Thursday, January 26, 2012

The sublime and the ridiculous?

The cool verandah at Raffles

In the heart of the city-state of Singapore stands a grand old dame amongst hotels: the superb Raffles. Founded in the late nineteenth century by a brace of Armenian brothers, and named after the aristocratic founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, the hotel very quickly became a go-to destination for Edwardians investigating the Far East. There they could sip cocktails on cool verandahs, attend a tea dance in the main hall, and “feed at Raffles”, as Rudyard Kipling recommended. Actually, he recommended that travellers should feed at Raffles but sleep at the Europa, Raffles’ main competitor, long gone. But the Sarkies Brothers were early pioneers of advertising propaganda, and weren’t about to waste a good Kipling quote.

Raffles Hotel

Singapore Sling

After a massive restoration project in the 1990s, Raffles carries on today with the splendid service and ambience of the good old days, from the tall Indian doorkeepers who greet you on arrival, to the personal butlers, the French sommelier in the Bar & Billiard Room...and of course cocktails in The Long Bar. It is here that the famous Singapore Sling was invented, and the place evokes the old plantations, with punkas swaying overhead (mechanical now, no longer a need of punkah-wallahs) and peanut shells on the floor, tossed by patrons who are kicking back in the Equatorial heat. Except of course the Equatorial heat is tamed these days by excellent air-conditioning - according to Lee Kwan Yew, the most important invention of the twentieth century, without which Singapore wouldn’t exist.

Singapore orchids inside Raffles

Colonial splendour: Raffles

Marina Bay Sands

You might say the same thing about Dubai, and it is not entirely far-fetched to draw a comparison between Singapore and Dubai these days. Certainly it is suggested by Singapore’s newest and shiniest building, the engineering marvel that is the Marina Bay Sands...part hotel, part resort, part casino, part arts complex, part shopping centre...the crazy “surfboard building” dominates Singapore’s harbour. Three hotel towers house about 2,000 hotel rooms, and across the top of them rests a space which does look something like a surfboard, but also evokes a ship at anchor. Once you manage to venture up there (and it is only a 30 second lift ascent) you find that the whole rooftop is decked in ship’s planking. On top - 57 storeys up - there are restaurants, bars, a garden and an weirdly beautiful infinity edge swimming pool.

Atop: 57 storeys high
Looking out

Boat deck?

The traveller palm, symbol of Raffles

It is undoubtedly amazing, and something you should go and see, like Disneyland or Cape Canaveral, a testament to the ingenuity of engineers and designers. But for me, I’m very happy to retire back to the Raffles Courtyard for another Tiger beer under the traveller palms, and to lazily discuss the incident of the shooting of a tiger under the billiard table...

Amazed: Your blogger in Singapore

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