Saturday, November 4th, 2000
Life section

A club of pretencious class

BECAUSE I work the night shift on Saturdays, I have a day off on a weekday, besides Sundays.

Since I moved to Pasir Ris in May this year, often, on my weekday off, at about noon, I would walk to the nearby NTUC Downtown East to make use of its swimming pool.

The entrance fee is a dollar, two on Fridays and weekends. Of course, you don't have to pay if you are an NTUC member.

Where I live, there is a single-lane, 10-m long lap pool, which I think is very fancy, but which my father calls a lonkang (pasar Hokkien for drain). I can have my half-hour exercise in this longkang, but the Olympic-sized pool at Downtown East is obviously a better choice.

It's relatively empty on weekday afternoons, except during the school holidays, and I get to do my laps (four now, the last a struggle, but I hope to hit six by May next year), while on a portable stereo under the lifeguard's post, Jamie Yeo chirps merrily on the 98.7 lunch-time radio show.

I like Jamie's show because she doesn't speak with a pseudo-accent the way most of the other DJs on that station do the most excruciating are Daniel Ong's and Rod Monteiro's and also, because she so obviously enjoys what she's doing.

The girl actually sounds grateful just to be on air, although she's not some wannabe.

She's a popular TV star, in the series, Growing Up, which, sadly, has gone down the boo-hoo-hoo maudlin road since its chief writer Tan Tarn How left to rejoin The Straits Times.

I enjoy going to the shower stalls after my swim. It's a reward for my having exercised, although I am often in the pool for less than half an hour.

Adjusting my eyes to the dimness in the stalls, after the glare of the mid-day sun, then going under the full blast of the shower, and afterwards drying myself under a wildly-whirling ceiling fan: It's my silent, meditative Zen ritual, before I emerge into the noise and bustle at the Food court, where I have my lunch.

The Foodcourt is often packed with the lunch time office crowds from the high-tech industrial parks in nearby Loyang and Changi. The men are in their long-sleeved shirts and ties, the women in their neatly-pressed jackets and skirts.

There are also the families on their day off, in their casual tee-shirts and shorts and sneakers or cheap boaters.

And there are always some Westerners, the men who still work at the theme park which was just opened in May.

Whenever there are Caucasian women, they are generally young and attractive, with the straight backs and toned limbs of dancers entertainers from Russia who put on shows in the evenings in the Event Square, a huge stadium-sized lawn with a state-of-the-art stage and sound system.

Lunch for me is a plate of fried carrot cake, with lots of sweet black sauce, and a cup of coffee.

If I had entertained any illusions of making the acquaintance of the Russian visitors and extending to them the hospitality of my humble home and a few glasses of vodka, they were shattered very early on when the carrot cake guy, who
looks to be in his 30s or early 40s, addressed me as ""Uncle''.

""Uncle,'' he said in English, then asked in Mandarin, ""White or black?''

White means easy on the sweet sauce, black, loads of it.

In my tee-shirt (Hard Rock Cafe Shanghai, or Moma, San Francisco) and Liz Claibourne shorts, and my moccasins purchased from a genuine Navajo Indian in Taos, New Mexico, how could I have looked old enough to be called Uncle?

I've not stopped patronising the stall, even though the guy still calls me Uncle.

I go to the Downtown East in the evenings too, to go to the Cheers supermarket to replenish my stock of 187'ml bottles of Californian Chardonnay, and my Baccardi.

On Sundays, because the Foodcourt is packed, I have lunch at the less crowded Bon, a more upmarket Burger King eatery operated by Bonvests Holdings, which also runs the Burger King, Starbucks and Orange Julius outlets.

I have grown fond of Downtown East because, like Jamie Yeo, it is unpretentious, yet so pretty and full of cheer. There are no strict country club rules, but somehow I note a certain unspoken decorum among the people who go there.

They may be dressed casually, but they certainly don't dress like they were going to a neighbourhood hawker centre, in slept-in singlets or pyjama trousers, and dirty flip-flops. People do take the trouble to dress better to come here.

If Jamie is grateful to be on air, I'm grateful that there is a place like the Downtown East in Singapore.

In Prague a few years ago, my guide-cum-driver took me to a club meant for workers in the pre-Velvet Revolution days. He was very proud of it, but I remember it didn't look half as good as the Pasir Ris resort. And we aren't even a socialist state; we needn't, on ideological grounds, have to spend millions on a place like this for the enjoyment of our workers.

In the second volume of his memoirs, From Third World To First, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew says of the NTUC recreational enterprises like the Downtown East:

""These clubs, resorts and other facilities provided workers with lifestyles previously available only to the better-off. I believed these facilities would reduce the feeling that workers belonged to a lower order, excluded from lifestyles which
only the successful enjoyed.''

As Prime Minister, he opened the NTUC Pasir Ris Resort on Oct 29, 1988. Tonight, 12 years on, it's a very much upgraded resort that NTUC Secretary-General and Minister Without Portfolio Lim Boon Heng will open officially with a light-up ceremony.

If you haven't come to NTUC Lifestyle World Downtown East, do check it out one day. It's open free-of-charge to not just union members, but also to anyone. Just don't dress slaykay, okay?

Archive 1

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19/11/00 Simple emotions stalls paperless future

04/11/00 A club of pretencious class

21/10/00 Canby's passion for cinema

16/09/00 Clint still a draw at 70

09/09/00 The inspiring Keppel Men

09/07/00 Time and love wait for no man

25/06/00 Seizing opportunity in old-economy biz

11/06/00 Bad news to have more papers?

14/05/00 When my hostesses didn't show up...

30/04/00 Bellow's betrayal -- or act of friendship?

16/04/00 Alone, you don't get to grow up

02/04/00 New Economy

19/03/00 The Good Life

06/03/00 Time for creative destruction

20/02/00 Meet the new superhuman

30/01/00 OK, I don't have to be rich

16/01/00 An intimation of timelessness

02/01/00 Let's not forget to meet F2F