Singapore: A Video Guide from 1957

My last post comparing Singapore’s growth trajectory to the narrative of Singapore as a “Third World” country garnered some fairly wide interest. And some pushback, of course. The most significant is the fair point that rankings of economic output do not tell us much about what it was like to live in Singapore at independence.

Courtesy of my friend and colleague Jeff Petersen at the Cornell library, here is some more evocative evidence. It’s a video made in 1957; I don’t know anything about it, but it looks like a Singapore sales pitch, probably by Malayan Airways, geared towards a Western audience.

The narration says it all.

At first, it looks like any other Eastern city. But if you’re used to Eastern cities, you’ll notice how clean this one is…
Here is the world in miniature, in a city proud to find room for so much, and taking its very character from the people it shelters…
Of all, perhaps, it’s a shopper’s paradise…a glittering showcase of exotic goods…
The major delight of such a cosmopolitan city is the food…

The continuity with contemporary Singapore is staggering.

Personally, I’m delighted to see these old images of Arab Street, Sree Maha Mariamman temple, and other familiar haunts.

Comments 4

  1. Ian March 25, 2015


    Thanks for the posts, which I find very helpful. In case you or others are interested, there is actually a pretty big collection of videos and images of pre-independence Singapore freely available online. There are highly developed areas and others that are less so. There are nicer and more run down parts of the urban area. This is not unlike Hong Kong even today. Here are some samplings you may find useful.


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  3. anantdeboor April 1, 2015

    Great post, Tom. I live here now – and being from Hong Kong, find the contrasts fascinating. The ‘first world’ label can also be looked at in many ways. Particularly interesting is you don’t find many in the ‘first world’ actually referring to themselves as ‘first world’. Both phrases have become slightly anachronistic.

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