29 Sep 2011

Singapore Diary: Bars, Clubs and Nightlife

I moved to Singapore a little over two months ago.  I don’t think I’ve written about the place yet, not consciously at any rate. That’s partly because my heart is still in Glasgow and home –in my mind- is still the converted two bedroom flat I shared with Fatboy and Massifer in Kinning Park. Happiness –it seems- is sitting around hungover on the mattress-turned-futon in our little kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, chain-smoking and arguing over whose turn it is to do the dishes and finally deciding to order Chinese takeout and watch episode after episode of 24. Let Jack Bauer deal with the real world!

The other reason I’ve avoided writing about Singapore is that the times when I’ve put fingertips to keyboard have usually been the times when I wished most fervently that I were someplace else. These urges –though not infrequent- owe more to my personal circumstances than any inherent disagreement I have with this tiny country. So while I’ll maybe talk about my fuckedupness in another post, I feel Singapore has more than deserved a little travelogue from my side.

I should say straight away that I have not been to the zoo or taken the Duckbus tour or even gone to the beach. In short, I’ve kept clear of the touristy stuff - partly because I was broke and mainly because doing touristy stuff is only fun when you do it with a group of super-fun people who beam and flash V’s at each other’s cameras in truly ironic fashion, dripping hipster-cool. Not really, but kinda. Going to Planet Hollywood to actually admire a wax statue of Captain Jack Sparrow –as opposed to sticking a finger up his bum or holding a lighter to his cock or something- is just lame.

I have however paid considerable patronage to the watering holes in my part of town putting me in a position of some authority to comment on the nightlife in Singapore. First things first: Singapore is expensive territory for those fond of their drink. Same goes for smokers. A pack of 20 will set you back nine to ten dollars if you go local, and 12-ish for the big, foreign brands. I quickly settled on LD Lights as my brand of choice – they’re cheap ($9.50) and taste like Mayfairs, my brand of choice in Glasgow. I picked Mayfairs because they were cheap and reminded me of Wills, my brand of choice in India. Because they were cheap and… there may be a pattern here.

Singapore does have quite a few decent outdoorsy bars, especially along Arab Street and on those little streets off Orchard Road. I’ve always had a soft spot for drinking under the night sky, and those streams of little bulbs all wrapped around your chair or a tree or whatever. Most of these places also show Premier League football which is fantastic on a Sunday night. While I stand by my statement that drinking is an expensive habit here, Singapore is one of those lovely little cultures that truly mean and celebrate their ‘happy hours’. You can usually get a couple of beers for under ten dollars most places till nine pm which is not cheap, but who doesn’t love a bargain?

On to the clubs then : Most of the clubs I went to were in Clarke Quay. The Quay itself is a beautiful little stretch, especially at night, all lit up with a great view of the Singapore Flyer and a row of pubs and clubs and restaurants. The Flyer is a giant wheel that is also a restaurant – no kidding, you can book a box, pop open some wine and have dinner while doing circles in the air. It reminds me of the London Eye and made me all misty-eyed one particularly drunken night, but on reflection it seems only logical that one giant wheel would remind me of another.  Still, I have promised myself to go on one of them dinner rides when I find me a lovely little lady who can speak five languages, loves to travel, does unspeakable things with her tongue and will always say reassuring things about my writing abilities. Either her or Mom – whoever’s first in town, really.
Ok, so Clarke Quay. The place houses my favourite bar in the country – it’s called In God We Thrust which in my humble opinion is a refreshingly literal name for a heavy metal bar that lets women drink for free if they’ll grease the pole. That’s right, they have a pole. Yup. On the few occasions I’ve had the pleasure, there have been some fun live bands, rock n roll and gyrating, pelvic-touting metal chicks. What’s not to like eh? I’m not going to crib about the prices because they cost about the same as most places and they’re the only venue I have been to that plays good music non-stop.

Which reminds me: I’m yet to find much musical variety (or indeed any good music) elsewhere. I’ve heard of a few decent live venues and intend to check them out one of these days, but so far the clubs have just been ridiculously cheesy and bass-heavy. The closest I’ve come to a live venue is this place called Chijmes, which is basically a big courtyard on Orchard Road with lots of nice little bistros and bars spread out inside. Pricey, airy and nice. I was only there for half an hour, but I remember somebody playing Creep, X-factor-style, on a rickety acoustic guitar and thinking “that song does not deserve Radiohead anymore” and nearly choking on my very urbane German weissbier.

If you’re hellbent on going clubbing, I would suggest Souk (which is not in Clarke Quay at all, and is a long, confusing bus-ride from where I live) which has a fantastic 1-for-price-of-2 deal till 12 am on weekends, and of course that other Singapore staple, shit music. Not to mention hordes of teenage hormones, acne, braces and more shit music. Credit where its due: last time I was there, they had an 80s pop dance floor in a little room on the second floor, full of –you guessed it – superfun people dripping hipster-cool and being ironic. Me, I just really like Kate Bush. 

