Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity Available Now in English and Mother Tongue Languages

Book by Cultural Medallion recipient Mr Chia Joo Ming translated as part of NLB's One Story series

Singapore, 25 February 2023 – Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity, originally written in Chinese by acclaimed novelist and Cultural Medallion recipient Mr Chia Joo Ming, has now been translated into English, Malay and Tamil for more to enjoy. This short story explores three universal themes – home, tradition and human instinct – that will resonate with everyone.

This year’s title is the third instalment in the National Library Board’s (NLB) One Story series, which translates a book by a local author into Singapore’s official languages. The first two books, Dharma’s Chariot, a Tamil story by Singapore Literature Prize winner, Mr Sithuraj Ponraj, and Razi, a Malay story by Dr Sa’eda Buang, have been well received since their releases in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity depicts a family’s challenges in retaining the traditional squat toilet in their heritage conservation home. The story explores the issues of natural instincts, marriage and family, and the definition of tradition, through the creative analogy of how local toilets have developed over the years – from the squat toilets in the kampongs (villages) of the past to the sitting toilets more common today. This latest One Story is a collaboration between NLB and the National Arts Council.

Patrons can also look forward to discovering more about heritage conservation, and the impact of modernisation on our lives, culture and identity through more than 20 programmes at public libraries and online (https://www.go.gov.sg/os23-programme-collection). These programmes include panel discussions, talks, Book Club discussions, writing workshops and dramatised readings taking place from 25 Feb, Saturday, to 31 May, 2023, Wednesday. One event not to be missed would be the Love in Other Tongues panel discussion in April, featuring all three One Story authors exploring the common theme of love, which is in all their works.

 Book cover for Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity
One Story 2023: Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity, now available in all four official languages.

Please refer to Annex A for more details on the One Story 2023 project and Annex B for the programme highlights.

Launched in 2020 as part of NLB’s National Reading Movement, One Story presents local short stories translated from its original language to the other official languages to spark wider literary conversation, and inspire greater discovery of our shared cultural heritage among Singaporeans. The first book in the series, Dharma’s Chariot, explores themes of family, culture and heritage. In 2021, One Story featured Razi, story on maternal love and caring for people with special needs. Patrons can check out these stories at all public libraries and on the NLB Mobile app. Please refer to Annex C for more details on Dharma’s Chariot and Razi.

NLB’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ng Cher Pong, said: “We are encouraged by the strong response to the One Story series, and we believe this latest story by Mr Chia, will be similarly well-received by many given the universal concepts it holds. We hope that through our One Story series, many more can learn about and appreciate the rich Singapore stories that are all around us. As part of NLB’s LAB25 (Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025) Learning Marketplace and Singapore Storytellers roles, we will work with more partners, like the National Arts Council and the community, to bring more local stories to all, to deepen our shared Singapore experience.”

NAC's Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Mr Low Eng Teong, said: "Translations of Singapore literature are especially valuable in nurturing cross-cultural understanding and connecting Singapore’s language communities. They make easy the sharing of experiences, strengthening of community bonds and engender a greater sense of identity. Translations facilitate greater accessibility, foster wider readership and a deeper appreciation of the pantheon of Singapore writers. Leading up to the launch of Our SG Arts Plan (2023 – 2027), NAC looks forward to deepening our partnerships with key stakeholders like NLB to strengthen the ecosystem of literary translation and enable Singaporeans from all walks of life to grow in appreciation for our vibrant arts community.”

The author of Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity, Mr Chia Joo Ming, said: “Modernisation is inevitable in today’s world and I hope that as society progresses, the impact of modernisation on tradition can be kept to the minimum as far as possible. What exactly is tradition, what is modernity? Everyone’s perception is different, and we can all start thinking about that through this year’s book. NLB’s One Story, published in our four official languages, will allow more to enjoy our Singapore stories.”

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About the National Library Board

The National Library Board (NLB) nurtures Readers for Life, Learning Communities and a Knowledgeable Nation by promoting reading, learning and history through its network of 29 libraries, the National Library and the National Archives of Singapore. NLB also forges strategic partnerships that encourage awareness, appreciation and greater discovery of Singapore's history through its rich collections in Singapore and the region.

