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Singapore, 1965-

August 8 2015

My Lee Kuan Yew obituary. Anniversary of expulsion from Malaysia is tomorrow. Other Singapore posts.

Penang and Singapore in 1929

April 7 2015

As we sighted the north-western tip of Sumatra, steaming eastwards from Colombo towards Penang, we ran into a flotilla of drift-wood moving, to all appearance, as steadily and as purposefully as our ship, but towards some western goal. As I leaned over the rail, looking at the fleecy clouds banked up against the Sumatran mountains […]

Singapore’s second founder

March 30 2015

Lee Kuan Yew, the legend goes, made a country against the odds. He never lost a sense of the fragility of Singapore. Having been there 25 times, but not for over decade, I think I have become 5% Singaporean. I can feel the improbability of his achievement. When I see the rain trees by the roads, […]

Singapore and UAE

March 25 2015

This is not about the UAE, but is Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore in 2009 talking about forgetting what it is like to be poor; it merely suggests interesting comparisons:

Singaporean shirtsleeves

March 24 2015

I visited Singapore first in 1984. Much more of the old town was standing then. It was still colonial. New towers loomed over old shophouses. I remember meeting Tony Tan, the Minister of Finance, who is now president. My colleague and I visited one office and found ourselves face to face with LKY’s stockbroker brother Freddy, in […]

1965: Singapore rejected

March 23 2015

Confrontations in Singapore

February 19 2014

Why is the history of Singapore so fascinating? It has a strong atmosphere, though the city nowadays is called sterile. The modern founding fathers seem, in the ’50s and ’60s, magnetic, but nobody is attracted to their successors. A rough guide to British Malaya (old post). Singapore became self-governing in 1959, joined the new Federation of Malaysia […]

Port Said to Yokohama

June 10 2015

or, East of Suez “[…] Aden, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Rangoon, Singapore, Penang, Bangkok, Saïgon, Hue, Hanoi, Hong-Kong, Shanghai, their names roll on the tongue savourily […]” ___ Somerset Maugham, The Gentleman in the Parlour, A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong, 1930. That shore-hugging list may not correspond exactly to anything on a real […]

The rise of Mandarin

March 25 2015

The campaign to encourage Mandarin in Singapore was, of course, directed at the Chinese: it was not intended that it should replace English as a lingua franca. I have corrected a phrase in a recent post that suggested otherwise. Even so, has it placed the Chinese above other ethnic groups in a way that the […]

Lee and English

March 24 2015

Lee Kuan Yew’s first language was English. He spoke it with a Singaporean accent. His vowels sounded roundly imperial. He came from a family of merchants and businessmen, a Hakka family which had emigrated from Guangdong province in the 1860s. In Singapore they adopted English. They were comfortably off, but not rich. Lee was educated […]

Lee and the Facebook generation

March 23 2015

These discussions are riveting. Lee Kuan Yew met young journalists from the Straits Times at the Istana over the course of a year to answer their questions, in 2009 and 2010. How to preserve Singapore: A second, shorter clip is here, but won’t embed. On sexuality, his grandchildren and more. A third, in which he […]

Lee Kuan Yew and the nation-builders

March 19 2015

Lee Kuan Yew is the last great living twentieth-century nation builder, if he is alive. Who were the others? What defines them? They have to have created a nation where none before existed – and yet one can’t leave out Mandela. They must have done it through a personal struggle. They must have a certain stature. […]

Antony Hopkins

December 31 2014

A reminder of how lucid he was. Antony (sic) Hopkins (obiit May 6 2014), was one of the great educators. He was a writer and broadcaster about Western classical music and a composer of operas, at least one ballet, and film scores. What people remember him for was the radio programme Talking about Music, on the […]

Confrontations in Hong Kong

October 5 2014

1925-26 Canton-Hong Kong strike 1941: 1949: 1956 riots 1966 riots 1967 riots 1981 riots 1997- July 1 marches 2003 protests against Basic Law article 23 2005 protest for democracy 2009-10 Hong Kong Express Rail Link controversy 2011 Free Ai Weiwei street art campaign 2011-12 Occupy Central Early 2012 protests 2013 dock strike 2014 class boycott […]

A provincial capital in China, 1910-53

March 14 2014

“The year was 1910. The scene was a provincial capital in the heart of China. The city was over 2,000 years old and was proud of its history and its conservatism. Around it was an ancient wall mounted with obsolete cannon. It was criss-crossed with narrow streets which in the day-time were thronged, were redolent […]

