What Happens When You're the Tourist Attraction?
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Sunday, 22nd August 2010
What is it like to live in the middle of a tourist attraction? Well, Yeoh Siew Hoon is discovering the pleasures -

I have a friend who lives in the middle of Montmarte, Paris. When I visit him, I always wonder what it's like to live in the middle of a tourist attraction.

Montmarte, Paris

Each morning, he wakes up to the sounds of footsteps walking up the steps to the Basilica of the Sacré Cśur. He hears the voices and happy laughter of tourists.

He hears different languages and over the years, he's noticed them change – from European to East European, from Japanese to Chinese – with the socio-economic shifts of the world.

There is no let-up in the tourist traffic – all day, all week, all month, all year. This is, after all, one of the most visited attractions in the world's most visited city. The Basilica at the top of the hill, art galleries, bars, cafes and nightclubs, the very touristy Place du Tetre where you can get your portraits painted – it all lives up to everything we imagine Paris to be.

What I particularly like about it is the way residential life is interwoven into the tourist areas so that Montmarte is not just a tourist place (like parts of Chinatown, Singapore, or Lijian, in Yunnan, or Luang Prabang, Laos) but an organic, dynamic, lively part of a city that just happens to be highly attractive to tourists.

Often, tourists would peek into his window which overlooks the steps, curious to see how a local Parisian lives out his daily life, little knowing that behind curtains everywhere round the world, probably the same life rituals play out, no matter where.

There are exceptions though. One day, he told me, he was standing at his open window – it was a brisk spring morning – and he was having his first cigarette of the day.

He noticed a group of youths showing particular interest in him. They were laughing and pointing at something behind his back. He then realised that in the mirror on the wall behind him, his bare butt was being reflected in full display.

I can imagine the kids going home and telling their friends, these French men, they are so sexy.

I recall this because last Sunday, I realised that I too am now living in the middle of a tourist attraction.

Sunset in Tanjung Rhu

When I first moved into the Tanjong Rhu neighborhood, the only attraction was the Kallang River/Canal, which was a pretty dirty stretch of water that connects the canals of the east to the Singapore River.

The only things of interest in the water would be the occasional dead rat, cat and, one time, a headless dog.

A couple of years ago, the Marina Barrage was built as part of Singapore's plans to transform the whole Marina Bay (and the Kallang river basin) into a reservoir. The difference is tangible. Today, the water is cleaner and fresher and even the air smells sweeter.

Last Sunday, I saw boatloads of tourists cruising further down the Kallang river than they've ever done. I heard the tour guide commentary on both the Captain Explorer and Duck Tours' cruises.

I can imagine their commentary.

"This area used to be the sea but now it's full of over-priced apartments. Local people like to take their wedding photos here on the bridge. A lot of local TV shows use this as a location for their productions and the Bollywood movie, Kriish, was filmed here. The apartment over there was where Bollywood star Hritik Roshan stayed during the filming.

"See the women walking the children and dogs and wheeling the elderly in their wheelchairs. Those are the maids. Nearly 200,000 maids, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, work in Singapore. They walk the young, look after the old and walk the dogs so that their masters and madams can go to work to make money to pay them to do these things.

"Last month, a 47-year-old Filipino maid inherited a S$6 million apartment after her employer died, as well as S$4 million cash. She had been looking after her employer for years. She called herself the ‘luckiest maid in the world'.

"This area that's hoarded up now will be the future Gardens by The Bay – it will be the biggest botanical gardens in a city and will link this area to the Marina Bay – which means residents here can walk or kayak to the casinos."

I know. It's not quite Montmarte. There is no little floral shop that was featured in the movie "Amelie". There are no seedy bars that were shown in the movie "La vie en rose" about the life of Edith Piaf.

But thankfully, tourists will not be able to peek into my window to see how "the locals live". My, what stories they'd be able to share with their friends back home.

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com . Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.

WIT 2010: October 19-22 SUNTEC Singapore ~ www.webintravel.com
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