The Italian philosopher George Santayana (1863–1952) underlined the value of memory when he wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. History is littered with enough examples of follies being repeated either due to ignorance or because mankind seems incapable of learning from history. By the same token, there are some things worth remembering (and reliving) because of the pleasant memories they recall.
This issue of BiblioAsia – aptly themed “Singapore Revisited” – remembers illustrious (and sometimes colourful) personalities as well as significant places and momentous events that have shaped the course of our history.
Many Singaporeans are familiar with Tan Tock Seng, whose legacy lives on in a hospital named after him, but few would know of the Danish missionary Claudius Henry Thomsen, who produced some of the earliest Malay-language publications in Singapore and Malaya. Sue-Ann Chia recounts the rags-to-riches story of her distinguished ancestor (she traces her lineage to Tan Tock Seng), while Bonny Tan documents the life of the Danish printer.
The dance hostesses from the cabarets of New World, Great World and Happy World amusement parks were more famous for their risqué stage shows than their works of charity. Adeline Foo tells us about the “lancing girls” who set up a free school for impoverished children in post-war Geylang.
Many of the stained glass windows that adorn churches in Singapore were produced in Belgium and France between 1885 and 1912. Recently discovered drawings, or “cartoons”, in a Belgian archive help fill gaps in the history of stained glass windows in Singapore, according to Yeo Kang Shua and Swati Chandgadkar.
The former NCO Club and the Raffles Hotel on Beach Road are two iconic structures that were built for different purposes. The former – now conserved as part of the South Beach development – was once a favourite off-duty spot for soldiers, as Francis Dorai tells us. The fabled Raffles Hotel has hosted many lavish parties since its opening in 1887. Jessie Yak previews a selection of hotel menu cards that reside in the National Library’s Rare Materials Collection.
Fashion journalists John de Souza, Cat Ong and Tom Rao describe Singapore’s style scene in the 1960s, a time when bell bottoms, hot pants, maxi dresses and chunky platform shoes reigned, in this extract from a newly published book entitled Fashion Most Wanted.
In the 1970s, Singapore students had to learn the painstaking way of writing Chinese script in its proper form. Ho Phang Pow describes a textbook series from 1936 that has been preserved in the collections of the National Library.
Finally, as we mark the 75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 2017, we remember those who perished during the dark days of the Japanese Occupation. Goh Sin Tub’s short story “The Sook Ching” is a visceral first-hand account of how he escaped the mass executions that took place in the days following the British surrender.
Still on the subject of war, Michelle Heng reveals the touching story of two brother poets, Teo Kah Leng and Teo Poh Leng, whose literary works were only recently discovered. Poh Leng was killed in the Sook Ching massacres, while Kah Leng survived to pen a poignant poem in remembrance of his younger brother.
The Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 and the horrific events that followed in its wake are documented in the revamped “Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies”, which opens at the Former Ford Factory on 15 February 2017. The atrocities unleashed by the war is a painful reminder why such an event must never happen again.
On a much lighter note, do make time to visit the exhibition, “Script & Stage: Theatre in Singapore from the 50s to 80s”, held at levels 7 and 8 of the National Library Building until 26 March 2017. Also ongoing is an exhibition on the renowned artist Tan Swie Hian in “Anatomy of a Free Mind: Tan Swie Hian’s Notebooks and Creations” at level 10.
We hope you enjoy reading this edition of BiblioAsia.
Mrs Wai Yin Pryke