A Singapore sighting in Around the World in 80 Days

I am sad to admit that I read a lot less than I used to these days – with limited free time and competing mediums like the Internet and TV, I just don’t devour books like I used to anymore. I still love walking in Kinokuniya though, and my bookshelf is one of my prized possessions.

As a rather belated birthday gift and to inspire travel, S shipped me two books to read. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne is a classic which somehow I haven’t gotten around to reading, so I was quite happy to get started on this book. Pick it up on Amazon for yourself [amazon affiliate link]

It’s actually a pretty easy read –I finished it within a day, so it actually would make a good holiday read if you wanted something not too taxing to read. Some thoughts about the book below, I’m not giving away the plot, but possible SPOILER warning just in case!

For those who don’t know already, the premise is simple – Phileas Fogg is a rather reclusive English gentleman who is challenged 20,000 pounds to go around the world in 80 days, which he undertakes along with his rather hapless French manservant Jean Passepartout, all the time being chased by a police inspector who thinks that Fogg is a bank robber.

The one pleasant surprise for me also was that the party found some time (about 3 paragraphs worth) to stop over in Singapore en route from India to Hong Kong to take on some fuel, so it’s always interesting to see how writers describe my home town, even back in 1873. This description is taken from the free translated text that you can find on Project Gutenberg, which is different from that of the one in my Penguin Classic.

The island of Singapore is not imposing in aspect, for there are no mountains; yet its appearance is not without attractions. It is a park checkered by pleasant highways and avenues. A handsome carriage, drawn by a sleek pair of New Holland horses, carried Phileas Fogg and Aouda into the midst of rows of palms with brilliant foliage, and of clove-trees, whereof the cloves form the heart of a half-open flower. Pepper plants replaced the prickly hedges of European fields; sago-bushes, large ferns with gorgeous branches, varied the aspect of this tropical clime; while nutmeg-trees in full foliage filled the air with a penetrating perfume. Agile and grinning bands of monkeys skipped about in the trees, nor were tigers wanting in the jungles.

After a drive of two hours through the country, Aouda and Mr. Fogg returned to the town, which is a vast collection of heavy-looking, irregular houses, surrounded by charming gardens rich in tropical
fruits and plants; and at ten o’clock they re-embarked, closely followed by the detective, who had kept them constantly in sight.

Passepartout, who had been purchasing several dozen mangoes–a fruit as large as good-sized apples, of a dark-brown colour outside and a bright red within, and whose white pulp, melting in the mouth, affords gourmands a delicious sensation–was waiting for them on deck. He was only too glad to offer some mangoes to Aouda, who thanked him very gracefully for them.

Well I guess somethings never change – Singapore whether in this century or the last few has always been a garden city of sorts, and you can’t get out without experiencing our food (although that description of mango is actually mangosteen in my version, which makes a lot more sense!)

As its name implies, the story is more of a conquering of time rather than space, and for a book about travel, the main character Fogg is decidedly unexcited about the sights, choosing to spend most of his time indoors. Instead it is his servant Passepartout, who’s lived a rather well-travelled life as a past circus performer and while he’s portrayed as a rather simple-minded person who needs to be bailed out of scraps all the time, he seemed to be the one getting the most out of the travelling, and perhaps more inspirational as a travelling figure than that of the main character Fogg.

The introduction of my book also says that with commercial planes nowadays, what was once a 80-day journey could now be done in as short as 55 hours, a little more than 2 days. Check out the wikipedia page, which charts the journey taken in the book.

80 days, that’s something under 3 months, around 11 weeks worth of travel. Where would you go in 80 days – would you speed around the world, or take your time to really explore one place in that period of time? Share with me!

2 thoughts on “A Singapore sighting in Around the World in 80 Days”

  1. You are right about the fruit. It’s “mangouste” (mangosteen) in the French original, and is mistranslated as mango in English.

    When I first read the book I only had a small French dictionary. The only translation is gave was “mongoose” (also “mangouste” in French), so of course that confused me!

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