Discussions on the so-called “rise” of China at some point tend to cycle ’round to the question as to whether these developments are new or instead herald a return to a status quo ante, a consideration which depends in no small part as what that status quo actually was. That China was dominant in East Asia at least until the 19th century is subject to hardly any debate; there is less consensus as to what that dominance consisted of and whence it derived.

Outsider views of Singapore suffer from numerous preconceptions and generalizations, many the result of sometimes humorous foreign venting in online forums about the city-state’s overweening legal apparatus and legal codes. Yet Singapore is affluent and materially developed by any measure.

Nor is Singapore is widely known as a place of literature, but that is at least in part because much of the city’s life lies behind language barriers. This perception is exacerbated by a national campaign, promoted by the city to advertise its strength as a destination for foreign investment rather than a cultural hub.

All over the islands, breech babies grew up to become valuable members of any community—for their reputed skill in easing out fishbones stuck in one’s throat.

All her life, Purificacion was called upon to conduct the task, just because she was delivered feet first.

Occasionally, in the middle of the night, the caterwauling in Barrio Ejemplo in the town of Asingan would abruptly die down, and the folks knew the men had just declared a cessation of streetcorner intoxication because of a little accident.

Mang Kardo, a thin, wiry man with a squeaky but often loud voice, had done it again, orated while carelessly wolfing down roasted milkfish. Now he had to stop from his perorations, shake and quiver as he rose from a wooden bench, and attempt to harrumph in his screechy manner, again and again, until Big Boy Reynoso pulled up his bulk from the bench across, strode over and gave poor Kardo a mighty whack on the back.

Hong Kong is currently going through something of an identity crisis, both literally and figuratively. The literal crisis is the rise of a so-called “localist” political movement, some proponents of which have even called for Hong Kong independence. The more figurative crisis are the regular pronouncements that Hong Kong is having difficulty working out its place within China and the wider world.

Andrés de Urdaneta is a name that few other than specialist historians will immediately recognise. He was one of the last of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorers and navigators from the Iberian peninsula whose voyages resulted in redrawing the globe in more or less the form we know it today. Christopher Columbus has a country and several cities named after him; Ferdinand Magellan has the famous straits. But Urdaneta has no such monuments.

Perhaps this is because Urdaneta didn’t discover how to get anywhere, but rather less glamorously but no less importantly discovered how to get back. Until 1565, no fleet had succeeded in sailing east from Asia back across the Pacific to the Americas. It was Urdaneta, a survivor of earlier expeditions, who first worked out the right winds and currents across the uncharted waters of this vast ocean. His discovery was called the tornaviaje, or ‘return trip’.