Escape from Paradise, – Now being made into a movie!


Click!

The book’s sensational reviews!

It took me two and a half evenings to complete your un-put-downable book…it is a unique contribution to the appreciation of a life in Singapore. Thank you for having written it. C. V. Devan Nair, former President of Singapore.

Bought the book from Select this weekend and can’t put it down! It’s a great read! And so nostalgic for me—the good old days! Glen Goei, writer and director of the Miramax film That’s the Way I Like It and who played the title role opposite Anthony Hopkins in the London production of M. Butterfly. Mr. Goei’s latest film is The Blue Mansion – Click for the trailer!

It is a remarkable story and so full of intrigue that it reads at times like fiction.Jonathan Burnham, Editor in Chief & President, Talk Miramax Books.

“It’s quite a story The legendary Alice Mayhew, Vice-President & Editorial Director, Simon & Schuster.

This book out-Dallas, Dallas. No one has written so well of the other side of paradise,Francis T. Seow, former Solicitor General of Singapore

ThunderBall Films is successfully putting together the movie production of Escape from Paradise and has received a new LOI (Letter of Intent) from actress Bai Ling who starred with Richard Gere in the film Red Cross.

This includes a commitment from a CPA firm who does tax credit financing in Ireland, a possible location to film, as part of the package needed for investors – along with the CPA firm’s commitment to apply for and finance the tax credits if ThunderBall does shoot in Ireland and what portion of the budget they would provide.
For inquiries, please contact John Harding at jbharding@gmail.com.

Escape from Paradise – the Promotional Trailer

The best! We use Siteground – it has everything!

https://www.siteground.com/?referrer_id=7856867

Copyright

Copyright © 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 John Harding

Up Close with Lee Kuan Yew

The book, Up Close with Lee Kuan Yew, gathers some of the vivid memories of 37 people who have worked or interacted closely with Lee Kuan Yew in some way or other, from the time he was at Raffles College in 1941 right up to his final moments in 2015.
Among these are his 13 Principal Private Secretaries and Special Assistants, and Mdm Yeong Yoon Ying, his Press Secretary of over 20 years. The others include former President S.R. Nathan, Puan Noor Aishah who is the widow of President Yusof Ishak, former Chief Justice Yong Pung How, and friends such as Robert Kuok from his Raffles College days.
Robert Kuok is a Malaysian Chinese business magnate. According to Forbes, his net worth is estimated at $12.2 billion on July 2017, making him the richest person in Malaysia and second richest in Southeast Asia.
Below are some of the observations in the book from Lee Kuan Yew’s good friend Robert Kuok who wrote the opening chapter with a beautiful quote from Lee Kuan Yew, “Come to think of it, finally, it’s only friendship that matters.”

Lee Kuan Yew as a college student:

I did not know Kuan Yew well in school. In fact, his name did not come to my attention until later because he was a non-resident student and lived at home, although I had heard he was brilliant but somewhat aggressive and pugnacious.

He was a striking figure. I was like him physically, but smaller in build. He was about two inches taller than me and also heavier. I had sharp features but his were sharper. He had a compelling and fierce set of eyes, certainly not the eyes of a meek person. He was about three weeks older than me.

One day a friend suggested that I meet Kuan Yew. I was told never to get into an argument with him because he always had to win. To that I replied, “Why would I want to meet him then?”

I was eventually introduced to Kuan Yew. He came across as having a very sharp mind and very strong views on every subject that was being discussed. I think even then he had a clear vision of where he was going. I thought he was also slightly disdainful of people unless he thought you were as smart as him or a very interesting person.

I never had any arguments with Kuan Yew. He was more standoffish than warm but you could sense it was not snobbery. It was because the man had something going on in his mind all the time, probably superior to anything going on in your mind. He just felt there was no point mixing unnecessarily or engaging in small talk.

Among the people at Raffles College was Eddie Barker, who was rather aloof but a gentleman. He was very good-looking, a Gregory Peck type. There was also Maurice Baker, a lovely man and very intellectual. Lee Kuan Yew was certainly among the top ten students at the college, but Kwa Geok Choo, whom he later married, was either No.1 or No.2. Such was the talk among the students.

