Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?


Monday, 28 December, 2010

Singapore, Singapore

Christmas has consistently been my favourite holiday. As a child, Halloween also made a push for the crown, but my adoration of that night has gradually faded over the years. Once you hit your twenties, it’s hard to continue knocking on doors and demanding people give you lollipops – you just look like a bank robber in training.

My love for Christmas, however, has never decreased. It’s a holiday for all the ages. Sure, I no longer wake up at 5am to see what the jolly man has delivered; but, I do now get to drink wine, have a massive amount of food, and present my best acting skills – “Oh, a garlic bread holder. Thanks, Nana. This is exactly what I have always wanted.”

This time around was an entirely different experience. Ruby and I agreed that Singapore would host our Christmas this year, and it was anything but familiar – so, let’s get into that. Here is the story of my first Christmas outside of the UK and away from my family.

Due to the occasion, I pre-booked a room at the Fragrance – Ruby Hotel. I tactically chose a place titled ‘Ruby’, as I knew that I could pass it off as a gift. Unfortunately, what I did not know was that this hotel was located on Geylang Road, also known as Singapore’s Red-Light District – Christmas was about to be a hell of a lot different this year.

Our hotel was surrounded by a sea of prostitutes every night – even on Christmas Day itself! Could you think of a lonelier way to spend Christmas than with a hooker? That I imagine being the definition of rock bottom – you would at least hold out until Boxing Day, wouldn’t you?

This year’s cracker joke read, “Q: What does Santa say on Geylang Road? A: Hoe, hoe, hoe, Merry Christmas.” It’s great the way they make them so locally themed.

The ladies of the night were not the only thing that differed about Christmas this year, in fact, almost nothing matched – the festivities just didn’t really seem to make it as far as Singapore.

Sure, we can get a little bit carried away in the UK – we don’t necessarily need a bloke behind the counter in the local supermarket with a silly pair of reindeer antlers on his head, as early as September. Yet, Britain’s obsession with the holiday has engrained an expectation into our brains that Singapore sadly couldn’t match.

Obviously, this was always going to be unwinnable for poor Singapore – it would need my dad moaning as he puts up the tree, my grandad carefully giving out a proper stingy amount of turkey to each plate, and my aunt getting me some sort of Hawaiian shirt that looks like nothing I’ve ever worn in my life – that would have been Christmas!

Instead, all we saw was one skimpy piece of tinsel, that appeared as though it went through ten rounds with the owner’s cat, dangling from a shop window. So, the day just went on as any normal day does. Which is simply the reality of being away from home in December – I’m sure a Singaporean person travelling around England in February complains about a lack of Chinese New Year banners, too.

Travelling as a two means that gifts also become a little bit more difficult to subtly get a hold of and hide. Therefore, we came up with a pretty unique theme this year – on Christmas Eve, with a budget of sixty Singapore dollars, we would each go our separate ways and put together an entire outfit for the other to wear on the 25th.

My clause was that the chosen attire must be worn for the entirety of Christmas. Ruby immediately responded with a rule of her own, this challenge must be taken seriously – that was probably a smart counter. My original plan was to go into a fancy-dress shop and get her a big, round snowman costume.

I know as much on women’s clothes as I do about dacryodes edulis, therefore, I soon realised how tough this was going to be. It’s an African fruit, apparently.

All that Ruby needed to do was walk into a shop, find a t-shirt with a letter ‘S’ on the hanger, and buy it – life doesn’t come much easier than that. Women’s clothes, on the other hand, are a nightmare! They have all these bloody different sizes – I was just staring aimlessly at numbers that mean absolutely nothing to me!

Not to mention, the potential consequences! If I get the size up, I’m suggesting that she looks fat. If I get the size down, I’m insinuating that she needs to lose weight – I could not win this task! Why did I ever agree to this?

Not knowing measurements becomes even more embarrassing when you go into a bra shop and mumble your way through the following sentence, “I need underwear for a girl who is roughly the same size as me.” These are presumably words that retail assistants don’t hear every day, therefore, she blatantly thought that I was a crossdresser.

The silver lining to my ridiculously awkward behaviour was that I would definitely be buying the underwear there and then – there was no way that I would put myself through such nonsense in a second knickers shop! So, I got the underwear and left faster than a lion chasing prey – should I ever actually get into crossdressing, I’ll be shopping online.

As it goes, I did a fairly decent job on a whole; spending exactly sixty dollars on an outfit that Ruby seemed reasonably satisfied with. While my gear was also very nice. All that was left to do now was consider the rest of our day.

The sound of Slade had been muted and the average person on the street was wearing a t-shirt – so, whatever we went with, it wasn’t going to be traditional.

In the end, we kind of just fell into the following activities – a trip to the hairdressers, the cinema, a phone call home, a Christmas meal, and finished the day by sharing a bottle of wine in the hotel room. What about that doesn’t say Christmas?


Singapore wasn’t too dissimilar to Kuala Lumpur, in that one of the ‘major draws’ is the countless shopping malls. We were once again a little bit stuck for activities – we did, however, still manage to visit the country’s really cool zoo.

I usually avoid zoos; watching a lonely lion pace up and down in a cage the size of a shoe-box, as it slowly loses its mind, is not entertainment to me. However, the one in Singapore has such a good reputation that we decided to check it out, and I am so glad that we did.

The Singapore Zoo is very clearly focused on the animals’ needs and overall happiness – most notably, the place has no actual cages. Obviously, there are still human barriers of sorts – it’s not like you’ll be impatiently waiting behind a couple of indecisive zebras at the ice cream stand or anything like that. The freedom of the animals just seems a far bigger priority here than in previous zoos that I have visited – it was very refreshing and pleasant to see.

In conclusion, the Singapore Zoo gets a big thumbs up.

Finally, the island has very admirable policies when it comes to developing an eco-friendly environment – which I think is worth mentioning. For instance, the price of a car is higher than a house to lower the number of vehicles on the road. Alternatively, you can purchase a ghost car – this costs less but can only be driven within certain hours of the day.

A second thumbs up for Singapore.

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