18 June, 2009

Singapore Arts Festival Blog #6 - "Singapore Sling"

Today was a day of contrasts. First of all it was the hottest day so far, and I dread to think of what I looked like sweltering my way around town. Son & Heir charmingly told me that not only was I the fattest man he’d seen in Singapore, but now undoubtedly the sweatiest. Sadly I expect he was right. I don’t know how the colonial forbearers coped, in their woollen uniforms and acetate collars. They didn’t even have oases of air-con to dive into from time to time to recuperate. The rivulets pouring off me before the weather broke must have bunged up the drains for half the country. Fortunately a bit of a thunder and a drop of rain cleared the air, and the evening, of which more later, was really pleasant.

We went over to Sentosa this morning, the recreational island about a hundred yards off the coast. Sentosa is the island where Singaporeans go with their kids because there are a million and one theme park type attractions to keep them happy. We went over on the cable car, a dizzying, vertigo-inducing flight hundreds of feet over the harbour. It would have been fabulous, except that I get dizzy on a thick pile carpet. I wouldn’t fancy being some poor innocent passer-by sitting in the particular cable car we occupied for several days to come. The island is home to Undersea World, a sea life centre, featuring some incredible sea turtles and a gorgeous dugong, and a 3-D cinema, whose “Extreme Log Ride” experience was rather less good than a number of games on my younger son's Wii. In these places one always has the rather unpleasant sensation of a cow being milked, but we had a good time doing the Luge ride, and the first part of the chairlift back up the hill was nice, until suddenly we found ourselves swinging precariously over a bowel-clenching drop. Matters weren’t helped by the sight of someone’s Luge helmet dropped into the top of a huge tree a rather long way below.

We did the Sentosa thing for a while, then squelched our way back to the hotel to change before going to the final event of the Festival, a big pyro show called Crackers, by a British group. This show, we were told, would be taking place in a part of Singapore where people actually live, rather than in the city centre. Our taxi driver got us to a large field in the centre of a large …well, we would call it an estate… just in time for the start. We would never have found it ourselves. We were happily chatting to our friends from the Festival organisation, when suddenly Son & Heir and I found ourselves being introduced by Goh Ching Lee, the Festival Director, to the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts, Mr Lui Tuck Yew. We also met his Permanent Secretary, Mr Chan Yeng Kit and the Chief Executive of the National Arts Council, Mr Lee Suan Hiang. We chatted, and when the Minister found out that S&H had recently qualified as teacher of English as a foreign language he asked him about the differences in pedagogy between teaching first and second language speakers. We were discussing the fact that second-language students are often far more grammatical than native speakers when I thought I had overdone it. “Of course one of our very finest novelists and stylists was a speaker of English as a second or third language” I said, then mentally kicked myself for showing off. “Ah yes, Conrad” says the Minister, just like that. Can you imagine anyone in our cabinet, from Broonie on down who could do that for an Asian novelist? S&H is, it must be said, hugely impressed to be talking to such distinguished persons.

Pyro shows have come on long way since your Dad used to stick rockets in milk bottles in the back garden, but we are nowadays so jaded by big municipal displays/ millennium fireworks/ fireworks at the end of Stones concerts/openings of Olympics etc that it is hard to impress a modern audience. The show started, and it was actually a show, not just a firework display. The fireworks were good, but there was some clever interaction with video, some fun live action as well, and all in all it was a great ending to the Festival. In the UK our fireworks are in fact a celebration of sectarian butchery, but this was a celebration of…fireworks. Great stuff.
After the event the delightful Fan Wong from the Festival team, took us to eat real local food, and we stuffed our faces with all sorts of things without knowing what they were. Just as well. She got us to eat frog porridge and chicken feet. Both were nice, and both stayed down. It’s the idea that’s the problem.

Oh, and I got my Singapore Sling. Well, you have to do it once, don’t you?

Ronan Paterson, the lucky e-bulletin subscriber who won our Singapore Arts Festival competition, is currently sending through regular updates from Singapore on his Festival adventures.

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