Little India, was the last scheduled stop on our Twelve Hour Singaporean eat-and-walkathon. My husband Marty and I cooked up the plan with the tourist information guide at Changi Airport because we wanted to re-connect with the cheap eats remembered from past travels.
The scenes as we walked around Chinatown, Arab Street, Kampong Glam and Little India could have been from thirty years ago. As these are the historical areas of Singapore it made me happy that they were still there, let alone seemingly unchanged.
Unchanged that was, until we passed a strange facade in Serangoon Road, featuring a waterfall, two kinds of ceramic duck, Asian statues baring breasts and nipples, and a replica of a fully grown crocodile.
Then M needed to find a toilet fast (lingering Moroccan malady) so we backtracked and explaining to the doorman that we were only after a drink, the solid door was opened and we entered, peering into the gloom of the most incredible space.
Inside it was – air-conditioned cool and dark – as night clubs are.
The drink prices were certainly nightclub prices. From memory they were 8 Singaporean Dollars each (making a mockery of our cheap eats). But we ordered regardless – what price do you put on a toilet when in need!
And a Jungle it was! Thick tree branches and a tangle of lush tropical vines dangled from above. A puma posed in immovable stealth on an overhead branch, while a wolf stood improbably on the bar. A safari-suited, pith-helmeted figure stood motionless and shiny eyed by the bar, with Madame Tussaud like perfection. When I spied the American Indian carved out of a tree trunk with full head dress on I stifled a grin. While a giraffe was eye-balling a huge wall idol that seemed to grow from the wall itself, I wondered where in the world the wood carving that clung to the bamboo bar might be from – Easter Island, New Zealand, the Cook Islands? What an incongruous mix.
Perusing the room with wide eyes, I noticed an Indian Family seated at the table next to us. Surely this was a tourist inspired wonderland and not a place where locals ate? I started wondering if this was maybe the owner’s family. The father of the group ordered Naan bread, dahl and curries flamboyantly – enough for his own family and that at an adjoining table. As it was devoured he signaled for more with an authoritative finger snap. Whereby the Madame Tussaud like figure standing to attention at the bar, scared me silly by coming to life and dashing out back to organize the order!
On Marty’s return he urged me to go and have a look upstairs. Curiosity and the fact that I always take advantage of places with toilets, led me up the stairs. On the next floor there was a similarly decorated larger room, with more tables filled with what surely must have been a bus load of young Korean tourists. Could I be any more surprised?
Getting into conversation with the guy who sprung to help me with the tricky toilet door latch, he asked what I thought of the place.
Struggling for words I spluttered, “Wonderful – It reminds me of a …”
and he filled the gap with “…Nightclub?”.
And it did. When I had lived in Melbourne as a teenager, there was an exciting new night club called The Bombay Bicycle Club, where we were greeted at the door by a similarly Safari-Suited, Pith-Helmeted Maitre D, who patrolled the room with a (fake) baton tucked under his arm.
What we thought then was so avante-garde had resurfaced in Singapore’s Little India, albeit in a much crazier form.
It made me laugh, and I love that when I travel.
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