Many thanks to Jonathan Hardy for the last guest post. I loved learning of his inspiring decision to carve out his own career. As concidence would have it, Jane Iyer, today’s guest, was involved in his transition to the gig economy.
Jane Iyer is the CEO of specialist tour business, Jane’s Singapore Tours. Today, she’s going to share her passion for her adopted homeland which, “has done such an amazing job of pulling itself up by its bootstraps to become the powerhouse it is today.”
What was it like when you first arrived in Singapore in February 1963?
“I was six years old and I’d grown up in Carlisle, near the Scottish borders, so cool grey skies were the order of the day for the vast majority of the time.
When my Mum, younger sister and I sailed into Singapore harbour for the first time, I was mesmerised by the great array of different people in their colourful clothing and thrilled by all the exotic scents, curry and the pungent durian fruit being top of the list! It was very different from Britain and I loved it from day one. We all did.
My dad worked for the BBC and we lived in a bungalow on the huge BBC compound in Tebrau on the outskirts of Johor Bahru (JB) in what was then Malaya. It became Malaysia in September 1963, when the Federation of Malaya merged with North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore, marking the end of 144 years of British rule in Singapore.
Our new home had (clunky) air-conditioning in the bedrooms only but lots of ceiling fans. We used to have breakfast on the verandah on rattan chairs. We ate lots of pineapple and other lovely tropical fruits and we were introduced to a wide variety of Asian foods and the joys of Sunday ‘curry tiffin’, usually at the homes of nearby rubber planters. There was lots of wildlife and quite a few snakes.
We enjoyed playing around the monsoon drains and going to the open-air film screenings at the BBC Canteen where I loved to buy Chinese dried plums. The earliest film I remember was, aptly, the King & I! I went to Malay weddings on the compound where the bride and groom are ‘king’ and ‘queen’ for the day, and they sat on ‘thrones’.
Coming from cold, grey Britain, it was a joy to live in the warmth and pad around in shorts and flip flops all day. We often went swimming at nearby Pasir Gudang, then a beautiful palm fringed beach, sadly, very different today. We would go on an annual trip to the cool of the Cameron Highlands or Fraser’s Hill, stopping off at rest houses along the way in places like Malacca.
I went to a British Army School in JB but on the BBC campus mixed with Malay, Chinese and Indian kids. Malay was the lingua franca other than English but I recall Tamil being spoken too.We regularly crossed the causeway to Singapore to go shopping or to the movies. My sister and I learned to swim at the Island Club in Upper Thomson Road where my dad played golf.
My father enjoyed his job and being part of a multi-racial team and meeting characters like the planters. My mother also adored living here and my sister and I adapted to our new life very easily. We all loved the warmth, the charm of the people and the colourful flora and fauna. My sister, who now lives in California, has always said that she would live in this part of the world again in a heartbeat.
When I got older, I was sent back to the UK to attend boarding school. It was in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and security was tight. We had to have our bags searched at the entrance to every store. When I was there, I used to dream of returning to Malaysia all the time. Whenever we boarded a Singapore Airlines flight home I practically kissed the plane!
In the mid-90s, I came on a couple of business trips to Singapore and in 1999, I moved here for good. Apart from a six-year stint in New York (2006-12), I have lived here ever since.
What was Singapore like when you returned in 2012?
Very different. So much had changed.
Elsewhere, some of the older buildings had gone, like the low-rise condos around Emerald Hill, where we had lived, which had been replaced by bigger and taller ones.
There was a real buzz of excitement in the air. I loved being back.
What, for you, are the 10 best things about Singapore?
It’s hard to choose, but:
- Clifford Pier, because I went on a boat trip from there on my 8th birthday!
- Sembawang, because I visited regularly when we lived just across the causeway in Malaysia.
- Emerald Hill. I lived there for five years and it’s perfect. A heritage enclave and close to everything you could need.
- The Armenian Church. I love this gem of a building into which its designer, Irish architect George Coleman, poured such love and technical skill.
- Nasi lemak. A Malaysian dish of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf.
- Satay. I love the smoky grilled taste and the peanut sauce. Now that I’m vegetarian, I’m looking forward to Impossible Satay being invented!
- Gula malacca. Gula means sugar so it’s a very sweet sago and sugar dessert which my father particularly loved.
- ‘Blur like sotong.’ An expression which literally means, ‘as clueless as a squid.’
- ‘Can, cannot?’ An expression that’s best explained in this joke; A man walks into a bar and asks for a bottle of Coke. Reply, “Bottle cannot. Can, can. Can?” Basically, it means, ‘Is this OK or not?’
- ‘Alamak!’ Malay for ‘My Goodness!’
How do you share your passion for Singapore?
Through Jane’s Singapore Tours.
I started it in May 2016, to fill the gap for in-depth tours centred around Singapore’s history, heritage and culture. I started with six guides and now we have over 30.
In 2018, we won the Singapore Tourism Board’s Best Tour Experience award and were runners up in 2019.
What can the UK learn from Singapore and vice-versa?
Singapore is pragmatic. It never rests on its laurels and is always figuring out how it can do better. Its people care about society as a whole and feel a sense of responsibility towards their country as well as tremendous pride in its achievements. I think the UK could learn from this approach – albeit it’s a much larger country therefore this is more complex. As for vice versa, I’d like to see more support for the Arts and creativity in general in Singapore. And I think we should let people make honest mistakes and learn from them.”
Thank you Jane for this wonderful post. You’ve inspired me to explore and sign up for more of your tours.
I’m going to take a summer break now but will be back on 11th September with a post on the 75th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in Singapore. After that, I’ll be welcoming my two final guests, Penny Graham of Career Seekers and Jennifer Lim, artist, to share their passions with us.
Thank you for dropping by and see you on 11th September.