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The aphorism “Distance lends enchantment” has a certain ring of truth: when I look back from the distance of almost 60 years, my life in the former British Crown Colony of Singapore seems like a fairy tale.  The passage of six decades, of course, obscures past disappointments and discomforts so that only the good memories remain—and they are many, indeed.

I first heard of Singapore when my mother went to the post office in the small Texas town where we lived to mail a parcel to my father.  The postal clerk refused to accept the package, telling my mother “There isn’t no such place.”  Defeated, she returned home with the parcel; I can only suppose she packed it in the luggage we brought with us on the ship.  

It was April 1952 when my mother, my younger sister Mary, and I arrived in Singapore to join my father.  I was eight years old, a highly impressionable age; my sister Mary, five.  My father was assigned the position of military attaché at what was then the American Consulate--in those days, Singapore was part of Malaya.  

Singapore’s history begins with its founding by Sir Stamford Raffles.  For almost a century it was an entrepôt port—that is, a port where goods could be imported and exported without customs duty being paid. The name “Singapore” derives from two Sanskrit words, singa pura, meaning “lion city.” (We saw no lions outside of zoos when we there, but once a tiger swam the Straits between the Malay Peninsula and the island of Singapore and terrorized the villagers in the kampongs [native settlements] for a time until it was caught and shot.)

My sister and I soon grew to love our new home, from the blue waters lapping Collyer Quay to the impressive St. Andrew’s Cathedral built of grey stone, standing in its carefully tended square of green common. We were enchanted by the monkeys swinging from tree to tree in the Botanic Gardens, and sometimes traffic slowed as a procession of elephants made its stately way down the street.  Sometimes my mother met her friends for morning coffee at the Adelphi Hotel and would take Mary and me along.  It was always a treat to partake of the delicious pastries in the hotel dining room with its red plush seats and dark paneling.

In monsoon season the rains were so heavy that The Straits Times published photographs of cyclists riding through waist-high water in the flooded streets.  The Times also carried short accounts of shopkeepers who had shot and killed pythons of various lengths—anywhere from 10 to 14 feet—outside their shops.  The pythons liked to feast on the rats that are an inescapable part of any wharf environment.

However, the only snakes we saw, as a rule, were those kept by the “gully-gully men,” the snake charmers who frequented Change Alley, a raucous, exciting marketplace full of Chinese, Indian, and Malayan vendors purveying everything under the sun.  At the time Singapore’s population was 70 percent Chinese, with the remainder made up of Malays, Indians, and Europeans.  Our grocer, Chop Chin Bee, had a tiny store on Orchard Road, a thoroughfare that always intrigued Mary and me.  On the way to Chin Bee’s, we passed such establishments as Bata Shoes, Cold Storage, Robinson’s Department Store, and many advertisements for Cow & Gate powdered milk.

Inside the store Chop Chin Bee would smile indulgently as my sister and I helped ourselves to the amazing array of British sweets:  Fry’s penny chocolate bars, Rowntree’s Fruit Gums, McIntosh toffee, and tin boxes of Cadbury’s Milk Tray, a chocolate assortment we loved.  No doubt Chin Bee busily kept track of our consumption as he took my mother’s order for flour, sugar, and other staples.

My family lived in Braddell Heights, a housing area of stucco bungalows lining streets that all carried English names: we lived at No. 8, Cotswold Close. Our landlord was an Indian gentleman named Chidarambaram, a name so complicated his tenants simply addressed him as “Mr. Chid.”  He wore western clothes but his very attractive wife always wore a sari.  They had a disconcerting habit of calling on their tenants just as dinner was being served.

