Monday, 13 October 2014

A small piece of Japan in Singapore: the Japanese Cemetery Park


Japan's occupation of Singapore during World War Two is well known, but few know of the broader history of Japan's links with the city-state. A great way to understand these linkages is by visiting the Japanese Cemetery Park, located in Singapore's Yio Chu Kang area.


The cemetery, said to be the largest Japanese graveyard in Southeast Asia, contains 910 tombstones, including several of well known personalities. It cemetery was created in 1891 after three Japanese brothel owners obtained government permission to build a graveyard for destitute Japanese prostitutes or karayuki-san that were present in Singapore in large numbers between the years 1870 and 1920. Karayuki-san, which means 'going to China' or 'going overseas,' comprised the bulk of the Japanese population in Singapore between 1870 and 1920. One large section of the Cemetery houses the graves of many of these Japanese women.

Prior to the karayuki-san's arrival in Singapore came a Japanese gentleman sailor called Yamamoto Otokichi, also known as John Matthew Ottoson. In 1832, Otokichi was shipwrecked and finally landed on the shores of present day Oregon, United States. Following a circuitous and painful journey, which included becoming prisoner of a Native American tribe, Otokichi found himself working for British colonial authorities in Southeast Asia and China.

In the late 1840s, Otokichi took up residence in Singapore and stayed in the city until his death in 1867. Otokichi is regarded as the first Japanese resident of Singapore; an honor which led a delegation from his hometown in Mihama (Aichi Prefecture) to visit Singapore in 2005. The delegation collected a portion of his remains to his hometown for burial – arguably a homecoming late by 138 years.

The tomb housing a part of Otokichi's remains. 
The World War Two Syonan-to years are well represented in the Cemetery.

The Hinomoto guardian deity stands tall at the main entrance, reminding visitors of the 41 Japanese civilians who perished in Allied internment camps at Jurong while awaiting repatriation after Japan's surrender.

Also inside the Cemetery is a War Memorial dedicated to dead Japanese soldiers, including those who died as Allied prisoners of war in Singapore and Johor after the war as well as the 135 Japanese soldiers executed as War Criminals in Changi prison. However, pride of place within the Cemetery is given to Field Marshall Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in Southeast Asia. General Terauchi died in June 1946 at a prisoner of war camp in Johor, Malaysia.

In the years since the end of World War Two, Singapore's relations with Japan have improved progressively. From the opening of the first post-war Japanese business establishment in 1954, today's Singapore is a hub for many Japanese multinational corporations operating in Southeast Asia. Japan is one of Singapore's top ten trading partners, with total trade aggregating USD 48 billion in 2013 (compared to say Singapore's former colonial master, the United Kingdom, with which total trade totaled USD 14 billion in 2013). 

A structure with deities located near the park's entrance.
History helps shape nations and peoples. Yet there is also no reason to be held hostage by unpleasant historical events. A visit to the Japanese Cemetery Park in Singapore underscores the power of realistic progress, i.e. building the future without forgetting the past.
__________________
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange customized tours in Singapore, including tours of World War Two sites such as Changi Museum and the Japanese Cemetery Park, please contact Imran at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Progress, harmony and eco-tourism in Singapore


Singapore is well known as a modern metropolis – Southeast Asia's global city. Yet, few are aware Singapore also contains a genuine patch of rainforest within an otherwise highly developed concrete jungle. The 6.2 hectares of rainforest is located in the center of the city and is part of the original site of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG), founded in 1859, is Singapore's candidate for the country's first UNESCO listed World Heritage Site.

View of the Marina Bay area at night from Gardens by the Bay (East)
However, Singapore's underappreciated penchant for blending the old with the new is fully displayed at the newer Gardens by the Bay (GBTB). Opened in 2012, the GBTB are 101 hectares of intense pleasure, especially for nature lovers. The gardens contain two specialized greenhouses: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. (For those who simply wish to get out of the blazing Singapore sun or incessant rain, both domes are nice and cool – verging on cold!)

The Flower Dome, which contains nine different gardens such as the Succulent Garden and South American Garden, replicates cool and dry climate of the Mediterranean. Flowers from five different continents, i.e. Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania are on display inside the Flower Dome. The 1,000 year old Olive Tree is a standout! The Flower Dome even gets a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records 2015 as the largest columnless glass greenhouse in the world.  

The second greenhouse, the Cloud Forest, contains orchids, pitcher plants and ferns from the cool-moist mountains and other higher elevation tropical highlands (up to 2,000-metres above sea level). At a height of 35 meters, the Cloud Forest also contains the world's tallest indoor waterfall. The 'planted walls' on the 'mountain' inside the greenhouse provide a unique touch to the greenhouse.

