Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 21 September 2017

‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ Joy asked. ‘Many,’ I answered

I got off the plane at Changi still pleasantly sedated by Xanax, passed through the ‘nothing to declare’ channel, and there, waiting with my name on a signboard, was my guide for the next four days. Joy was short, middle-aged and had a low centre of gravity. She was Chinese, she said, pleased about it. A minibus and driver were waiting at the kerb. ‘Get in!’ said Joy. I did as I was told. We drove to the centre of Singapore just in time for the Garden Rhapsody light and sound show.

‘Look! Supertrees! Can you see them?’ she said. You couldn’t miss them. Towering above and around us were a dozen or so 50-metre-tall branched steel structures twinkling with coloured lights. For a quarter of an hour the lights changed colour in time to the chord changes of sentimental songs from hit musicals. We sat cross-legged on the ground among a thousand other tourists gaping upwards. ‘Look! No litter! Very clean!’ said Joy, impatiently diverting my attention from the rhapsody of light and sound to the cleanliness of the concrete on which we sat. I obediently searched the concrete for litter. ‘Did you enjoy?’ she said when the music stopped and the lights ceased to flash. ‘Very gay,’ I said. ‘Gay?’ she said. She was dumbfounded. ‘What you mean, gay? I don’t understand you. Now we eat.’

We ate at a table for two in a circular restaurant perched in the canopy of one of these ridiculous Supertrees. Joy ordered the restaurant staff around with toe-curling peremptoriness. She chose the dishes. Quickly losing confidence in the intelligence of the waiter, she would have truck only with the manager. When at last she found time for conversation with her new client, she monopolised it.

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