I have visited Singapore and Malaysia a number of times as a guest speaker at various conferences.  I always love going to that part of the world. I did my National Service there when I was only 20. I was stationed on Blakang Mati, a small island just south of Singapore, now a pleasure island renamed Sentosa.  On my last visit, I found the officers mess, once my home for 18 months, vandalised and derelict.  My old bedroom had been taken over by a colony of screeching bats!

Some years ago I was invited to speak at a large conference in Kuala Lumpur. My schedule was tight and, for various reasons beyond my control, I flew in the evening before the day of the conference. All the speakers (we had flown in from all over the world – quite a few from the USA) were briefed by the organisers who explained that an important government minister was going to open the conference and that we all needed to be on parade in the hotel foyer at 8.30am to be presented to the minister. 

I organised a morning call for 7am and fell into bed to catch up on some sleep.

I woke with a start and consulted my wristwatch on the bedside table. I was horrified to see it was already ten minutes to nine. I leapt out of bed, cursing the hotel for failing to call me, and got into the shower without waiting for the water to run hot.  As I stood there (the water was tepid by now) it slowly dawned on me that it was still dark outside…..and eerily quiet. 

Puzzled and disoriented, I got out of the shower and looked at my watch more carefully.  This time it said twenty past three!  Only then did I realise that my watch had been upside down. Twenty past three looks exactly like ten to nine on an upside down watch – especially if it has dots and dashes rather than actual numbers.

After my cold shower I couldn’t get back to sleep so it was no problem for me to be on parade at 8.30 sharp ready to shake the minister’s hand and to be garlanded with orchids. Amusingly, two of the other speakers were absent; they had overslept.

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