NLB achieves excellence through innovation, focusing on citizen engagement and co-creation, resource and digital innovation. This creates learning opportunities, greater access to library resources, services, and archival collections, as well as a continual development of innovative library spaces. Established on 1 September 1995 as a statutory board, NLB is under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

For more information, please visit the NLB website, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube channels.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Hoe I Yune
Weber Shandwick
Tel: +65 9324 2061
E-mail: ihoe@webershandwick.com

Joween Song
Weber Shandwick
Tel: +65 9677 2598
E-mail: jsong@webershandwick.com


Annex A
More about One Story 2023: Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity

a. Synopsis
When the story’s characters attempt to replace their squatting toilet with a sitting one, they discover this will not be possible because their pre-war house is in a heritage conservation district and even its toilets are protected by regulations. The family’s thwarted renovation attempt is presented in a light-hearted story that explores our definitions of home and tradition that may challenge our own natural instincts.

b. Author's Profile
Profile picture of author Chia Joo Ming
Mr Chia Joo Ming, born in Singapore in 1959, is an award-winning author and has published 11 books. He was presented with the Young Artist Award for Literature by the National Arts Council of Singapore in 1993. He won the Singapore Book Award in 1996 for New Words of Worldly Tales, and the Singapore Literature Prize in 2006, 2010 and 2020 for Reconstructing Nanyang, m40 and Kian Kok respectively. His novel, Exile or Pursuit, received a commendation award at Singapore Literature Prize in 2016. He was conferred the South-East Asia Write Award in 2017 and the Singapore Cultural Medallion in 2021.

Mr Chia participated in the Iowa International Writing Program in 1995. In 2014, he was appointed as the Writer-in-Residence at Nanyang Technological University. Mr Chia has been described as “one of the ten keywords of Singapore’s Chinese cultural perspectives” by Professor David Der-Wei Wang, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University.

In 2016, Taiwan’s literary magazine (Wen Hsun) put m40 on its list of top 20 novels (2001-15), while Kian Kok was on Yazhou Zhoukan’s (a Chinese language international news weekly) list of 2018’s top ten novels. Exile or Pursuit was selected as a Chinese literature textbook for secondary schools by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 2018. An English translation of the novel was published in 2019, and the novel was adapted into a Chinese stage performance presented by MOE and the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning in 2021.

c. Community Partnerships
The National Arts Council (NAC) fully supported the production of One Story 2023: Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity. NAC and NLB jointly agreed on the Malay and Tamil translators for the translation of the text.

English translator: Mr Tan Dan Feng
Malay translator: Mr Shaffiq Selamat
Tamil translator: Ms Valliyammai d/o Vellasamy Shanmugam


Annex B
One Story 2023: Programme Highlights from 25 February to 31 May 2023



26 Feb 2023
5pm – 6pm

Ang Mo Kio Public Library, Tomato Room

Vasagar Vattam Book Discussion (Tamil)
வாசகர் வட்டம் வழிநடத்தும் கதை கலந்துரையாடல்

In this session conducted in Tamil, discover new perspectives as you engage in a discussion with Vaasagar Vattam Book Club members on Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity.

5 Mar 2023
2.30pm – 4pm

National Library Building, L5, Possibility Room

Behind the story: Sharing by Chia Joo Ming (Chinese)

Mr Chia Joo Ming wrote the short story Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity when he was about 35 years old. What was the author's state of mind at the age of 35? What is his state of mind now? Join guest speakers, Mr Chia and Mr Tan Yu Xin, a Lianhe Zaobao Correspondent, as they discuss their views towards life.

12 Mar 2023
5.30pm -7pm

Woodlands Regional Library, Pacific Room

Maya Ilakiya Book Discussion (Tamil)
மாயா இலக்கிய வட்டம் வழிநடத்தும் கதை கலந்துரையாடல்

In this session conducted in Tamil, discover new perspectives as you engage in a discussion with Maya Ilakiya Vattam Book Club members on Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity.

14 Mar 2023
8pm – 9pm


Small Spaces, Big Dreams: Writers on the Heart and the Hearth (English)

What does home ownership mean to Singaporeans? The promise of marriage; an investment opportunity; a site for familial memories; or simply, a roof over one's head? Hear from authors Ms Ang Shuang, Ms Heng Siok Tian and Ms Liyana Dhamirah as they speak to moderator Ms Yu-Mei Balasingamchow about the pains and pleasures (and everything in between) of having a house of one's own.

15 Mar 2023
1pm – 3pm

Zoom and on-site at Bukit Panjang Public Library

Interacting @ Bukit Panjang Book Club (Chinese)

Join this session for a discussion with Interacting@Bukit Panjang Book Club on Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity.

18 Mar 2023
2.30pm – 4pm

National Library Building, Level 16, The Pod

Panel discussion: Tradition or Modernity (Chinese)
爱情、婚姻、家庭 – 坐看或蹲看?

What is tradition? What is modernity? How is tradition viewed in modern society? Can tradition and modernity be blended and complement each other, or are they in confrontation with each other? Get an insight to the thoughts of the author of Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity and three panellists, Assoc Prof Tan Chee Lay, Dr Lim Wooi Tee and Ms Moh Lee Fair.

19 Mar 2023
2.30pm – 4pm

National Library Building, L5, Possibility Room

Local architect’s talk on heritage and conservation (Chinese)

Local architect, heritage preservation expert, author, and illustrator Mr Francis Wong Hooe Wai will share the challenges and interesting stories of preserving old buildings in his professional career and what living in preserved buildings may be. He will talk about how architects can break through the limitations while adhering to the principles of retaining old buildings.

