Reading it right

At a reading at Books Actually tonight, I ran into a friend who'd turned up 'cause she thought it was our reading for Singapore: A Biography. "Actually, that's on Tuesday!" I told her. But it was sweet, knowing that even though I don't know her that well, she had shown up on a Saturday night for what she thought was our event.

Tonight's reading was by Suchen Christine Lim, for a new 25th-anniversary edition of her first novel Rice Bowl. I haven't read Rice Bowl but now I will, because the narrative includes an account of an anti-Vietnam War march in Singapore, based on her memory of the actual event.

Lim read bits of the book aloud tonight--- for the first time in public since it was published! --- and one of the extracts was a fierce, climactic exchange between two characters: a civil servant and an idealist, the former insisting on pragmatism and realism, the latter upholding some greater notion of humanism. Lim observed by the by that it was an argument that still resonates today, where modern-day civil servants fall back on the same rhetoric her character did 25 years ago.

Afterwards, my friend (a civil servant, incidentally) and I adjourned to Chinatown for a late dinner, during which we waxed lyrical about Singapore, aspiration, ideals, hope and other big words that are more often associated with Obama than with the PAP-governed society we live in. A "typical" civil servant overhearing us would have probably rolled his eyes or muttered something about "high falutin ideas". I prefer to think of it as us considering paths not (yet) taken --- some of which we might consider now before Singapore devolves into a more calculating, consumptive society than it already is.

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