For Cartophiles – Map Mania at the NLB

I love maps, and I was pleasantly surprised when I made my way up to rehearsals at the Drama Centre Theatre yesterday, because there was this display in the lobby of the National Library (Central) featuring the first topographical map of Singapore.

That is part of an exhibition on maps called “Geo|Graphic: Celebrating Maps and their Stories“. I plan to check it out when we get a break from preparing for the show. It (both the show and the exhibition) promises to be fascinating.

For instance, did you know that Tampines, Toa Payoh and Gelang were named more than a hundred years ago? Or that the terminal building of Kallang Airport still stands?

Bukit Timah 1947
Painstakingly preserved map of Singapore City from 1947 (from National Archives of Singapore)

 

Before We Got Kai Kai & Jia Jia

Stoned Kai Kai & Jia Jia - Haw Par Villa (via Expat Bostonians)
Stoned Kai Kai & Jia Jia – Haw Par Villa (via Expat Bostonians)

With so many new attractions every year, it’s easy to forget we have an awesome theme park in Pasir Panjang that’s been around since the 1950s. I last visited in 1974, and I think it’s got something to do with the theme of the theme park. It’s NSFW. Actually, it’s pretty much NSFAnything.

Here’s what Cory Doctorow saw in 2005 when he was in Singapore. Haw Par Villa was one of two hellish places he visited. The other was Sim Lim Square.

Your Grandfather’s Mother Tongue Is it?

I had great fun at the last minute pop-up Talkingcock In Parliament 3 organised by Colin, Yen Yen and others on Saturday evening. There was a great variety of speakers anyhowly hum-tumming what Mother Tongue means to us because it’s been anyhowly hum-tummed into our lives.

This is what I said:

My Hokkien mother spoke no Mandarin, was educated in ACS in Malaya, and my father taught himself English, but spoke Hainanese mostly. Although most days you couldn’t tell which he was speaking. Older Hainanese men have accents as thick as the slab of butter in your kaya toasts.

But my father spoke just enough rubbish for people in Australia to lump him together with other East Asians and he scored a job as a translator with the Japanese Olympic team in the 1956 Melbourne Games.

That did not end well. He was fired before the closing ceremony because a Japanese boxer was taken to hospital for an emergency appendectomy he didn’t need to have. He had simply tried to tell my father that he needed to lose some weight to get down to the weight class he was supposed to compete in. That’s my father. Accidental pioneer of weight loss surgery.

My mother, a slightly better English speaker, joined my father in Australia and together they lived there between 1957 and 1965. That’s a lot of time for them to pick up enough Aussie slang to scold my siblings and I with.

So my early childhood years were marked by my parents’ Aussie nicknames for me, which were all prefixed by the word “bloody”. They called me bloody fool, bloody idiot, bloody nong, once in a while, bloody bastard, before they realised the implication of what they were calling me, and retracted it and instead called me a bloody chink.

I have a five year old son and sometimes when he whines or whinges about something, my wife would tell him, “Use your words, Kai”. And he would compose himself, and make his request known in a full sentence.

My mother was slightly different with me when I was a kid. If I whined or whinged, she said, “Bloody Chinese boy cannot speak english properly issit?”

I understand now that they were scarred by their experiences Down Under, and passed on that anxiety to their kids.

So that’s my heritage. Outcastes of empire, speaking in the tongues of the former convicts of our former colonial masters. It’s a rich heritage, full of stolen riches.

So you can imagine I wasn’t surprised when I discovered just last week, that our National Heritage Board is the governing body of the Speak Good English Movement. I’m actually working on this year’s Speak Good English launch. Director of Speak Good English? Is Eck Kheng here? Movement nochet launch this year, so this event not counted hor?

Let me say that I strongly support the speak good english movement. I have one every morning. Usually after breakfast. And my family doesn’t let me bring the newspapers in with me.

Eh… It could have been worse. I could’ve demonstrated what a Speak Good English Movement sounds like.

Last week, I read about our Air Force and how they outfoxed American counterparts in war games, although I don’t believe they used the word outfoxed.

We all know that our Armed Forces have had this advantage over the years. I mean, come on lah, which other military can boast having marching commands in Malay, instructions in English, and at one time really had a platoon that spoke only Hokkien?

