ISSUE FOUR/MARCH 2013
THE NUS HISTORY MAGAZINE A STUDENT PUBLICATION OF THE NUS HISTORY SOCIETY
FOREIGNERS IN SINGAPORE FEATURING / OUR GURKHAS TRANSIENT WORKERS FOREIGN FILM THE ACT OF KILLING
THE WHITE PAPER. Now synonymous with bad news, Singaporeans have been raving about it ever since it was promulgated earlier this year. Political implications ensued. Speeches were made. A protest was held at Speakerâ€™s Corner, and yet another will be held this coming May Day. We would be fools to ignore how the White Paper has incurred the displeasure of locals. Instead of embroiling ourselves in similar arguments, the team at Mnemozine has chosen to simply accept the cold, hard fact: foreigners are here to stay. This issue is themed around the foreigners in Singapore, and most of the articles are dedicated to their experience in Singapore. Dhwani and Guan Hua have done a short research piece on the history of foreign labour in Singapore (p. 7), amidst concerns over uncertain job prospects. Christopher shares his experience as a foreign student in Oxford, and Derek responds by looking at foreign students in NUS (p. 12-13). Gowri demonstrates how our film industry, like many others, is a product of and subject to multiple foreign influences (p. 28). Mnemozine is also excited to work with the National Heritage Board in a series of projects exploring sites of heritage in Singapore that are losing visibility (p. 14). We talk to the people at our very own NUS Museum as well, and review their exhibitions. Do look forward to further collaborations in future issues, or if you have any to suggest, drop us an email! We hope to nurture a healthy scepticism towards the dominant voices reverberating in society, just as it was nurtured in us from our training. As our publication continues to grow, we hope that it will increasingly become more research-based and objective. Nevertheless, the vitality of youth ironically urges us to voice our opinions. We hope you enjoy the result. Chief Editor Ngiam Xing Yi (P.S. We need successors. Email us for an interview: no resumes, CVs or prior experience required!)
Prof. Malcolm Mur- Transient Workers Count Too / 12 fett/ 2
MNEMOZINE ISSUE 4 / MAY 2013 EDITORIAL TEAM Chief Editor Ngiam Xing Yi Deputy Editors Andy Chong Lean Guan Hua Gowri d/o Rajaratnam CONTRIBUTORS Mahirah Mustaffa Mizrahi Maszenan Christopher Chok Derek Wong Zi Ding Teo Wei How, Rayner Dhwani Shashank Dholakia Tan Yan Tong Pearl Wee Ai Ting Tan Sock Keng Sandeep Ray PHOTOGRAPHY Lai Jun Wei PUBLIC RELATIONS Tan Sock Keng DESIGN Wu Zhuoyi Cheryl Low Lai Jun Wei Trendy Tan Past issues at http://issuu.com/mnemozine Mnemozine is published by the NUS History Society and is distributed to all current students, staff, friends and benefactors of the society. A non-profit entity, we welcome donations and other in-kind support. For more information, please email us at email@example.com
We talk to A/P Malcolm Murfett about history and himself
Restoring dignity to Transient Workers
Bras Basah Bookstores / 18
Celebrating Bukit Brown / 26
We discover what Bras Basah and its bookstores have to offer
Heritage under threat
CONTENTS HOME Professor Murfett: Academic & Sportsman Extraordinaire / 2 Class of 2007: Ekaterina Dynina / 5
FEATURE A History of Foreign Labour in Singapore / 6 Our Gurkhas / 8 My Bibik Says / 10 Transient Workers Count Too / 12 In Another Land / 14 My Summer at Hogwarts / 16 A Muggle’s Muddle / 17
BEYOND NHB Project: Bras Basah / 18 Foreign Films / 21 Across to Singapore / 22 Your Voice Is Mine / 24 The Underdogs of NUS Museum / 25
REVIEW Celebrating Bukit Brown / 26 Men in White / 27 The Act of Killing / 28
ACADEMIC & SPORTSMAN EXTRAORDINAIRE MAHIRAH MUSTAFFA A0101382@nus.edu.sg Photography by LAI JUN WEI Flipping through pages of Hostage on the Yangtze, Professor Malcolm Murfett greets me with an eager smile. The book, published in 1991, is slated to be sold for a film production. He sits me down at his office table strewn with numerous other books of his and describes them to me with an enthusiasm I find somewhat surprising. Son of blue-collar workers, this now prolific British academic and three-time winner of the Annual University Teaching Excellence Award (2001/2, 2002/3, 2003/4) certainly didn’t foresee he would one day be a professor in a subject he loathed. Come June 2014, he leaves NUS after thirty-four years of service, and in this interview, shares his professorial journey with Mnemozine. Why did you come to Singapore? Nine months before finishing my doctorate at Oxford, I got a call from my old professor, who said numerous successful British jump-started their careers here, and encouraged me to send my CV to Professor Wong Lin Ken, Head of Department then. Thereafter, I was interviewed by Eric Stokes, Smuts Professor at Cambridge, and the Singapore High Commission of London. They approved of me and I came here for the first time on 28th June 1980.
