SMELLY SINGAPORE!

One of the down sides of a large navy was that we travelled regularly to foreign parts, visiting ports or being stationed in and on them,  where we were exposed to the smells in all areas visited.  Some of these were pleasant, made that way by exotic flora, spices, cooking, and some were terrible, an affront to our nostrils and the sense, smell. In some cases these smells were seasonal and at their worst in hot weather or in the summer months, but in countries with no seasons [other than monsoon] with more or less the same temperature and humidity all the year round: Singapore is one such place, the smell was obnoxious, period.

I have to say from the beginning that 'west of Suez' ports/countries were almost uniformly 'smelly', but with exceptions. Ignoring [fortunately] the few north African countries we visited [the period I am talking about is from the early 1950's]  which were often dire, devoid of traditional western-style sewage systems and more of an Arab bucket and gully running to an open hole, and concentrating on central and northern areas of the Mediterranean and ever northwards, the only real exception was the port/City of Naples.  It was often said that the rats in this part of Italy were as big as small dogs, and often the stench was truly unbearable. This was brought about by their poor sewage infrastructure but also by their atrociously inefficient refuse collection system when the rubbish built up and up and festered in the streets, which in turn was spread around by the city's vermin. It certainly was not a healthy place to be, and yet it was the home base of the huge USN 6th fleet. Our fleet base was Malta, another smelly base but less so than many Mediterranean areas, although had there been a cockroach pied piper instead of a children's, and he had led the cockroaches off the Island, it would have risen by a metre or so, such was their infestation: mind you, they were tiny compared with cockroaches to be found, just as prolific, in the Far East areas specifically on Singapore. If a smell and floating human feces can be masked by surrounding beauty, oozing with history, then Venice was such a place: but was it? In the vernacular, it really did chuck up and one had to watch one's footing when looking up at the beautiful buildings, for acute poisoning could be the result of falling into the city's many waterways/canals.  Gibraltar as I recall was probably the cleanest and least smelly of all Mediterranean ports that we in the R.N., used on a regular basis.

East of Suez and gearing-up to enter the Canal, saw naval vessels nearing ports like Alexandria, the British base in the Mediterranean during WW2, and Port Said, but these ports were not visited to give leave, anymore than the areas of Port Tewfik, City of Suez or Ismallia were. Safe to say therefore, that the smells stopped on leaving the last Mediterranean port and restarted on arrival at Aden at the bottom of the Red Sea, and that's a lengthy journey. After entering the Arabian Sea and then the Indian Ocean proper, there was a good chance [regrettably] of visiting an Indian or a Pakistan port enroute to the Malacca Straits onwards onto Singapore. Although the traditional visited ports of Karachi and Bombay [yes, I am aware of a name change] were many miles north of the Equator and therefore the tropical belt which directly affects Singapore it being only 60 miles north of the equator, it was still stifling hot and Noel Coward's song "......mad dogs and Englishmen go out into the midday sun...." was never more relevant if one were a fool. The smells, deprivations, privations and inhumane way of existing in these cities was a shock to a first time visitor. They were also places where TB, an airborne disease, could be easily caught, along with other diseases, so one had to be circumspect in one's dealings with the locals and with the food and drink offered. In truth it was and is a culture shock for you will find absolutely nothing like this after popping out of the Port Said Suez exit point heading north for the western world! Offensive was the best word to use for summing up the experience.

It goes without saying that were these first ports east of Suez to be avoided, the smell's of the world  would for the large part, also be avoided until we arrive in Singapore.

The British had frequented the Island of Singapore for many years before the dawn of the 20th century, and yet at that time, the sanitation of the Island was still basic without a recognised sewage system. In a moment I will show you an article from a Singapore newspaper.  It is called the "Colony Cavalcade" a regularly occurring news article covering many subjects. For that reason, you may find the title of this Colony Cavalcade cryptic.  However, just pick the title you are interested in which in our case is "MOD-SAN" {meaning modern sanitation} - in the suburbs? - down your street yet?  You don't have to do anything except to scroll down slightly and to start reading the text beginning "When will Singapore be civilised". As is obvious, the story comes from 1935.

However, before you do that, let me tell you a little story about my own family in Singapore. In 1965, my wife and I took our three year old son to the Amah's Market in Johore Baru. It was a large market, set up running in parallel with monsoon ditches which had water in them but were no where near full. Our son was dying to say something almost as soon as we arrived but even at three he was sensitive enough to be reticent and was, as far as three year old can be, outwardly embarrassed. He eventually said in a guarded manner that "somebody has done a twosy". He was well passed potty training  [all mum's and dad's will empathise with this] but had been trained on the premises that a wee wee was a No1 and a poo was a No2 [nothing new in that eh?] - ergo a twosy is a No2. The boy had got it right, and the whole place stank of poo or something/somebody rotting. We had a car and had used it to get to JB from our home between Chompang and Neesoon across the causeway in Singapore, with as always the 'council house air-conditioning' running to keep cool i.e., open car windows. It was good to get back to Singapore, because believe it or not, we never ever, in the 19 months of our stay, experienced a nasty smell when on the Island. Both WW1 and WW2 from 1942 [Japanese invasion] to late 1946 delayed the ambitions and progress of the forward thinking Singaporeans.  Today in 2015, Singapore is one of the world leaders in community planning, yet in 1955, ten years before we took our little boy to the JB Amah's market, her basic sewage system was only just nearing completion.  How times change, and think on about the thousands of Royal sailors who were stationed on the China Station [Singapore being just one of three bases on that Station] in the earlier part of the 20th century, who lived and worked in a terrible stench.  Singapore's Water Authority serves the country whose population is 5.4M. By comparison the population of England is 55.5M : of the UK as a whole just over 60M. Greater London is served by the Thames Water Co and they supply 2.6 Giga litres of drinking water and collect and treat 4.4 Giga litres of waste [surface water and sewage] for and from 15M people every day, 27%  of England's population.

Now a giga litre [Gl] doesn't mean a great deal to most people, so here is a conversion which you should understand.

1. 1 giga litre [Gl], which mathematically is expressed as 10 to the power of 9, which is 1 followed by 9 noughts viz 1,000,000,000  i.e., 1 billion, = 1 billion kilograms [kg] and in the UK 1 kg is half a bag of sugar, a complete bag of sugar on purchase is 2kg.
2. From the main text above 4.4 Gl of waste water = 4.4 billion kg and 2.6 Gl of drinking water = 2.6 billion kg
3. 1000 kg = 1 metric ton, so that 4.4 billion kg becomes 4,400,000 metric tons and that 2.6 billion kg becomes 2,600,000 metric tons
4 Now one London empty double decker bus weighs 12 metric tons. The total daily metric tons for the Thames Water Co is 7,000,000 metric tons.
5 7,000,000 divided by 12 = 583333.3 London double deckers a day in equivalent water weight That's 583 thousand three hundred and thirty three point three buses.
6 Moving away from weight which is the main reason for this conversions comparison, if those buses [knocking off the odd 0.3] were put end to end, each at 11.23 m (36 ft 10 in) in length but call it 37 ft to allow for a parking gap {!}, they would cover 4088 miles. Choosing any two destinations on the surface of the earth and connecting them with the shortest route between them [a Great Circle route] these buses would stretch from Tearaght Island, Kerry, Eire, all the way west to the famous Yellowstone Park in Wyoming USA.

Now read the file below, cobbled together from more than one newspaper.

8.12. 1935 COLONY CAVALCADE.pdf