Southeast Asia 2016

Day 3-4 Singapore

Day 3: Monday November 21

We spent today on a plane. That's what happens when you've got a 12 hour flight and you lose 6 hours to a time change. We had a bit of a concern when we landed and got into a cab, and our cab driver said he had no idea where our hostel was. But he managed to find it ok. After showers and a hot meal of Indian food, we finally got to sleep in a bed for the first time in 48 hours!!! Heaven.

Day 4: Tuesday November 22

We headed out this morning armed with lots of water, hats, sunscreen, bug repellent, and an umbrella. We definitely needed the water, it wasn't crazy hot but it was muggy. The hats didn't end up being required, and neither was the umbrella thankfully. We went down to the waterfront and took a ride on the Singapore Flyer, an enormous Ferris wheel with enclosed boxes. Very similar in concept to the one in Vienna, but a bit more modern. The views were lovely and the architecture that you could see being up so high was really neat. It was unfortunate they they didn't have any signs in the cab telling you what you where looking at. So in that respect it wasn't great. But it was a nice ride with a good view.

We then found a food court for lunch. It was prime lunch hour for a weekday so after deciding what to eat (which took a little while) the biggest challenge was finding a table. All of the locals would drop their company ID badges on a table to claim it and then get into line for food. We finally took two seats at a table where some but not all of the seats had cards in front of them. Hopefully we didn't break any social rules there, but otherwise we would never have gotten to eat! $5 for delicious food so we could see why it was so popular.

It is an odd feeling to be in a country in Asia where the local Asian people speak to each other in English! In that respect Singapore has been a nice introduction for this trip, and very easy to get around the city by walking or train. We had a short conversation about Trump with some locals at the train station who helped us top up out train ticket at the machine.

After lunch we headed to our main event of the day. A walking tour from The Original Singapore Walks, titled Through Fog & Fire: the Battle for Singapore, 1942. We ended up being the only two people on the tour, which was great. The guide said it was usually busier, but since it looked like rain a lot of people would stay away. It was a great tour. We went through the Battlebox (underground bunker) on Fort Canning hill, which is where the decision was made for Singapore to surrender to Japan. Our guide, Sharul, told us about why Singapore was strategically important (getting to the oil fields of Dutch Indonesia) and why Winston Churchill apparently called it the biggest calamity in British military history.

The Japanese generals were given 100 days to capture Malaya and Singapore. They only needed 55. The attacks began 1 hour after Pearl Harbour, so were very well coordinated and gave no warning. The speed of the Japanese advance was overwhelming. The British defence was based on 1920s tactics and high command in England underestimated the Japanese capability so did not provision the defence appropriately (to be fair they had a war in Europe to worry about so could not send naval reinforcements). The British and commonwealth soldiers had greater army numbers, but lacked jungle training and anti-tank guns so had trouble countering the Japanese tanks. The British had no ships (only two were sent, they were sunk within a few days of arriving), no air support (what they were sent was old and not helpful - half were gunned down in a matter of days), and so were cut off from supports and supplies. The battle for Singapore lasted only 7 days. They had no choice but to surrender, which began a horribly dark period for the POWs and the citizens of Singapore. The fall of Singapore is commemorated every year (their version of Remembrance Day).

Thousands and thousands of civilians were executed (mostly Chinese), some for being accused anti-Japanese (although there may not have been any proof), others for not bowing when they met a Japanese soldier on the street. During the mass killing of Chinese men, called Sook Ching, Japanese command complained about how beheading was not an efficient enough method because you had to resharpen the swords after 14 heads.

The second part of the tour took us to the Kranji War Cemetery, a beautiful cemetery, which is the largest cemetery for war heroes in Asia. It is run by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There are graves, as well as lists of names of soldiers who died and whose bodies have never been found. There are rows and rows of Indian soldiers listed, as the Japanese tried to convince them to switch sides and abandon the British, and they were killed when they refused so they are being honoured in this cemetery for their great loyalty. We also learned about the experimental Malayan regiment and the hero Adnan Saidi who fought heroically to their deaths.

Our tour guide was very interested to learn that Chad's grandfather had been a soldier and captured when Singapore fell. We will have to see if we can find any information about him if we're able to go to the Changi Museum when we come back through Singapore on our way home. The Changi museum also has a list of the civilian casualties throughout Asia, so it's possible that Pam's family are listed in there.

It was also interesting to learn a bit about modern Singapore defence strategy. As a tiny independent city state it has to make sure it won't get pushed around. Military service is mandatory for men for 2 years. They spend one third of their tax dollars on military and have planes stationed in bases around the world. Another strategy was to become the 3rd largest oil refining country in the world, to be able to negotiate military support from countries dependent on that oil, should the need arise. They are in an alliance with Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and NZ.

After a nice Thai dinner Thai Express (not the Canadian equivalent) we decided to walk back to our hostel. I think we took the long way around, as it ended up taking about an hour but at least we saw Raffles hotel, where the Singapore sling cocktail was invented. Now for a refreshing shower, and bed!

Next: Day 5-6: Chiang Mai

Back to main page