 Two servants came with the house—a Chinese amah, who did all the housework and some of the cooking, if asked, and a Malay kebun (pronounced “kee-BOON”) who did the gardening. Our house had three bedrooms, one of which was used as my father’s study, a “lounge,” as the British called the living room, a dining room, and a kitchen.  The amah’s room and bath was off the kitchen. There was a carport without a car, although my father later acquired a jeep for transportation.  One curious fact about the house was that there were no wire screens:  they would soon have rotted in Singapore’s hot, humid climate.  My sister and I slept under snowy mosquito nets.  During the day the nets were piled into a rectangular wooden frame suspended above each bed; at night they were let down and tucked under the mattresses, all the way around. Our parents’ bedroom had a window unit air conditioner, but a ceiling fan cooled our room.

We soon became accustomed to the fact that the radio, or “wireless,” as our British friends referred to it, broadcast only a few hours a day in English.  The rest of the broadcasts were in Malay or Chinese.  One thing we never got used to, however, was electricity rationing.  Although The Straits Times supposedly published the days and hours when each area of Singapore would forego electricity, the power plant sometimes ignored the schedule.  At any time of the day shrieks might resound up and down Cotswold Close as people were interrupted in the middle of some chore or other that required power.  In the meantime my mother, a country-bred Texas girl who was nothing if not resourceful, cooked our meals on a charcoal brazier in the carport.

Our kebun spent his mornings working for another family and his afternoons working for us.  I still remember the archway he constructed in front of the terrace that led to the entryway of our house.  He planted a moonflower vine that crawled over the arch, its silky white flowers opening only in the tropical moonlight.  

But for me the most evocative scent of a Singapore evening is that of frangipani.  It came in two colors, a mottled pale purple with deeper color toward the center, or white, with a golden center.  To this day when I smell frangipani it brings back memories of my childhood.

The kebun also planted a bush or two of chili peppers. For some reason my sister and Mary and I simply could not restrain ourselves from sampling the powerful red chilis, and would run howling, with tears streaming down our faces, to our mother so she could take away the pain.

Once he planted a papaya tree right outside our dining room window.  It was a salutary experience to be able to open the dining room shutters, lean out unimpeded by wire screens, and cut off a ripe papaya.  And such a fruit!  I’ve never tasted better papaya before or since.  It looked like a long, oval honeydew melon, but when cut open, the tender flesh was pale coral and the flavor sweet and delicate.

There were other strange fruits:  I don’t remember eating mango or pineapple in Singapore, but there was a lot of yellow, citrusy-tart flavored starfruit; funny-looking rambutans, shaped like small red eggs with sharp spines sticking out, but revealing sweet, white, jelly-like flesh when opened; pomelo, which looked like a huge, pear-shaped grapefruit but was dark green outside and had pale green citrus sections inside; and small, sweet bananas, only as long as a grown-up’s fingers.  One fruit we never ate was durian, a fruit much beloved by the Malay population, but which my mother described as tasting like “creamed, rotten onions.”

One might think that our neighborhood was like any suburban neighborhood:  nice, but rather dull.  Not in Singapore!  All day the Chinese vendors, balancing a pole across their shoulders with a pot hanging from each end, would trot down the road, crying their wares.  The gully-gully men would appear, begging for the privilege of putting on a show for the children, and we would watch from a safe distance as they squatted to play their pipes, swaying from side to side as the cobras, with hoods spread, swayed with them.  

Nor was the neighborhood particularly silent during the day, when from time to time the noise of a Chinese funeral would rend the air as the vehicles proceeded down the road.  “Why do they make so much noise?” I asked my mother.  “The gongs and drums keep the evil spirits away,” she told me.

We played with the Pakistani children across the street, our English friend from Dunsfold Drive, and with a Chinese slave girl.  She was owned by two families, working for one in the morning and one in the evening.  Sometimes, on her way from one house to the other, she would stop and join our games.  She was about 11, a little older than I.

Social life for my parents was based on “clubs.”  There were the Swiss Club, Dutch Club, German club, and so on. My parents’ closest friends were ex-RAF pilots that now flew for Malayan Airways.  My mother made many friends in the international community and for a while served as president of the International Women’s Club.

