Over the weekend I saw a delightful movie titled Crazy Rich Asians. It’s based on a best-selling book of the same name, by Kevin Kwan.
The story is set in Singapore, and it highlights the culture clash that results when the son of one of the wealthiest Chinese families on the island brings his Chinese-American girlfriend, an independent New Yorker, home to meet his family.
Naturally, the family member the girlfriend most wants to impress is her boyfriend’s protective, traditionally-minded mother, and the chances of that happening go from low to almost nil.
It’s a fun movie, with terrific acting from the leads, especially the mother, played by Michelle Yeoh. But I think the main star of the show is the island republic that lies just off the tip of the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia - Singapore.
And, wouldn’t you know it, Singapore has some significant ties to Regency England.
That’s because the man credited with founding Singapore in 1819, mainly for use as a trading post for the British East India Company, was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, a British statesman whose career spanned the Regency era.
|Raffles in 1817|
Raffles was an able administrator whose influence was felt all over Southeast Asia in the early 19th century. He helped the British Empire expand its holdings in that part of the world, competing against Dutch and French colonial interests.
Specifically, Raffles took part in the British invasion of Java in 1811, and when that war ended he was appointed Lieutenant–Governor of British Java. He also held the post of Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 1813 to 1816, and later Governor-General of Bencoolen (a former British colony in present-day Sumatra) from 1818 to 1824.
Still, despite all his work in Indonesia, Raffles was no stranger to the Prince Regent's court in London. He sailed back to England in 1816, stopping along the way at St. Helena to visit Napoleon in exile.
The following year Raffles was knighted by Prinny. During this time Raffles also developed a close friendship with the Prince’s daughter, Charlotte. In fact, he and his wife named their first child, a girl born in 1818 after they’d left England, Charlotte in honor of the Princess.
Following Raffles' administration, Singapore remained in British hands until the mid-20th century, although it was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. Singapore gained its independence from the UK in 1963, when it joined with other former British colonies to become Malaysia. Two years later, in 1965, it split from Malaysia and became its own sovereign nation.
In Crazy Rich Asians, Singapore’s lush landscape and architectural beauties take center stage. In particular, the Marina Bay Sands, a resort built in 2010, is featured extensively. And rightly so – this place boasts movie theaters, casinos, restaurants, floating pavilions, art and science exhibits, plus the world’s largest atrium casino.
|The Marina Bay Sands resort|
The resort is striking visually, too. From a distance, the three main towers, designed to resemble a deck of cards, look like they are balancing a giant surfboard on their roofs. But that giant surfboard (which is actually a bridge cantilevered off the northern tower) supports a three-acre park, appropriately named SkyPark, that contains swimming pools, gardens, and even jogging paths.
In addition to all that, SkyPark is apparently a terrific place to throw a party, as shown in the movie.
Singapore's natural beauty—including its coastal areas and tropical flora—is also showcased in the movie. I’m sure Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles would be absolutely amazed if he could see what the patch of jungle he knew 200 years ago has become today.
Here's a glimpse of Crazy Rich Asians: