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On the Road with Rupert
- in Singapore

Rupert wonders whether Orchard Road is memory lane

I thought about several other names for this column. I considered 'Rupert Down South', 'Rupert in Singapore', and 'Rupert Over the Causeway'. I thought about using colloquial English known to Singaporeans as Singlish, and calling this column 'Wah Lau Eh Rupert!' (A direct translation which renders the column name as 'My Father Eh Rupert!'), but the Prime Minister, in his National Day Rally speech was critical of slipping into this vernacular. I acquiesce. Besides, a friend(1) told me that I should be consistent in the use of my column title in order to establish an identifiable image. Sounds logical.

Singapore will always be dear to me for several reasons. Some of them of a nature which won't make it past my editor and certainly not on this PG rated site. I spent six years in Singapore building up a wealth of memories and experiences, which I will cherish for the rest of my life. Parts of these I hope to share with you and other parts I will keep for myself. There's so much to say. I could tell you about my years in boarding school and my alma mater. I won't tell you about my first kiss and my first love, but I'll tell you about the years of growing up in a country whose people I have come to adopt as my own. I'll tell you about the tears and the laughs. I'll share my life with you.

The thing that strikes me most about my memories of Singapore is how they all seem to be focussed around a very small area. Well, Singapore isn't a very big place to begin with. But then again, I find myself rather amused by the fact that a lot of what I remember about this island takes place in Orchard Road. This is the Oxford Street of Singapore, the Fifth Avenue of the little republic, and it does make sense for everything to happen here.

My parents say that Singapore first heard the transitory pitter-patter of my little feet when I was a mere toddler. I see pictures of myself, swathed in hideously colored clothes that children tend to wear… or at least the hideously colored clothes I was wrapped in(2). Nowadays, these ghastly tones are no longer restricted to toddlers. Orchard Road is an explosion of colors. I was particularly fascinated by a recent trend of wearing cartoon apparel but I am quite sure the fashion has moved on to something else by now. Singapore, I am told, ranks after Japan and Hong Kong in keeping up with fashion. I know I'm not exactly fashion savvy and I'm not going to make it onto the cover of GQ magazine. But I don't understand ladies wearing knapsacks the size of wallets, plasticky shoes with soles that are 5 inches thick, sunglasses used as substitutes for hair bands, and guys in severe need of belts. Welcome to the world of sartorial freaks.

Orchard Road has always struck me as the heart of Singapore. You can tell so much about a city by its commercial hub. You look around and listen; it's like taking the pulse of the city. This pulse moves along at about 440 bpm and rushes along sidewalks, around corners into all streets and alleys, pouring life into the rest of Singapore. Sunlight beats upon the pavements, drumming out the cadence of life along the streets and the night falls quickly, throwing a blanket over this fairyland of lights. Naturally, Orchard Road is at its best during the festive seasons, when she drapes herself in festive finery, twirling necklaces of colorful lights throughout her length.

In my first year in Singapore I couldn't get use to the pace at which the people here walk. I felt like I was riding a tricycle down an expressway. I guess I got my act together after awhile. I was walking the walk and talking the talk as I strutted my stuff past strolling tourists and naïve newbies. Eventually I graduated to playing games of chicken with other pedestrians. The whole idea is to walk down the street and avoid eye contact. Basically you look everywhere else except where you're going. Well, you actually do with your peripheral vision because you don't want to end up walking into a lamppost. Then you try to keep a running score. One point for each successful encounter, a penalty of 2 if you chicken out, and 2 bonus points for breaking up handholding couples.

I confess though that I haven't been back to Singapore for awhile but I will return very soon like the prodigal son that I am. Things have probably changed since then. Some buildings may have already fallen under the hammer of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and replaced by modern facades. I'm sure the fashion trends have changed although the same array of beautiful women will be parading them. I'll be playing the game again for the sake of nostalgia and I'll try to chalk up as many points as I can. I assume that I'll be able to shift right into the express lane mode but I think I'll just stroll down memory lane for now.

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(1) Rupert is under strict instructions not to reveal the identity of this 'friend'.

(2) Rupert is a little more fashion conscious now. He wears khakis and a gray polo shirt. When he feels cold, he puts on his dark blue cotton jacket. Very grungy.



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