Letter from a small, serious island
Imagine what Prince William would say if he wrote to the Queen while visiting Singapore
My Dearest Grandmother,
I hope you are keeping well. Please send my regards to father and the dogs.
As promised, I am writing to you to tell you about our visit to that former colony of ours, Singapore.
I understand now why you did not want to come here yourself even though this is your Diamond Jubilee tour, not mine.
You weren't kidding when you said it was hot here. The stylists made me wear suits everywhere but I really wanted to bust out the royal flip-flops. Catherine, the poor dear, had to put on enough anti- perspirant to repel the heatwave.
In the end, I swear it was like they had her sprayed with Scotchgard.
And sorry to disappoint you, but I did not get to see any pandas in the end. Apparently the zoo is not ready to display them yet - not even if you are a prince and you tell them that your grandmother has asked for a picture of you with Kai Kai and Jia Jia for her royal Christmas card.
If anything, I must say that while our hosts were incredibly gracious, they seem obsessed with showing us plants.
There were plants in pots, in the ground, in domes and plants growing along the sides of some giant super plants.
You never told me that this was going to be a nature trip. I would have packed differently.
There I was thinking that I would generally be looking at cityscapes, tall buildings, air-conditioned malls and that Skypark the Discovery Channel keeps fussing about.
Catherine certainly thought she would be looking at less greenery. She thought she would meet some British subjects, you know, like Burberry, Mulberry and Dunhill.
Okay, before I go any further, I suppose everyone is now all excited about the fact that I said I wanted to have two children. Don't get your hopes up.
First, I must say the question about how big a family I want caught me a little by surprise. I did not expect it coming from a wee little fellow. I suspect he was planted there by the paparazzi. Security is tight here so they have resorted to new tactics.
Second, I did not mean it. I've said this privately to you before. I haven't made up my mind about the whole children thing. I'm not ruling it out. I'm just saying that this is something I still want to think about.
So why did I say I wanted two? It's called diplomacy, grandmother.
Do you know how low the birth rate is in Singapore? It is utterly depressing. I thought since they had been so nice to us, I should at least say I wanted two children.
In hindsight, I should have said I wanted five children. These folks need all the encouragement they can get.
I trust you understand.
I must tell you about the highlight of the whole trip, which was a visit to a delightful little place called Strathmore Green in Queenstown.
These Singaporeans have a wicked sense of irony. They took me to a place called Strathmore Green and this was possibly the only place in the whole trip where I did not see any greenery.
What I did see though was a splendid little playground. Let me first say that I do not know why we had to go there in the middle of the afternoon on a scorchingly hot day. I would have much preferred to visit this playground at night. I must have a word with the royal travel agent at once.
But this playground is full of wonder. There are old people in traditional costumes doing the taiji you so love; there are old people using the exercise equipment; there are people doing silat; and there are kids on the slides and swings.
The magical thing is that all these people did not seem to give a jot that Catherine and I were there. I swear, grandmother, we were practically standing next to this old man doing taiji and he didn't even glance at us.
Sure, there were thousands of screaming people a few metres away behind a barricade who clearly could see me, but this man was completely unfazed. It was as if my wish for invisibility came true in that little Strathmore Green playground.
Now, I am not a fool. I know that man was probably instructed to ignore me. Still, I very much appreciate the effort.
I also realise that all those people in the playground were there for my and Catherine's benefit. No one in his right mind uses an outdoor playground in the middle of the day in Singapore unless he has an irrational love for sunburn. I asked and the MP there explained as much.
But here's one interesting thing I learnt about Singaporeans: They are a very serious people. When I was faffing about the Internet later that day, there were all these people decrying the performance those people put on for us in the hot sun. There was good-hearted ribbing of the extent they went to please us but there were also some angry people talking about how the whole thing was an affront to the Singaporean identity, a national embarrassment or a reflection of the inauthenticity of the people who organised it.
Yes, grandmother, a staged demonstration of people using a playground here draws comparisons with North Korea.
It was all highly amusing for me and Catherine. I thought it was a pleasant little display.
Well, I'm signing off now. Tell Harry to keep his pants on.
This article first appeared in The Straits Times. (Copyright 2012)