In preparation for our move to Singapore, I read novels, biographies, travelogues, and coffee table books about this city state. Many of the books that I read were by non-Singaporeans as that was what was available to me in the States.* I particularly enjoyed The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell and Saint Jack by Paul Theroux. (I’m a fan of Theroux. Saint Jack was not easy to find. And no, I haven’t seen the movie.)
I also read widely in a genre I’ll refer to, for lack of better term, as “Expat Books.”** It was then I discovered Neil Humphreys and his three best-selling books: Notes From an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island (2006).
Humphreys left Singapore for Australia shortly after the publication of Final Notes… and had no plans to return. However, he writes in the prologue of his new book, Return to a Sexy Island: Notes from a New Singapore, “I took out my old map of Singapore, the one that had accompanied me for my valedictory tour back in 2006… Curious, I compared my tattered former travel companion with the latest efforts from Google’s cartographers. The changes were breathtaking… I was examining two different maps—two different islands—less than a decade apart.”
In Return…, Humphreys visits only location that either didn’t exist during his last stay or had been extensively revamped in his absence. He, as I have, discovers Marina Barrage, the MINT museum, Henderson Waves, Bedok Reservoir, and Punggol Waterway, among other places. This—my Singapore—is Humphrey’s “new Singapore,” and his account of his quest is lively, witty, and honest. Humphrey’s portrayal of Singapore isn’t all shiny, sparkly, and shimmery, à la Marina Bay Sands. He questions the historical costs of economic progress and observes what is to be gained and lost in post-General Election 2011 Singapore. All in all, an easy, breezy, and funny read.
* I’m now working my way through books about or set in Singapore by Singaporeans. The local canon, as it were. A post for another day.
** Truth be told, I often think of adding a volume to this body of literature myself. Save for Six Degrees of Expatriation: Real Lives of Expats Unfolding in Singapore by Maida Pineda, I found few books by women. But this, too, is a post for another day.