My dorm was the only one of six dormitories which had a much-used corridor linking College Hall with the cafeteria. I would constantly hear the clickety-clack of women’s shoes outside. The most famous pair of sounds belonged to Geok Choo and her friend, Chua Swee Sim who was the second daughter of Chua Cheng Liat, the founder of the Cycle & Carriage Company. Geok Choo was the taller of the two, and she was the daughter of one of the general managers of OCBC Bank.

On Lee Kuan Yew during the war:

During the war years of 1942-45, I heard Kuan Yew was doing a bit of black-marketing in Singapore, selling second-hand goods such as batteries and retreaded tyres. It was black-marketing because the Japanese Administration had put a tight clamp on almost all activities. We all had to survive.

I was offered a job by Mitsubishi Corp when they decided to open an office in Johore Bahru. I accepted the position and when it opened on 1 August 1942, I was their first local employee. Three years later, on 15 August 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender. The next morning, the Japanese managers, eyes all swollen and red, some sniffing into their handkerchiefs, came to the office. They said they would soon have to report to concentration camps and the office would be closed.

One evening after the end of the war, I was invited by a Medical College student to a garden party thrown by a rich and famous elderly widow, Mrs Lee Choon Guan, and asked to bring my girlfriend, Joyce Cheah. This was at the end of 1945 or very early in 1946, after three and a half years of occupation by the Japanese Armed Forces, and so everything was still in a broken-down state. We were all drinking orange juice, beer, at most. I remember Kuan Yew was there and he saw this pretty girl, Joyce, and came around to meet her. He said hello to me but was more struck by Joyce’s beauty and intelligence. I said to myself, “Eh! Eh!” But it was all harmless.

Later I learnt that Kuan Yew had boarded a troopship and travelled to England to study. He eventually settled at Cambridge University from where he graduated with flying colours.

A forthright man:

Kuan Yew achieved a lot and became Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959. He was definitely ruthless. I was close to the action because my brother William, a senior figure in the Malayan Communist Party, felt the heat, although he never directly clashed with him.

Sometime in the late 1960s, something interesting happened which went on for three or four years. Every few months, Kuan Yew would send for me. I would get into my car (the car number would have been earlier supplied to his secretary) and drive up a neat palm-lined driveway to Sri Temasek where he had his office in the Istana grounds. His secretary would greet me and take me to a room where I would sit down, and Kuan Yew would come in shortly. Each time, he wanted my insights into what was going on in Malaysia. He was very forthright and said, “I have an embassy but sometimes I still can’t get at the heart of the truth.” He would ask questions and I would answer. If I knew the answers and felt they would do no harm to Malaysia, the country of my birth, I would give them. We chatted amiably. I never misguided him. If I felt I could not give him an answer, I told him so.

Lee Kuan Yew’s frugal ways:

One day, the request was to stay for lunch. I wasn’t aware that Kuan Yew was so extremely conscious of healthy living until I had lunch with him that day. First, they served soup, not quite four spoons. The soup came with a piece of bread and butter, and I soon realised the bread was very valuable indeed! After the soup came a small piece of fish; after that, a very thin slice of steak. Everything could be eaten in three mouthfuls. And then they brought out the coffee and tea. But thought I had just had my starters! He was very frugal as well as health conscious. I certainly respected him for that.

Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s separation from Malaysia:

I was one of the first to know about the decision to kick Singapore out of Malaysia. I was living in Queen Astrid Park at the time. One night in early August 1965, at about 10.30 p.m., there was a banging on my house gate. “Robert! Robert! It’s Jamal, open up!” “Celaka, what time is it?” I called out. Jamal was the Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore. He said he had an important message: Razak would be arriving in Singapore from Kuala Lumpur by an Air Force plane at around 6 a.m. and he wanted to go straight to the Bukit Timah Golf Course for a quick round of golf — and he wanted me to play with him.

After tee off, Razak, who was then Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, told Jamal to walk ahead as he had something to say to me. He then related to me what had happened the night before at an UMNO leadership meeting in Kuala Lumpur that had gone on till almost midnight. Some extremists in the UMNO leadership were lobbying for the arrest of Singapore’s leaders, from Kuan Yew all the way down, but he and other moderate leaders managed to swing the meeting around. He said that arresting them was not a solution as one couldn’t keep them in jail forever and they would become political superheroes the day they were released. So they decided the best recourse was to kick Singapore out of the Federation. “I’ve come to deliver the message to Kuan Yew.” I was shocked even though we all saw it coming in some form or shape.

