Friday, February 26, 2010

Biograhies and Memoirs: Singapore and Malaya

Over the last few months, we have received several biographies and memoirs that shed light on life as it used to be in Singapore and Malaya:
  • Dr Paglar: Everyman's Hero by Rex Shelley and Chen Fen. Dr Charles Joseph Pemberton Paglar (1894-1954), medical doctor, politician and humanitarian, cuts an enigmatic figure in history. His biography, the last publication of the nation's most famous chronicler of Eurasian life, the late Rex Shelley, was completed shortly before the author's death in 2009. Dr Paglar was born in Perak, Malaysia, the illegitimate son of an English planter and a local Indian woman. He spent his early years in an orphanage in Penang before his adoptive parents brought him to live in Malacca. He studied medicine in Singapore and worked for the government medical service. Controversy reared its ugly head during the Japanese Occupation when Dr Paglar was perceived as being a traitor for leading members of the Eurasian community to Bahau in Negri Sembilan, Malaya, where many perished. After the war, he was charged with treason for collaborating with the Japanese and detained at Outram Prison while awaiting trial. In the end, he was acquitted. Not allowing these vicissitudes to embitter him, Dr Paglar continued his humanitarian work after the war, becoming the patron or president of 50 organisations. His philanthropic works include setting up a Tamil school and contributing funds for a mosque in Punggol. To this day, older citizens fondly remember the free medical treatment willingly given, the house calls that went beyond the call of duty and the Paglars' open house to all. When he died, thousands crammed St Joseph's Church where his funeral was held, and people of all races lined the streets to pay their personal tribute as the cortege made its way to Bidadari Cemetery. He was remembered for his readiness to do anything he could to help the humble people, his warm-heartedness, and selflessly giving himself in service to others.
  • Merdeka and Much More: The Reminiscences of a Raffles Professor, 1953-67 by K. G. Tregonning. Professor K.G. Tregonning's anecdotal memoir of his years as a member of the Department of History in the University of Singapore, culminating as Raffles Professor, captures the mood and milieu of Singapore as the country emerged from colonial rule to become a self-governing independent nation. Arriving at the height of the Cold War, Tregonning was acutely conscious of the ongoing Malayan Emergency and of the political shifts taking place across Southeast Asia. He records meetings with a number of the region's leaders, and encounters with students and colleagues who would later feature in Singapore politics, or become leading figures in the academic world. The result is an engaging and very personal account of a university and a professional, political and social environment that is very different from that found in Singapore today.
  • Gedung Kuning: Memories of a Malay Childhood by Hidayah Amin. Gedung Kuning or the Yellow Mansion was home to the family of Haji Yusoff 'Tali Pinggang' from 1912 to 1999. It was acquired by the Singapore government in August 1999 under the Land Acquisition Act. What used to house six families is now preserved as a historic building under the Malay Heritage Centre. Hidayah Amin, one of Haji Yusoff's great-granddaughters, revisits her childhood home and takes readers beyond the gate guarded by stone eagles, through rooms with big mirrors and marble floors, and shares interesting anecdotes growing up in Gedung Kuning. Through 28 short stories, readers get a historical narrative detailing the lives of people living in Gedung Kuning and the Malays of Singapore from 1850s to 1999.
  • Raffles Legends And Stories by Roberto Pregarz. Standing, as Somerset Maugham once said for all the fables of the exotic East, Raffles Hotel in Singapore has always been an unique institution. The haunt of celebrities ranging from Hollywood stars to Heads of State, it has been the setting for innumerable films and television productions. Roberto Pregarz, who was the Assistant General Manager of Raffles Hotel from 1967 to 1972, and then the General Manager from 1972 to 1989, was instrumental in making Raffles Hotel one of the most famous hotel in the world. He worked closely with writers, journalists, broadcasters and film directors to tell the world the Raffles Hotel story. Now, in Raffles Legends and Stories, Roberto has written his own reminiscences of his time at the hotel. Originally published in 1990 as Memories of Raffles, this updated edition includes a short segment on the re-opening of Raffles Hotel in 1991 after a major restoration.

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