And they say the US got drones, we also have! How many did you see in the Young PAP video? That video? It was supposed to be a secret weapon, to be used when our enemies are making their way to invade us. We will jam their networks and the video would be transmitted to all their smartphones and tablets, so when they watch it, they’ll U-turn and go back because, wah lao, really? This is the prize? Dowan lor.

There were three bids for this defence weapon. This was one of them. The other two were of course the STB ad and the Singtel nipple ad.

“Honey, look! You know the expensive seafood dinner we had last night? We really got screwed, I’m even pregnant!”

Ten years ago, I was in a reservist In camp training – see that’s another word that’s been ingrained. 20 years after changing the term to NSman, we’re still calling it reservist. You call up some business to look for someone, and they’ll say, “oh, got reservist, won’t be back until next week”.

I think we love the word reservist because we really don’t want to be on the front line. We’re reserved. Of course, my ten year cycle has long since been completed, so I’m an even more reserved reservist.

So anyway, this was in 2004 and we were still transitioning from the old conventional ways of warfare to a post 9-11 Al Qaeda-JI doctrine. We had training to tell us that it was no longer ok to clear a room with grenades and put our weapons to full auto to finish the job. We had to look out for civilians and enemy combatants.

So part of the training package consisted of being shot at from a simulated HDB block, and being shot at from a simulated market. The second round got worse. We got grenades thrown at us by a simulated pregnant woman played by one of our own reservists on Attend B excuse heavy lifting.

We didn’t know how to react. We were tired, hungry and getting frustrated.

As we ran up one last HDB stairwell we encountered a simulated couple in close embrace, just as you would in real life, only this time it turned out to be a terrorist-hostage situation. Our training kicked in. We trained our weapons on the party and opened negotiations:

Our section commander shouted: “Terrorist har? What the fuck you want, you ninabeh cheebye motherfucker?”

The simulated terrorist replied, “er…. I want an airline ticket”

Because we are a considerate 3G army, our section commander asked him, “airline ticket? Cheebye what airline?”

The terrorist considered this quickly and shouted his preference, “Emirates!”

Something snapped in my section commander. He flicked the safety catch on his SAR-21 to full auto and opened fire, emptying his magazine of 30 rounds of blanks as he screamed. “Emirates hah? SQ not good enough for you is it? Nabeh! Limpehshootjiliaphorlisee!”

Climate Change Is A Matter Of National Security

Children under shelter

A super cyclone lashes the low lying Padma delta region, wiping out scores of villages and rendering millions of people homeless. The refugees who are able to start streaming onto higher ground, into already clogged and crowded cities like Chittagong and Kolkatta. And since we’re talking about millions of people – it becomes a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.

Over here in Singapore, we’re still only just complaining about 2 months without rain, and the haze compelling us to spend the rest of our time indoors. We empathise and send aid in the form of cash, food and clothing. Burma and India start to ask for aid because they can’t cope with the influx of millions. Bangladesh is on its knees as disease begins to take hold of everything that isn’t in the massive exodus.

Then it happens – the tens of thousands of low wage workers from Bangladesh and the Kolkatta region refuse to repatriated after their contracts expire, because they have no homes to return to. The UN bars Singapore from repatriating anyone newly classed as Climate Refugees. And that, is how climate change will become a matter of national security. Read more and start to do something.

Things I Will Cherish Forever #10forkeeps

Update: Giveaway extended to 2 April 2014, 2359hrs

I count myself one of the lucky people in this constantly changing country. I had a mother who was a relentless hoarder of things. She kept everything.

I discovered a tonne of things she kept that I thought she would’ve thrown away. After all, she did throw away my ACSOBA (ACS Old Boys’ Association) rugby jersey that had been retired and given to me when I played a game back in the late 80s. That the school and its Old Boys’ Association retired their jerseys only once every five years did not move her. She had disapproved of my playing rugby, even after I had left school, because rugby boys were a bad bunch.

When she passed away three years ago, my sister went through her belongings and passed me a box of things which turned out to be a treasure trove. In the box was a plastic folder she had neatly kept her own “Leaving School Certificate” from ACS Seremban (Malaya) in 1955, her driving licence from Melbourne, her first pay slip from the same city, and a rejection letter from the PUB in Singapore in 1965 when she applied for a job upon settling in the newly independent republic of our country.

