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Today's quote:

Sunday, February 14, 2021

All the mysteries of the East; all the comforts of the West

A crime thriller and (almost) a travelogue of Singapore in the 1970s


In any memoir it is usual for the first sentence to reveal as much as possible of your subject's nature by illustrating it in a vivid and memorable motto, and with my own first sentence now drawing to a finish I see I have failed to do this!"

What a start to another great book by Paul Theroux who is better known for his travel writing but who has in his 1973 novel Saint Jack combined his many travel experiences with the life of his fictitious character Jack Flowers, a pimp in Singapore, who tries to make money by setting up his own bordello, and clashes with Chinese triad members in the process.

The Singaporean authorities had already banned the book, so when the foreign production crew started work on the film adaptation in May and June 1978 on location in various places in Singapore, they created a fake synopsis for a film called "Jack of Hearts". After its release, it was banned in Singapore and Malaysia on January 17, 1980, "largely due to concerns that there would be excessive edits required to the scenes of nudity and some coarse language before it could be shown to a general audience". The ban was only lifted in March 2006.

Places featured in the film include the former Empress Place hawker centre (now demolished) and Bugis Street (now also redeveloped) which I remember so well from my first couple of visits to Singapore in 1975 when I was stationed in Rangoon in Burma. Later, when I revisited Singapore in the early 80s on business trips for my Saudi boss in Jeddah, I also stayed a few times at the Shangri-La Hotel on Orchard Road and twice at the famous Raffles Hotel - once for a whole fortnight over Christmas/New Year 1983 - both of which are depicted in the film exactly as they were then. The film brings back so many memories!

And while the film helped me to recall many visual memories, Paul Theroux's book did the same with his way with words, "Not one life - I had had many ... I was tranquil enough at last to kill myself - to toss myself into the harbor; but I changed my mind and decided to live for a hundred years. So my life was only half gone." Jack didn't kill himself, and neither did I, since we both decided to live for a hundred years.

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