Politics did not affect our daily lives very much, except when we traveled with friends from Singapore to see the Sultan’s zoo at Johore Bahru.  This was a time of guerrilla warfare, when the Communists were fighting hard in Malaya.  They were known to ambush the cars of Europeans occasionally and take people hostage, so a trip to Johore was always a time of nail-biting anxiety.

Fighting was going on in French Indochina as well.  Years later my father recounted how he and my mother sat tensely by the radio one day to hear the announcer say slowly:  “Dien Bien Phu has fallen.”  No one had expected the Communists to come through the jungles of what is now Viet Nam.

My sister and I, however, were too young to know about such things, or what the Japanese troops had done in Malaya in general and Singapore in particular.  To us, “Changi” meant “Changi Beach,” not a dreaded prison. We went swimming at Changi Beach or Tanamerah Beach, or at the Tanglin Club.

During the day we attended Dean’s School, a semiprivate school for the children of the international community. (This was years before the American School was built in Singapore.)  I was considered “backward” because at age eight I didn’t know the times tables.  I was therefore put into the “babies’ class” until I learned them.  To this day I can close my eyes and remember the chanting:

    “Seven nines are sixty-three,
    Seven tens are seventy.
    Seven elevens are seventy-seven,
    Seven twelves are eighty-four.”

As soon as I mastered all twelve times tables, I was promoted to my proper age group.  Back home in the USA, my aunt Dorothy proudly wrote my mother that her daughter, the same age as I, had just learned her three times table.

In those waning days of the British Empire, Dean’s School followed a traditional pattern.  Children attended classes there until the age of 10, when they might be dispatched to boarding school in Penang, on the Malay Peninsula, or they might stay until age 12, at which time they were sent home to boarding school in England.  It is a curious difference between British and American culture that whereas in the USA, sending one’s children to boarding school is considered to be one degree worse than murder, in England it is considered proof of the deepest parental devotion:  parents will forego new clothes, vacations (“holidays”), and even cars in order to send their children to the right school, to acquire the right accent.  This can make all the difference to a child’s future life and earnings.

This may not be true nowadays, but it certainly was in the 1950s.  Nor was our curriculum anything like that of an American school.  English, for example, was divided into many different segments:  reading, composition, dictation, spelling, English grammar, fundamental English, and parsing.  We learned French, mathematics, art, and two different kinds of English history—the kind with dates and the kind I liked better, which consisted of stories about famous people like Professor Owen, Elizabeth Fry, and Florence Nightingale.

Naturally, as this was a British school, we all wore uniforms.  Boys wore short-sleeved white shirts and navy blue shorts.  Girls wore blue gingham-checked dresses.  On my first day at Dean’s, my teacher, assisted by two student aides who were writing notes, asked me how many frocks I had.

“Flocks?” I repeated, bewildered.  “I don’t have any flocks.  I’m not a farmer!”

The girls went into gales of giggles and even the teacher chuckled.  “Not flocks, frocks,” she said.  “Dresses.  How many dresses do you have?”

She meant school uniform dresses.  She needed to know because all the students were divided into “houses.”  Red was “Chancery,” yellow was “Newton,” and green was “Balmoral.”  I was assigned to Balmoral, which meant that on the left side of my chest I wore a strip of colored tape sewn to the fabric of my school frock.

A perfect grade in any subject was rewarded with a star.  The teacher would scribble an asterisk-shaped symbol on one’s paper and duly note the achievement in her account book.  The student awarded the most stars in any one week was permitted to wear the “Top Badge” all the following week. Earning the top badge was considered an honor for one’s house. The most stars any child had ever won was 12; I won regularly until the week I won 14. Shortly after  that, I won 18 stars in one week.  The fact that I, a master sergeant’s daughter, outshone the performance of the colonel’s daughter all during my three years at Dean's, gave my father deep satisfaction.

