A blog tour today, the first of two this week for hugely different books! This time, we’re celebrating the release of the latest in the Bamboo trilogy, Bamboo Road, by Ann Bennett, a trio of similarly themed, but standalone, novels telling some of the forgotten stories of the Far East during WW2. I will review the trilogy at a later date, but today Ann has written a lovely piece about Singapore – the Singapore that she has visited versus the Singapore that the characters in her books might have experienced.
I think the Singapore of today must be barely recognisable as the city of the 1940s and 1960 which I’ve written about in Bamboo Heart and Bamboo Island. It is one of the places in which key scenes in both books are set.
My only physical visit there, though, was for a few days in 1985 on a trip from Bangkok to Bali. I’ve relied on research, documentaries and old photographs to get a flavour of what Singapore must have been like during the war and the Japanese occupation, and in 1960 when Juliet takes the train down from Kuala Lipis to visit Mary Batari in Bamboo Island.
I learned about Chinatown, the red light district of Geylang, and the Malay quarter, Kampong Glam, where Juliet stays with Nazira, from those old black and white documentary films. They show bustling street scenes from the late 1930s and how the whole of the waterfront was lined with gleaming white colonial buildings. I particularly like ‘Singapore – Crossroads of the East, 1938’, narrated in the clipped tones of the era, with stirring background music .
When I visited Singapore in the mid-eighties, modern development was well underway. Skyscrapers were replacing streets of shophouses and godowns, or warehouses. We went for cocktails in a swanky revolving restaurant on Orchard Road, but stayed in the only place we could afford. It had once been the tallest building in the city- the New Seventh Storey hotel. It was basically a dormitory with dozens of people sleeping on truckle beds on each floor.
We ate street food on Clarke Quay and sampled the night life along Bugis Street. Our visit must have been shortly before the area was redeveloped into modern shopping malls. It was still a renowned hangout for ladyboys, and held a certain sleazy charm. We also sipped Singapore slings in the Long Bar in Raffles. The hotel, an iconic colonial landmark, was where desperate civilians gathered in February 1942 as Singapore fell to the Japanese. It played its own part in the occupation and is where I’ve set many key scenes in Bamboo Island.
As I said, I’ll be reviewing the trilogy soon, but this gives us a taste of the books. To find out more about Ann and the Bamboo trilogy, take a look at the Bamboo Heart website. You can also connect with Ann on Facebook or Twitter.
The blog tour continues, as per the banner below, so do check out some of the other fab blogs involved.
Bamboo Road was released on 1st March 2017 and is available in paperback or on Kindle.