24 Mar 2023
6.30pm – 8.30pm

National Library Building, L5, Possibility Room

The Challenges in Following Traditions in a Multicultural Modern Society (Tamil)
கலாசாரத்தை பின்பற்றுவதில் எற்படும் சவால்கள் - கருத்தரங்கம்

A Tamil language discussion and debate on the challenges in following traditions in a multicultural modern society.

25 Mar 2023
3pm – 5pm

Woodlands Regional Library, Programme Zone

Colours of Our Heritage (English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil)

An afternoon of songs and poetry in four official languages celebrating our heritage that lives through time and are still celebrated today. Performers will present their creative showcases in their respective Mother Tongue Languages followed by a translation in English.

25 Mar 2023
7pm – 8.30pm

Ang Mo Kio Public Library, Programme Zone

Taxi Shifu and Friends Reading Club (Chinese)

Taxi Shifu and Friends Reading Club will discuss Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity.

1 Apr 2023
2.30pm – 4.30pm


From Kampung to HDB: Have Things Changed? (Malay)
Dari Kampung ke HDB: Yang Kekal, Mekar dan Menyepi?

Di Tanjong Katong is a famous Malay song that captures the beauty of the sea. Now, everything has changed. The adored physical landscape with scattered kampung houses has been replaced with high-rise buildings. The old dwellers have moved into HDB flats. However, there are things that they brought along, that would forever unite them as one. What are these “things”?

8 Apr 2023
2.30pm – 4pm


Talk on how our local toilets have evolved (Chinese)
华人的厕所文化 – 人人有“粪”

The speaker, Mr Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organization who is best known as Mr Toilet, will be sharing on Singapore’s progress in sanitation from night soil collection to modern-day toilets.

13 Apr 2023
7pm – 8pm


Five Questions for a Conservation Planner (English)

Ever wondered what went into conserving a shophouse in Chinatown or the work that went into it? The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) conservation master plan in 1989 identified historic areas for conservation, one of which was Chinatown. Today, URA has conserved more than 7,000 buildings in more than 100 areas, including Chinatown, which is one of our four historic districts.

Tune in to hear from Ms Tan Peng Ting, Senior Planner for Conservation Planning at URA, who will speak about the importance of conserving our built heritage, the challenges in balancing modern needs and solutions to rejuvenate our districts!

20 Apr 2023
7pm – 8pm

National Library Building, L5, Imagination Room

Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity | Sing Lit Book Club (English)

Join us at the Singapore Literature Book Club as we chat with Cultural Medallion Recipient Mr Chia Joo Ming about his short story Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity. As this will be an interactive session, please come prepared to discuss the book and share your thoughts!

22 Apr 2023
11am – 12pm

Bishan Public Library, Programme Zone

From the Pit to the Bowl: A Brief History of Toilets in Singapore (English)

What is the significance of a humble toilet? Join Mr Jack Sim, also known as Mr Toilet, for a talk on how Singapore has progressed from night soil collection to modern-day toilets. Discover the wide impact of toilets and sanitation and find out how the World Toilet Organization has been championing the global sanitation movement.

23 Apr 2023
11am – 1pm


Tamil Short Story Writing Workshop for Teens (Tamil)
உயர்நிலைப் பள்ளி மாணவர்களுக்கான தமிழ் புனைகதை எழுதும் பட்டறை

Budding writers will learn creative writing techniques to form their own short stories. The workshop will explore the theme and writing methods used in Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity.

29 Apr 2023
11am – 12.30pm

National Library Building, Level 16, The Pod

Love in Other Tongues (English)

Love 爱, cinta, அன்பு. This multicultural panel discussion invites the authors of NLB’s One Story titles to speak about the theme of love. We will examine not only romantic love, but also love that exists between friends, families, and communities.

What are the great love stories in one’s culture? How does one’s understanding of love evolve as one grows old? What are the unique forms and expressions of love and kinship in various communities in Singapore? Join us as we contemplate love and all of its beautiful and messy facets in Singapore.

Featured Authors: Mr Chia Joo Ming, Mr Sithuraj Ponraj, Dr Sa’eda Buang
Moderator: Mr William Phuan

20 May 2023
2.30pm – 4.30pm

Open Stage

An Afternoon of Reminiscing Heritage (Malay)
Sepetang Meraikan Warisan

Enjoy an afternoon of songs and poetry recitations to the strumming tune of the guitar by a guest musician. These creative pieces will rekindle fond memories of the past – both tangible and intangible – which is still alive and celebrated by many. Walk along old bustling streets, take a bus ride, smell the air of famous places and cherish the friendliness of the kampong dwellers in this open-mic session.

