Singapore Writers Festival 2012

Before I forget, the Singapore Writers Festival kicks off later this week. I'm not speaking this year, but the organisers very kindly invited me to moderate two panels:

Researching Singapore History
Panellists: Danièle Weiler, Gretchen Liu, Kevin Tan, Maxime Pilon
Date/Time: Saturday, 3 November, 7 - 8 p.m.
Venue: The Salon, National Museum of Singapore

Getting Lost; Getting Inspired
Panellists: Pamela Ho, Pico Iyer
Date/Time: Saturday, 10 November, 4 - 5 p.m.
Venue: ilovebooks.com Pavilion, Campus Green, Singapore Management University

Holy crap, can I tell you how excited I am? Pico Iyer, whose work I've been reading since I was a teenager. Gretchen Liu, who's written these gorgeous volumes about Singapore's visual heritage. Kevin Tan, until recently the president of the Singapore Heritage Society and who somehow finds the time to research and write extensively as well.

And then the newer names they're matched with: Danièle Weiler and Maxime Pilon, longtime Singapore residents and authors of The French in Singapore, and former radio deejay Pamela Ho, who went on this grand travel adventure around the world with her best friend.

I've been in touch with all the panellists over email, and there's been a really good vibe --- so yeah, I'm stoked about both panels.

I also just confirmed that I'll be reading at a book launch event at the festival. I have a short story, "Lighthouse", that's in a new collection of Singapore writing, Balik Kampung, edited by Verena Tay and published by Math Paper Press. Balik Kampung is being launched with two other Math Paper Press books:

Book launches by Math Paper Press: Balik Kampung, Ayam Curtain and Fish Eats Lion
Date/Time: Sunday, 4 November
Venue: ilovebooks.com Pavilion, Campus Green, Singapore Management University

"Balik kampung" means "to go home" in Malay, so you can tell ostensibly what the collection is about. I've been reading the other stories in the book --- by Yeow Kai Chai, Yong Shu Hoong, Gwee Li Sui, Dora Tan, Wong Shu Yun, Rosemarie Somaiah and of course Verena herself --- and I can tell you that no one writes about the same place in Singapore in the same way. My piece is more the kind of realist fiction I'm working on, but in other pieces there's a little magic realism, a little multiple perspective --- a little bit of this and that, so to speak. It's a good mix.

So yeah, three official appearances at the Singapore Writers Festival. You don't need a Festival Pass for the book launch, but you do for the other two events. Get it for $15 from SISTIC.

The Pass gives you entry to a whole bunch of other events as well; I'm particularly keen to seen Monique Truong, Krys Lee and of course my old friend Tan Soon Meng whose first children's book Pura the Cat is being launched. More about that soon!



Dealing with stuff

The second half of October is going by in a flash. Without going into too many personal details, a family member had to be hospitalised and I've been running around to make care arrangements and figure out some of the nitty-gritty of Singapore's healthcare system. Thank you, extended family and friends, for all your encouragement and advice!

There is plenty of positive in the midst of it all: The condition is not critical or life-threatening. The cost of the medical care required is not that egregiously high in this case, once the Singapore citizen subsidy and Medisave kicks in. And I have to put on record that the doctors, nurses and staff at Alexandra Hospital were fabulous, returning phone calls (and smiles) and making connections between various parts of the healthcare system to make things happen. I think the fact that you can have a fresh red apple and a blanket while waiting in the hospital's accident and emergency area (because the air-conditioning is pretty cold, to keep germs away, I think?) is a nice boon, and even the staff at the 24-hour convenience store Cheers were obliging and friendly.

I'm not the first among the friends my age to have to deal with this kind of situation, but it never really hits home till it hits home, if you know what I mean.


Photos from the attic

On the Singapore Heritage Yahoogroup today, my friend Ai Lin shared the announcement from the National Archives, UK --- which she received via the president of the Singapore Heritage Society, Dahlia Shamsuddin --- that it had made available hundreds of photographs of Asia from the Colonial Office's Photographic Collection. Singapore was mentioned among the list of places, so I went rooting about to see what was there.

It looks like a number of the Singapore images are scans from various photo albums from different decades.

CO 1069-558-1
Source: The National Archives, UK (image no. CO 1069-558-1)

Every time I see the Cenotaph, I think about my mother telling a story about sitting on its steps as a child and dangling her feet in the water. It was hard to make sense of when I was a child, when the water had already been pushed back, not as far as it is today with the reclaimed Marina Bay area, but far enough to create a park that I could run around in.

Today's Singapore residents, it seems, are more likely to not realise it's a war memorial, despite the words "Our Glorious Dead" carved prominently into it and the individual years of World War I incised onto each step (if you have a Straits Times subscription, look up the article "Lack of respect at war memorial" by David Ee on 1 September 2012).

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Source: The National Archives, UK (image no. CO 1069-561-67)

This is identified as a pipeline crossing "Mount Zion" in "Johore, Malaya", but it reminds me of a certain other pipeline that's still visible in Singapore today, near our own Zion (Road).

CO 1069-564-9
Source: The National Archives, UK (image no. CO 1069-564-9)

This one gave me the creeps: photographs of the former Japanese military police (kempeitai) wartime headquarters and prison cells, in the Raffles Girls' School buildings along Stamford Road. All the photos show building exteriors or bare prison cells, but it's still creepy to think about. One of the photos is labelled, "Exactly as left by the Japanese Kempei-tei (Gestapo)", which may or may not be true. But still --- the creeps.

As an old girl of the school who never knew that campus (I'm not sure when or why the buildings were torn down, but they were), I'm torn between curiosity about what the old school looked like, and horror at what stories those walls could tell. Maybe it's just as well they're not there anymore.

Okay, let's end on a happier note. When cinemas were properly grand --- Capitol looks just spectacular.

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Source: The National Archives, UK (image no. CO 1069-562-23)

I can't get over how this image of Empress Place and the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall looks like an animated effect, a cartoon show for kids.

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Source: The National Archives, UK (image no. CO 1069-562-17)

Finally: Orchard Road. Shhhhh.

CO 1069-562-19
Source: The National Archives, UK (image no. CO 1069-562-19)



Back, baby, paperback

Hot off the press II

After almost three years in hardback, the paperback edition of Singapore: A Biography is out. I haven't had the chance to take a nice picture of the paperback yet --- ergo the old picture of the hardback above --- but I can tell you that it's the same book size, same cover and pictures, and same rollicking tale of how there's more than meets the eye when it comes to Singapore history.

What's changed: the publisher added some maps and fixed the typos. Oh, and it's definitely lighter, although I haven't got an exact weight. (The hardback was 1.4 kg. I know because I once mailed a copy overseas and had to slap a heckuva lot of postage on it.)

I don't know what the retail price for the paperback will be, but look out for it at all the usual bookstores in Singapore (and soon, overseas).

PS: Ebook coming soon. Stay tuned!