They came, saw and loved Singapore since colonial days

I refer to the 31 May 2014 Straits Times report “They came, they saw, they loved S’pore”

PM Lee read two unsolicited letters in parliament that sang praises of Singapore and LKY. One letter by an Italian woman, who accompanied her fiancé to the Youth Olympics 2010, expressed admiration for LKY and wished for an LKY to clean up Italian politics. Another, a Dane who studied at Insead Singapore, claimed that Singapore changed him as a person. Given the overwhelming slant of the public narrative post independence, it is no surprise that these visitors are none the wiser than the many Singaporeans indoctrinated all these years.

Yet, we mustn’t be fooled into thinking that the appreciation of Singapore by visitors is only a post independence phenomenon. Far from it, visitors have been mesmerized and inspired by Singapore since colonial days as these letters show:

• … I must admit that I consider Singapore a beautiful city and a marvelous place to live in. The certain something about it has got me – and it had got me already a few hours after my arrival … but having travelled over quite a big part of the Far East and visited many cities, I may be allowed to say that nowhere else have I found such an amount of helpfulness, of amiability and – last not least – of efficiency, as here.
And now, before saying good – bye to Singapore, shivering when I imagine my winterly arrival in Europe after a decade spent in the Far East, I consider it my duty to express my gratitude towards all those I have met during my stay in town.
And in spite of Singapore’s rain and heat and “Scotch and soda,” I shall always keep a lovely memory of a beautiful town, of decent people and of the most wonderful in my life.
[The Straits Times, 29 Jan 1949, page 9, Bouquet for Singapore, Prof. W.R. Reynolds]

• … the buildings and steamers were a magnificent sight. I proceeded along Collyer Quay, which leads through the commercial portions of the city, past the Esplanade, Singapore Cricket Club, Raffles Museum and several buildings to … Orchard Road. … I spent a fortnight in Singapore, thoroughly appreciating the enjoyment I had in this most charmingly situated island. There is a well-laid-out Botanical Garden in the suburbs of Tanglin some four miles from the heart of Singapore. The Raffles Museum may be described as a fine one … The Reservoir is a picturesque resort with its soft green-clad surroundings. Any visitor to the Lion City will never deny that he did not behold the effigy of the founder of that prosperous port. In the centre of the Esplanade, and in abbreviated pantaloons with folded arms, stands Sir Stamford Raffles facing the harbour. The late Sir Stamford Raffles’ reputation is lively brought before all residents and visitors. Museum, Library, School, Hotel, Square and Reclamation Ground, etc., commence with the renowned word “Raffles.” The grand views at Tanjong Katong, the Brighton of Singapore a few miles out, with its pretty sky and the cool inviting sea are the spot for holidaying. It is a lovely resort to delight the eye that see, and the heart that can appreciate beauty. The features of the place, indeed, are sufficient to excite interest and attention. N’oubliez pas of its beauty said my friend to me one day on our way home from Tanjong Katong. In this flourishing settlement one can find places that are most enchanting and comfortable, and the writer had availed himself and had carpe diem during his sojourn.
[Weekly Sun, 4 February 1911, Page 4, THE FAR EAST AN IMPRESSION, Lee Yen Fat]

• A leading Australian tourist travel expert marvelled at Singapore’s great potentialities of becoming a “focal point of world tourism.” Miss Bettie M. Chisholm, an Australian National Air-ways tourist bureau chief said … I never knew what a wonderful place Singapore was. It simply spells glamour,” she said.
[The Singapore Free Press, 26 March 1957, Page 2, This city spells glamour’, Singapore as a ‘must’ for aussies]

• I am sure that nobody who has not actually visited Malaya can possibly realize what a perfectly, beautiful country this is. That is typical of the enthusiasm expressed by the majority of tourists one meets out here and of whom there are all too few.
[The Straits Times, 20 January 1954, Page 6, TELL WORLD ABOUT BEAUTY OF MALAYA, W.G.C Blunn]

• Of Malaya, he holds a very high opinion, finding it a bright, clean, prosperous and pleasant land compared with other countries of the East, with roads as admirable for the pedestrian as motor-owners have found them for driving. He has seen no such roads in any other part of his Eastern tour and few to compare with them elsewhere.
[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 25 April 1928, Page 6, THE SINGING SOLDIER, An Interesting traveller of many lands, High Praise for Malaya]

• … He told the Straits Times: “I have never seen such wonderful blocks of flats, I have never seen such clean-looking, obviously prosperous people anywhere in the tropics in my life” … “Here, everybody seems to be freshly laundered” … The S.I.T. flats, which he toured yesterday, “staggered him.” … “People in Liverpool where we consider ourselves to be in the forefront of town planning and slum clearance, would fight to get an S.I.T flat in one of the new blocks I saw to-day.
[The Straits Times, 10 June 1952, Page 5, He is all praise for SIT homes]

• The S.I.T should be congratulated for developing Queenstown into a beautiful estate which was once covered with shrubs and graveyards. Queenstown should now be considered a model housing estate for Singapore. It has the highest building, schools, markets, good roads and plenty of playing grounds for children and very good flats.
[The Straits Times, 8 September 1956, Page 12, A SLUM IN THE MAKING]

• … I must say that telephone communication in this part of the world is second to none. I personally has found both in the Federation and in Singapore a willing courtesy and helpfulness that I am sure will be difficult to surpass anywhere in the world
[The Straits Times, 8 August 1958, Page 6, SERVICE SECOND TO NONE, Singapore]

• As a British Serviceman fortunate enough to serve here in Singapore during his overseas tour, may I say how much I admire the community for its rapid economic and social recovery since 1945.
[The Straits Times, 8 September 1948, Page 4, A SERVICEMAN’S ADMIRATION, Nicholas Pollock]

