‘A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that that patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.’
–Jorge Luis Borges, Afterword, El Hacedor
I’ve used this quote before. And I’m doing it again because I don’t have anything else at hand that describes better what I feel right now.
I was quite pleased to find out last night that a letter I wrote to someone I fell in love with ages ago was still being kept. Why keep all your old love letters? Because. See above quote. And read this.
Same reason why we should document, narrate and journalise other things.
There is an especially desperate need to do this in Singapore, because our past is being erased so efficiently (try getting 8 day old Straits Times articles online), and I’ve been thinking that maybe that’s why there are so many of us who feel so alienated in our own country. I think there are very few people around my age who can say the house/flat they lived in for the first three years of their lives is still standing.
The other thing that precipitated this warm-fuzzy-serious sentiment was another conversation I had where I remembered I didn’t speak English for the first five years of my life, stayed in a house on Pasir Panjang Road, across from a beach that had a jetty, and where fishing boats would come in daily and unload their catch for fishmongers who set up shop down the road. I’ve kept notes on and off:
The shophouses on the corner of Pasir Panjang and Clementi Road are still there, but the beach is now part of the PSA, stretching beyond the West Coast Highway and how many kilometres before you can even smell the sea.
The same sea which my father threatened to throw me into when I had a fight with Grandma. (And he really looked like he was gonna do it when he put me in a wicker basket and carried me across the road to the beach.)
The car park at Cold Storage Orchard Road, where Centrepoint is now. There was a Milk Bar out front, where we’d pester my mother to buy us milkshakes after grocery shopping. We’d drink our shakes and then throw up in the car after, because the the road back home was a winding two-lane deal, from Orchard, to Napier to Holland to Clementi to Pasir Panjang Road.
The grand old airport at Paya Lebar. Where the departures and arrivals were two separate buildings, and where they had signboards telling male visitors to keep their haircuts neat and short. And where I fell off the airplane steps boarding my first airplane journey and where I bumped my head as a result.
There are more notes but there are also many of us who can make a much more coherent history of all the things around them. And many of you are blogging. I’d like for you to keep doing it and get around this contemptible policy of denying us easy access to our history.
Now, read that quote again.