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A view from outside: Singapore – the new version of Odessa


Mike Gerasimov has written an essay for The Odessa Journal titled “Singapore – the new version of Odessa”


Why modern Singapore is Odessa of the 19th century to me. It happened so that through the 226 years of Odessa’s history many people who were born in this great city eventually had left it at sodessome stage. Despite having at least 6 (known to me) generations of my ancestors in Odessa I became an immigrant myself.

From the very first day in Singapore, I had a strange feeling of familiarity and exceptional comfort. It may seem ridiculous, taking the fact that this is another part of the world, different culture and climate. However, if you remove the shell and look at the essence you may realise that there are major similarities between these two places. These cities are just at the different phases of their timelines.

Odessa started its success story in 1794 after the Russian army took over this territory from the Ottoman Empire. It was granted the status of a “free port” which boosted the economy and together with the convenient geographical position it made it a major trading and cultural hub. This naturally attracted people of many cultures from the whole of Europe and nearby regions of Asia. The most prominent personalities of that time are the founder of the city Spanish José de Ribas y Boyons, the governors French Armand-Emmanuel Sophie Septimanie de Vignerot du Plessis (The Duke of Richelieu) and Louis Alexandre Andrault de Langeron, Greek Grigorios Marazlis, Russian Semyon Vorontsov. Odessa was built by Italian, German and Austrian architects by the plan of Flamish engineer François-Paul Sainte de Wollant.

Old Odessa port

Similarly to Singapore, Odessa was a large trading city and seaport with a diversified population under the rule of the large Empire. Certainly, different Empire (Singapore was under British rule) and different cultures but the combination of the factors determining the spirit of the place is the same. Seafarers, traders, the fast-growing economic environment made both cities exceptionally successful and rich at a certain point.

Despite becoming a part of the Soviet Union for almost 70 years, Odessa retained some of its 19th-century charms and for us, people born in a new era, this great city still tells some valuable stories about the freedom and success.

Singapore today

Singapore eventually became an independent city-state and it showed the world probably one of the most noticeable economic miracles in global history. It remains the city of the immigrants with a large seaport and international trading as primary leverage for the economy.

There are some things that you understand better from the distance, there are some things that you can feel better when you lose them. Living here in Singapore I can confidently say that Odessa is not just an ordinary city in one of the European countries, it is truly a great extraordinary place that has already done much to the world at its young age. At every opportunity, I proudly show Odessa to my Singaporean and international friends.

It happened so that some people migrate and I moved my family to Singapore but I am happy I found here my own, the new version of my dear home city Odessa.

Mike Gerasimov and his beautiful family