While I was looking for reference on where Aguinaldo stayed (I don’t know why this is important) while he was in Singapore, I stumbled upon this book entitled “Reframing Singapore”. It has an entire chapter dedicated to the historic Raffles Hotel. In it is a list containing the names of dignitaries and historic figures that stayed in the Raffles Hotel.
A sampling of names that paid this legendary hotel a stay: Pablo Neruda , Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Hermann Hesse, Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, John Wayne, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Peter Bogdanovich, Ben Gazzara, Trevor Howard, Mary Pickford, Noel Coward – and the list goes on (which contains more than a dozen names of sultans, kings and queens, princes, maharajahs etc.).
A young John Fitzgerald Kennedy name was on the list. But the most visible guest, at least during his time, was William Somerset Maugham, who practically made the hotel his home in the 30’s. A train station located in the north south line was named after this prolific British writer who wrote extensively about British Malaya and the Asiatic outposts of the empire.
Another popular resident, Pablo Neruda, was Chile’s ambassador to Singapore in 1931 and like William Somerset Maugham, had an extended stay in Raffles (both writers probably met). News as of late is that this beloved Hispanic poet’s body was recently excavated to validate if he was poisoned during Pinochet’s dictatorial reign. The official report was that he succumbed to cancer in 1973.
Raffles competitor, Hotel de la Paix at Coleman St., is where Rizal stayed during his time in the island. Built in 1865, it was in business before Raffles Hotel started operations. It was demolished in the early 1900’s. Peninsula Hotel now occupies the place where this hotel used to stand.
In the book “Reframing Singapore” a museum that houses the hotel’s memorabilia from its distinguished guests was mentioned. After reading this I left hurriedly to see it for myself. The main entrance of the building is of exquisite Victorian architecture. While it sounds and look so English, the guys that founded the hotel were actually from a Persian-Armenian family — the Sarkies. The Raffles Hotel is where the famous Singapore Sling was invented (or first concocted). It is said that the last tiger in Singapore was shot here.
You can wander around the hotel grounds if you like. It has a tropical garden, courthouse, fountains, a Victorian theater and high end shops. It’s Singapore’s version of Manila Hotel, but only older and grander. How they managed to maintain the original design and structure is testament to their respect and love for their heritage. I remember looking down at this hotel from one of the Suntec towers — a squarely white English colonial complex dwarfed by towering steel and glass buildings. Such buildings forms that distinct historical layer that gives an old city charm, style and of course, identity.
A fixture in the main entrance are these Sikh guards. Bearded Indian guys dressed in their white British-era uniform complete with turban. The hotel has employed them since it commenced operations. I asked one of them for directions and I was told to go the left side of the building as only guests are allowed to pass the main lobby. I saw signs and a map and the guy was right, it’s easy to follow. I like the fact that you can stroll around and not be bothered by security. The museum is in the 3rd floor, same floor where the Jubilee hall (the Victorian theater that can seat 300+) is located. So there really is a museum in Raffles Hotel!
But when I got to its door, I was told the museum was under renovation!