That same year, my mother and father had returned to the newly federated union of Malaysia and Singapore by ship from Melbourne, planning to marry in Malaysia and settle in the city of Singapore to live and work. It seems it wasn’t long after they disembarked at Clifford Pier that that whole episode known as The Separation happened.

She made an amazing effort to keep my stuff too. There are about 10 copies of my birth certificate, my citizenship certificate (I had not been a citizen at birth even though I was born in Singapore – constitutional lawyers would know why), my first IC, passport photos through the years, Army mugshots, old bankbooks, cleared and returned cheques and dozens of other paraphernalia worthy of a museum display.

I am forever grateful that she kept these things in such great condition, given that everything else in our country seems to be getting erased and built over so relentlessly and rapidly. I can hardly remember what Marina Bay looked like when it was a real bay.

Where I lived from birth till I was about 6 is also almost a mere memory. I remember my first address: 412 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore 5. Yes, a single digit postcode.

Across the road there used to be a police station (not an NPP), where policemen in their shorts used to be summoned across by my mother to scare the crap out of me when I misbehaved. Behind the police station was the beach, and a jetty where fishing boats docked, unloading their catch to be sold at the fishmonger’s (Ah Heng’s) on the corner of Pasir Panjang and Clementi Roads.

I must be one of the lucky, lucky few who can still find his house of birth after 45 years. The original stones that make up the gate’s pillars are still there in its 70s kitschy glory. I drove past it last year and reminded myself to go and take a picture of the gate. Or maybe chip off a piece for keepsake. After all, the police station is no longer across the road.

From this magical box my mother left with me, there are four items I want to share with you:

From the magical box of belongings
From the magical box of belongings

My First Pink IC
My first Pink IC: This was essentially a piece of pink paper with printed fields and a handwritten signature of a civil servant authorised to issue IC on behalf of the Commissioner of National Registration. We always wondered who this person was. Every one had the same signature, and it always looked like it read “Mdm Sam”. So, Madam Sam, if you’re still around, reveal yourself and let the world know who you are.

OCBC Cheque, 1970:
OCBC Cheque, 1970: In the age of paper, non digitised currency, a cheque would take 3-5 working days to clear. Once cleared, it was returned to the drawer, because it had served it’s purpose as an instruction to the bank to pay the payee whatever amounts of money was written on it. 45 years later, a cheque still takes about 2-3 working days to clear, and it was only this week that interbank electronic transfers were sped up to 1 working day.
Diphteria Vaccination Certificate, 1969:
Diphteria Vaccination Certificate, 1969: I don’t even know what diphtheria is now. But what about that fancy penmanship of the clerk huh?
Army ROD Clearance Form
Army ROD Clearance Form: Does anyone even know what a cyclostyled sheet is or how poor Army clerks used to get ink on their hands making cyclostyle copies of Routine Orders?

And not from the box my mother left me, this is a picture of the gate’s pillars at 412 Pasir Panjang Road:

The gate pillar of my first home

I played within these gates, on the driveway, on my toy cars and bicycles. I hope my son will remember his playgrounds and other places he spends with his Mama and Papa the same way I try to remember mine. It is important to have that sense of belonging and continuity.

I strongly urge everyone to take stock of the things around you, record them and the stories attached to them, for posterity, and for the prosperity of our collective memories.

As part of the Singapore Memory Project’s “10 for Keeps” campaign, a fabulous memory kit worth over $100 will be given away to 2 of you, and it comes complete with an Instax camera, a guide book on how to record your favourite memories, two packs of film and a pamphlet to submit some of the photos to SMP.

Some of your photos may be selected for a Memory Showcase exhibition at the lobby of the National Library Building from 11 Apr – 26 May. Come and check out if yours have been chosen.

Details on the project can be found on www.iremember.sg or on FB at facebook.com/iremembersg

Before you leave this page, leave a comment below to share what items you cherish the most, and the memory that comes with it by 31 March 2014. Best two entries (I choose) will win this Memory Kit.

The fabulous Singapore Memory Kit
The fabulous Singapore Memory Kit