The sailor's birthday present
by Bob from Australia
to share my memories of Bugis street with you for it brought back memories I
hadn't seriously examined in many years. Isn't it strange, the tricks that
memory plays? I can 'see & smell & feel' the scene as if it were
yesterday yet none of the dialogue will return to me. I will endeavour to keep
it as factual as possible but I can assure you that Bugis St was raunchy enough
then not to need artistic license to make it sound titillating now.
Having said that, and with the best will in the world, memory is an imperfect medium. As we age selective memory tends to overlay present insipid reality and 'the older I get the better I was' syndrome kicks in. However; to Bugis St and my salty 'present' as best I remember it.
To set the scene for you, the world was a pretty scary place in '50, if you were white that is. Singapore was a huge military base and still a part of Malaya where the Brits under General Templar were fighting the 'emergency' (read civil war but for God's sake don't call it that or the buggers'll think we're trying to keep them down rather than 'protecting' them).
The forces of 'democracy' (US via UN) under MacArthur were
fighting the 'yellow hordes' in Korea. The French were getting
increasing grief in Vietnam and the Dutch Meinheers were being given the
big A (vulgar Australianism meaning given the arse = tossed out) in
Indonesia. In brief, the 'West' was desperately trying to keep a lid on
things in Asia & treat the war as a minor interruption to 'business
as usual under the old management' whilst Asia generally was having none
of it. Sorry for the history lesson but the scene was that vast masses
of men & ships were being moved around Asia & the mood was 'eat
drink & be merry for tomorrow………'? It was just a very
So; now we come to me & Bugis St. (Don't give up, I'm getting there).
I arrived in '50 in Singapore as a naïve 17-year-old with hormones raging to find, in the one day, change alley & Bugis St. Coming from conformist OZ, it was a blast and whetted an appetite for Asia which I hope will never leave me.
So fast forward a few years to the mid '50s and I'm now working in travel & airlines in Australia. Back to Singapore on an airline freebie & staying at the Cathay hotel. It no longer exists but it was the premier hotel at the time (I think) & predated the Hilton and the rest. It sprawled down a hill side between two streets and had a movie theatre on the lower street level. The theatre in itself proved interesting, but I digress. So; do the obligatory things expected by our hosts and all tourists but then on the last night drop out & head for Bugis St about 2200. Bliss!
mental map of Bugis street is of it leading off a larger road with an
intersection about a block up with a block or so of Bugis St on either
side and a block, or so, of the cross St (dunno what it was called)
either side. There was a toilet block with a flat roof at, or else close
by, the intersection on which the trannies (Oh yes, they were there! In
spades, they were there!) were wont to give impromptu theatrical
performances in drag on the flat toilet roof to the delight of the
crowds & the occasional fury of the police. I have no idea how they
got up there, or got down again but there was probably no lack of
willing hands in various places. The policing, local under European
direction, seemed to have a light hand unless a brawl, threatening
property damage, started in which case the police & the shore
patrol/MPs were there in force.
Each bar had its tables outside its premises but the usage seemed almost communal and tables & chairs were re arranged many times in the course of an evening. How the various bar owners & employees kept track of whose customers were whose I don't know but it all seemed to work somehow. Street hygiene seemed adequate without being the 'intensive care ward' standards so beloved of your present masters though the toilet block was often awash by the end of an evening. I freely concede that rosy recollection may alter reality but the overwhelming impression I retain, at this remove, is that an overall good humour, even bonhomie, prevailed. Disputes there were, both inter & intra service but an all out brawl was rare in the times that I was there. More serious were occasional disputes between the girls & the trannies as to who owned which patch or which serviceman. The trannies were in a minority but were none the less aggressive in promoting their wares/protecting their turf and definitely had the edge in repartee. I was about to also add dress sense to that, but on reflection……..; perhaps not!
Get to the point, I hear you cry! OK. OK! Here we go.
Enter our hero (moi, pissed) reeling on return from the toilet block where he'd probably been following some matelot. I can't recall how I came to be introduced or, more probably, introduced myself to the table. Possibly something subtle like 'buy youse a beer'? (I was big on couth in those days) Anyhow I found myself at a rectangular table with six or seven British sailors in uniform and an Indian/Malay local. More on the local later but he's pivotal to the plot. The sailors were celebrating the 21st birthday of one of their number, a rather spunky blonde who I just 'happened' to land beside at one end of the table. He was magnificent and I can 'see' him still. Hair the colour of ripe corn spilling out from under a cap on back of head, six foot of nordic manhood as only the Brits & Scandinavians can do it and a cheeky grin looking up at me as he sprawled at the table. I think my lifelong passion for sailors & foreskins (he had a beyooootiful one) joined an existing passion for Asia on that night and none of them have ever left me. (Mental note - I will never ever forgive the Admiralty for doing away with sailors' flap fronted bell bottom trousers! Sooo sexy!)
So there I am now, seated & talking to this blonde god when I notice over his shoulder that two of his 'oppos' (mates) at the other end of the table are making shooing/pushing motions at me and silently mouthing phrases like "take him with you" & "get him out of here". Well, nothing loath to act on such good advice, I must have made inviting noises like finding further pastures for I shortly found myself in sole possession of one sailor looking slightly used but in otherwise serviceable, as I found out later very serviceable, condition.
