It was my first trip to Asia. I flew with a Boeing 707 of the Air India from Geneva to Singapore. The same plane in which I had sat crashed on the flight back to Geneva at the Mont Blanc. On the next leg of my trip I boarded a De Havilland, a jet that had the habit to break into pieces when in full flight. (There was a movie about the unpreparedness of the aircraft factory to admit this defect). The plane was taken out of service after I had landed safely in Hong Kong. Flying still was an adventure.
But back to my stay in Singapore. As I would arrive on the first day of Chinese New Year (by the locals called Spring Festival) it was impossible to get a confirmed hotel reservation. My pharmacist – who had lived in Indonesia – gave me the name of a middle class hotel that usually had rooms vacant. But he must have mistaken it with a house of the same name in Kuala Lumpur. The taxi driver had trouble to find the address in what is now called the Chinatown of Singapore.
It was less then a guest house, a decrepit building. The room the toothless manageress showed me with a doubtful grin, was less inviting than a prison cell in Uganda. Naked walls with a rusty bedstead. We smiled at each other and agreed that the reservation was a misunderstanding. She demanded no money from me, and I left the damp building.
The taxi was long gone. I had to shove my suitcase by hand through a road covered with burnt out firecrackers until I found a reasonable solid and clean hotel with big rooms. The price was low, because this was neither a tourist nor a business district.
As I came directly out of the cold of the European winter into the tropical heat and humidity, my circulation ran amok. When I walked outsides, I felt dizzy. I wanted to enjoy the freshness of the nearby seashore, but the access was restricted by wet and barren reclamation land. Jaunty children threw firecrackers between my feet and shrieked happily when they saw that I was burned by them. I returned to my hotel. Everything seemed unnecessary strange to me.
The hotel had a big Chinese restaurant at the ground floor. It was there, where I sat down for my evening meal, the first in Asia. I ordered two or three dishes which were served to me by a beautiful waitress in a green silk dress. She had an oval face, big black eyes, expressive lips with a ready smile and raven black hair. While her waistline was not wasp like, her femininity was breathtaking.
About ten o’clock some empty tables were put asides and the free space used for dancing. Most guests belonged to big families, celebrating the Spring Festival.
I saw that one of the guests danced with the waitress in the green silk dress. I felt jealous; I wished I could also hold her in my arms. A little bit later, when the waitress – her name was Jinny – brought me another drink, I found the courage to ask if she would dance with me. She smiled in acceptance.
Then something unexpected happened. When I took her in my arms and held her body, I felt immensely attracted to her. She smiled at me and seemed to be flattered by my attention. She pressed her body playfully against mine. I danced a couple of rounds with her, and in between she was invited by other men. It was a merry New Year's fete, with many children taking part.
Close to midnight the lights were dimmed, and everyone paid his bill. When my waitress wrote my room number on the bill, she whispered: “You go now to your room, I follow soon.”
My heart stopped and doubled its pace. I went upstairs and took a shower, not quite believing that she would truly come up to my room. Such things didn't happen to me. Contrary to current LOS visitors I had absolutely no expectations whatever. But it was New Year's night, a time when people behave particular. On the dance floor I had been too shy to woo Jinny directly. She had asked me how long I was going to stay in Singapore, and when I said two weeks, she had looked pleased.
I had just finished my shower, when she came in. Our attraction was mutual. East and West, the twain, met on impact.
Later on she told me, that the hotel manager did not allow waitresses to go up to the guest rooms. Today he was absent because of the holiday, and so she had been able to join me in my room.
If I wanted to see her again, I should visit her in her place. If I agreed a taxi would pick me up tomorrow evening at a quarter to twelve. Of course I agreed.
From there on every evening a taxi waited for me at the hotel entrance and took me back between four and five in the morning after a tropical night full of affectionate togetherness.
She lived in a penthouse in a quiet suburb. Her flat had three bedrooms and a big roof terrace which also served as kitchen and sitting room. Two of the bedrooms were sublet to young working women.
In rainless nights Jinny and I sat down for refreshment on the roof terrace. There was a light wind going, which caressed our skin. Jinny had an ice box from which she took out cool Tiger beer. That was delicious. Sometimes her roommates came out to join us on the roof terrace, unheedingly exposing their bosoms to the night wind, like in old pictures of Bali – no teasing intended. In the clear air we could hear the wooden rattle of a blind noodle soup seller on the street.
