On vibrant port cities and anomalous nation states


One hot afternoon in July, Ooi Kee Beng sat down at a Muslim cafe on Kandahar Street in Singapore for a cold Arabic coffee and a chat with one of Penang’s many big names in the academic world. Professor Ho Eng Seng, a Penang Free School alumnus, shared with him some of the most important lessons he had learned on his long academic journeys.

Ho Eng Seng returned to Penang in 1986 from Stanford University with degrees in Anthropology and Economics. The timing was bad, however. The country was in the middle of a bad depression and there was no job to be had.

It didn’t help that his academic interests were not market-oriented. His Bachelor of Arts Honours thesis was on Baba culture. His degree in Economics was gained through a disparate collection of course he had taken at Stanford.

After six months without work, he was offered a teaching job at the Singapore Management University. He was soon working for the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

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