A view of the Supertree Grove at night
The new, modern Singapore is clearly visible in the garden's Supertree Grove. Supertrees? These are 'trees' with a height of 25-50 meters (up to sixteen storeys) and create the forest 'canopy' structure for the gardens. At night, the Supertrees are tastefully lit up as part of a light and sound show.

GBTB are not just about flowers and plants. For many, the sight of a gigantic naked baby located in the park's Meadow is the highlight of any visit. Titled 'Planet,' the work was created by internationally acclaimed sculptor Marc Quinn and depicts Quinn's infant son. The statue – if one can call it that – appears to float above the grass. 'Planet' is one of over 40 works of art nestled within the Gardens by the Bay.

Marc Quinn's sculpture of a naked baby 'Planet' canbe found in the Meadow, Gardens by the Bay
For many, Singapore represents nothing but sleek, modern glass skyscrapers within a bustling urban environment. But the Little Red Dot is much more than a modern metropolis. For those who care to look, Singapore offers diverse experiences, including the city's 'contemporary' botanic gardens called Gardens by the Bay.
__________________
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange customized tours in Singapore, including tours of the Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay, please contact Imran at imran.ahmed.sg@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Imran Khan: don’t you have a province to govern?


As a cricketer, Imran Khan was a fine leader and brought cricketing glory to Pakistan in 1992. However, even during his World Cup victory speech it was clear what Imran Khan is about – himself! Imran's victory speech ignored Pakistani fans, the nation and his teammates. It only referred to his personal obsession and his career (watch the video from one minute onward to understand why I make the claim).


As a politician, Imran Khan has fared less well. For starters, it seems Imran's ego cannot accept losing Pakistan's 2013 general elections, particularly to a 'twice tried and failed' Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). After all, Imran Khan's Pakistan's Tehrik Insaf (PTI) party promised to rid the nation of corruption in 100 days; build a cricket pitch in each district; and, most importantly, was led by the only person who knows how to fix Pakistan, i.e. Imran Khan himself.

So maybe it was Imran's ego which led to the PTI's poorly timed (Pakistan's Independence Day – really?) and unsuccessfully executed 'Long March' from Lahore to Islamabad. Once the Long March fizzled out, the Prime Minister 'wannabe' decided to take his party deeper into the political wilderness. He has called for a civil disobedience movement  against the government by demanding Pakistanis stop paying utility bills, taxes, etc (Imran Khan: Pakistan's Martin Luther King, jr. in the nation's fight against an 'illegitimate' government?!).

The Pakistan Monument located in Islamabad, the nation's Capital city
Now the PTI has asked all its Parliamentarians to resign from the National and Provincial Assemblies. But wait, there's some fine print. No Parliamentarians need to resign from the Khyberpukhtoonkhwa (KPK) Provincial Assembly! I guess the polls were only rigged in the three provinces where the PTI did not win enough seats to form a government?

Imran Khan – hit the reset button and get with the national storyline! You can still salvage the PTI and yourself from the hole you have dug over the last few weeks.

Rescind calls for civil disobedience and move away from confrontation. Instead, start delivering on election promises through the PTI managed KPK provincial government. Focus energies on constructive and useful issues, e.g. spearhead the polio immunization campaign in KPK, champion female education in a province still sceptical of its benefits, etc. There are a thousand and one things in KPK which scream for attention and political will. Voters will naturally flock to the PTI once they see KPK effectively governed by the party.

The way to winning the Pakistani people is not through confrontational politics. It is through good governance. The people of KPK gave you an opportunity to showcase your party's effectiveness in governing. Don't squander the trust of the KPK electorate.
__________________
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Monday, 11 August 2014

Singapore: Asia's Little Red Dot and Economic Powerhouse

  • Since its independence in 1965, Singapore has become a global economic powerhouse.
  • With its 'entrepot' history, Singapore is a regional trading hub ranked as the 2nd most competitive country in the world.
  • Recently, Singapore has moved up the economic ladder into higher value added sectors, e.g. biotechnology and the biomedical industry.
  • Singapore's fiscal conservatism, ample FX reserves and solid legal infrastructure underscore the country's relative attractiveness within a fast growing region.
Read the full article, first published on Seeking Alpha on August 4, 2014, via this link: http://seekingalpha.com/article/2377295-singapore-asias-little-red-dot-and-economic-powerhouse 

Monday, 28 July 2014

An introduction to investing in the Arabian Gulf stock markets


Please click on the link to read my article on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) stock markets, published in Seeking Alpha on July 28, 2014: 





__________________
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The three keys to Singapore’s trading success: Boat, Clarke and Robertson Quays


The Singapore River is home to Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Best known for their watering holes and al fresco dining, the three quays are also replete with history. Not surprising really, as Singapore's history itself begins with the Singapore River.

