Harry Lee's Story

The man who made a country, and how he did it.

Issue: Summer 1999

I first visited Singapore in April 1955, on my way by ship from England to take up a job at Sydney University. It was a welcome break in a four and a half week journey spent mainly gazing at an unbroken horizon. The Singapore of those days was exotic, dirty and provincial. It was a city of pungent smells, street hawkers and life-threatening (i.e., deep, unguarded and very polluted) monsoon drains. The architecture was a mixture of late-Victorian imperial and run-down Chinese shophouses-no skyscrapers, nothing much over about six stories. For the passing visitor, shopping meant either a couple of staid department stores catering to the needs of colonial ladies, or the raucous bargaining free-for-all of Change Alley, where one could buy the transistor radios and ingenious mechanical toys produced in the modest early days of the Japanese "miracle."

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