Sunday, July 23, 2006

Heinlein on Singapore

It's strange to come across a description of your country from 40 years ago, from the pen of one of your favourite sci-fi authors:

"Singapore is like Hong Kong, only flat; one afternoon was enough. I had a drink in the old Raffles, another in the Adelphi, got rained on in the Great World amusement park, walked through Change Alley with a hand on my money ..."
- from Glory Road, Robert A. Heinlein

It goes on, and in much less flattering (but far more interesting) detail: this is Singapore in the '60s after all.

I remember the oddest conversation once in Pembrokeshire, in Wales, with a taxi driver who used to live in Singapore, about how he once found the hubcabs from his car in Change Alley and had to buy them back. This is clearly not the Change Alley of today - not when Heinlein could write (in 1963) "Singapore is one of the Seven Sinful Cities where anything may be had".

"Seven Sinful Cities"? People keep calling us a "nanny state", but it seems this nanny had a bit of a long-haired, wild-child youth before she sobered up and settled down.

(admittedly, Glory Road is a work of fiction, but Heinlein seems to write from personal experience. Great World Amusement Park? I still vaguely remember passing by the shell of the place as a child)

4 comments:

askgerard said...

Great World Amusement Park? I used to live next to the dang place!

said...

sorry - not relevant to the post but... my trackpad came back alive after a week!

and i've left your 50mm lens, southpark dvds (from neil for you) and the cat figurines (for K) with my friend who bought your car.

let me know if you want to get them. :-)

Tym said...

You might be interested in the fictional-or-is-it film Saint Jack then.

James Fulford said...

Heinlein wasn't exactly speaking from personal experience. He was in the Navy in the 1930's but never called at Singapore during his service. In 1953-4 he and his wife did visit Singapore, as described in his book TRAMP ROYALE.

Here's what he said about his visit:

"Singapore, one of the "Seven Sinful Ports," is probably the most fascinating city we saw all the way around the world ... even though we did not see much of the seamy underside which forms the basis for romantic fiction. No opium dens, no beautiful Eurasians held captive in international brothels, no sinister agents of Dr. Fu Manchu, or (much more probably) of Chou En Lai. All three of the above, plus a knife in the ribs in some dark alley, are (I feel sure) available in Singapore, but they do not come to the attention of middle-class couples traveling in each other's company and staying out of dark places."