Thursday, 17 December 2009

Decrepit Piles and Virgin Soldiers

This morning we awoke to heavy rain; a welcome respite from the irritating and oppressive heat of yesterday which had signalled its coming.

It is day two of a short Xmas holiday break and I have been catching up on some local history in the Queenstown library.

There is very little that is memorable about local Singaporean television. One significant, and possibly the only exception, was a series called Site and Sound, written and narrated by Singaporean Dr Julian Davison. The series traced the history of early Singapore through its architecture - the small bits that remain that is, for this is a country of constant urban renewal.

In the library I discovered two sender volumes by Julian Davison; One for the Road and its sequel An Eastern Port. Being contrary, I chose the latter and thoroughly recommend it.

Dr Julian Davison is the son of an architect and grew up in Singapore and Malaysia. At the age of nine he was sent to school in England, though his family home continued to be in Kuala Lumpur until his father retired in 1979. He completed a doctorate in 1988 based on a study of the headhunting rituals and associated oral literature of the Iban of Sarawak.

It is a book punctuated with anecdotes including snippets about the writer and former seafarer, Joseph Conrad's association with Singapore through his maritime adventures.

The chapter about the former Mitre Hotel and its seediness (it was a decrepit pile by the time we arrived in Singapore in 2006) in its later years is amusing, as is the revelation later in the book that a copy of The Virgin Soldiers by Leslie Thomas is hidden in the archive of the National Library but not made available to the general public.

Thomas's book describes the bawdiness of army life in Singapore at the time of the Malayan Emergency. The communist insurgency in Malaya was anything but funny and posed a serious threat to regional stability, although it did ultimately pave the way for the eventual withdrawal of the British from this part of the world and the independence of Malaysia and Singapore.

Many of the old British army bungalows are still in use and rented out to British and other expatriates who are undertaking 'tours of duty' in the Republic. They are airy buildings with echoes of a lifestyle that is long gone. One can almost imagine the punkah wallah sitting on the outside verandah.

No need for a punkah today; the weather is several degrees cooler with the rains.

1 comment:

Jolly Roger said...

Stop Press - Today I visited the National Museum has one exhibit has Julian Davison talking about his Ahmah