This now is where the plot thickens and our Indian/malay friend comes into play. Turns out he is a taxi driver and he offered us hire of his cab which is even then parked nearby. Quite how he had come to be involved with the group I never found out but he had obviously picked up on the action. By the time the three of us had reached the entrance to Bugis street, the sailor & I had come to an understanding and the driver offered to try & find us a hotel as I felt that I could not brave the lobby of the Cathay with a uniformed matelot in possible view of my tour group. The driver, true to his word, drove to three local one star hotels and went in to inquire on our behalf but to no avail. The dead hand of English Methodist moralism lay over all and none would take us in.
By this time there had been some pretty heavy bonding taking place in the back seat already, in fact probably enough protein had already been exchanged to bond a ship's company! Our resourceful jehu, sizing up the situation & not to be denied, then drove us to some local lovers lane on a hill top which I think was near a reservoir and announced he was going for a walk & cigarette. I pray that the Gods may bless him still! Mindful of Singapore's censorious cops I was somewhat hesitant but took comfort from the fact that there were other similarly darkened cars parked nearby.
In the event, matters were taken out of my hands as my companion announced that he had come ashore to become a 'real' sailor on his birthday and a 'real' sailor he was going to become! I think he must have some stripper in the family tree somewhere for in no appreciable time he was stark naked, straddling me and pushing down on my excitement. Well, I mean, I'm not one to take such treatment quietly so I pushed back, which elicited some indrawn breath between his clenched teeth. There were a few pauses along the way but he would not be denied, not that I would have/could have denied him anyway, and he had his wish! Given the limited headroom, I cannot account for the increasing fierceness of his thrusts but they were many and commanding. I found myself unable to protest however as his lips were clamped on mine throughout. I found the whole exercise quite draining but later felt constrained to offer him some oral encouragement in return for which he damn near blew my head off with an eruption of his manhood!
Some time was needed to return heartbeat & breathing to somewhere near normal levels however all's well that ends well and the driver returned to a marginally more decorous passenger compartment. The sailor and I disentangled at the dockyard gate and then I was deposited at the top entrance of the Cathay. Needless to say, the driver was profusely thanked and extravagantly rewarded and that, my Lord, is a true rendition of the facts of the case as best I can recall them.
* * * * *
I really must thank you for prompting me to share this memory with you as I had not revisited it in years & had forgotten just how seminal, in so many ways, it was to me. It launched me on a lifelong diet of 'salt meat' and Yum Cha. I already had a fixation on red hair, courtesy of an accommodating school mate, so here I am now in more mature (I absolutely refuse old!) age still lusting after my ideal of a red headed Asian sailor with tattoos & a foreskin; you wouldn't happen to know of one I suppose? No? Ah well one can dream!
Asia has changed in many ways since the time above, not always but mainly for the better. We (whites) used to be able to patronize you but we can't do that any more which pleases me. Although I accepted it, I was always troubled that I could go places & do things in Asia purely because I was a white man even though it was your country! Your Lee Kuan Yew phrased it well when he said "you were Gods to us" (until the surrender to the Japs at the Ford factory).
It troubles me still that the emergent middle class in Asia seems now to be in retreat and there is a return to the previous pattern where people are either obscenely wealthy or grindingly poor with not much in between. In spite of the American Imperium, I still think this century will be an Asian one and I hope you guys will make a better fist of it than did my generation.
There is a festival of Asian films on in Sydney at the moment, which would not have been possible in the era we're talking about. As much from lack of interest as that there were no Asian films apart from perhaps Bollywood & the odd dour Japanese epic, but then we hadn't quite got over being mad at Japan then. When the Asian industry did get going in Hong Kong, they were transplanted Hollywood or London crews, 'World of Susie Wong and that sort of thing. Leads were all white and Asians were the heavies & servants & crew. I derive a certain wry amusement from the fact that now the stories, action, actors, directors, crew and; most importantly post production people, are all Asian and the whites only get a look in when colonial characters need to be portrayed.
Still on Asian film for the moment, I was stunned to see at one festival here, a Singapore entry whose title escapes me & set around a Singapore suburban supermarket if I remember aright. It was a take off on the Travolta film 'Saturday night fever' and featured a character who entered a dance contest & used the prize to pay for his younger brother's sex change operation! Not only was the plot surprising but the film was funded by the Singapore superannuation board! How they got that lot past the morals police I'll never know but I'll bet somebody regrets it still!
It's been nice to talk and thanks for your patience in listening to the ramblings of an old poofter. I like your mind and appreciate the perspective on your site. I hope that you will continue your comments and keep plugging away at SG authority. I find your Government unduly restrictive & 'Orwellian' but, to paraphrase Winston Churchill on democracy, yours may be the worst possible form of Government were it not for the (regional) alternatives. I think I'd better shut up while I'm still making some sense anyway nurse will be here soon with my warm milk & rusk and I can't find my teddy. Take care of yourself and, as Harry Truman said, "Give 'em hell"!