Last spotted in San Francisco, USA on March 28, 2003, 1:23 pm
Who is he? Where is he going? Where has he been? David Barrett / Quinthar
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On a small island off the southwestern tip of Singapore is Sentosa, a holiday theme park for locals and foreigners alike. A bit like a scaled-down Disney world, but oppressively hot and with virtually no visitors, Sentosa hosts a variety of exhibits and small rides connected by manicured trails and a tiny monorail. I purchased a rather pricey ticket that promised entry to a few different shows and buildings, but managed to skip just about everything I paid for to instead just drink tea and wander aimlessly through a number of pretty gardens (the orchid garden was my favorite). Perhaps the strangest element of the park was how it was almost completely empty - the only times I really saw other people were when waiting in line at the monorail hub, or for the musical fountain show at night. Other than that, it was as if I had the entire park to myself.
In the picture you'll see some giant creature in the distance. That is the mythical Merlion: half merman, half lion, and the all-powerful protectorate over Singapore island. That is, until the Japanese came in World War II, when defenses were instead trusted to the British Fort Siloso (though its defensive capability was rather mythical as well).

One very strange aspect of Singapore is how despite being an island, you almost never see the coast. Even going from Singapore proper to the Sentosa island, it was more like crossing a river than traversing sea. Thus, this picture was my first real glimpse off the island and it was nothing like I expected. For as far as the eye can see are tiny islands covered with oil refineries, between which are dozens of oil tankers and freighters of every shape and description. It was not at all the pretty collection of remote exotic beaches I had for some reason envisioned, but rather something out of a dystopic sci-fi novel. Combined with the incessant haze and murky lighting, it appeared equivalent to the side of "the tracks" in every large city where nobody goes because it's just a nasty, polluted industrial zone. And juxtaposed against the pretty paradise of Sentosa, it was just odd. Regardless, after seeing off the island, I began to understand why it's so easy to just avoid the coast.
Sentosa island was previously named Siloso Island, after a tall hill on the western edge named Mount Siloso. In the early days of British involvement in Sinapore, the top of Mount Siloso was literally blown off to make way for a strategic fort to defend the Sinapore harbor. Over the years the fort grew and matured, and eventually served as the British Empire's strategic naval defense of Singapore in World War II, as the most likely attack from the Japanese would come from the sea. Of course, the Japanese are tricky, and instead came by land, rendering the fort's powerful naval cannons essentially impotent against the advancing forces (they're like rifles, whereas they needed shotguns). Combined with an undermanned force, some strategic blunders, and just overwhelming opponents, Singapore quickly fell. The British surrendered to the Japanese and a massive POW camp was set up on the island's eastern edge, many prisoners of which died in the construction of the "Highway of Death" through Malaysia, Thail... [more]
As darkness fell I headed, like everyone, to the massive sound and light extravaganza at a huge fountain in the center of the park. Overlooking the fountain, however, was the mighty Merlion, and I decided to watch the show from its high vantage point. Thus I raced into its base and up the elevator hoping it wasn't too packed for me to see - only to remember that the entire park is empty and thus, I had the whole thing to myself. It was dark and quiet in the Merlion's mouth, and it offered a great view of the nearby park and distant cityscape. Suddenly, some part of the show must have involved the Merlion, and spotlights shone out of the darkness illuminating my perch for the entire audience to stare right at me. To make matters worse, green lasers burst from the Merlions eyes and started prying about the park, turning my private vantage point into a suddenly very public spectacle. Cameras blinked from the audience and I suddenly felt like a star! Granted, they were pretty far away, and were probably m... [more]

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