The French in Singapore: An Illustrated History (1819-Today) by Danièle Weiler and Maxime Pilon

I continue to be curious if and how “expats*” have historically enriched and informed the cities and countries in which they work and live. A few months ago, after viewing the Revere bell in the Singapore History Gallery, I left the National Museum of Singapore with another task to add to The List: learn more about ties that bind my country and my (albeit temporarily) adopted country together.

I just finished The Eagle In The Lion City: America, Americans, and Singapore by Jim Baker (Landmark Books, 2005). It’s a well-researched book that introduces readers to the many Americans who have made Singapore their home—from 18th century explorers to Methodist missionaries, from Cold War era CIA agents to present-day expatriates. However, the book was published in 2005 and seems a little outdated. Anyone know of an up-to-date book to add to my reading list?

o o o o o

This past weekend, the Singapore Heritage Society, along with the National Library Board and Editions Didier Millet, launched The French in Singapore: An Illustrated History (1819-Today) by Danièle Weiler and Maxime Pilon, a “companion” book of sorts.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, “As luxury companies storm Asia to soak up its rising wealth and sate a voracious appetite for their goods, a flood of French expats is arriving along with them, catering to the Asian nouveau riche with a savoir faire that is changing the face of the traditionally Anglo-Saxon communities in Hong Kong and Singapore… The French community in Hong Kong has grown more than 60 percent since 2006, and now numbers more than 10,000, according to the French consulate in the city. In Singapore, it has approximately doubled to more than 9,200 during the same period.”

So, the book is particularly timely as well. From the flap copy: “In 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore, he was accompanied by two French naturalists. Ever since, French missionaries, merchants, planters, and other pioneers have contributed to its economic, educational and cultural development [of Singapore]. Be inspired and entertained by the colourful stories of personalities, such as J. Casteleyns (who built the first hostelry, the Hotel de l’Europe, in 1857), Father Jean-Marie Beurel (who constructed the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and St Joseph’s Institution) and Alfred Clouët (who started the well-known Ayam Brand canned sardines business).”

I found The French in Singapore to be much more engaging and thoughtful than The Eagle In The Lion City. The book is amply illustrated with photographs, paintings, sketches, old documents, and maps, which delighted this visual reader. Though dense, it was eminently readable and I learned a lot of little-known history (to me, anyway) of the French in the Singapore.

* I use this word for lack of better one. It seems rather silly in this day and age of globalization, no?

One response

  1. Interesting, have to add that to my reading list! Actually locals still use “expat” on and off in our vocab. Perhaps 50-100 years down the road when the different cultures are more “evenly mixed”, there won’t be a use for the word anymore… hmmmm…. ^^