The Sixth Bi-Annual Pilgrimage To Singapore and Penang.
This year our starting numbers, from Heathrow, were only twenty three, with another three joining us on the Penang flight from Singapore. As usual we enjoyed good service from Singapore Airlines, especially from the flight attendants. We seemed to arrive earlier than usual at Changi International Airport, with the result that when we arrived at the Carlton Hotel we were advised that our rooms were not available, evidently booking out time at this hotel is noon, consequently rooms can not be prepared until the previous guests have departed, us arriving at about 9:30 am meant that we could be in for a considerable wait. Eventually we were all allocated a room and after a nap and shower our holiday could start.
As we were a fairly small party this year only three events had been arranged by Mike James, these were all scheduled to take place on the Thursday of our week in Singapore, so at 10:00am we all boarded a coach to be transported to Kranji War Memorial, where we paid our respects to those that died in Singapore during the Second World War, it was whilst we were here that we bumped into Peter and Winnie Mersh, M1768, who were on a separate holiday, consisting of a week in Singapore followed by a second week in Penang. After about one hour we reboarded our coach and paid a quick visit to Haw Par Villa, or Tiger Balm Gardens as we used to know it, but the weather was too hot for walking around so after about thirty minutes we returned to the Carlton Hotel for lunch.
After refreshing ourselves we were picked up again by our coach and taken to Changi Village for a trip across the Straits of Johore to Pulau Ubin, where some of us went on a mini-bus tour around the island, whilst the remainder wandered around on their own. There has been little development on Pulau Ubin, in many ways there is a lot that reminds one of Singapore as it was in the 1950’s. It was then back onto the ferry for the return trip to Changi Village. That evening a special reunion had been organised, at Jacob’s Café, for members of the Changi Village Merchants Traders Association (CVMTA) and the RAF Changi Association (RAFCA), a chance for all of us to get to know each other. The evening started with a superb meal with wine and other forms of liquid refreshments, followed by Mike James proposing a vote of thanks to the CVMTA for their hospitality, and to Lim Tow Soon, the chairman of the Merchants Association and proprietor of Jacob’s Café, and his wife for the first class service that they had provided. Next Malcolm Flack, our Membership Secretary presented Lim Tow Soon, Charlie Loon Juan Han and Stephen Fung Meng Lim with membership cards denoting that they were now Honoury members of the RAFCA, in recognition of the help that they had given to our Association in the past. They join George Chang Lay Ming, who was also present on this occasion, who has been an Honoury member for several years. The gathering finally finished with several renditions of “Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye” by all present.
The next day about a dozen of us accepted an open invitation to visit the Changi Chapel and Museum where we were conducted on a tour of the exhibits under the expert guidance of the museum’s Director, Mr Jeyathurai A, who prefers to be addressed as Jeya, which once again was most interesting, followed by lunch in the museum cafeteria. A very informative experience, enjoyed by all of us.
The day preceding our departure for Penang Dolores and Mike James, Brian Lloyd and Margaret and I were invited to the Singapore Cricket Club where, over lunch, with Jeya, Simon Goh and James Lui, both of whom are also from the museum, we discussed how our association could be of help to the museum with photographs and other details of the Royal Air Force’s time at Changi, to help expand their knowledge of an era for which they have very little information. Once again this proved to be an enjoyable occasion marred only by Mike James leaving his camcorder in the taxi (another senior moment), which despite several phone calls was never recovered.
The next day we said farewell to those returning to the UK, or going on to other destinations, and journeyed back to Changi International Airport for our flight to Penang and the Parkroyal hotel at Batu Ferringhi. The mood of the party now changed and we slipped easily into relaxation mode, nothing, other than our flights home, had been organised, we were now all free agents to do exactly as we pleased, as long as it was within the law, which for many of us meant lazing around in the hotel gardens and pool, as the weather was extremely hot, occasionally we would venture into Georgetown sightseeing or for a dose of “retail therapy”, absolute bliss. Our one disappointment was the loss of venue for our usual party at the end of the first week. The “Last Drop” restaurant no longer exists, Alex had been forced to close due to the fall off in business since the tsunami.
All too soon it was time to leave, we all agreed that it had been a great holiday and for some of us our memories include the sight of Mike and Dolores attempting to fit their European rear ends into a trishaw that had been designed for the Asian variety, what a laugh they gave to us and several other spectators.
And now what of the future? With us all getting older and less inclined to accept the discomfort of long haul flights and the subsequent jetlag, will enough of us be interested in repeating our holiday in future? Only time will tell. In about twelve months time, if you are interested, give one of the committee a call and if there are enough of you we could give it another go, it’s all up to you the ball is in your court.