Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"Singapore - Crossroads of the East 1938"

I enjoyed this video.

A "tour of the British colony of Singapore in 1938" video footage in YouTube:

The narrator sounds "uppity" and stereotypically stiff-upper-lip British. He pronounced "Malay" as "May-Lay" (the way we say it sounds like "Mer-Lay", without the pronounced "r").

That was a time when Singapore was owned by the British Empire. "Singaporeans" came into existence only 27 years later.

When this part of the region was known as "The Far East" and "The Orient". Its inhabitants commonly referred to as "Orientals" and "Occidentals" (you hear that in the video).

Footage (at 1:50 min) shows bi-planes -- "the finest and most efficient air force in the Far East".

2:40 min - cloth covers for the vehicles "to protect motor cars against the direct days of the equatorial sun". Rarely practiced today, now that there are sheltered or underground carparks. Even cars parked in the open seldom do this.

Interesting scenes of old time Singapore -- coolies, rickshaw pullers, bullock carts.

Clothes hung out to dry on bamboo poles (still practiced today).

The Singapore river was still full of bumboats then (5:45min).

The policemen wore shorts in those days (lol -- local joke).

Coolies (6:30min) carrying sacks rice and other bundles on their shoulders and backs. I tried imagining doing this, 6 days a week (how many days did they work then?).


They have such lyrical and poetic way of narrative: the ending called Singapore "the mighty guardian in the East" (10:50 min).

That mighty guardian lost Singapore to the Japanese in 1942.

People like my father would have sung four National Anthems, in this order: God Save The Queen, Kimigayo, Negaraku and finally, Majulah Singapura.

Thanks to Ai Lin of Singapore Heritage, for the alert on that video.


  1. Thanks for the timeline. I noticed that the "modern air force" consisted of biplanes. The Japanese must have been laughing if they had seen this clip.

  2. Yeah, Kenneth. When I saw the biplanes, my first question was whether the Japanese Zero Fighter was already in production by then. And I think it was, since the Zero went into action right in the beginning of WWII, which was 4 years later.

  3. Hey that is one awesome vintage clip! If only someone can remember to screen that in 2038!

  4. I really marvel at the stamina of the coolies. The sacks are so heavy and yet they worked at breakneck pace plus they were walking at an incline. Life is really tough then.

    On a different matter. I find it hard to believe that this film is produced in 1938. The quality of this video is so good.

  5. If I were English in 1938 and had seen this film, without knowing anything about the weather and the mosquitos, I would think, what a comfortable place to live.

  6. Awesome isn't it to see SG in 1938? As I was watching the footage, I mentally gave thanks for the videographer who took down the scenes and for whoever it was who kept it in their archives for the future generation.

    I can't get over the fact that this was SG just 70 years ago. That's shorter than 1 lifetime and yet the transformation is so drastic.


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