Speaking of bush, I’m told Singapore is a fairly familial, conservative culture. This would explain why the Singaporean women in clubs all tend to be college students who think Aerosmith is a job title in aviation (“what, like a pilot?”) or distinguished, older members of the species who somehow missed their sell-by date and regale you with stories of loneliness and suffering (“I’m 32, who will marry me now?”). Where the hell are all the smart, funny, normal mid-to-late-20’s folk? Oh that’s right, they’re probably not hanging around discotheques, doing the Moonwalk (ironically) and freaking kids out. Still, there must be a way to meet them dames. (Mom, when the hell are you visiting?)

Now, I’m always beating myself for living in a part of town that could be any city really – there’s nothing exotic or Asian about the architecture or the food or even the people here, just cement and bricks and busy career-people. My only glimpse of tourist exotica so far has been this place about twenty minutes away by bus called Tunjong Pagar where I saw this really Shaolin-looking building which I’m convinced is a temple and intend to check out this weekend. There’s also Duxton Street nearby which is not very exotic at all, but plays host to my favourite spot in Singapore – this great little bookstore called Littered With Books. But Singapore has so many nice bookstores that I’ve decided to write a post exclusively about them.

A few metres up the road from Littered With Books is a roomy Irish pub whose name I cannot remember but had a gorgeous sitting area out back with wooden benches and tables and grass which may not sound like much but I could live my life like that, sipping Guinness and reading a beloved book, propped up against the wishing well in the middle of the garden. Oh, did I forget to mention they have a wishing well? They do. There’s also a unicorn who moonlights as a bartender (it may have just been a friendly Sri Lankan, I’m not sure), a big Tottenham Hotspurs flag on the wall and –a tearjerker, this- one wall is filled with photographs of a wedding that was held in the bar. It was of an Asian couple with Anglicized names like Jim and Wendy or some such, and quirky little captions above the photographs or maybe I imagined that part. Anyway, it was all very sweet. I must be getting soft in my old age. 

I’m not sure this post has been educational in any way, but I would like to confirm a rumour I had heard about Singapore before I arrived : there are no drugs in this country. No raves, no pills, not even the faint whiff of marijuana at 4:20am outside a club. I’m usually good at just showing up at these places without even going looking, and believe you me, I’ve looked. Not even a smidge of Ketamine, what with the horse racing community and all. Nope, the drugs are all somewhere else, in somebody else’s head, having a good time and living it up. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so off my Zen these last two months. Maybe it’s all the talk about lack of career direction and losing my looks. Not so much talk as thought, but still. 

Singapore’s also a really safe place – you can stumble around drunk in the middle of the night and some other drunk will retrieve your dropped wallet and tell you to be more careful. Not that they’re all alcoholics or anything but the ones with enough incentive to stay home are presumably not out at that hour, eh. You may want to stay clear off the ‘hostess bars’ in Singapore though– the music is shittier than average, the women badger you constantly for tips and you don’t get so much as a knucklejob. Or maybe you do, but I just can’t stand those places. The carpets smell of rot, the lighting is a jaundiced yellow and you get no peace of mind because you’re constantly worrying that you’re missing out on something by not talking to the girls. So you talk to them and fifty dollars later you realize you’re not. Besides, the whole idea of women being so upfront in their misery is just disturbing. I have nothing against the profession; I just don't want it asking me for loose change when I'm out to forget my troubles. There are enough professional avenues for that sort of thing here anyway; why ruin a perfectly good evening for fleeting hope and false promises? That’s what drinking’s for isn’t it? 


Anonymous said...

Haha! Littered with books i one of my fav hang outs...its more cozy than Kinokuniya...but i end up at kinokuniya (At takashimaya incaseyou didn't know) since it has more choices...

As for music, there is a bar at Orchard Towers(if youd are to venture...learnt it by experience that its not so bad BEFORE 2am...and after that its god help you ;)) -- it has one of the best live music I have heard...and ofcourse there is Pump Room (At Clark Quay)...

As for the "getting high" scene...hehehe umm 6 years ago I would probably say you are absolutely right...but well it took me 6 years to go-figure...you have a while to go before u know where to look.. ;)

And god-forbid you don't have to stick around here for 6 years...its pretty boring if you are not the millionaire next door...

icyhighs said...

Saw a Kinokuniya tag on the back of a book I picked up at my usual second hand store. Was wondering what the hell it is; should check it out now.

Anonymous said...

kinokuniya is like my favvvvv hang out...heheheh...i just go there to smell books and fele happy even if i can't afford ot buy books always :P...

takashimaya is on orchard road...Negee Ann City Shopping mall