Author

Wai Yin Pryke

Browsing

How quickly the last quarter of the year is upon us! Welcome to the final issue of BiblioAsia for 2018. The first automobiles were imported into Singapore in 1896, and shortly after, print advertisements began appearing in newspapers and magazines, enticing consumers with ever creative ways to part with their money for a new set of wheels. In the cover story, Mazelan Anuar tracks the rise of the automobile scene in Singapore, from carriages drawn by horse, bullock and human to the advent of the first cars – advertised as “horseless carriages” – from the late 19th century onwards. Some of these early print ads on cars, along with those on food and drink to fashion and travel, and more, are on display at our latest exhibition – “Selling Dreams: Early Advertising in Singapore” – which takes place at the National Library Building until 24 February 2019. Besides selling a…

“Selling Dreams: Early Advertising in Singapore”. That’s the title of our latest exhibition opening at the National Library Building on 20 July 2018 – showcasing print advertisements drawn from the library’s collection of newspapers, periodicals, books and ephemera produced between the 1830s and 1960s. In this issue’s cover story, Chung Sang Hong provides an overview of the exhibition and tells us how advertisements can provide clues to the social and economic conditions of the time. What was the act of shopping like for Singaporeans in the 1960s? For one thing, people didn’t “hang out” at shopping malls like they do today. Yu-Mei Balasingamchow takes a walk down Raffles Place, High Street and North Bridge Road – where she relives the halcyon days of department stores such as Whiteaways and John Little, standalone shops the likes of Chotirmall and Bajaj Textiles, and the slightly seedy but fascinating warren of Change Alley.…

The proliferation of fake news isn’t a recent phenomenon. Fictitious accounts of how Agnes Joaquim stumbled upon her namesake orchid in her garden began circulating several decades after she was credited for creating the hybrid by crossing two orchid species. Writers Nadia Wright, Linda Locke and Harold Johnson separate fact from fiction in their search for the truth. Similarly, not enough people know that Singapore was a base for nefarious experiments in biological warfare during the Japanese Occupation. Between 1942 and 1945, a laboratory was set up to breed bubonic plague-infected fleas and other deadly pathogens for use as biological weapons. Cheong Suk-Wai finds out more from Singaporean war history researcher Lim Shao Bin. Covert operations is also the subject of Ronnie Tan’s essay, as he recounts the fascinating story of Lee Meng, a Malayan Communist Party agent who headed its network of secret couriers during the Emergency and the…

Inscriptions of history – whether physically inscribed on a surface or mentally etched in one’s memory – have a shelf life beyond the lifespan of their makers. This issue of BiblioAsia on “Immortality & Inscription” pays tribute to the legacy of our forefathers as memorialised in oral history interviews as well as manuscripts, war documents, postage stamps, letters, books, and even an elaborate coat of arms. Essays by Farish Noor and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow remind us that the knowledge inscribed in old documents can reveal valuable insights into our history. Southeast Asia, as Farish Noor tells us, was once a hub of intellectual activity, as evidenced by the large numbers of Malay manuscripts produced in the region. Yu-Mei Balasingamchow’s study of World War II memorabilia at the National Archives tells us why we should be receptive towards discovering new, and often unexpected, ways of viewing our past. In similar vein, Dong…

“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people”, said the great Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s nationalist movement against British colonial rule. Gandhi’s wise words certainly ring true of Singapore, whose multi-ethnic and multicultural society is the product of colonialism as well as successive waves of immigration that began in the early 19th century. These immigrants brought with them their culture, traditions and customs along with qualities such as resilience, thrift, kinship and entrepreneurship, which together have left behind an indelible stamp on Singapore society. This issue of BiblioAsia on “Culture & Communities” highlights the contributions of some of Singapore’s early migrants: Cantonese amahs from Guangdong province, Chettiars from Tamil Nadu, Armenians of Persian stock, and Scots from where else but Scotland. The cover story by Janice Loo pays tribute to the once ubiquitous black-and-white amah – who was highly valued for her superior…

We explore the parallel worlds of reality and make-believe – and the spaces in between – as we take a trip into our not-so-distant past in this issue of BiblioAsia. Ng Yi-Sheng mulls over the fine line between fact and fiction – the theme of this issue – in his essay on the culture of horror that has existed in Singapore since pre-colonial days. From spine-chilling tales of the pontianak, the female vampire from Malay folklore to The Black Isle, Sandi Tan’s 21st-century supernatural novel set in Singapore, the essay taps into our morbid fascination with all things creepy. Likewise, the suspension of reality is what Nadia Arianna Bte Ismail explores in her essay on the rise of local sci-fi publications between the 1970s and 1990s. Besides the supernatural, it is violent and graphic murder cases (naturally) that seem to rivet the public’s attention: Sharon Teng recounts four of the…

“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…

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…