Saturday, October 2, 2010

Singapore Books: The Singapore Story

I posted awhile back on some of the Singapore guidebooks that Bryan and I have used.  I thought I'd also share some other books about Singapore.  I've been working my way through a few of them, but I'd like to share this one first, since it's so comprehensive.

The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew was a little daunting at first- the book is several hundred pages long, and is pretty heavy on historical events.  I thought I might be easily bored by it, but I dug in anyway.  It turned out to be fascinating.  It starts with LKY (Singapore's future prime minister) as a child, and apparently he was a bit of a class clown in his younger days.  The image of him as a mischievous little boy was so at odds with the regal statesman that I picture now, that I couldn't help but laugh.  Reading  the tale of his falling in love with Choo, his future wife, was an endearing window into a different side of a man who I usually see as practical and no-nonsense.  LKY progressed as a man throughout the book- going off to England for college, braving the Japanese occupation of Singapore, working his first professional job at a law firm, and eventually getting interested in politics and forming the People's Action Party.  From there, he serves in several elected positions, always working toward a better, more stable Singapore.
Just as it was a little mind-boggling to try to think of LKY as a playful little boy or a doe-eyed young lover, it was equally bizarre to try to picture the Singapore that he described.  The Singapore I know is a modern country with hard-working, well-behaved citizens.  The country typically runs like a well-oiled machine- the MRT comes every few minutes, the recycling gets picked up regularly, and fines are doled out for minor parking offenses.  The Singapore of only a few decades ago was a far cry from this modern giant- the British colony had a crime problem, waste removal was non-existent, the waterways were hideously polluted and unusable, people were living in unsanitary conditions, and the races were divided both in terms of where they lived and how they thought the city should be run.  Throughout the book, Singapore develops along with LKY.  It's fascinating to think that a nation changed SO MUCH, all within the lifespan of a man, and largely due to his efforts.  The timeline of the book went up to 1965, when Singapore gained its independence.  Although it had just become an independent nation, much had changed already.  Singapore was no longer the same place that LKY had known as a child.

Where the first volume of LKY's memoirs left off, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 picks up.  Also written by Lee Kuan Yew, it tells the tale of Singapore's first 35 years of independence.  I haven't read it yet, but I'll share it with you when I do! 

(Update: Sadly, on the day that I posted this, Kwa Geok Choo, Lee Kuan Yew's wife, passed away at the age of 89.  She lived a long and full life, and managed to have her own successful career while still fulfilling the role of model political wife.  With her passing, Singapore certainly lost a piece of its history.

Bryan and I were having a laid-back day, watching Success Stories: Lee Kuan Yew, a video documentary of LKY's political life.  I was admiring Choo, who was in the video with him- even in their advanced age, they seemed so in love.  When the video was over, we came into the living room and turned on the TV, where we saw a news bulletin that she had passed away.  It was strange and sad timing).

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