Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

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.

Joy was a simple soul and inordinately proud of the social status conferred by her prestigious occupation of tourist guide. There was a very famous, very beautiful Hong Kong film starlet, in fact, who preferred to use her above any other guide when she visited Singapore. She showed me a photograph on her huge smartphone: Joy standing next to this beautiful Hong Kong film star. Joy's face was a picture of star-struck defiance. 'Which one is you?' I said. 'Funny,' she said, dismissively.

She was immensely popular, she said, and particularly with American tourists. One of them had lately sent her a Donald Trump election-campaign baseball cap. …

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