Was your interest in History instilled from young? No, I gave up History before O Levels, but I think one matures beyond adolescence through life experience. Looking back, I realised I hated History because it was poorly taught. There was so much rote learning. My interest in History only began in my early 20’s but I’ve never looked back since. Do you think being a student who once hated History makes you better at teaching it? I think it developed my imagination to teach History in a more interesting way for students. In every class, I would picture myself sitting where a student is and think, “Is he having an impact on me? Are the things we’re dealing with important? Am I better off from having been in this room?” I don’t want students leaving my class feeling they’ve wasted their time – that would be very sad. What makes a good History student? A good History student has the ability to look beyond the obvious, the interest to read widely instead of constricting oneself to one or two sources and the willingness to question the truth. If students were allowed to take only one module from you, what would you recommend? My level-4000 module on ‘Political Leadership and the Fate of Modern Britain’. It draws the curtain over government policy and the dissonance between policy initiation and implementation.
Was it easy to assimilate into Singaporean society? You did competitive sports when you were younger. What is Yes. I started out at the Bukit Timah campus. The your favorite sport? architecture was colonial, and the people very pleasant. I played tennis professionally in the Junior Wimbledon but knew I wasn’t good enough to play professionally. I love cricket in the summer and hockey in the winter - I Did your children assimilate well too? represented the Singapore national team in both and They did. We lived in College Green at Bukit Timah, that experience allowed me to make local friends. which was a multi-cultural estate. Singapore is still home to them. They are the strongest defenders of it You are leaving in fourteen months. What do you hope for whenever anyone in the UK tries to be critical of it. your students and colleagues to remember you for? Why didn’t they stay in Singapore if they consider it home? I hope my students realise that I cared. As for my colleagues, I hope they acknowledge me as someone They weren’t given the option of retaining dual who did everything to the best of my ability. My recent citizenship. Besides, the UK is larger so career book Naval Warfare 1919-45 took ten years to complete. opportunities are greater. It was a tough call but I don’t stand for mediocrity. I Why did you choose to become a professor? don’t stand for just going through the motions. If I’m It wasn’t planned. I love teaching and would’ve been contented teaching anywhere. The choice of university going to do something, I’m going all the way. If it’s teaching was a matter of how opportunities played out going to take longer, it’s going to take longer – that has for me. My dad was a bus driver and my mom an amah never stopped me. - academia was never in my family background. I feel blessed by how everything fell into place because I love Professor Murfett’s latest book, Cold War in Southeast Asia, is out in bookstores now. my job.
CLASS OF 2007:
EKATERINA DYNINA In our very first alumni feature, we caught up with Ms Dynina, a foreign alumnus of the history department.