High Baedeker and other matters

February 20 2014

“Singapore is the meeting place of many races. The Malays, though natives of the soil, dwell uneasily in towns, and are few; and it is the Chinese, supple, alert and industrious, who throng the streets; the dark-skinned Tamils walk on their silent, naked feet, as though they were but brief sojourners in a strange land, […]

San Francisco

September 2 2013

Spanish mission, New Spain, Mexico, US, 1776-. Mexican-American War, Alta California to US, 1846-48. Gold rush, making of San Francisco, 1848-55. San Francisco Examiner, 1863-. San Francisco Chronicle, 1865-. Lurid portrayal of Barbary Coast, “curse-mark on San Francisco’s brow”, in BE Lloyd, Lights and Shades of San Francisco, San Francisco, AL Bancroft, 1876. A Trip […]

The Grand Hotel in Yokohama

August 17 2013

“One afternoon I was sitting in the lounge of the Grand Hotel. This was before the earthquake and they had leather arm-chairs there. From the windows you had a spacious view of the harbour with its crowded traffic. There were great liners on their way to Vancouver and San Francisco or to Europe by way […]


August 15 2013

Chinatowns Chinatowns in Africa Chinatowns in Asia Chinatowns in Australia Chinatowns in Canada Chinatowns in Europe Chinatowns in Latin America Chinatowns in the Middle East, but are any real? Chinatowns in Oceania Chinatowns in the United States Oldest. Anywhere: Manila. In Japan: Nagasaki. In Americas: Mexico City. In US: San Francisco. In Canada: Victoria. In […]

La law

January 10 2013

Crime in Singapore is strictly forbidden.

Delhi Noir

January 9 2013

Akashic Books (New York) publishes the grim Delhi Noir, new stories by: Irwin Allan Sealy, Omair Ahmad, Radhika Jha, Ruchir Joshi, Nalinaksha Bhattacharya, Meera Nair, Siddharth Chowdhury, Mohan Sikka, Palash Krishna Mehrotra, Hartosh Singh Bal, Hirsh Sawhney, Tabish Khair, Uday Prakash, Manjula Padmanabhan. All, as far as I can see, written in English except the one by Uday […]

Pax Technologica

September 17 2012

Evgeny Morozov’s enjoyable demolition of Parag Khanna reminds us how good the Russian education system (and here) is or was. Morozov was born in Soligorsk in Belarus and, judging by his accent, spent much of his life there. He’s in his late twenties. “The new pamphlet [Hybrid Reality] – it would be too strong, and not only quantitatively, […]

Modern towns

June 24 2011

Tyler Brûlé recently. Excessive veneration of social media by entities such as the BBC and the World Economic Forum: “Why should it be only Facebook and Twitter that get namechecked as vehicles where people make statements or do stupid things? Why should all things digital get so much attention? What happened to people just ‘making […]

Davos 2011: Saturday/Sunday

January 26 2011

Davos 2011: Tuesday/Wednesday Davos 2011: Thursday Davos 2011: Friday Saturday, January 29 193: American Leadership: A Bipartisan Perspective With a Republican-led Congress and a Democratic-led White House, what global issues will benefit from bipartisan support and American leadership? The following dimensions will be addressed: – Impact of fiscal austerity on foreign affairs – Bipartisan international […]

Davos 2011: Friday

January 25 2011

Davos 2011: Tuesday/Wednesday Davos 2011: Thursday Only a few of these are plenaries. Sessions with lunches and dinners, some around a single table, used to be, I assume still are, deployed across a dozen or more hotels. Working out how to get to them was either part of the fun of Davos or a waste […]

Davos 2011: Thursday

January 24 2011

Davos 2011: Tuesday/Wednesday There is still no publicly-accessible programme on the WEF site. More of what part of the world was thinking about in January 2011, using the sometimes erratic session numbering in participants’ materials and including lunches and dinners and sessions open to the media: Thursday, January 27 57: Nurturing Africa’s Natural Resources From […]

Davos 2011: Tuesday/Wednesday

January 23 2011

The programme day-by-day of the 2011 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos – or Davos-Klosters, as it became in 2008. Title: Shared Norms for the New Reality. Will the new Congress Centre have the intimacy of the old? The WEF’s otherwise vastly improved website is not showing the full programme. Strangely, it is accessible […]

The Indian Penal Code

July 23 2010

Macaulay, in India from 1834 to ’38 as a member of the Supreme Council of the East India Company, reformed the Indian educational system, with the intention of creating a class of anglicised Indians, and chaired the First Law Commission which began to draft a universal code of criminal law for the colony. The Indian […]

