On my final day in Singapore, I once again ventured out to the north end of the island in search of the Changi Prison Museum, this time equipped with a more detailed map and the freshly viewed Google Street View image in mind. As it turned out, I was only a couple of blocks off on my last attempt.
For all of my effort, the result was somewhat mediocre. I skipped over the chapel portion pretty quickly, for I’ve already seen umpteen monuments to Christian hocus-pocus in umpteen countries, and after a while it gets to be like watching reruns of a show you never liked much in the first place. The museum itself was sort of interesting, but the whole thing was obviously designed by and for the (primarily English as well as Australian and American) colonisers who were victimised by the Japanese occupation. That’s not to say that those victims didn’t suffer horrendously, but I wondered if perhaps the emphasis was a bit Eurocentric given the incomparable scale of atrocities committed against ethnic Chinese. On the other hand, I can hardly be an expert on a subject I knew almost nothing of before my visit.
Once done there, I took the MRT out to Pasir Ris, a community on the other spur of the East-West line. Pasir Ris Park was my destination, the third largest park in Singapore. Much of it is like any other urban park, with playgrounds, fields, picnic areas, and a small amusement park. However, it also contains a five hectare mangrove swamp through which has been built a series of boardwalks, and that’s where I spent all my time. Here’s a sampling of some of the wildlife:
The park had quite a few people in it, but the mangrove swamp, despite being fully board-walked and easily accessible, was virtually deserted save the occasional jogger. Not that I’m complaining – after all the hubbub of the central city, I relished the peace and tranquillity of the swamp. The only thing that marred the peace, really, was oddly entertaining. The amusement park is quite close to the swamp, though you can’t hear anything from it – except, that is, for one ride which features the amplified opening bars of Strauss’s Also Spracht Zarathustra, the sound of which echoes spookily through the swamp and invokes a degree of the supernatural.
I had unconfirmed plans to meet some people in Little India for dinner at 6:30, but by the time I got back into the city centre I didn’t have time to go back to my hotel to check for messages, so I just headed straight to Little India station. The group of workshopping academics – the indirect reason that I am here – were supposed to be taking an audio tour of Little India before dinner, so I figured I’d run into them somewhere. I strolled around for about half an hour and then decided that I was probably better off sitting in one spot and watching for them to amble by. After all, how hard could it be to spot a pack of mostly white academics wearing headphones?
I chose as my aerie a small outdoor bar which was in reality a bunch of tables set up in an alley near the Indian arcade. It was an oddly comic scene. All of the other patrons, except for the six year old daughter of a Chinese man who’d interrupted his shopping for a beer, were men. I sat in direct view of two 60ish white guys, one of whom had hair dyed the colour of ginger and wore an AC/DC concert shirt but had a face like a desiccated crab apple. His friend wore a ‘Thailand’ t-shirt that looked like it had been cut out of a velour painting. Call it stereotyping, but all I could think of was ‘sex tourist’. The rest of the patrons were single men, mostly Indians and a few elderly Chinese.
The music that was amplified through the alley was some sort of power-ballad collection, featuring songs such as “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” and “I Will Always Love You”, which went along very nicely with the televisions mounted on the wall that were broadcasting some sort of violent American wrestling program that, as far as I could see, no one was watching except the six year old girl.
I ordered a Guinness, which I managed to save in the nick of time from being poured over ice by the waitress, and watched the stream of people passing through the alley. Indians must surely be the most beautiful people on the planet, whatever the gender (and there were at least three genders represented), even – or especially, perhaps – all of the young Indian men sporting 70s gay-porn moustaches. I’m usually in the habit of making eye contact with people wherever I go, and most of the time people look away, but Indians, I find, typically look straight back, with deep, dark eyes that seem to bore into you, neither threateningly nor over-amorously, and often they will smile.
Shortly after I’d ordered my second Guinness (which I almost never do – one and a half is usually the optimal quantity beyond which I start to get a little silly), the television switched over to women’s wrestling, which seemed even more violent than the men, though undoubtedly it’s all just theatre. After several minutes during which a black-haired woman and a blonde-haired woman – naturally wearing some sort of absurd, revealing sleepwear – slammed and hit and limb twisted each other with little noticeable reactions, the blonde woman cornered the other woman against the corner, stuck her ass in her face, and jiggled it back and forth. The dark haired woman howled in agony in a way that she had not when her face had been slammed against the mat. The six year old and I looked at each other and I rolled my eyes, prompting a giggle.
I finished my beer and continued wandering the streets until I found a wall to sit on and took up the watch once again for the touring academics. My perch was across the road from the Maxi-Cash Pawn Shop and the Jewel Palace, both of which were lit up like an Esso station. Next door, at The Church of the Eternal Light, the porch light flickered erratically.