Because the weather was so hot, we children only attended school from 9 until 1 most days.  On Tuesdays we stayed until 3 o’clock, doing crafts and playing netball.  But every other day our parents came to pick us up and take us home to tea.

Ah, tea.  The foundation of my lifelong love affair with tea began in Singapore.  Every afternoon at 4  the amah would come into the lounge bearing a tray with a teapot, cups, milk and sugar, and Crawford’s 4 o’clock Tea Biscuits.  There were Jammy Dodgers, custard creams, and my own favorite, Bourbon Creams. This last was a pair of rectangular chocolate cookies with a layer of chocolate filling between them.

We left Singapore to go back to the States in December 1954.  On our way home, during what was supposed to be an overnight stop in New Delhi, I suffered a ruptured appendix, which caused all sorts of complications for my poor father.  When we eventually arrived in the USA, the Army did not accept the fact of his child’s illness as an excuse for reporting late for duty.

From the sophistication of a British Crown Colony to the insularity of a very small town in Texas was a profound adjustment, one that was very difficult for me.  My Texas schoolmates and teachers disliked my pronounced British accent and felt that I was comparing Texas unfavorably with Singapore.  It was difficult to make friends, and just as I was beginning to adjust to an altogether different world, my family moved again, this time to Little Rock, Arkansas.  

For many years after we left Singapore I was occasionally assailed by sharp pangs of homesickness for the way of life I had grown to love, and for the place itself—the Chinese faces, the scents—yes, I even missed the acrid odor of a lorry loaded with sheets of latex—and the sights.  When we visited Cairns in the late 1990s, I was swept by a wave of nostalgia, it was so similar in some ways to the Singapore I had known: the fields of green sugar cane swaying in the breeze; the palm trees towering over the stucco bungalows ranged in tidy rows in the little beach towns we passed traveling from Cairns to Fort Douglas; the tropical vegetation, and the heat.  

I wish I could go back to Singapore one day, even though I know Change Alley will have changed beyond all recognition and the Ten Courts of Hell exhibit at Haw Par Villa will have lost its power to terrify.  The shops I knew and loved will have disappeared, but the faint fragrance of frangipani will still scent the night air, and monkeys will still chatter in the trees of the Botanic Gardens.

Originally posted to Diana in NoVa on Thu Jun 16, 2011 at 08:23 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Thank you (5+ / 0-)

      For this lovely diary and the strength, grace and clarity of your memories.

    •  Diana, kind of a late addition (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa

      to comments, but you might be interested in reading Noel Barber's A Sinister Twilight, on the fall of Singapore in 1942. Long out of print, but your local library could likely find a copy.

      Amount of federal money to National Public Radio in 2010: $2,700,000 / Amount to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University: $446,000,000 / Source -- Harper's Index, June 2011

      by Mnemosyne on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 05:47:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks, Mnemosyne! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        My sister Mary read this diary and got so fired up from the memories that she's been sending me URLs of the Changi Museum Web site.  She also just ordered Tenko, a TV series about the imprisonment of English, Dutch, and French women after the fall of Singapore in 1942.

        I'll have a look for A Sinister Twilight on Amazon or Abebooks.  Thanks for the heads up!

        "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

        by Diana in NoVa on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 06:20:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  "There isn't no such place" (10+ / 0-)

    Obviously the days before "Logistics, Inc." ;^)

    I imagine it would be hard to readjust to a place that didn't recognize the existence of the place you had just come from.

    Thanks for a lovely personal memory and story.  You might consider that as an additional tag.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Thu Jun 16, 2011 at 08:41:02 PM PDT

    •  I guess our geographical education (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, Matt Z, Tennessee Dave

      hasn't really fallen all that far.

      ...considering Singapore (the "Gibraltar of Asia") was a major battle in the rather large war only a decade before the story, and its fall to the Japanese in short order was truly world-shaking news at the time.

