From World City to the World in One City
Tim Bunnell is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore. He is the author of Malaysia, Modernity and the Multimedia Super Corridor: A Critical Geography of Intelligent Landscapes (2004) and co-editor of Cleavage, Connection and Conflict in Rural, Urban and Contemporary Asia (2013).
From World City to the World in One City
From the Malay World to the Malay Atlantic
[T]he days of the far flung routes of Zamboanga and Moulmein, to Bangkok and Banjermassin are but a dream, and linger merely in the memories of old men .
K.G. Tregonning, circa 1960 1
The city of Liverpool may be one of the capitals of a long Atlantic twentieth century, but it is not the only such city. There are several. London is one. New York is another .
Ian Baucom (2005: 35)
The seafaring labour of Malay men sustained shipping networks that connected world city Liverpool to coastal settlements across a dispersed and ethnically diverse Malay world region ( alam Melayu ) in Southeast Asia, as well as to a wider world of port towns and cities. I begin this chapter by tracing back the life geographies of Liverpool-based ex-seamen in order to examine Malay seafaring mobilities in British colonial Southeast Asia and the surrounding islands and seas of the alam Melayu . Singapore was the hub for shipping networks in the region and an interface with wider oceanic routes. It was here that the Ocean Steamship Company of Liverpool located its regional headquarters. Interoceanic trade connections from Singapore to port cities along the east coast of the United States, in particular, expanded from the last decades of the nineteenth century. In the second section of the chapter I show how Malays and other lascars (Indian Ocean seafarers) followed commodities such as rubber along associated networks of commerce. The founder of Liverpool's Malay Club moved to the city from New York, not directly from the alam Melayu . Seafaring work enabled Malay men to spin webs of social connection not only between the alam Melayu and Liverpool, but also between Liverpool and other major Atlantic port cities, especially New York.
World City Liverpool in the Alam Melayu
In 2004 Majid was the quiet man at Liverpool's Malay Club on Jermyn Street. I can still picture him in the brown armchair next to the window of the front room, gazing at snooker on television. My suspicion was that he was half-watching while half-listening to other, much more animated, ex-seamen recounting their colourful life stories. Unlike me, Majid had no doubt heard them all before. Well into his eighties, he did not talk much in either Malay or English, but I was gradually able to piece together Majid's life geography, including seafaring travels that extended back further than those of the more talkative septuagenarians at the club. Majid was born in 1917 in the village ( kampung or kampong ) of Serkam, Malacca. 2 By the time he was old enough to go to sea in the 1930s, there was a well-established tradition of young men from the village working for the Straits Steamship Company which was headquartered in Singapore. More than three-quarters of the Malay men in the company's service came from Serkam and 'other kampongs behind Malacca' (Tregonning, 1967: 88). According to K.G. Tregonning, in his official history of the Straits Steamship Company, Home Port Singapore , '[a]mong the Malays, in particular, a tradition of service built up from 1890 onwards. Son followed father, and generation succeeded generation of Straits Steamship Company men.' Majid's village, 'on the main trunk road to Singapore', is noted as 'one particular kampong where this family tradition of Straits service was maintained' (p. 88). Sadly, Tregonning does not tell us how the tradition began. It may well be that he was simply unable to find out. Most official documentation on the Straits Steamship Company was destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Singapore during the Second World War. As such, Tregonning's comment that 'far flung routes ... linger merely in the memories of old men' 3 was not only a statement about historical changes to regional transport linkages, but also an ackn