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Postcard from Singapore: a ringside seat at the beauty parade

November 30, 2021

We’re spending the next few days in people-watching heaven. Not the “this is life on the street” kind of people watching. And certainly not the voyeuristic type either. Just a subset of prosperous souls who pass by on a boardwalk three stories below the balcony overlooking a marina on the resort island of Sentosa.

People jogging or walking. Most of them are taking their dogs, their children or their mobile phones for a walk. Unusually for Singapore, by no means all of them are masked. In fact there seems to be a consensus that joggers and cyclists don’t need to be. Which is certainly a good thing as far as I’m concerned, because if I started jogging with a mask, I would probably inhale it, with fatal consequences.

So who lives on Sentosa? I’m not sure, and I’m not about to make any attempt to find out. But what I do notice from my balcony is plenty of what you would describe as westerners. Also, as you would expect, a majority of people who seem to be locals

Some take their dogs and phones for a walk simultaneously, while also managing to consume what looks to be large ice cream cornets but surely aren’t. Not early in the morning, surely.

The women walkers outnumber the men by two to one. Many of them have that look popularised by women golfers. Baseball cap, pony tail, shorts and well-formed physiques. Young ones on segways and electric scooters whizz by. Plenty of golf carts too. A pair of women walking past – one with headphones and one without. How unsociable is that? About as unsociable as whole families sitting at breakfast tables in silence as each member engages in animated finger dialogue on their phones. Other women jogging past, glancing at their biometrics as they go. Checking what? Heart rate, O2 levels, steps or just is it time for breakfast?

Middle aged guys with big bellies out jogging. A concerted effort to do something about the bellies, or a long-time habit just about surviving the march of time? There goes a gyn bunny, ripped, baseball hat he wears backwards, being towed along by a small dog, not ripped.. Oh, here’s a good one. Hairy little pooch in a basket in front of a bike ridden by golfing woman.

The kids are all cute, until they dissolve in a pool of red-faced, teeth-gnashing fury about something or other.

Then there are the boats in the marina. Row upon row of them. Gleaming white confections. Stink boats, as a crusty old sailor who once worked for me would call them. The cumulative value of all the boats (or should I call them yachts?) going nowhere in the marina must be in the hundreds of millions, or even billions.

Who owns them? Certainly not the people who, as the morning wears on, start washing the sides and hosing the decks after last night’s thunderstorm. One boat has bicycles stored on one of its decks. Another, kayaks. Most of them have jet skis, ready to churn up the calm waters and frighten the dolphins. People cleaning everything that could be cleaned. Not an owner in sight. No sweating of assets, it seems. Only a slight glowing in the armpits.

There are even a few boats with masts for sailing, but it’s hard to imagine that they don’t have powerful motors that enable them to kick on without wind power. Especially as one of them boasts a US flag. The one with the tallest mast, naturally.

Since we have no dogs, children or phones to exercise, we do lengths in the pool. This is not as simple as you might think. It’s a huge pool. Our corona-cautious hotel rations out swimming time in chunks of two hours. If you’ve booked in to one of the slots, you can swim. If not, go away.  Our status is indicated by wrist bands. The colour depends on what time-slot you’ve booked. Plus black if you’re fully vaxxed. That way, I guess, you can take evasive action away from anyone without a black wristband. Including kids, of course.

Singapore is a takeaway culture. Is that just since COVID, because people don’t like sharing space with others? Maybe so. Whatever the case, hardly a minute or two passes without someone riding past with a bag of something, ready to be consumed in whatever boat, hotel or apartment they happen to be hanging out.

Breakfast. A most gorgeous menu placed in front of us. Crab cake eggs benedict. Smashed avocados with poached eggs on sourdough. Singaporean laksa. Fresh fruit and bakery. Proper coffee. All delivered by waiter service – another COVID innovation, no doubt. All around us families. Locals perhaps, or Malaysians or Indonesians. None of the harsher tones of the mainland Chinese in evidence. Nearby, a couple of westerners. He on a conference call. A banker? His partner (or colleague?) a rather hard-faced woman who summons waiters and asks for stuff in single words – no please or thank you. She’s banging away on her laptop replying to emails.

On our way back to our room, past walls adorned with illuminated sculptures that look like misshapen, milky breasts, I notice a cupboard marked “Talent”. By which presumably the hotel mean staff. Seems like everyone is a talent these days, even if they have none. Very HR.

And what of the guests? We’re here for ten days. In case you’re wondering. we’re here with the help of the air miles that the memshib had been assiduously collecting over years by using the right credit cards at Waitrose. We’re rarities according to the front desk. Most people are here on what they call staycations. Singaporeans’ options for travelling are limited since COVID, even more limited now that Omicron is taking a grip. It’s the school holidays, so many of them choose to spend one or two days in a luxurious hotel living the life, rather than spreading their holiday money over a longer period in a more humdrum place.

Down the way, five minutes’ walk from the hotel, there are plenty of eating options: fresh seafood, tapas, Italian, Aussie burgers and Thai. No Indian restaurant, surprisingly. Last night we tried the clam chowder and red snapper at the seafood place. It was fine, but took a while to arrive. A corpulent American nearby with a little beard and a loud voice also had to wait. He let the staff have both barrels. A very Trumpian performance. I think he was trying to impress his guest, who was a rather embarrassed-looking local.

This place feels like another world, far from downtown Singapore, where we stayed for our first few days. Highly manicured, no street food, very genteel. An enclave, in fact. It even costs visitors six Singapore dollars to enter the island. Whatever COVID privations Singaporeans are going through elsewhere are not in evidence here. Golf courses, trees in abundance, wealth in abundance. Christmas decorations in abundance. Twinkly lights everywhere at night.

Do I feel comfortable here? Yep, as much as I did in the well-appointed compounds of Saudi Arabia, walled in from the outside world, insulated from all the stuff that was going on outside. Places where normal rules of the country didn’t seem to apply.

Could I live here? I doubt it. If I was here for work, I might have a high-status job that enabled me to live amongst all this wealth. But in the end, I suspect I would fall victim to the same ennui that caused me to leave the Middle East decades ago.

There are enclaves like Sentosa in many parts of the world. Perhaps not as pretty. Perhaps not populated with so many identikit residents who make it easy for me to categorise them. I doubt if I could live in any of them, because I would be afraid of becoming so insulated from other worlds less fortunate that I would be tempted to forget about them.

And that would never do.

After a few hours on the balcony, punctuated by swimming forays, I’m still waiting for a boat owner to arrive and sail their vessel out to sea. Will they come via helicopter, and then be driven over to their property on a buggy? Or will they sweep in a motorcade through the arch in the distance that looks like it belongs on the Jurassic Park set?

No sign so far, but what an enjoyable way to spend a day. Singapore might boast a magnificent botanical gardens. But for me the human zoo is just as entertaining.

From → Postcards, Social, Travel, UK, USA

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