"Do you want me to buy noodle soup for us?" asked one of the girls. I gave her two dollars, and she dressed and went down. The soup was very tasty and nourishing. It was the best I got in Singapore.
In those nights I felt closer to Jinny than to any other partner I had met before in my life. It seemed to be too good to be true. But it was. Asia gave me a welcome embrace, made me feel proud to exist.
Jinny was not a call girl. She did not try to coax money out of me. She didn't suggest matrimony. All her reactions and affections were completely natural. She was what I would call a seaman’s bride, having affairs with men who were in the city for a certain time span, loving them one after the other. Being a waitress was her occupation, having lovers her hobby.
One evening Jinny opened to me her wardrobe and showed me over one hundred silk-robes, each of them a present from a different lover. She knew of all the dresses the names of the men from whom she had received them, and below the dresses she had a tin box in which she had collected more than a hundred photos from her ex- partners. All of them were nice young men, some even better looking than me. Her eyes grew moist while she looked at the pictures. She seemed to have good memories of them.
The next day we met in the city to buy a silk dress and visit a photo shop. We came back in the early afternoon to her penthouse. It was the first time I saw it in full daylight, surrounded by splendid trees, some of them brightly flowering and spending strong fragrance. We found the double bed in Jinny's sleeping room covered with children from the neighbourhood, who looked TV. They greeted Jinny heartily and she gave them sweetmeats. I was hardly noticed. So I left the penthouse and left Jinny to her neighbourhood activities. In all the hours I had spent there I had never noticed that she had TV in her bedroom.
In the daytime I normally met people who were to me of professional interest. One of them, a rich Chinese merchant, opened to me his heart, after I had recited to him a poem of Mao Tsetung in Chinese. ("Bei guo feng guang, qian li bing feng…" – written after a flight over North China in an American aircraft). He was so impressed by my bumbling Chinese that he invited me to his home und showed me his priceless collection of art treasures, which originally had been plundered in the Boxer War by Count Waldersee from the Summer Palace in Peking. How was it possible, I asked, that the booties of the commander of the Western armies had found their way to equatorial Singapore? The answer was a romantic one. The great warrior had found peace in the arms of a Chinese lady, whom he overwhelmed with presents, stolen from the Imperial Palace. She had hoped to accompany him to Europe, but he left her heartbroken in China. In later years, when the lady needed money, she sold Count Waldersee's presents on the black market.
There were still more treasures in this household. The merchant had three daughters, two of them already married to Western hubbies in California and Italy. The third still was free. He invited me to lunch with her. She was beautiful, but the self-confident daughter of a rich family. Compared to her I was only a middle class salary-earner. We had nothing in common.
I visited the Broadcasting House of Singapore – named Broadcasting Ministry – and it gave me the impression that it was occupied by soldiers of an enemy's army. But the impression was wrong. That was their usual way of doing news business.
One afternoon Jinny came unannounced in my hotel room. She pointed at my typewriter and asked me to write a letter to her mother and to her eight years old daughter, who lived with granny in Malaysia. Jinny came from a Nonya family. That is the Malay name for Chinese, who emigrated to South East Asia a few generations ago and have developed their own traditions, the best known of them being "Nonya" cooking.
It took me quite a time to find out what a respectful daughter would write to a Nonya mother. I invented that every day she was sad to be separated from mother and daughter, but at the same time she was very happy to earn money as a waitress and so could send them of her hard earned cash, and she hoped to earn still more so that later the whole family would live together in a big new house.
I could see from her happy face that these were indeed the right words to further Nonya family harmony.
I gave Jinny a decent farewell present when I left Singapore. But for some reason I do not understand now, I did not continue my relationship with Jinny afterwards. Maybe I could not accept that she would be happy with other admirers after me. Maybe I had doubts, I could visit South East Asia often enough to uphold a relationship. Maybe I thought, other Asian women would also be enjoyable. That was a mistake. It took me a quarter of a century to find in Asia someone equal in attraction. Meeting Jinny was a once in a lifetime encounter. I still feel warmth rising in my heart, when I think of her. When you grow older and look back, you see your past life as a string of missed opportunities.
Lately I have been regularly in Singapore. I love this city as my first stepstone into the heart of Asia, where I found such a romantic welcome. I enjoy the hours of sunset at Boat Quay or Sentosa Bay. But I never dated another Singapore Girl. I did not want to taint my memory. What I now miss in air conditioned hotel rooms is hearing the melodic rattle of a blind noodle soup seller, advertising his delicacy in the middle of the tropical night.