Saturday, September 19, 2015

Accidental Tourist of Singapore - 2015: Raffles Hotel Walk of Fame 29 Aug 2015

I had the rare privilege of taking a walk around Singapore's grand dame, The Raffles Hotel when they opened the hotel for a walk designed as part of its line-up of activities to celebrate the Singapore's Jubilee Year. My good fortune as I managed to secure a place on its last Walk of Fame scheduled on 29 Aug 2015.

Gazetted in 1987 as one of Singapore's national monuments, this grand lady of the far east was first made into a hotel on 1 Dec 1887 by the Sarkies brothers who were Armenian hoteliers. The Sarkies Brothers were successful hotel proprietors - they owned Strand Hotel (Yangon, Myanmar) and hotels in Penang, Malaysia including the Eastern and Oriental Hotel.

The tour started inside the hotel lobby, which dates back to 1899. We were given many glimpses into rare historical facts of the hotel as we walked through its ground such as:
  • it being the first building in Singapore to have electric lights and fans.
  • it was originally facing the sea which by the 1930s was facing reclaimed land.
  • the name of the hotel was given during the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria of England - it coincided with the year the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was unveiled at Padang in 1887.  
  • it started as a 10 room bungalow before undergoing several renovations over the century into what we now see, a 3 storey main building.
  • the main building was designed by famous architectural firm, Swan and Maclaren. This firm also designed other national monuments, such as the Victoria Memorial Hall and Goodwood Park Hotel.
  • the main lobby was once its main dining hall, which converted to a dancing (and even skating) hall after dinner.
  • the tiles that were previously in the main lobby are now displayed at the Tiffin Room and the Raffles Grill
  • the now famous tag-line of 'Feed at Raffles' was originally coined by famous English writer, Rudyard Kipling who visited the hotel in its 1st year of operations. He actually said, 'Feed at Raffles and sleep at the Grand Hotel de l'Europe.' Grand Hotel de l'Europe was another grand hotel back in those days but in the passage of time, his quote was shortened to 'Feed at Raffles'.
  • the famous Tiger incident in 1902: The real story is that the tiger escaped from a nearby performing circus and hid under an elevated restaurant with raised platforms called the Bar and Billiard Room although many would recall this story as one of the tiger hiding under one of the Billiard tables instead. Riding on such an amazing story, the hotel had, on the 99th anniversary, made a live tiger was part of the hotel's celebrations in 1986 to coincide with the lunar new year of the tiger.
  • The story of how the silver beef wagon in Raffles Grill was buried by the staff of Raffles during the Second World War in order to preserve it from the enemies and we were allowed to admire its beautiful silver in pristine condition.
  • I learned that the Raffles gift shop was once the Horse stables as the guide said that a skeleton of horse was found on the location during the hotel's restoration.
  • The origins of the signature cocktail of Raffles Hotel (and a key drink for those visitors to Singapore), the Singapore Sling. It was concocted back in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bar captain for the ladies who were not allowed to drink alcohol in public. That gave a reason for why the drink is colored like fruit punch.
  • Singapore's famous late Orang Utan, Ah Meng was chauffeured here to eat breakfast with the late Michael Jackson who visited Singapore in 1993.

My good fortune continued as I was allowed to go into Sarkies Suite, one of its 2 Presidential Suites where Queen Elizabeth II and Michael Jackson may have resided when they were in Singapore. I and the rest on the tour, wooed and wowed at all the beautiful furnishings (including the original carpet that lined the main dining (now lobby)) and ornate pieces of furniture and marveled at our good fortune to have visited this room which would have cost around S$1,300 to stay each night.
The tour ended at the Hotel's Hall of Fame, where the photographs of famous personalities like Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, Somerset Maugham, Prince William and its original visionary owners, the Sarkies Brothers, hang proudly on the wall.  

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Till the next time, onto the world and beyond!

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