A view of Boat Quay and the Singapore River around the turn of the 1900s.
Perhaps the oldest surviving relic of the island's earlier inhabitants, the curious slab of rock now known as the Singapore Stone, was found at the mouth of the 3.2 kilometer long Singapore River in 1819. The stone's location underscores the river's importance to Singapore's pre-colonial history.

The stone dates from the thirteenth century. The three meters tall and three meters wide Singapore Stone was inscribed with writings of an ancient script. Unfortunately, in 1843 the colonial authorities destroyed the stone before the writing could be deciphered by scholars. 

A fragment of the original Singapore Stone can be seen at the National Museum of Singapore. Note the script on the stone.
The Singapore River sets the foundation for Singapore's traditional 'entrepot' role within Southeast Asia. Artefacts excavated from Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill), Fort Canning Park today, point to extensive trading links between Temasek and the rest of the world. Singapore island was known as Temasek, meaning Sea Town in old Javanese, until it was renamed Singapura in the thirteenth century. Following their arrival in 1819, British colonial authorities simply formalized and extended Singapore's status as a free trading port.

Trade fed the emergence of Boat Quay as an area of warehouses and trading establishments. Populated with historical shophouses, Boat Quay is today a playground for Singaporeans, particularly relaxing professionals from the adjacent central business district (CBD). Yesterday's shophouses are today's bars and restaurants. Among its various attractions, the Boat Quay area contains the Old Parliament House, Raffles Landing site, the Cavenagh Bridge and the Asian Civilizations Museum.

With time and as Singapore's trading activities grew, Boat Quay was unable to handle the increasing traffic. Hence were born Clarke and Robertson Quays.

Clarke Quay is named after the second Governor of Singapore and the Straits Settlements (1873-5). Contemporary Clarke Quay houses some of Singapore's favourite nightspots. However, much of Clarke Quay's history can be found in the elegant River House mansion, the Read Bridge named after Scottish merchant William Read and Tan Tye Place, the historical location for pineapple canneries owned by Tan Tye.

The colorful Alkaff Bridge at Robertson Quay.
After Clarke Quay came Robertson Quay. Named after a municipal councillor, Robertson Quay is a mixed residential and commercial development. Consequently, the ambience in the area is slightly different from the preceding two riverside quay areas which are primarily commercial. Within Robertson Quay one can find the colourful Alkaff Bridge, the Singapore Repertory Theater and the Singapore Tyler Print Institute – along with many nice bars and restaurants.

Taking a stroll alongside the Singapore River is a pleasant experience. As is a river cruise or simply downing a few drinks while watching the world. Whatever you fancy, the Singapore River is a great place to begin exploring the island's history.

After all, the river is where it all began.
__________________
Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange any personalized tours in Singapore, including walking tours around the Singapore River and the Civic District, please contact Imran at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Reason, chance and resignation: an existentialist tour guide's opinion


"Your life is an incessant compromise, between an ultimately slight inclination towards revolt and anarchy, and your deeper impulses that direct you towards order, moral health, and I might also say, routine ... My dear old chap, look yourself in the face ... You have attained the age of reason, Mathieu.

"Pah!" said Mathieu, "Your age of reason is the age of resignation, and I've no use for it."

- excerpt from 'The Age of Reason' by Jean-Paul Sartre. Emphasis added by author.

I have often been accused of succumbing to routine in my life. Sticking to a schedule, visiting the same places, shying away from the new and unknown.

Routine makes our lives orderly and predictable. We all do it. Humans instinctively reduce stress caused by avoiding unknown situations.

But a life of routine is boring. Welcoming, even pursuing, new experiences potentially makes an otherwise drab existence exciting. Continually leading a life of novelty and there is always something to look forward towards. We never really know what might happen.  


Nonetheless, even in the most routine of lives, the element of randomness lurks menacingly, threatening to cause a disturbance to an otherwise usual existence. A chance encounter, an accident or winning the lottery all combine to make lives less routine. But such events may not happen frequently enough to add spice and create a more extraordinary life. Instead, we must chase these atypical experiences proactively to insert them into our lives.


All of us have some rebel inside our souls. Yes, we are not all destined to be Che Guevaras' but we can certainly allow some unorthodoxy to sprinkle our daily lives with adventure. For any individual, finding the correct balance between 'Order' and 'Anarchy' must be like reaching Buddhist Nirvana: the ultimate goal for any 'pseudo-rebellious yet pseudo-conservative' social animal!

Nurturing the rebel inside us may provide one path towards reaching this particular version of Nirvana. Even if we have reached the Age of Reason, there is never any reason for resignation. Life remains full of wonderful possibilities for the adventurous rebel.

_______________

Imran is a banker turned consultant turned tour guide. He presently resides in Singapore. Imran rambles incessantly about history while showing visitors around Singapore. Through his consulting, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com.