      I like lemurs -6.50, -4.82

      by roadbear on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 07:20:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  lovely remembrance, Diana (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gravlax, roadbear, Matt Z

    and one I'm marking to read tomorrow when I can give it more time.

    Going from Singapore to rural Texas, yikes!

    Amount of federal money to National Public Radio in 2010: $2,700,000 / Amount to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University: $446,000,000 / Source -- Harper's Index, June 2011

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Jun 16, 2011 at 08:58:58 PM PDT

    •  ...or rural Texas (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Tennessee Dave

      to Singapore.

      Living in Texas as  I do (though in Dallas, I am familiar with small towns, just not in the 1950s), and having visited Singapore in 1998, this is a very interesting remembrance.  In a very short visit, we went to the Zoo (at night), to one of the British WW II-era gunnery emplacements (supposedly pointed the wrong way), saw MILES of ships lined up to enter the harbor, ate spicy crab, visited a Hiindu temple, went to the spice market, drank a beer at Raffles, and ate at the food stalls with at least four kinds of cuisine available, and all of it wondeful.  Thanks for stirring my recollections.

      Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

      by tom 47 on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 01:26:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Uh, this is putting me in a state of melancholia. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dauphin, roadbear, Tennessee Dave

    Very well written. And it makes the Harry Potter novels look so much more realistic (yes, and unimportand side note, but I couldn't resist).

  •  Excellent diary... (5+ / 0-)

    I lived in Hong Kong for awhile and traveled occasionally to Singapore.  Reading this diary put me in another time and another place.  Thanks...

    Torture is illegal, immoral and violates every religious tradition.

    by Viceroy on Thu Jun 16, 2011 at 10:02:20 PM PDT

  •  today the impression one gets... (6+ / 0-) least from here, is that Singapore is a giant city, spotlessly clean and orderly and organized, but with no room for the kind of colorful swirling chaos you saw as a child.  

    One would hope that they've done away with the slavery and other involuntary servitude.  Children can be forgiven not knowing the absolute evil that lurks beneath the surface of something that is a casual part of everyday life, but adults are obligated to know and speak out and act.  

    Methinks your father was, at least in part, a spy, or something similar.  

    •  Singapore is a well ordered place and a major (5+ / 0-)

      Commercial center. But it is not perfect in any way. It probably easier for a 14 year old to get a prostitute than a pack of gum. Really.

      It exists at all because of bigotry in Malaysia I.e. Malaysia did not allow non Malay to be pm. Thus the Chinese split a small portion off. Nostalgia for any Brit empire is also misplaced. The torture and forced migration of Chinese and Indians to this colony was brutal as was the Brit treatment of the Malays.

      If... the machine of government... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. ~Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobediance, 1849

      by shigeru on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 03:50:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  When I asked my father what he did all day, (7+ / 0-)

      he said he looked at magazines.  He could never give a straight answer to anything!  However, to me it sounded like an improvement from his previous job as editor of the Stars and Stripes when we lived in Tokyo.  He told my sister and me that every day when he walked across the park to work, witches jumped out of the trees and snatched his brown paper bag of lunch.  They ripped open the bag, threw the bologna away, and escaped back into the trees with the bread.

      My sister and I were three and six at the time, and pretty much believed whatever Daddy told us.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 06:05:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "looked at magazines" = might have done OSI. (0+ / 0-)

        Open-Source Intel.

        Reading the non-classified literature and examining non-classified information, for intelligence purposes.  It's a major source of intel and in the US it is usually connected to the State Department (nowadays).  

        The output of OSI however, is classified, so people working in the field can't talk about what they do any more than people working from classified sources such as intercepted signals or codebreaking.  

  •  Thanks for sharing! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    roadbear, el dorado gal, Nulwee, Bluefin

    You have a great memory of many details. Quite interesting to me that you remember so much from that time. Greatly enjoyed reading and imagining the huge change from Texas.