• It was with very mixed feelings that I watched our ship approaching the coast of Singapore …
… I always enjoy driving along from Raffles Hotel to Collyer Quay. That view has not changed, specially if you look into the distance and not at the water’s edge! The ships are not looking as gay yet as in pre-war days, but they are there just the same, an ever-pleasant sight. The vast expanse of sky and sea and cloud effects are so beautiful.
Then, the other night, we heard an old friend, the Town Hall clock. It was good to hear that again. It is god too, to see the Cricket Club so clean and unchanged in its colour scheme. A happy landmark of pre-war Singapore.
I am struck too with the abundance of unrationed tinned goods. After the grim good conditions in England, I was quite speechless when I saw mountains of tins of food, fruit, vegetables, chickens, fish and meat in plenty in the market …
I have felt so often, since returning here, how thankful one should be to live in a country like this, full of sunshine and friendly people, and we should count our blessings because they are many.
[The Straits Times, 23 August 1946, Page 4, It Hasn’t Changed]

Thus, the admiration that visitors have for Singapore today is the admiration they have been having for us since colonial days, nothing’s changed. It is a legacy we proudly inherit from the British, not from LKY or the PAP.

The descriptions below reveal how the solid foundation upon which independent Singapore stands had been firmly established during colonial days and that our journey from a fishing village began with Sir Stamford Raffles:

• … I thank you, Members of the Centenary Committee, for giving me the honour and privilege of unveiling this tablet to the memory of Sir Stamford Raffles who, 100 years ago, with wonderful foresight, founded this Settlement, then a mangrove swamp with some 150 inhabitants … The tonnage that now enters this port yearly is over six million tons and the value of imports and exports in 1917 was 119 millions sterling. These figures show how Sir Stamford’s child has grown and they emphasize the extraordinary foresight of this truly great man.
[The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 6 February 1919, Page 94, THE GOVERNOR’S SPEECH]

• The great Scottish orientalist Dr. John Crawfurd, F. R. S,, who was appointed immediate successor to Colonel William Farquhar (Resident 1819 – 1823), as Governor of Singapore from 1823 to 1826, in his description of the life of Sir Stamford Raffles, wrote in 1856 the following lines:-
“In 1817, he (Raffles) was appointed to the Government of Bencoolen, with the title of Lieutenant – Governor. This poor Settlement, however, afforded no scope for his ambition and activity. He betook himself, therefore, to the study of natural history; made an enterprising journey into the interior of Sumatra, visiting a part of that great island which no European had ever seen before; and with the view of establishing a commercial emporium and free port in a convenient and central position, he proceeded to Bengal, and laid his scheme before the Marquess of Hastings. This gave rise to the establishment of Singapore in 1819, the most enduring monument of his reputation … for in his last visit to it in 1828, he saw a miserable village of piratical Malay fishermen already converted into a prosperous commercial community.”
[The Straits Times, 7 February 1941, Page 8, SINGAPORE’S FOUNDER – Sir Stamford Raffles and Col. Farquhar]

• Take for example, the man to whom we owe the possession of Singapore, the Gate of the Far East, a naval base of the utmost importance, a great commercial centre, and the most prosperous of all the British Crown Colonies – Sir Stamford Raffles.
[Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 22 January 1907, Page 3, BRITISH MALAYA’S PROSPERITY]

• Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, the Commissioner-General, last night proposed the toast at the banquet in the Victoria Memorial Hall in honour of the grant of the Royal Charter incorporating the town of Singapore as a city. And this is what he said:
I have the honour to propose a unique toast – “The City of Singapore.” Never before in history has it been proposed. Tonight for the first time it will be acclaimed by a great gathering of Singapore citizens, and your glad greeting to it will be echoed down the centuries by your children and your children’s children into countless generations.
This evening our thoughts naturally fly back to a day one hundred and thirty-two years ago, when the great Stamford Raffles landed here. In the words of a contemporary chronicler, … There were four or five little huts and six or seven coconut tress which had been planted there, and …… one house a little larger, but also built of atap, where the Temenggong lived.”
With his keen, far-seeing gaze Raffles strolled along the shore, soon afterwards to be name the Esplanade …
Singapore’s first historic stroke of luck, and one of its abiding glories, is that its founded happened to be a man whose clarity of vision and greatness of mind and spirit have never been surpassed in modern times. That morning Stamford Raffles dreamed all the fine things which have since come true in Singapore.
The first purpose of the new settlement was to promote trade between the islands of the surrounding archipelago and the countries of the world beyond. At once in 1819 Singapore began to fulfill that aim. Merchandise came flowing to it from all directions like a flood tide.
… Singapore became steadily one of the greatest commercial centres on earth, helping to uplift the standards of living of peoples not only in South East Asia, but also throughout the world.
Where there was on only, 132 years ago, a sandy beach and some windswept bushes, with a few small huts shaded by half a dozen coconut trees, there is now a myriad of streets with the homes of close on a million people, and large business houses and banks and streets of shops; and a City Hall and a Supreme Court and a University and a potential Parliament chamber; and Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines, composing all together a fair city which is the pride of its citizens and the envy of its neighbours.
[The Straits Times, 23 September 1951, Page 10, This new city is the envy of others’, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, the Commissioner-General]

Sir Stamford Raffles is our one and only founding father and creator of this magnificent city from a fishing village. Let us continue to build on his great legacy by adding to, not stealing from his illustrious history.

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One Response to “They came, saw and loved Singapore since colonial days”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    An excellent piece. Must have taken some perseverance. Congrats.

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