07 August 2010

Weekend Reading List: We, The Citizens

Where were you in 1982? That was the year I won a Speech Day prize in school and this was it - a slim package, with an officious blue satin ribbon. When unwrapped, it was the first edition (1982) of Toh Paik Choo's Eh, Goondu! You have to think about why this would have been given out as a prize at the annual Speech Day. Did the school's Christian Book Shop want to unload extra copies? Was it an act of inspiration or humour? Was the principal slightly whacky? Was it, in fact, a booby prize? (I've not heard anyone say 'booby prize' for an age!) It's a Singlish phrasebook, and reading it today, queer and anachronistic. It's been ages since I've heard persons described as mong char char if they are blur, for instance. Or silly street rhymes like:
"A, B, C,
Kiam chye cha lo ti,
Chow sek chow mati."
Perhaps it was alread queer and anachronistic in 1982.
I can't remember anymore, it was pretty long ago; I don't even think schools nowadays have Speech Days, do they? I'm glad Ms Toh recorded this passing tradition for posterity; I don't think she thought it would be such a treasure trove when she first decided to collect it as this comic volume.A lot later in life, my ex boss, Michael Chiang gave me (inscribed and signed!) his book Private Parts & Other Play Things: A Collection of Popular Singapore Comedies, comprising the plays he wrote over the years, all of them huge crowd pleasers. They were blockbusters for the local theatre, including Army Daze, Beauty World and Mixed Signals. Mr Chiang, a mentor for many, has had a huge influence in my life, ever since I interned for him when he was editing Go Magazine. Remember Go? The first shoot I ever did was with Pat Chan. Remember Pat Chan?To round off this little lead-up to National Day (people who know me know I love Singapore! The older I get, the more patriotic I feel), I'm looking at Tropical Garden Plants (William Warren), which isn't strictly a Singaporean book, but its gorgeous photographs by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni illustrate the flora that I love so well, and help me identify the plants all around me. I always fall back on this book when I want to learn about the trees and flowers that make this city so pretty all the year round.
We are blessed to live in a garden city indeed.


  1. happy national day!

    speaking of pat chan, recently i was doing a little bit of research on singpore's literary history & stumbled upon the wiki entry of the late ms bonnie hicks.

    it seems that right b4 the air crash tragedy, ms hicks was applying to Harvard where one of her mentors Prof Tu Wei-ming, a conservative Neo-Confucianist scholar, was teaching in the East Asian studies dept. and - horror of horrors - former rebel-cum-Excuse Me, are you a Model ms hicks was herself turning into a Neo-Con too!


    one rather wonders what the talented ms hicks would have turned out to be, had her life not been so tragically cut short...:(

  2. Anon: What interesting research you do m anon! it's noce to know that her mind was busily growing and not stuck in model mode. It was indeed tragic, and i remember speaking to ms hicks maybe just a month before the tragedy... in fact, it was at some dick lee concert or theatrical.
    Speaking of Pat Chan she was singing in the National Day Parade today! Amazing!