  •  brings back memories (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    roadbear, chidmf, Matt Z, Nulwee, Xapulin

    of my childhood in Indonesia.  From one TCK to another, thank you for the lovely essay. :)

    I will be going back to Indonesia with my husband this fall for a short visit.  We'll be seeing some of the places where I grew up, including the campus of my elementary boarding school.  I fully expect it will be changed so much as to be disconcerting, but I'm still looking forward to the experience.  I hope someday your path will take you back to Singapore.

  •  I loved this diary; thank you (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matt Z, el dorado gal, Nulwee, Bluefin

    My visit to Singapore came long, long after your stay there, but I enjoyed seeking out the parts of the old colony that still survive here and there amongst the gleaming new city.  I fell in love with the place despite the authoritarian government and the horribly oppressive heat and humidity (to a native Northwesterner, anyway!).

    The food, the cultural mélange, the history and the people all made a deep impression on me.  I can't wait to return someday.  I will save your diary as a reminder of what it was like and hopefully will be able to experience just a small part of it someday.

    I visited the small island of Pulau Ubin, in the Straits of Johore between Singapore and Malaysia, and felt that maybe there was a little bit of the old days left there in the tiny village with its kelongs and the beautiful tropical park.  Changi Chapel of infamous POW days is now a lovely small museum--though Changi Prison is still very much a going concern of the government there!

    Thank you so much again for such a well-written piece.

    I like lemurs -6.50, -4.82

    by roadbear on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 07:30:53 AM PDT

  •  What a beautiful story! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, roadbear

    I've been reading everything I can about contemporary China because my daughter is heading to Nanjing, China to teach English for the upcoming school year. She is hoping to tour as much of Asia as she can on her limited holiday time and budget. Your diary transported me to a world I wish she could stumble upon but with the tremendous changes underway, is gone forever.

  •  For all the times I've comes across your name (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    around these parts, still, never would I have guessed this was in your past.

    Incredible diary. Fascinating throughout.

    I lived with a Singaporean recently. Things are much changed there now. Probably not just for the worse. But you're not going to see wild elephants now.

    I notice that many recommends are given to the person who has a good answer, with hardly any given to the person who asks the right question. That is backwards to me; without that question, the good answer might never have come.

    by Nulwee on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 10:08:38 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for this (0+ / 0-)

    I spent three days in Singapore in 2004 and, as you might imagine, it seemed very different from what you describe.  As a nation created by colonialism it is in some ways more like Australia or Canada than its Asian neighbors (in other ways of course it is very different).  I read an article in the paper while I was there about the decline in the ability to speak Chinese properly.

    After leaving Singapore we spent several days in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo.  We spent a couple of those days touring with a Singaporean family.  I was very popular with the kids because I didn't take a nap in the afternoon like the other adults and would play chess with them.  The one thing I remember was that they took 'Malay culture' in school (the family was ethnically Chinese).

    "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

    by matching mole on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 12:48:51 PM PDT

  •  Sounds very British (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diana in NoVa

    Sounds like you could have gone to school in Britain. I've never heard of Crawfords 4 O'clock tea biscuits but Crawfords still make biscuits and all the other sweets and biscuits are still on sale today (I can't see a day when custard creams or Jammie Dodgers disappear)

    If you didn't know, Elizabeth Fry is currently on a British £5 note (it used to be Florence Nightingale!). I have no idea who on earth Professor Owen was though.

    Houses are a british tradition, ours were named Caxton, Scott (as in "Scott of the artic"), Marconi and Flemming.

    •  Professor Owen reformed the way factory (0+ / 0-)

      workers lived.  He built decent housing for them and schools for the children.  He was a really good man, just like Wilberforce.

      No, I didn't know Elizabeth Fry was on the five-pound note!  I'll have to see whether we have any English money left from our visit last August.  Thanks for letting me know about this.

