In 1986 a friend took off from Scotland to Singapore to work, not long after another had moved to Hong Kong. I had an open invitation to visit Singapore and, giving him a year or so to settle in, I took up the invitation in September 1987.
His cousin worked for Singapore Airlines in Scotland, so I was able to get a good deal on the flights too!
I had never been to that part of the world before – not even close – so I went with an open mind. Certainly Singapore was a jaw dropper. It made Scotland seem Third World.
Craig had folded himself nicely into the expat lifestyle, and it was slightly surreal to be having lunch with him at somewhere like the Singapore Cricket Club – his firm’s corporate membership obviously.
The food everywhere was just amazing – “Indian”, Malaysian, Peranakan and various kinds of Chinese.
My friend in Hong Kong invited me to visit while I was in that part of the world anyway, and I found a cheap flight with China Airlines (the Taiwan airline) which also gave me a couple of nights in Bangkok on the way.
Craig was a frequent visitor to most capitals in Southeast Asia by virtue of his shipping finance work, so he was able to give me tips about what to see and do there – and what to avoid, obviously.
In those days Bangkok was still a generation behind somewhere like Singapore as far as development is concerned, and a total contrast to the squeaky-clean city state. A fascinating visit too.
Then Hong Kong. Developed like Singapore, but also very different. The local people were much less friendly – in fact not friendly at all – and much less laid back than the Singaporeans. I think we went a bit crazy, or maybe I was jet lagged, but my memories are vague.
I do remember talking to an Indonesian Cathay Pacific flight attendant in a night club, about her father’s work in an orang-utan sanctuary in Borneo. It turned out we had little in common.
My hydrofoil outing with David to Macau is also a memory with some vague corners, but I do remember the fascinating blend of Portuguese and Cantonese cultures and architecture.
I was privileged to be visiting Hong Kong and Singapore to stay with locals – local expats admittedly – because that gave me an insight into those places I would never have had as a typical tourist. Then of course many of their friends were true locals.
I learned so much about the culture in those three places. Those cities drew me back on many occasions.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2020