I am sure you will agree when I say that Singapore, along with its old, colonial-style luxury hotel ‘Raffles’ – named after the British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, the Lion City, Singa Pura – is not what it used to be. I had decided, the other day, as I was making my way through the Far East, to use the couple of days I had free between lecture obligations to nip down to Singapore to relive a few memories and check out their validity. I was, of course, disappointed but not terminally so. Changes are made; things are different; it’s what you expect.
It must be forty years since I first visited Singapore. I remember I was on my way to Indonesia, or perhaps I was on my way back, when I was asked to address an audience at the University in Singapore. They put me up at Raffles, the legendary hotel where many a ‘real’ writer had stayed; I was, after all, a mere writer of textbooks though I liked to point out that I spend just as much time weighing my words as any poet, and anyway, my books sold in the millions, and theirs didn’t.
In the old days, before I settled down for good in Saint Lucia, I used to stay at ‘Raffles’, the old Raffles, one of the most memorable hotels in the world. I remember one evening sitting at the Long Bar – it must have been at least 90 feet long – alone, when I got chatting to a very pretty young lady I had never seen before. It turned out that she was from a small place just a mile away from the village where I lived in Sweden, half a world away; indeed, we do live on a small planet set in a vast universe.
I recall too, more than a quarter of a century ago, lying flat on my back on a wall one night, totally sober, the lights of the house all off, searching the universe above and trying to identify the stars and their constellations. There is a point to this recollection: One slight disappointment proffered inadvertently by Raffles this time round was that I had forgotten that the Long Bar – where the national cocktail, the Singapore Sling, was invented at some time in the dim and distant past by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon – had been relocated decades ago to something that resembled a shopping arcade. Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemmingway, and all their great writing colleagues must be turning in their graves at the desecration of this temple to creative inebriation; and anyway, picking up girls in supermarkets is not my style!
Back to my vigil on the wall by my house in Saint Lucia! Did you know, by the way, that Auriga is a constellation in the Northern Hemisphere, some 42 light years from the Earth, seemingly on the edge of The Milky Way? It is also known as the ‘Charioteer’ and is easy to spot because it contains the brightest star in the heavens, the first magnitude star, Capella, and the supergiant eclipsing binary star named Epsilon Aurigae. The Singapore Capella has, incidentally, named its spa the ‘Auriga’ if I recall rightly.
Now why am I going on about stars, you might ask. Well the thing is that I promised myself that when I return to Singapore later this year I will stay at the Singapore Capella hotel, a 112-room, 5-star hotel, on Sentosa Island just south of the main island that was recently awarded 6 stars by guests. A friend of mine was staying there and I went over to pay a visit or two, and catch some pampering at the Spa.
Singapore, as I am sure you all know, is not merely one island off the southern tip of Malaysia; it’s a collection of fifteen or so islands, most of which are veritable tropical paradises. Sentosa is one of the larger islands with two 18-hole golf courses and a (Universal Studios, I believe) theme park. Naturally, I succumbed neither to the tortures of the golf courses, nor to the horrors of the theme park, but hanging out at the Capella was “just divine”, which did not surprise me in the least. I know of five ‘Capellas’ dotted around the world: there’s one in Düsseldorf, Germany, at least one in Mexico at Ixtapa plus another coming soon at Riviera Maya, and amazingly three in New Zealand. I was told by someone in the know that there will soon be another Capella hotel in Bangkok (one of the most amazing names in the world for a city, by the way, when you think about it, given the Thai capital’s reputation for sex tourism), but there may be more.
I left Singapore the following evening for Manila in the Philippines, about 1,500 miles away, and during the flight I was plagued by the nagging thought that I was missing something, and then suddenly it hit me:
We have our own, 5-star luxury 124-room Capella set apart far from the madding crowd to the north. As soon as I get back home, I have promised myself “A Weekend Away at Marigot Bay” (sounds like a slogan) to experience the same peace, tranquility, personal service, pampering, and sheer luxury that I enjoyed at the Sentosa Capella, Singapore. Dear Reader, check it out, ‘You know you deserve it’.