by Kenneth Lyen
Not so long ago, I was invited for dinner at the Raffles Hotel. Arriving early, I waited at the Writers Bar. My host, knowing that Im a writer, remarked that it was most auspicious to meet at this bar. Hanging on the walls were photographs of some of these famous authors.
Opened in 1887, Raffles Hotel is regarded as one of the worlds most beloved of the classic colonial grand dames. Guests staying there have included royalty, celebrities and writers. So who are the writers who have stayed at the Raffles?
This English novelist was a young seaman plying the eastern seas and became one of the guests of the hotel when it was newly opened. In his novel "The End of the Tether" Conrad described Raffles Hotel as a "straggling building of bricks as airy as a birdcage."
Rudyard Kipling visited Singapore in 1889 and later wrote: "Raffles Hotel, where the food is as excellent as the rooms are bad. Let the traveler take note. Feed at the Raffles and sleep at the Hotel de L'Europe."
Somerset Maugham sought inspiration on several visits to the island beginning in 1921. He would sit quietly at the bar overhearing the latest gossip and include them in his stories. His short stories of Singaporean colonial life written at the Raffles Hotel included 'The Outstation', 'Yellow Streak' and 'The Casuarina Tree' (1926). But it was the publication of The Letter (1927), when he depicted of the real-life murder of her lover by a rubber planter's wife that brought public outrage. Somerset Maugham said of the Raffles Hotel: "It stands for all the fables of the exotic East."
The British playwright, novelist and actor, arrived at Raffles Hotel in the company of Lord Amherst. While here he played the part of Captain Stanhope in the play `Journeys End which was being presented by a visiting dramatic troupe at Victoria Theatre. Noel Coward wrote "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" around this period.
James A Michener
Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist James Michener who wrote "to have been young and had a room at Raffles was life at its best".
Before becoming renowned as a love poet, Pablo Neruda worked in the Chilean consulate in Singapore and visited the Raffles Hotel. Recently he was honoured when a suite was named after him. Other authors who have stayed at the Raffles Hotel include:
I told my host that I thought it most unlikely that any of our local writers will ever gain a place in the Writers Bar. Singapore does not acknowledge its own writers. He looked at me with an air of resignation and said, "A prophet hath no honour in his own country." I smiled in agreement.
Trivia: Michael Jackson the songwriter did not stay at the Raffles Hotel. But it is interesting that even his physiological pursuits should attract media attention: "Michael Jackson is said to have relieved himself at Singapore's Raffles Hotel." I hope you are all taking down notes.