ANDY CHONG A0072101@nus.edu.sg Hi Ms Dynina, can you tell us why you chose to study history in NUS? I enjoyed history at a JC level and decided to study what I liked. I found it provided useful insights into the way the world around me operated. It was also a subject I was good at, because to a large extent it revolved around making coherent and nuanced arguments based on available facts and interpretations. My parents were not too thrilled with my choice of major at that time, because they were leaning towards something more practical like a degree in Business. But I must have been an argumentative teen, because I stood my own ground and completed a four-year course in history. Were you part of an international student group or Russian expat community in Singapore? I have never really seen myself as an international student, probably due to the fact that I have been in Singapore for close to 10 years at that point and came from a local school. Hence, I did not take part in any international student activities on campus. Instead, I was involved in the Russian expat community in Singapore. At that time, there was no formal organization as such and people gathered on an informal basis. The first few gatherings took place at my house and later that group of friends went on to become a core of a more formal Russian expat community in Singapore. What are your thoughts on the issue of assimilation of foreigners in Singaporean society? Assimilation is a long and complex process driven by a number of factors; such as one’s purpose for being in a foreign country, the size of one’s diaspora and one’s environment. People who see Singapore as a stepping stone to somewhere else, rarely bother with assimilation, because their time horizon is fairly short and they do not see the benefits of integration vis-a-vis the expended effort. The larger the diaspora, the easier it is for a person to satisfy social needs without making
the effort to understand the local people’s mentality and traditions. And finally, some environments, like local schools or local companies make some degree of assimilation indispensable, while being a housewife typically provides less impetus and fewer opportunities to assimilate. Naturally, it also takes two hands to clap. I found that some Singaporeans are far more helpful and encouraging integration than others. I think that nowadays because of the changing economic landscape (fewer families being able to afford international schools and more foreigners coming in as mid-level or even entry-level professionals) there is more assimilation at middle-income levels. On the other hand, the influx of cheap foreign unskilled and semi-skilled labour hinders assimilation at the lower income levels. Did you face any challenges or obstacles living so far away from your homeland? What do you think Singaporeans can do to help the foreigners in our midst? I missed Russia terribly during my first few years in Singapore, after the novelty of living in another country wore off. There came a point when I started losing touch with my friends in Russia and yet had not formed strong friendships over here. I called this the “not yet here, but already not there” state. It went away after a while, after I made more friends here and stopped defining my identity exclusively through my Russian cultural heritage. It is hard to say what Singaporeans can do more, because I felt that people who surrounded me were trying to be as understanding and helpful as they could. One thing that could help would be not to focus on the differences between the two cultures, but on the fundamental similarities. Surely, we all eat different food and pass our time enjoying different things, but deep down inside, we share some common values. What advice would you give to the current undergraduates who are thinking of working and studying overseas in the future? I would tell them to focus less on learning from the books and more from their peers. After all, going overseas to study or to work is not about reading books or crunching numbers at a location with a foreign address, but exposing oneself to how people elsewhere think and perceive the reality.
Ms. Dynina graduated from the NUS History department in 2007. She is currently on secondment to KPMG Moscow as a manager. She previously worked with Changi Airports International.
A HISTORY OF FOREIGN LABOUR IN SINGAPORE LEAN GUAN HUA LEANGUANHUA@HOTMAIL.COM DHWANI DHOLAKIA THEFIFTHDOOR@GMAIL.COM Photography by LAI JUN WEI, TAN JIEW WAN/iSTOCKPHOTO, WIKICOMMONS FOREIGN LABOUR IN SINGAPORE CARRIES WITH IT A RICH HIStory and has undoubtedly contributed to the changing social landscapes of our small island. Scholars time and again have characterised Singapore as a city which began its development with the migration of foreigners and is a city that was virtually created by immigration. A lot has changed since then, of course, and Singapore is now the city of Singaporeans, created by taking the amalgam of foreign influences and shaping these into its own identity and culture. Foreign labour in Singapore can be divided into two distinct periods: pre-independence and post-independence. The immigration policies of the pre-independence era consisted mainly of employing for permanent settlement. The post-independence era, however, is characterised by the employment of foreigners to settle labour supply deficits and migrants are not expected to make their life solely in Singapore, although that prospect is left open to them should they feel the need to make their residency permanent. Business, commerce and economics have always been at the heart of most immigration policies. It was with this mindset that the Chinese and the Indians, two of four major ethnicities of Singapore, arrived in Singapore in its early days. They were promised the prospect of reaping profits due to Singapore’s prime location as a trading post. Hence, many Chinese businessmen decided to set up businesses here. The Straits Chinese from Riau, Malacca and nearby colonies formed a distinct Baba community. This group of Chinese had the advantage of being able to speak English and of having a vast knowledge of the region, rendering them useful as intermediaries between the British and local traders. Along the same lines as the Chinese, North Indian businessmen arrived in Singapore to set up shop at a prime commercial location in Asia. These North Indians,
A group of coolies in Singapore taking a break from their work at the pier .
