Saving a Sexier Island: Whimsical Revelations

Book Review: Saving a Sexier Island


It’s hard to imagine that a 40-year old born in Dagenham, England would teach this Singaporean writer more than he ever knew about his own country. Neil Humphreys’ Saving a Sexier Island: Notes from an Old Singapore is the gangly (and self-admittedly hairy) angmoh’s fifth book about the country he first set foot on in 1996, and it tactfully encompasses what it means to call this equatorial melting pot home.

To be fair, tact is a word he probably doesn’t associate himself too often with. UrbanWire caught up with Neil back in March where he told us of his uncanny ability to dodge trouble with “the people upstairs”, and he uses that to his advantage quite unsparingly.

1 Dragon playground

Saving a Sexier Island tells the story of Neil’s journey to find 50 places in le ol’ red dot that are worth preserving, or at the very least a visit. It brims with comical anecdotes from his slightly awkward English childhood and Aussie experiences, and it reads in a pleasing narrative rather than a conventional list of places to go. Written in the same brash, witty and satirical style his followers are all too familiar with, it still is, in this writer’s opinion, the most appropriate and refreshing gift to our nation’s birthday celebrations this year yet.


Its thoughtful revelations on gentrification as well as the meteoric economical rise and how that might have foreshadowed the sentimentalism in our countrymen, makes you sit down and self reflect. You can tell a good book from the rest when you find it hard to put it down (i.e. reject the body’s command to urinate just to finish the next couple of sentences). Let’s just say the comedic nature of the book tested our bladder control abilities to the limit…

The book’s front cover shows a happy Neil standing next to a pixel shaped red head of an animal. It is Toa Payoh Lorong 6’s infamous dragon playground – the first in half a century of places you wouldn’t expect to be placed in this list. If you don’t believe us, coming in at number 4 is Sweetlands Bakery, and 30 spots later: “Old Choa Chu Kang Bus Stops”.

35 bus stop

Bus stops, bakeries and playgrounds (albeit less-memorably designed) make up a decent portion of this writer’s childhood, and these places are almost never portrayed as part of the glamorous façade that is Asia’s Monte Carlo. Yet, these are the kind of places where memories are formed, and individual histories constructed. That is the point Neil is trying to make. The roads less foreign-travelled are usually the ones that are all the more worth saving, lest we forget who we really are.

He mentions in one of the closing chapters that he usually forgets his own skin colour when meeting other Singaporeans for the first time. Sadly, it’s hard to say the same vice versa when you’re looking right at him – the common assumption being that the abnormally tall white man is a tourist. But the sad irony, it would seem, is that this supposed foreigner cares so much about our country that he writes a book to try and rally the rest of us to care as much.


Here’s a proposition: Add Neil’s book to our list of Social Studies texts. It’ll provide adequate critical interpretations of our country’s heritage to the idealistic, yet somewhat negligent Singaporean youths of today… and probably improve their English by an extensive margin, too.


Rating: 4.5/5

Tell us “Where is your favourite place in Singapore and why?” in the comments below and stand a chance to win a copy of Saving a Sexier Island! More details on the contest here.


Title: Saving a Sexier Island: Notes from an Old Singapore

Author: Neil Humphreys

Genre: General/Comedy

Specifications: 130 x 198mm / 272pp / paperback

Price: $20.50

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Asia

Publication Date: May 2015


About Renald Loh

Renald spends an inexplicably large amount of time discovering how to be more productive. As a firm believer that the future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams, and the ones who are not afraid to speak up for what they stand for, he spends most of his time dreaming and talking. He also plunges into abysses of "I should not have done that"s, in the hopes that one day, he will sit his kids down by a fireplace to tell them stories long enough to create a sitcom that ends better than "How I Met Your Mother". Renald also loves football - a lot.
  • Gene Wan

    My favourite place in Singapore will have to be Labrador Park which I first discovered more than 15 years ago. It is well tucked away from the main road and a place where I can let my dog run free in the park since not many people will turn up on a Saturday morning. There along the waters, we can walk up along to the light beacon that aids boats and ships into the small but busy ferry terminal. I love how easily I could the leave behind the bustling city for a while to bathe myself in the serenity this place provides.

  • Sophia Ang

    My favorite place in Singapore is Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR). It is a haven for harried souls. Every visit is a different experience because you never know what wild animals or birds you would encounter. I love SBWR! <3

  • Muhammad Irfan Bin Mohamed Noor

    My favourite place in Singapore is The Esplanade . It has got a unique design and the place is full of beautiful memories for me . I’ve attended concerts such as Yuna , Ellie Goulding , Marie Digby , Indonesian Band Ungu and many more at the Esplanade Concert Hall . There’s also the Esplanade Library where I like to go to read and relax . I’ve also attended a meet and greet session with a Mosaic Music Festival artist there before . There’s also gigs at the outdoor stage and the concourse . Neil Humphreys is one of my favourite authors . I read his column in The New Paper and it always never fail to bring a smile to my face .
    Thanks and have a nice week ahead ! *keeping my fingers crossed and praying hard* Facebook Name : Irfan Ozil

  • Oscar Chee

    Universal Studios Singapore is my favourite place (as well as my family’s) in Singapore. We love to immerse ourselves in the world of movie magic, riding the roller coasters and the river rafts and enjoying the pyrotechnic shows!

    My Facebook’s URL is

  • Cheo Boon Ming

    My favorite place in Singapore is Zoo where you can see many animals especially descendants of Ah Meng.

  • My favourite place in Singapore would be the Indoor Stadium. Attended so many amazing concerts there before, like The Script, Maroon 5, Michael Bublé, etc! Best thing was, i had my first kiss there. ;)

  • My favourite place in Singapore is National Museum of Singapore.
    Always happily treating there as my personal playground,enrich with historical value and all the “wu eh boh eh” information about Singapore.

  • Vincent Lee

    My Favourite place in Singapore used to be center point, when i was a small kid i was also known as a center point kid because i hang out there every weekend, then in poly i love the southern island because i love the sea, now i love my bedroom because i just want to rest and bum around during my off days

  • Freddy Mak

    My favourite place in Singapore is hawker centres because it’s a place where i can find various ethnic food stalls altogether!

  • Jovy Lee Shu Hui

    My favourite place in Singapore is my home as it is my comfort zone.