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Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Personal History: Odds and Ends At the Beginning of Autumn 2010


Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew 

An article about Lee Kuan Yew, the grand old man of Singapore, in the New York Times reminded me of the mid-1980's when I visited Singapore many times and came to admire what Lee Kuan Yew achieved even though there was a feeling of "Big Brother" keeping  a watchful eye over the inhabitants of Singapore.

“So, when is the last leaf falling?” asked Lee Kuan Yew, the man who made Singapore in his own stern and unsentimental image, nearing his 87th birthday and contemplating age, infirmity and loss.
“I can feel the gradual decline of energy and vitality,” said Mr. Lee, whose “Singapore model” of economic growth and tight social control made him one of the most influential political figures of Asia. “And I mean generally, every year, when you know you are not on the same level as last year. But that’s life.”

How true. I feel it every time I go out for a run.  The pace is getting slower and slower; the
inescapable feeling that one day it will come to an end.

The March of Time 

Seamus Heaney, in "Human Chain", his new book of poems, wrote:

"Derek Hill's saying,
The last time he sat at our table,
He could no longer bear to watch
The sun going down
And asking please to be put
With his back to the window."

And William Shakespeare:

"Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep,
Dreaming on both; ........."

--- Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene I

My favorite:

A star looks down at me
And says: "Here I and you
Stand,each in our degree:
What do you mean to do--
Mean to do?"

I say: "For all I know
Wait,and let Time go by
Till my change come."--"Just so,"
The star says: "So mean I-- So mean I."

---Thomas Hardy "Waiting Both"

The Business of Shipping

Ocean transportation -- the most economical way of moving large volumes of cargo from one country to another --  continues its role in international trade. The industry embraced modernization by adopting cargo containers in the late 1960's. Then more functions were computerized and the interaction between shippers and carriers slowly ceased to be an important part of the business I knew and enjoyed being a part of for many years.

My career began in Calcutta, India, and ended in the San Francisco Bay Area.  In those days offices of steamship lines and freight brokers were located in or around California Street, San Francisco.  No longer so.  Nowadays, modern communication systems have made it possible to run a steamship company far away from ports of call.  A few employees handle operations and sales instead of large offices bustling with staff.

Popular among steamship company employees, Tadich Grill is still there, but Paolis on Commercial Street and Doro's on Jackson Square are gone.  Ties were mandatory at Don Dianda's Doro's.  Historical Merchants Exchange Building, which was home of Commercial Club --  another gathering place for the shipping fraternity -- changed ownership in 1995 and went through extensive renovation.  The staid World Trade Club, located in the Ferry Building, served mediocre food but offered  a great view of the Bay.  It declared bankruptcy in 2006.

The late Herb Caen wrote in one of his columns: "San Francisco has the charms of Sydney, the style of London, and the rascality of Paris."  A great city.  On a clear day it offers breathtaking views.

Sailboats with spinnakers
© Musafir

Golden Gate Bridge - Looking south from Vista Point
© Musafir 

It was while working for a Danish shipping company in San Francisco that I heard of JHM who was talked about as "Our Man in Bangkok".  As the country manager of the company in Thailand for almost a decade, JHM was legendary.  Years later, employed with a different company I met JHM in Singapore when he came to pick me up from the airport on my first  trip to that city.  Subsequently, he moved to California and we worked together for a few years.  A tall, courtly man, JHM followed some old world customs.  For one thing, he always put his jacket on before meeting a visitor.  He returned to Copenhagen in 2006. A recent message from him read:

"I am still under chemotherapy treatment and not doing too well - scheduled for another 3 sessions from now until mid-november when hope for better results!"

And so it goes.


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