“Like everyone else I am what I am: an individual, unique and different… a history of dreams, desires, and of special experiences, all of which I am the sum total.”
So wrote Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889–1977), or Charlie Chaplin, the affable Tramp as the world knows him, in his autobiography. The inimitable actor, producer and director of the silent film era was so enamoured of the Orient that he visited Singapore three times between 1932 and 1961. Chaplin’s visits in 1932 and 1936 are little-known trivia that might have disappeared with the tide of time if not for Raphaël Millet’s meticulously researched essay – a work of historical reclamation, as it were.
“Reclamation and Reincarnation” is the theme of this issue of BiblioAsia – reclamation in both the literal and figurative sense − as we look at historical and cultural legacies as well as human interventions that have shaped the landscape of Singapore over the last two centuries.
Discover how the British, and subsequently our own government, dictated the extent of land reclamation in Singapore through ingenious feats of civil engineering in Lim Tin Seng’s essay. He documents reclamation projects that have increased the island-state’s land mass by nearly 25 percent, and how its boundaries will be pushed even further in time to come.
Long-forgotten coastal communities at the fringes of our existence are the subject of articles by Marcus Ng and Ang Seow Leng. The former charts the disappearance of islands and reefs, which indirectly sparked the marine conservation movement that took root in the 1990s, while the latter looks at mangrove forests that have dwindled over the years but still remain an integral part of the ecosystem.
Disappearing art forms, specifically the puppet theatre that diverse Chinese communities brought with them to Singapore generations ago are being preserved through efforts to document a part of our precious heritage. Caroline Chia speaks to puppet masters who are determined to continue with their craft in the hope of finding new audiences.
Casting her eye on another aspect of the Chinese diaspora in Singapore, Goh Yu Mei explains how Chinese authors in the 1920s were instrumental in defining a new “Nanyang-flavoured” genre of literature with their experimental works.
Delving earlier back into history, Wilbert Wong looks back at the life, career and writings of John Crawfurd, the second and last British Resident of Singapore. Apart from his achievements as an administrator, Crawfurd was also known for his ground-breaking books and journals on the languages and ethnology of the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia.
The indelible impression left by the Japanese Occupation, says Mark Wong, is painfully apparent in the first-hand oral-history transcripts of survivors from the era. The interviews − collected by the National Archives of Singapore – that recount everyday realities as remembered by people from different walks of life are a visceral reminder of the time when Singapore was called Syonan-to (“Light of the South”).
On a much lighter note, Joy Loh charts the career of the music maestro Alex Abisheganaden, hailed as Singapore’s “Father of the Guitar”. His multifaceted music career was recognised with a Cultural Medallion in 1988.
Finally, we feature two intimate and vivid accounts of what it was like to grow up as a Eurasian and a Malay person in Singapore, written by Melissa De Silva and Hidayah Amin respectively. The former retraces her Portuguese roots in Malacca, where her great-grandfather had been a fisherman, while the latter recalls her formative years living in the historic Gedung Kuning, or “Yellow Mansion”, in Kampong Glam, which her great-grandfather first bought in 1912.
These unique histories and experiences contribute to the sum total of what Singapore is today.
We hope you enjoy reading this issue of BiblioAsia.
Mrs Wai Yin Pryke