At 4.30 p.m. on Monday, 9 August 1965, Kuan Yew appeared on television and emotionally broke the news to the people of Singapore. It was a very sad and heartbreaking scene.

My reaction at the time was that Kuan Yew, through his brilliant mind and oratorical skills, had riled many UMNO Malays, including Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, because in any debate, you could never match Kuan Yew. At that time, I felt he should have been softer or more diplomatic. But now, I realise that it was a blessing in disguise. The timing was just perfect.

Kuan Yew had a very smart and courageous team around him and they immediately carried out brilliant plans and schemes, quite a few of them provided by some of the best advisors in the world. These included the famous Dutch economist Albert Winsemius as well as colonels, majors and captains from the Israeli Defence Force to build up and train the Singapore army. Singapore leaders had also established strong friendships with Taiwan’s leaders and the Sultan of Brunei.

What we saw happening in Singapore over the next 15 to 20 years was truly amazing. In any other scenario, the continuing animosity between the extremists in UMNO and the political skills of Singapore’s leaders would have led to horrendous consequences.

Lee Kuan Yew and our friendship:

After I moved to Hong Kong, I sort of became Kuan Yew’s second port of call. Run Run Shaw was No.1; my wife Pauline and I, No.2. He liked Pauline and found her simple and earthy ways agreeable.

He and Geok Choo would often come over for dinner. I would get a caterer and offer good food. I would get instructions, of course, that he could not eat this or that. The conversation would be light with interesting  anecdotes, and I would like to  believe they had pleasant evenings dining at our  home.

Kuan Yew and I seldom engaged in super-warm or super-friendly talk. But sometime in 2007 or 2008, he said a very funny thing that touched my heart. We were walking g down from his hotel to the car to go to dinner. Pauline was with Geok Choo in front. He turned to me and said, “Come to think of it, finally, it’s only friendship that matters.” In other words, everything is gone but the only thing left is friendship.

I thought, my God! I am seeing the human side of him! On their last few visits to Hong Kong, Kuan Yew became increasingly warm towards me. He and Geok Choo would stay in our hotel. She was already unwell and because of her vision problem we pasted coloured paper on the walls of their room so that she wouldn’t bump into them. A few years later, I found myself walking with Kuan Yew to make sure he wouldn’t bump into the corridor walls.

Kuan Yew visited me a few times after Geok Choo passed away in October 2010. One thing about him I would say is that he stayed true to one woman his whole life, and that is quite remarkable for a man of those times. He led an exemplary life, a disciplined life. He never womanised or drank to excess. He smoked for a short time, but that was it.

Lee Kuan Yew and his legacy:

About five years ago, in 2010, he wrote me a letter asking for my candid views. He wanted to know why he always found Hong Kong full of business activity and people with strong enterprising spirit. Whenever he visited Hong Kong, he always asked to be taken to some government unit or a home industry where something new was always being invented and he would be totally amazed by what he saw. He asked me to write to him and tell him frankly my views. So I called up my niece, Kay, and asked if I should talk so straight that I hit him in the solar plexus. She said it sounded like that was what he wanted. So I wrote back to him and told him that he had straightjacketed too many of his people in his zeal and impatience to build up Singapore quickly. There was genius in them, but they could not move. I told him to take a pair of scissors and cut them loose.

Kuan Yew had a super Bung-ho style. He was like such a powerful elephant that when he stomped on the ground, all the plants were crushed. But in so doing, he created the miracle called Singapore. Also, because of his great zeal and dedication, Singapore was his obsession, and his attitude and behaviour flowed from that — You harm Singapore, I smash you.

My assessment of Singapore as an outsider is that no one could have achieved what Lee Kuan Yew had achieved for Singapore and for the people of Singapore. Singapore, compared to China, is like a drop of water to a bucket of water. But that does not mean the drop of water is not important.

From the book UP CLOSE with LEE KUAN YEW…

Comments are closed.