Saturday, April 20, 2019

Nicholas Walton's "Singapore, Singapura"

Nicholas Walton is a journalist and writer. He is from Newcastle but has lived all over Europe and beyond. He now lives in Delft, in the Netherlands, and works at the European office of the World Resources Institute.

Walton applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Singapore, Singapura: From Miracle to Complacency, and reported the following:
My foolproof guide to writing a book is to write the book that you wanted to read but couldn’t find. When I flew into my new life in Singapore I faced bookshelves of books that I didn’t want to read about the place. There were romantic bodice-rippers about Sir Stamford Raffles, forensic accounts of government public spending priorities, glamorous guides to the infinity pools and boutiques, and lots telling the story of how the Japanese had captured the place back in 1942.

What there wasn’t was a book that lifted the lid on perhaps the world’s most astonishing country and explained how, why and what next, while entertaining and engaging page after page.

Think about it this way: almost exactly 200 years ago Raffles stood on the shores of a muddy island with a few hundred fishermen on it. He thought it was ideal for Britain and the East India Company, and he was right. It had few natural resources, was too hot, but was in a spectacular place, a pinch point between the Indian Ocean and East Asia. Singapore thrived.

Then, in 1965, the place became independent, and this tiny, unlikely equatorial dot became even more wildly successful. Its income is up there with the world’s best, and it’s world class in everything from education to crime.

How? Why? What next? Well, now there’s a book on that, knitted together into a single-day, 33 mile sweaty hike from one end to the next. This allowed me to tell the stories, speak to the people, ask the questions, and lift the hood and have a poke about in Singapore’s engine.

It’s a remarkable story, from government-designed communities to chewing gum bans, permits for table-top dancing, and the life-lessons of a teenage Singaporean skinhead. It explains Singapore, and explains why the future may not be quite as golden as the present.

It is, in short, the book that I wanted to read when I first arrived on the curious island, 20 miles north of the equator. So is that obvious from flicking through and finding page 99? No. In my book that page is simply another jaunt through the British imperial humiliation at the hands of the Japanese. I’m not sure I agree with Ford Madox Ford
Visit Nicholas Walton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue