was a genius who put the drink, its origin, on the map.
Why can’t we do the same thing?
Malaysia is supposed to have invented Yee Sang so let’s just christen it the Kay-El Toss and get on with it. Why not Seremban Eggs for Foo Yong Tan? Tambun pomelos, anyone? And so on, ad infinitum.
And the thing that simply screams out to Malaysians visiting the Raffles Hotel is this: Malaysia has a zero history – zilch, nada, zip – of preservation or maintenance.
The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station could be every bit as colonially imposing as The Raffles but history hangs shabbily on its frame. It is grubby; it has Ficus (a parasitic vegetation) growing in its cracks and it’s downright embarrassing given the billions squandered on wasteful projects or outright theft.
Remember the country’s rest houses? They used to be quasi-motels where you could get a good meal relatively cheaply and a clean bed/toilet for the same privilege. These used to be looked-forward-to staples back in the 1960s and 1970s.
Now ask yourself: where are they now?