President of the United States was shot to death (1963)



A little more than 50 years ago, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated. It was a high profile murder that still intrigues the public to this day. A newspaper here ran a lengthy coverage on the late president. One of the news articles here reported that,

A lonely little boy who observes his third birthday Monday wandered through a big Washington house Saturday complaining, “I don’t have anyone to play with.”

The late president left behind his wife and his two young children.

News source: Rome News Tribune, 24 November 1963

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Singapore was Great Britain’s richest colony (1901)



The tiny island of Singapore was to the British, a jewel of the Far East. Modern Singapore was founded in 1819 as a small British trading post. Located strategically between India and China, it served (and still is today) the most important logistics and trading hub in South East Asia. It is not surprising that despite the small size, it attracts people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds from all over the region, as described in detail in the news article above.

Bagi pihak British, Singapura merupakan satu permata di Timur Jauh. Sejarah Singapura moden bermula pada 1819 apabila ia diasaskan sebagai satu pusat perdagangan. Terletak di lokasi strategik antara India dan China, pulau tersebut (sehingga kini) menjadi hab perdagangan dan logistik terpenting di Asia Tenggara. Meski bersaiz kecil, Singapura telah menarik pelbagai orang dari latarbelakang bangsa dan agama dari seluruh pelusuk rantau ini, seperti yang digambarkan di dalam petikan akhbar di atas.

News source: Baltimore Morning Herald, 21 December 1901

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Sarawak became part of Crown Colony (1946)


Sarawak was unique within the British sphere of influence. For more than 100 years, this piece of land on Borneo island was ruled by an European family who considered themselves the custodian of this land. However, World War II changed all that and it was felt at the time that to ensure Sarawak didn’t go under due to financial strain as a result of the global conflict, London intervened and willing to adopt Sarawak as part of the-then shrinking empire that once ruled almost a quarter of the Earth’s total land area at its peak. Below is the street scene of old Kuching and a small picture of Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, the third and last White Rajah of this land.

Sarawak merupakan satu wilayah yang unik di bawah pengaruh British. Dalam jangka masa lebih dari 100 tahun, wilayah yang terletak di pulau Borneo ini diperintah oleh satu keluarga yang berasal dari Eropah yang menganggap diri mereka sebagai penjaga wilayah ini. Namun, Perang Dunia Kedua mengubah segalanya dan bagi memastikan Sarawak tidak mengalami masalah kewangan yang berterusan disebabkan konflik global ini, London telah bersetuju mengambil alih pucuk pemerintahan Sarawak dan menjadikannya ia sebagai sebahagian wilayah empayar yang pada satu ketika zaman kemuncak dahulu merangkumi hampir sesuku luas daratan Bumi. Tertera di bawah merupakan gambar panorama lama di Kuching dan gambar kecil di atasnya merupakan Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, Rajah Putih ketiga dan terakhir Sarawak.


News source: The Milwaukee Journal, 21 March 1946

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Banjarmasin was the largest city in Borneo (1902)


One sentence alone cannot describe the sheer diversity of Borneo. And early 20th century Borneo was to this one man’s observation, co-habited by various peoples, from tribesmen, to sultanates and to Western influenced economic dominions keen to tap the ‘great island’s’ great wealth and the result was emerging towns and cities that dot the rivers and seasides of Borneo. There are several lines of quotes that I find interesting regarding the author’s observation of some Bornean cities as it was back then:

“It (North Borneo) has a number of excellent harbors and especially Sandakan, is one of the best along the Pacific….Sandakan has about 7,000 people, of whom half are Chinese. There are only a few hundred Europeans, but they have all the institutions of an Asiatic colonial port. They have a club, a museum, a scientific society and a racing association.”

“I learned much about the Dutch possessions during my stay in Java and at Soerbaia was within a short distance by steamer of Bandjarmassin, the largest city in Borneo and the capital of the Dutch part of the island.”

“Today Brunei is still ruled by the sultan under the English. He has a capital city built upon piles in a bend in the river about fifteen miles from the sea. His capital is surrounded by hills, and standing upon these you can see the houses apparently floating upon the water.”

“The capital of Sarawak is Kuching, a town of 20,000 people,….The place is well fortified. It has public gardens, good roads and many comfortable homes. The English live in bungalows and they have all the surroundings of civilization.”

“The Dutch steamers call at Kotei, and one can go on up that river to the capital of the sultan. The first town of any size is Samarinda….The capital of the sultan is at Tangarung, still farther up, where his majesty has two-storied palace roofed with galvanized iron. This structure is said to be the only two storied building in the country, and it is lighted by electric lights.”

Indeed, this news article is the best yet so far in describing Borneo as one island. A must read!

Article source: The Deseret News, 11 January 1902

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Borneo jungle was safer than civilized and gangster ridden Chicago (1928)


Borneo was known in the West as a land of thick jungles, handsome amounts of flora and fauna and not to forget the deadly head hunters that roam the remote forest, far from the signs of modern civilization. For them, Borneo was almost mythical, a faraway land that was among the last places that were barely touched by modern and civilized trappings of urban life. Today, such perceptions are probably lesser, especially in regards to head hunters (or warriors as thought by some people). This news article reported the planned expedition of a group of Americans who insisted that despite the pessimism or misgivings the Western public had on places such as  Borneo, the group leader was quoted as saying,

“It is true enough that savages of more or less headhunting proclivities lurk in the dark fastness of Borneo, but in justice these unenlightened tribesmen it is only fair that we remember that right here in Chicago, a city of civilized people, malevolent gunmen and bandit killers make life quite precarious.”

Article source: The Milwaukee Journal, 28 October 1928

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Americans wanted to control world market through Malaya (1910)


By 20th century, Britain had already asserted its influence to almost all of Malay Peninsular, effectively in control of the region’s domestic political and economic affairs. Malaya (as it was known then) was a great economic importance to the British empire due to two things – rubber and tin. The region was among the largest supplier of rubber and tin in the world and contributed immensely towards the rapid industrialisation in the West. Almost half of the world’s rubber supply came from Malaya and that put Britain as a dominant global market player in such commodity.

The huge importance of rubber even attracted the attention of an American trust aided by a man with considerable political and financial influence. With the emerging industries centred on automobile production, the demand for rubber in the United States was seen as a phenomenon worthy of exploitation, and based on this news article, the domination of world rubber market was done through the control of the majority source of this commodity – Malaya. However, a British businessman saw this as a harmful and an uncompetitive act.

And a rather interesting line from this news article which said, “The supply comes from the wild trees of Borneo, and as they are cut down, the Borneo supply is bound to run short.” I’d say this was a Western capitalism at its ‘best’ when it comes to natural environment.

Article source: The Milwaukee Sentinel, 30 December 1910

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Britain allowed Japanese Navy to setup base at Labuan (1905)


In just less than 50 years, Japan rose from being an isolated country trapped in a feudal world into the most modern and foremost superpower in Asia, rivalling that of the West. However, it took the horrors and devastation of a conflict for the West (and perhaps the rest of the world) to finally realise the strength and capability of Japan. Russian Empire, under Tsar Nicholas II underestimated Japan’s military capability simply because Japan was a newly modernised country and had a sense that their military strength was not as powerful as Russia’s. Their bitter rivalry for a domination in the Far East came at the expense of weakening China. Though mild, the rivalry even reached far to the south where as the news article here briefly reported, Russia was unhappy with Britain’s decision to allow Japanese Imperial Navy to establish a naval base at Labuan.

Article source: The Sydney Mail, 25 January 1905

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