Last night I went for dinner with the General Manager of our Singapore office at a new development called Rochester Park, which is an area in the north west of Singapore island filled with large white colonial “bungalows” (in reality, two or three storey houses) built for army officers in the days of British rule and set amidst the trees. L’s grandmother used to be an amah for a British family there and she has an early-1970s vintage memory of her father taking her swimming in their pool.
Now the houses have all been converted into restaurants, and you sit outside surrounded by the cacophony of crickets, with lights strung through the trees in the evening warmth, and it is wonderful. We ate at a Chinese restaurant decorated with vintage black lamps and clean pale wooden tables, and had mouthwatering Beijing crispy duck served with the familiar pancakes and hoi sin sauce. You could also fill your pancake with traditional garlic sauce and spicy cabbage – an unexpectedly brilliant combination. Compared to the rather raddled, dry and stringy duck which often appears, this was fresh and juicy, the skin crisp but not hardened. I had a “Great Wall” cocktail, which consisted of lychee liqueur and soda.
In Hong Kong such buildings would have been razed years ago, and there would certainly not have been any similar leap of imagination by the government to adapt beautiful old buildings for modern use. Instead, they’re knocking down the Bauhaus-influenced Wan Chai market and concreting over all the paths.