Books

Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore

“One of the best, and certainly one of the most enjoyable, single-volume introductions to both countries’ politics, economies and societies, and to their delicate sibling relationship–part envy, part rivalry, part affection.”

Simon Long, “Banyan”, Asia columnist, The Economist

“I read this one straight through. File under ‘great books you’ve never heard about.’ Honest and frank throughout.”

Tyler Cowen, economist, in his blog Marginal Revolution

“This lively book is more than just an enjoyable travelogue: it is a series of thoughtful—sometimes provocative—observations on the history, culture, politics, religion and other aspects of our diverse lives in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.”

George Yeo, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

Availability

The book is available in Kinokuniya and Times in Singapore; and in Borders and Kinokuniya in Malaysia. But please do call them to check stocks before you head down. It is also always available online direct from the publisher, NUS Press.

You can also order the book on Amazon and other e-retailers. A kindle version is also available.

Our team

Sumana Rajarethnam, contributing editor, fellow cyclist and best friend; and Farah Cheah, research assistant.

Synopsis

What happens after a country splits apart? Forty-seven years ago Singapore separated from Malaysia. Since then, the two countries have developed along their own paths. Malaysia has given preference to the majority Malay Muslims — the bumiputera, or sons of the soil. Singapore, meanwhile, has tried to build a meritocracy — ostensibly colour-blind, yet more encouraging perhaps to some Singaporeans than to others. How have these policies affected ordinary people? How do these two divergent nations now see each other and the world around them?

Seeking answers to these questions, two Singaporeans set off to cycle around Peninsular Malaysia, armed with a tent, two pairs of clothes and a daily budget of three US dollars each. They spent 30 days on the road, cycling through every Malaysian state, and chatting with hundreds of Malaysians. Not satisfied, they then went on to interview many more people in Malaysia and Singapore. What they found are two countries that have developed economically but are still struggling to find their souls.

Book Blog posts

The early days, 2003-04

Judging a book by its cover

Update: Colour it is…

Preparing for our bicycle trip, May-June 2004

Post-bicycle trip, starting to write, Aug-Dec 2004

Floating on a Malayan Breeze mentioned in this week’s Economist

Full reviews

“An entertaining, insightful and profound depiction of two countries separated almost at birth, and apparently drifting apart ever since. In a mixture of tales from a cycling tour in 2004, contemporary interviews, sharp pen-portraits and acute analysis Mr Vadaketh shows both Singapore and Malaysia on the cusp of change. Viewed from outside as development success stories, both find their citizens questioning fundamental aspects of their political and economic systems. Mr Vadaketh deftly explains the roots of the present malaise. He has written one of the best, and certainly one of the most enjoyable, single-volume introductions to both countries’ politics, economies and societies, and to their delicate sibling relationship–part envy, part rivalry, part affection.”

Simon Long, “Banyan”, Asia columnist, The Economist

“I was drawn to the word ‘Malayan’ in the book’s title. It is a term not often used today. Many young Singaporeans would not know what it means or implies. For Sudhir, a young Singaporean, to describe himself as Malayan piqued my curiosity because I also consider myself one. His father’s origin in Malaysia cannot be the entire reason because there are many young Singaporeans with similar background who do not share this emotion.

The reason is deeper, indeed, the reason is what Sudhir’s book is all about. This lively book is more than just an enjoyable travelogue: it is a series of thoughtful—sometimes provocative—observations on the history, culture, politics, religion and other aspects of our diverse lives in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.

In some ways, the political separation of Malaysia and Singapore is unnatural because we are one people. At the risk of being misunderstood, we are ‘one people, two countries’. Maybe one day, because of prolonged political separation, we will become two peoples but I doubt it because the mixing continues everyday. When Malaysians and Singaporeans marry, we hardly consider each other as foreigner. Yes, our politics divide us, yesterday and today. But history is a long time. Globalisation affects us both equally. ASEAN gives us a higher common identity.

