late june 1992
Settling as a resident of Singapore. I’ve rented an airy, spacious flat on the 11th floor of a block, what’s known as a point block here, and enjoy good views of the district and of the sea and this high up i don’t need a/c. I’m lucky the block isn’t surrounded by others, as many are, and there’s a distinct feeling of space both inside and out. I’m within walking distance of the MRT – to you, the tube, the metro or the subway – and across the road is the post office and a host of shops. A good supermarket is five minutes away and I’m 20 minutes by taxi from the airport.
After the confinements of my flat in Bkk, this place is like a football field. The entire floor area is covered in white tiles which need frequent mopping but which make walking a cool pleasure and are excellent support for the Iranian carpets i dragged all the way from Kuwait via Bkk. Some things you don’t part with.
I’ve started my new job. Moving house and starting a new job at the same time isn’t a combination to be recommended, too much to be done at home and outside.
I’ve been appointed supervisor and co-ordinator of English Language studies at SSTC, fancy title, and my work permit/residence pass is being processed by Immigration.
SSTC is off Orchard Road, right in the heart of the city, and i ride the MRT to work. Door to door it takes 40 minutes and that includes a lovely 7-minute walk from my house through the local park before i catch the train. I get off at Somerset station, cross the street and walk through Centrepoint, a shopping mall, to get to the 7th floor of the building behind. If i want to shop, i ride the lift down to the 4th floor and walk into the mall. Tuesday and thursday evening i work with a Japanese businessman. His English is advanced but he needs help drafting technical documents; the tutoring’s not exciting but it’s highly lucrative and the eight sessions a month pay more than half the rent of the football field.
I left here on May 11th after my five-week stint at the college and returned to Bkk for three weeks to see out my contract. What a dramatic three weeks they turned out to be! Just before i was due to fly to Bkk my passport was stolen. It’s a long involved story i shan’t go into. The British High Commission came to the rescue and issued me a new passport in rapid time; i returned to Bkk only one day late for work which didn’t upset anyone much. Since my Thai residence disappeared with the disappearance of the passport, i had to enter the country as a visitor on a 15-day visa but managed to get an extension before making my final exit on June 4th. All of that sounds relatively easy; it wasn’t.
The problems in Bkk were waiting for me good and proper and i was back a week when the fireworks started. If outsiders saw any of the events on tv they saw more than we did as censorship reared its head. During the shooting, the killing and the looting the military-controlled tv stations in Thailand treated us to Chinese movies. The newspapers were controlled as well but both the Bangkok Post and The Nation were brave enough, especially The Nation, to run pictures of the worst atrocities. How many died in the mayhem will never be known. The authorities grudgingly admit to sixty, the pro-democracy people put the figure in the hundreds and there are still more than 600 unaccounted for. The schools were closed so we were able to avoid possible flashpoints. Where i used to live, Rajaprarop, wasn’t by any means in the thick of it although a few unpleasant things did take place there but i was never in danger and didn’t feel threatened. Others weren’t so lucky and a few foreigners bit the dust. Things have quietened down now but the problems are by no means solved and there’ll be more bloodshed if the next election isn’t a fair one. During the troubles i was worried i wouldn’t be able to make a smooth exit but in the event all turned out well and i left Bangkok on Thursday, June 4th. My old friend jj – he of the ‘beautiful people’ – was at the airport to see me off. I never did join him and his wife for one of their ‘fancy dress’ evenings but he didn’t hold it against me. He was very quiet at departure and as we said a final farewell he grabbed me and gave me the fiercest of hugs and tears ran down his cheeks. I’ll always be grateful to jj for showing me so much of his city tourists and resident expats never see and always grateful for his friendship. He is a thoroughly decent man.
Two years ago, Patrick promised he’d come and visit me, ‘next month, for sure,’ and last year he said he had plans to recruit hundreds of Thais to work in Kuwait. Well, i waited and waited and not a sign of him. Then, would you believe it, he showed up on the very day Thais were shooting Thais in the streets and tanks and jeeps and soldiers were everywhere…and that’s not an exaggeration. He stayed only one night but for that night we talked and talked till all hours. We weren’t able to go out, there was 6pm to 6am curfew, so we ate in. Next morning he flew off to who knows where or to do what – skin cavies in Peru or foment revolution in the Outer Hebrides? He vowed he’d be back the following week before i was due to leave for Singapore; i’ve not heard a word since. That’s Patrick. I must say the blighter was looking well.
The week before i left Bkk my Singapore friends came for a visit and to help me with my baggage, i was able to use their allowances. Because of the turmoil they were worried about making the trip but i advised them not to cancel, peace could come at short notice, and three days before their scheduled arrival the revered and widely respected King Bhumibol intervened and the Thais went home to patch their wounds and bury the dead.
I had my packing done before my visitors arrived so i was able to spend time with them and show them around. For me it was the final visit to several spots i like and for one of our outings we went to the bridge on the River Kwai. As we walked across the bridge in glorious sunshine i remembered i’d not been there for six years. That was my final trip outside Bangkok; 48 hours later i left the country.
From my 11th floor i look across a large part of this city and see the cars and the trains passing by and the lights of so many ships in the distance. This has to be my final destination, i’m tired moving and i want to settle. At the moment i’m happy even if i’m unpacking boxes and sorting things out and deciding what goes where – the joys of relocating – but once it’s done i know i’ll relax and be at peace. The quiet and order here appeal, everything works, everything’s efficient and it’s all done without fuss.
It’s exactly a year since i made the decision to move to Singapore and i haven’t for one moment regretted that decision. I turned down the offer to work in California and said no to Taiwan. I chose Singapore and i feel in my bones i made the right choice. This is my kind of town.