27 May 2023
10.30am – 12.30pm

Woodlands Regional Library, Everest Room

Documenting Us: Heritage@Home (Malay)
Mendokumentasi Kami: Warisan@Kediaman

Digitisation and advancements in technology help to preserve our past heritage. Our smartphones supported by various applications have made documenting our lifestyle and surroundings more fun and exciting. This workshop will provide participants with basic guidance in creating short creative videos with their phones to document what heritage means to them.

27 May 2023
2.30pm – 4.30pm

Woodlands Regional Library, Pacific Room

Squat for Tradition, Sit for Modernity: A Discussion on Tradition and Today by Ilham Pustaka Reading Club (Malay)
Kelab Membaca Ilham Pustaka: Tentang Tradisi & Masa Kini

What is tradition and its role in today’s society? Join us for a casual, engaging discussion on traditions and their relevance to modern society. Session will be led by well-known award-winning local authors, Dr Subari Sakaini, Ms Sharifah Mohamed, Mr Hamed Ismail, and Mr Jamal Ismail!


Annex C
More about One Story 2020: Dharma’s Chariot, and One Story 2021: Razi



Book cover for Dharma's Chariot

Palaniappan, a cloth merchant, sells a shipment of defective cloth to his old friend Jamal in order to pay the rent for his shop in Arab Street. However, Palaniappan begins to feel guilty as Jamal had helped him set up his business. Will the values of friendship, culture and tradition prevail?

Dharma’s Chariot offers a glimpse of what life was like for the community of businessmen in the small Indian import and export trade which prospered in the 1970s and 1980s, but gradually declined when technology made their middleman skills obsolete.

Mr Sithuraj Ponraj began writing fiction and poetry at 18 years old and his works have since been published in several leading periodicals in India, Malaysia, and Singapore. In 2016, he won the Singapore Literature Prize for Tamil Fiction for his debut short story collection, Maariligal (The Unchangeables), as well as the Singapore Literature Merit Prize for Tamil poetry for his debut poetry collection, Kaatrai Kadanthaai (You Passed Like the Wind).

He also wrote two Tamil novels – Bernoulli Peigal (Bernoulli’s Ghosts) in 2016, and Vilambara Neelathil Oru Maranam (A Death in the Span of an Advertisement) in 2017. His second Tamil poetry collection, Sanikilamai Kuthiraigal (The Saturday Horses), was also published in 2017. A year later, he wrote his second Tamil short story collection, Ramon Enum Thevadai (Ramon Becomes an Angel).

Mr Sithuraj also writes in Spanish and English. His first Spanish poetry collection, The Crocodiles No Longer Pass Here, and English poetry collection, The Keynesian Crocodiles were published in 2019. In the same year, he published a Tamil book of literary criticism on the classic tale of 1001 Arabian Nights, titled Kathaisolliyin 1001 Iravugal.

Book cover for Razi

Each day is a painful struggle for Nani, the mother of Razi, a boy with special needs. As Nani finds herself increasingly frustrated by society’s lack of understanding and empathy for Razi’s condition, she is by turns swayed and pressured by her sister’s incessant cajoling to seek help from a traditional Malay healer.

Nani keeps the treatment a secret from her husband, out of fear and perhaps guilt, as Razi is slowly tamed into obedience. The healer sees it as progress, but is silent submission a cure at all?

Razi explores the nature of a mother’s love and how society could do more to support the people with special needs among us.

Dr Sa’eda Buang is a Senior Lecturer in the Asian Languages and Cultures academic group, National Institute of Education (NIE) at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Her research interests are in the areas of comparative literature, cultural studies, curriculum development and reformation, critical literacy, Muslim education, alternative assessments, and Jawi manuscripts.

Dr Sa’eda writes poetry, short stories, and academic papers on literature. She won the much-coveted Literary Prize (poetry) for Pustakaku Dalam Remang Senja (My Reading Room in the Twilight) awarded by the Singapore Malay Language Council in 2003; the Literary Prize (short story) for Ke Puncak Pun Tidak (To Summit No More); and the Literary Prize (commendation, poetry) for Malang, Senda dan Citra (Misfortune, Hope and Comedy), both in 2005. Her award-winning poem, Pustakaku Dalam Remang Senja was translated into Mandarin and was featured in Singapore’s Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao in 2003.

Apart from conducting workshops on creative writing at schools and for the public, she currently serves as Singapore’s representative in the Southeast Asian Literature Council (MASTERA) as well as an advisor and consultant in the international and local Malay literary industry. In addition to being a member of several editorial advisory boards in Indonesia and Malaysia, Dr Sa’eda was also the guest editor for the Asia-Pacific Journal of Education’s special issue on Muslim Education − Challenges, Opportunities and Beyond (2007) and Associate Editor of the Asia-Pacific Journal of Education (Routledge), NIE-NTU (2014-2016). She also reviews numerous international journals.