      For Americans unfamiliar with Elizabeth Fry, she was an advocate of prison reform and tried to iimprove the awful conditions of British prisons in the 19th century.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 03:27:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Have you seen this movie yet Diana? (0+ / 0-)

    House of Harmony

    House of Harmony (German: Das Haus der Harmonie) is a S$7 million German-Singaporean telemovie. Jointly produced by 4 parties - Germany's FFP Media and ZDF Pictures, together with Singapore's Oak 3 Films and Media Development Authority (MDA), the telemovie was shot in three languages - English, German, and Mandarin.

    It is based on the novel Perfect Harmony by Barbara Wood

    Release date(s)    30 October 2005 (Germany)
    Running time    90 minutes (2 episodes each)
    Country    Singapore, Germany

    A lot of it/all? was filmed in Singapore, the setting is a bit before your time, the 20's. It's a great period piece, but kind of a hyperventilated chick flic.
     (and what I saw of it didn't seem too accurate, the vehicles seemed to be from the '40's and '50's, not the '20's IIRC).
    It may have even been the same hotel you mention, I looked at the German producers website (ZDF Films), couldn't find anything though.
    The distributor, Beta Films, has a House of Harmony page, but don't see any way to get a DVD, you can maybe stream it with a login.

    The saga of two extraordinary women who make heroic sacrifices for their unconditional love
    Singapore in the 1920s sets the stage for the dramatic romance between a young Asian woman and a married American industrialist. It is a love doomed by laws and tradition, but which yields a child, Harmony, who grows up in Singapore, where she learns the secrets of traditional herbal medicine.
    After finishing her studies, she goes to America and becomes a successful maker and distributor of herbal medicines. She also falls in love with her father's adopted son, but is reviled by the young man's racially and socially bigoted mother. Only after a number of turbulent events can the lovers overcome all barriers and finally be together…
    From its impressive locations to its gorgeous costumes and exclusive period furnishings, "The House of Harmony" breathes authenticity in every frame. A breathtakingly beautiful drama of love, heartbreak and sacrifice that spans two continents and two generations, it is based on a historical romance by best-selling U.S. author Barbara Wood.
    Admired for her meticulous historical research, Wood offers fascinating insights into past eras and exotic cultures in her novels, of which she has sold more than 15 million worldwide.

    Told you it was a chick flik.

    I saw it on PBSs' Spanish VME subchannel dubbed into Spanish.
    (they run a lot of good stuff there that you don't see on their English subchannels; damn it, I have hell trying to translate Italian/German/French/etc originals from Spanish dubbing into my English, everybody's a lipreader).

    "Double, double, toile and trouble; Fire burne, and Cauldron bubble... By the pricking of my Thumbes, Something wicked this way comes": Republicans Willkommen auf das Vierte Reich! Sie Angelegenheit nicht mehr.

    by Bluefin on Fri Jun 17, 2011 at 11:08:47 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for this, Bluefin! (0+ / 0-)

      As it happens, I read the book and enjoyed it.  Barbara Woods tells a good tale.  I'll send your comment to my sister, who is the movie aficionado in the family.  She'll be able to track it down.

      Take care!

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Sat Jun 18, 2011 at 04:58:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well, I've lived in S'pore for almost... (0+ / 0-)

    ...nine years now.  Much of what you wrote in your diary is either still here or is a shadow of its former self.  That's not too surprising given that cities change over time.  (I just got back from visiting the US, in which I visited my adopted hometown of Phoenix for the first time in 10 years and my childhood hometown in upstate NY for the first time in 24 years.  Of course the latter city has changed drastically over the years.)  Cotswold Close still exists as a street but, being so close to the CTE, the roar of the highway must create a different environment than what it was like in your neighborhood then.

    Let me know if you have any questions about the S'pore of today.

    Muslims and tigers and bears, oh my!

    by JDsg on Wed Jun 22, 2011 at 07:17:51 AM PDT

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