Mud, concrete and obsolete comparisons

March 8 2010

1964, first half, and harking back to an ancient world view: [In] Old Massawah [in Eritrea] […] one is in the Oceanic world of Zanzibar and Maskat and Bahrain and Singapore. 1964, first half, and equally strange now: The city that Kano recalled to my mind was Riyadh, the capital of Sa’udi Arabia […]. In […]

Spirit of Davos

February 2 2010

Lance Knobel defends the WEF here and here, denying that Davos is painted “in the style of George Grosz or Otto Dix”. (Kirchner, perhaps?) This was always a naïve way of looking at it, but the “rich man’s club” epithet still gets used. I can well understand people who stay away because they would rather […]

Lee Kuan Yew

January 29 2010

Who was the most impressive person I met at Davos in the years when I was there, in the small capacity of a contractor? I won’t answer that here, but Lee Kuan Yew is a runner-up. Why would the head of an oppressive Chinese Hakka emigré family clan have that position? Well, his achievement was […]

The Oceanic world

January 12 2010

In 1965, the year Singapore was expelled from Malaysia, it was still just possible to put Singapore and Massawa into the same bracket. Massawa is on an island in the Red Sea. It was the capital of the Italian colony of Eritrea from 1890 to 1900, before Asmara. Old Massawah is unmistakably Arab. There are […]

Amritsar and Lahore

November 14 2009

Minnesotan reader, imagine, if you can, that the perversity of human nature has split your splendid state in two, by driving an international frontier in between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Imagine that every Catholic in the United States, north-west of that outrageous line, has had to flee for his life, leaving home, job and professions […]

Refworld and UNHCR 2

April 19 2009

Refworld and UNHCR Refworld A-Z index: A Abduction Abkhazians Aborigine Abuse of psychiatry Access to procedures Access to water Accession Acehnese Acholi Action for the Rights of Children (Publisher) Acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Acts of persecution Adaptation Adivasis Administration of justice Administrative courts Administrative law Admissibility criteria Admission […]


December 9 2008

Melvyn Tan is the most famous person in the world who does not have a Wikipedia entry, and the only world-class western-classical performing artist to have come out of Southeast Asia. And a minor Singapore dissident. He came to study in London in the ’70s and for years could not go back because he would […]

Small fishing villages

July 3 2008

Some cities are in such obvious places now that it’s hard to believe that they were once “small fishing villages”. Was there no major city at the mouth of the Indus before the British conquered Sindh? There wasn’t, even though the Greeks had established a settlement there. Wikipedia calls the pre-British site “a fishing settlement”. […]

Hong Kong

June 16 2008

Wikimedia Commons (image may be used subject to conditions with attribution to David Iliff) I’ve added links to clips on Hong Kong in 1953 to yesterday’s post. The films offer a view of Hong Kong past, the colony that was built until 1975 around a cricket field. Above, from the Peak: Central, and the harbour […]

Old East Asia: films of Michael Rogge

June 15 2008

Loggia, arcade and shophouse Michael IJsbrand Cornelius Rogge (IJsbrand is written like that: IJ is a Dutch vowel) left Holland in 1949, at the age of 20, to work for the Nederlandsch-Indische Handelsbank in Hong Kong. He spent six years in Hong Kong and moved to Japan, where he lived from 1955 to 1960. In […]

Gardens of intelligence

May 19 2008

There were private menageries, if not public zoos, in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. In China, they existed from the Shang dynasty, the beginning of Chinese civilisation in the Yellow River basin. Wen Wang, founder of the Zhou, built the first well-known animal reserve. According to Wikipedia, Wen called it “Lingyou, commonly referred to as […]


May 17 2008

The population of the world’s wildlife declined by 27% between 1970 and 2005. That is the headline. It refers to the average drop in the size of the populations of about 1,500 animal species that have been tracked by the Zoological Society of London for the WWF, which was once called the World Wildlife Fund […]

Nepal and New Zealand

January 11 2008

Edmund Hillary, I suppose (after Wilfred Thesiger died), was the last of the “British” explorers in the old tradition. Hillary and Tenzing took their place with Scott of the Antarctic. Thesiger never quite made it into the popular imagination. Hillary didn’t care whether he or Tenzing Norgay had trodden onto the summit first. Tenzing much […]

A rough guide to British Malaya

September 13 2007

The British were in Malaya from 1786 to 1963. In the former year, the British East India Company established Georgetown on Penang, which belonged to the Sultan of Kedah. In the latter, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah joined independent Malaysia. If you count Brunei, they were in Malaya from 1786 to 1984. The first Europeans on […]