Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Singapore Sling and a stroll through the 20th century

“The Singapore Slings at the Raffles Hotel are still delicious!” So says William S. Shepard, and he is an authority. In 1965, that historic city-state at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula was his first diplomatic assignment.

In the Dedication to his memoir, SUNSETS IN SINGAPORE, Shepard writes: “It is June, 2012, and Lois and I have just returned from a visit to Singapore, our first in many years. Now memories of long ago coexist with modern Singapore -- the world famous Botanical Gardens, and an amazing skyline, with tropical forests setting off the skyscrapers.”

He speaks of his lifelong affection for Singapore, and notes: “We made lasting friends, in particular because I also taught at the University of Singapore Law School, which is another story.”

SUNSETS IN SINGAPORE is strictly a memoir of his diplomatic service and it was an exotic journey. In his quarter-century as a diplomat he served in Saigon, Athens, Budapest, plus five tours of duty in Washington D.C., before retiring as Consul General in Bordeaux.

A Fulbright grantee and Harvard Law School graduate, William Shepard and his wife, Lois, live in Oxford, Maryland.

Reviewing William S. Shepard's memoir --

SUNSETS IN SINGAPORE A Foreign Service Memoir
Copyright 2001 as "Consular Tales" and in 2006 as Part One of "Diplomatic Tales"
Kindle Edition 2012

In his Preface, Shepard recalls: “Several years ago, a former classmate remembered at our law school reunion that I had told him when we were students that I was not going to practice law. Instead, I planned to enter the Foreign Service ‘because I didn't want to wake up one morning late in life and wonder what seeing the sunset in Singapore would have been like.’”

He need not have worried. Shepard’s stroll down memory lane is a walk through 20th century history for readers. His career in the Foreign Service of the United States included service in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest, Athens and Bordeaux, in addition to five Washington tours of duty.

His duties thrust him into the thick of international crises: The Third Operations Center Task Force when terrorists from the Japanese Red Army took over the Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; The Cyprus Task Force in the Johnson administration; The Pueblo Task Force when North Korea seized the USS Pueblo in 1968.

Chapter Four on Security and Terrorism addresses problems and precautions for Americans abroad, a concern that was “almost an afterthought” when he joined the Foreign Service but one that takes on a wrenching importance today. Describing his security measures, Shepard notes that “A little paranoia can be a healthy trait now and then.” Especially fascinating to me are the chapters on Shepard’s service in Vietnam and in Hungary.

Not all of a diplomat’s duties are grim. Some days are spent on mundane matters and social activities. In an interview with Joanne Troppello on her blog, The Mustard Seed, Shepard notes: “The word ‘diplomacy’ is itself instructive. It means ‘having two eyes,’ one for watching the capital which sent you, and the other for observing the capital where you are serving.”

Shepard laces his memoir with humor. He recalls his armored car in Bordeaux, so heavily plated that when the police tried to tow it out of a parking zone the back of the police tow truck collapsed, much to the amusement of an audience from a nearby cafe.

He also has an anecdote about a field trip to Miskole, Hungary during Iron Curtain days, when he picked up a tail by a Hungarian secret police car. It was no cause for alarm. He says they were “bored fellows just doing a routine job ... We used to pack sandwiches for them.”

One of my favorite Singapore anecdotes is of Shepard's meeting with Bill Bailey. Yes, THAT Bill Bailey, who kept the Coconut Grove Bar, was imprisoned during the Japanese occupation of Singapore, and never did go home to the United States.

A prize winning mystery writer, Shepard also created a new genre, the diplomatic mystery, now comprising four novels whose plots are set in American Embassies overseas. These books explore his rich, insider background in the world of high stakes diplomacy and government.

This Foreign Service memoir has a companion Ebook, "Southeast Asian Quartet: Robbie Cutler Stories." This is, perhaps, the Southeast Asia of fiction. Take a look at

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