When I was President of the Cambridge University Malaysia Singapore Association in the 70’s (it was Cambridge University Malayan Association at the time of Tunku and Lee Kuan Yew), pressure was placed on us by both governments to separate. We refused because we felt deep inside us that something precious would be lost. Later, when I was in government myself, I wondered whether that was a false youthful idealism.

Now, reading Sudhir’s book, and sensing the same emotional resonance in this young Singaporean, it seems more likely that our destinies remain intertwined. It is the same Malayan breeze on which we float.”

George Yeo, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus

Hard Choices Front_Ver 2

“This is an important book and should be read by all who are interested in understanding post-2011 Singapore. The authors, Donald Low and Sudhir Vadaketh, are two of our most original thinkers”.

Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

Availability

The book is available from Kinokuniya or NUS Press in Singapore.

You can also order the book on Amazon and other e-retailers. A kindle version is also available.

Our team

Donald Low is the book’s co-author. At the time Donald was associate dean for executive education and research at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. I first met Donald a few years ago when he had just left the Singapore Civil Service. I interviewed and featured him in my first book, “Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore”.

Amongst the policy fraternity in Singapore, Donald is regarded as one of the most brilliant, outspoken intellectuals.

We had two contributors: Linda Lim, a professor of strategy at the University of Michigan; and PJ Thum, a historian and (then) research fellow at NUS.

PJ’s essay in this book is perhaps my favourite. Without giving too much away, he draws stunning parallels between Singapore in the 1950s and the Singapore of today.

Synopsis

The Singapore polity is changing – profoundly and possibly irrevocably. The consensus that the PAP government constructed and maintained over five decades is fraying. The assumptions that underpin Singaporean exceptionalism are no longer accepted as easily and readily as before. Among these are the ideas that the country is uniquely vulnerable, that this vulnerability limits its policy and political options, that good governance demands a degree of political consensus that ordinary democratic arrangements cannot produce, and that the country’s success requires a competitive meritocracy accompanied by relatively little income or wealth redistribution.

But the policy and political conundrums that Singapore faces today are complex and defy easy answers. Confronted with a more critical and sceptical public and a political landscape that is likely to become more contested, how will politics and policymaking in Singapore evolve? What reforms should the government pursue? This collection of essays suggests that a far-reaching and radical rethinking of the country’s policies and institutions is necessary, even if it weakens the very consensus that enabled Singapore to succeed in its first fifty years.

Book blog posts

Second book launch: Hard Choices

Full reviews

“This is an important book and should be read by all who are interested in understanding post-2011 Singapore. The authors, Donald Low and Sudhir Vadaketh, are two of our most original thinkers”.

—Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

“These wide-ranging, diverse, and richly stimulating essays deserve to be read by anyone seriously interested in Singapore’s future. The arguments against presumed vulnerability and chaotic populism as reasons for elitist illiberal rule will be contested. The book’s own title predicts as much. But if they are, so much the better; especially if their public airing serves to hasten salutary reforms.”

—Donald K. Emmerson, Director, Southeast Asia Forum, Stanford University

“This is a thoughtful collection of essays on recent political developments in Singapore that raises penetrating questions and offers plausible answers. The authors brilliantly pull together a variety of seemingly unrelated developments to highlight systemic patterns that deserve attention and response. It is a must-read for anyone interested in politics and public policy in Singapore.”

—M Ramesh, Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

Book cover

The image is a sculpture by Singaporean artist Chun Kai Feng, inspired by Singapore’s old National Theatre on River Valley Road.

Singapore_National_Theatre

The theatre was completed in 1964 and then demolished in 1986, largely to make way for the Central Expressway (CTE) Tunnel. It thus became another footnote in our country’s headlong rush to development. And therefore a very appropriate image for a book that challenges Singapore’s growth-at-all-costs mentality.

The sculpture is also of personal significance. One of my first ever book events in Singapore, for Malayan Breeze, was hosted by Fost Gallery in Gilman Barracks. At the time, Kai Feng’s work was hanging behind in the gallery as I spoke. So it’s wonderful to have it on the cover of my second book.

Fost

With Steph Fong and Clarissa Cortes of Fost Gallery, Gilman Barracks

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National Theatre photo credit: Wikipedia