Raffles (in Singapore) – The Dream that Was Not to Be

I was in Singapore to see Raffles. Singapore is Singapore – they announce on the airplane loudspeaker and it is written in bold letters on entry cards that the penalty for drug-smuggling is death. The list of articles forbidden to carry on a plane include harpoons and spear guns; by any standards, particularly grim security guards.

Raffles was first built in 1887. Queen Elizabeth visited. Need I say more? The most beautiful hotel I have ever been in: an area about a city block, a group of three-story, connected buildings with wide verandas set around a series of courtyards with huge palms and tropical ferns, all white paint with TEAK floors and trim with dark green painted ironworks. Lobby has birds flying in and out, mother-of-pearl inlay teak tables carved with dragons, marble floors, big blue Chinese urns with small palm trees, cane-backed easy chairs, sky lights. Inside spaces have Persian carpets and dark red silk couches with teak end tables, every column is Corinthian, every chandelier sparkles, every light fixture is original or copied from 1880s original. Outside cafe furniture is Scandinavian design teak or white iron scroll-work Victorianesque chairs – no plastic of any type anywhere. Teak, iron, silk and glass. There is huge billiard room, fans in every room with wooden paddles, arched walkways. Oh yes, one courtyard has shops – what shops? Nice shops. No chain stores except (be still my beating heart) Jim Thompson silk.

Every room has TALL ceilings, front part of room is all windows looking out on one of the verandas, curtains only cover lower ten feet so light can always come in the top. This is small sitting room, with a couch and small dining table, then a wooden partition to bedroom (with interior windows with shutters so you can open the whole space up or close it into two rooms). Huge bed, pots of live orchids. They bring a free Singapore Sling (invented in the one of the hotels’ FOUR bars) to your room. The most divine kind of place ever. Ever.

Thank heavens, only a few Americans. Who all looked horrible. Americans in luxurious surroundings wearing fanny packs and unspeakable shoes. When will the madness end? Solution #1: “ugly tax” – if you buy a pair of black plastic flip-flops you either sign a form agreeing that you will NEVER wear them at a national historic, natural or man-made place of beauty or 5-star hotel, restaurant or cafe or the inexorable flip-flops will cost you $7,000. Solution #2: crossbreed mutant toe-biting lizards and let them loose in all beautiful historic places.

I, I hasten to mention in passing, was wearing a too too too fabulous white linen dress (that was not wrinkled, may I note), my pearl ring, my hair artfully/ carefully arranged/ disarranged in pink rhinestone clips, darling shoes and my too too too fabulous hot pink, small impractical purse with little brass feet so it stands perfectly upright, which you might inherit if you behave yourself.

So I was quite happy, drank my Singapore sling, then went exploring through the courtyards. Came back to find the room still a mess, empty glass on the table, no turndown service. Hmmm. The Motel 6 in Des Moines has turndown service. Had room service dinner on the veranda, set the alarm to get up for breakfast and slept. Woke up at 10am, alarm didn’t go off and I had missed breakfast.

I sobbed. Disconsolate. In my initial panic I pushed the button for the floor attendant and when she came to the door (twenty minutes later) I, looking like the Pieta, said, “I missed breakfast, the alarm did not go off.”

She said  (and I quote exactly), “oh.”

I said, “I only have one day in Singapore and I was supposed to be up three hours ago.”

She said (and I quote exactly), “oh.”

So I closed the door and went back to crying. Then I got up and did what any normal person would do: shopping therapy. Went to the Jim Thompson store, then on to one of the THREE cafes for a mocha frappe. (Frappes always help!) When I went back to room to pack, no one had been in: empty glass and dinner dishes still there. Hmmm. Brought luggage to lobby walking past several groups of employees gossiping along the verandas.

The second I entered the lobby, two employees rushed to take my suitcase, a little late for that. The check-out clerk did ask how my stay was but, after paying, I said that I was a little sad, the alarm clock did not work so I had missed my one morning in Singapore.

Went back to cafe for 15 minutes until it was time to go to the airport, when I came into the lobby, a manager came over and said, “I am so sorry you did not have a good stay.” When I said that the alarm didn’t work and I missed breakfast, he said, “but you could have had breakfast at the pool.” 1) How could I have known that given that the floor attendant didn’t mention it and 2) And even if I had – breakfast at the pool after missing breakfast in the Tiffin room? WHO ARE YOU KIDDING? It’s like saying, gee, you missed marrying Lord Mountbatten, here’s Adam Sandler. Too bad you missed having the Chanel dress, here’s a little white t-shirt from Fruit of the Loom. I did not say anything but gave him the Stare of Doom and sat to wait for a taxi.

A more important manager then came over to say, “I just canceled an overseas call to talk to you.” Memo to upper management: Do not ever begin an apology by saying how making the apology inconvenienced you.

I said, “Most people will come here and leave, not caring, thinking it is just another nice hotel, but I have wanted to come here since I was a child and I will only ever have this one night here. And it was not nice.”

He then said that the hotel would pay for my taxi to the airport. Hmmmm, 15 minutes in a taxi does not really do anything to make-up for the fact that I spent more on one night in the hotel than anything in my life except university tuition, a plane ticket or my car and I got service from wombats and NO BREAKFAST OF MY DREAMS!

So he (take notes, darling, this is how not to behave), corralled 14, yes 14 different staff members who all stood in driveway as I walked from the hotel to the hotel car. After I got in the car, they all arranged themselves in three rows BEHIND THE TAXI as if… well words fail, I have no bloody clue what they were doing standing behind the taxi and watching me being driven away. Behave well from the first or don’t bother. 14 hotel employees standing in a driveway is a joke, not an apology.

One must have dreams. One must try to make one’s dreams come true. One must also be prepared for disappointment and heartache and the utter ridiculousness of upper management forcing staff to choke on taxi exhaust for no good reason.

Adieu to the dream of Raffles.