Posted by: danguard | June 3, 2009

How Far Is East?

Hello, and welcome to my blog. This is the first post of hopefully many I will be writing over the next 7 weeks as I travel around Singapore and Malaysia exploring their historical archives, and attempt to interview retired naval officers (“I’m Louis Theroux…”). Although I intend to use this as an outlet to formulate embryonic academic ideas relating to the material I uncover, don’t let that put you off, as I will also be recording more general comments and observations about my travels and what I get up to when I’m not rummaging around dusty old basements.

China_imperialism_cartoonAs I write this it is still over 2 days until I leave the UK, however something struck me of particular significance for the journey ahead. I was talking to someone about my trip, and was telling them I was visiting the Far East. They perfectly understood to where I was referring, and the conversation carried on unabated. It wasn’t until after that my error struck me. To whom is Singapore and Malaysia, and by extension Asia, the Far East of? It is a Western/Euro-centric construction, thought up during the imperial project when the European Empires thought of themselves as the centre of the world, both geographically and ideologically. Its roots may even stretch back to the times of Ancient Rome. In anycase, it is clear that inhabitants of Singapore do not see themselves as living in the Far East, so why does such a misrepresentative phrase still exist in our contemporary discourse? More worryingly, why do I, as an aspiring postcolonial historian and someone who appreciates the need to break history out of such exclusive preconceptions, still fall foul of it?

It is apparent to me now, that though I attempt to engage with the perspectives of those unrepresented by the official historical record, and by definition these are the non-white and non-British communities of the former Empire, clearly the focus of my research to date being exclusively based in the metropole (London) has led me to exist in a state of temporal dissociation from the places I am studying. Clearly I need to take my head out of the proverbial sand and regain my cultural bearings. Hopefully this trip will provide that. When I am living, breathing and working day-to-day in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, they will cease to be abstract constructions. They will no longer be the ‘Far East’, they will be my centre.

But will I then begin seeing Britain as the Far West? I doubt it somehow. Clearly there is more than the 6740 miles between us that seperates East from West…

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Responses

  1. Howdy Dan

    This sounds most interesting indeed. I will tell you about my cousin (2nd cousin, and I called him “Uncle” because he was just a bit younger than my Dad) Donald Moore. Sadly no longer with us, but rose through the ranks to become v high ranking in the navy during WWII and subsequently lived in Singapore until late 70s. (I think he left in a hurry – he might have done something politically inexpedient…) Anyway – there may still be people there who remember him (he was a bit of a chap about town, I believe). Amongst other things, he took a lot of amazing photographs of real people doing real things in Singapore in the 40s 50s and 60s and some of these still exist in the family…. and may be a source of information to you.
    Hope you have a fascinating and worthwhile trip!

  2. Keep the blog going Dan interesting reading but….

    “They perfectly understood to where I was referring” = where I was referring to

    “To whom is Singapore and Malaysia, and by extension Asia, the Far East of?” = Who thinks of Singapore and Malaysia as the Far East

    “so why does such a misrepresentative phrase still exist in our contemporary discourse” = So why do we still use such a misrepresentative phrase?

    One of the banes of my life is having to knock acadamese out of bright young graduate assistants.

  3. p.s. Love the picture did you get it from a UKIP or BNP poster?

  4. Good luck on your travels Dan.

    Regarding the eastern / western classification, I asked some locals and they all seem to agree that Castelford is the centre of the world so we go by that.

    When asking them how far east do you go before it becomes west, they looked at me blankly then it dawned on me, these same locals believe the world is flat.

    See you in 2 months mate.

  5. Gosh, Dan – Don’t you know some big clever words!

  6. Hello Dan,

    Have just found the blog. So am sure it’s brilliant yak yak etc etc….

    will read now.

    sian

    am sorting out sailing in pembrokeshire…tomrrow hopefully


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