including the Parsis, Sindhis, Marwaris and Gujaratis, were essential to the growth of Bras Basah Road and Serangoon Road as commercial centers. South Indian merchants arrived in Singapore at about the same time. Popularly known as Chettiars, these merchants worked as money-lenders in banking services to support the growth of local businesses. Aside from skilled labour that was focused on economics, another significant group was that of unskilled labourers that played an equally essential, but often forgotten role in the economic growth of Singapore. As the needs of the economy grew, so did the need for unskilled labour to support this growth. From 1852 onwards, Chinese coolies and Indian indentured workers were a predominant group of foreign labourers that were keen to make a living in Singapore and were lured by the prospect of saving whatever meager income they made to eventually set up their own business. Few saw this dream come true. Most had to endure poor working conditions and many died on the arduous shipping journey to Singapore. This initial group of immigrants was larger than the local population and it was mainly from this group that the Singapore we are familiar with today was developed. Most of us can trace our roots to this group of foreign labourers. It was towards the end of this era that the concept of “the Singaporean” began to be formed and we owe our present identity largely to this initial group of immigrants. The years during World War Two leading up to independence saw little movement in terms of foreign labour. Most countries, including Singapore, were focused on other internal affairs. In fact, Singapore even had a legislation that disallowed the employment of foreign labour and immigration to Singapore was only allowed if it was to reunite a family that was torn apart by the war and independence. A major change was seen in 1968, when this legislation was reversed and the foreign labour market was opened again. It started mainly with unskilled or low-skilled labour to supplement shortages in the construction and manufacturing industries, and they were mostly sourced from South and Southeast Asian countries. The attitude at this point in time leaned towards the import and export of labour to meet shortages and did not consider permanent settlement. In a few years’ time, however, the nature of foreign labour employment changed to include skilled workers such as engineers, analysts, computing experts, as well as managers and educators. Many of these skilled workers arrived in Singapore with the intent of permanent settlement or least some degree of long-term residency. As a result, Singapore saw a steady increase in the employment of skilled foreign labour over the next decade due to the fact that these workers not only contributed to the cosmopolitan diversity of Singapore but also helped to meet demands in areas that were not well-staffed by locals. This saw a throwback to the pre-independence migration atmosphere where families were keen to sink roots into Singapore. Skilled foreign workers had no problems integrating themselves into local society and were focused on the prospect of stability and family rather than commercial pursuits. At the same time, with an increased labour force, there was a need for increased development of infrastructure. Together with a rise in population that required new housing and new businesses that needed places to set up, Singapore saw an unprecedented rise in unskilled foreign labour for the construction, manufacturing and maid industries. Public hostile reaction to foreign labour only surfaced over the
past decade. The pre-independence atmosphere was such that locals were few and commerce was the main focus. There was not yet a significant Singaporeans identity and during the later years of this era, colonial identity was rife. Sociologists agree that when a countryâ€™s identity is not yet strong, it is easier for foreign presences to integrate into society and there also fewer qualms against those who prefer to sequester themselves into enclaves of their own inherent nationalities. It is with the emergence of a stronger Singaporean identity that foreign labour has become a contentious issue from the 2000s onwards. Is it really true that our national identity is developing or is it more of economic resentment and over-
It is with the emergence of a stronger Singaporean identity that foreign labour has become a contentious issue. crowding issues that led to rising housing prices? The history of Singapore is inextricably intertwined with the history of foreign immigration. The society that we have today would not have been possible without the contributions of the foreign population that arrived during the pre-independence era. However, it is also necessary to note the changing colours of foreign migration in line with the changing colours of society. Singapore is a perpetual â€œnation in the makingâ€? and since we possess a global identity, our population make-up should be too. Amidst this atmosphere of constant evolution, a balance needs to be struck between local labour, migration and integration. Perhaps this state of constant evolution does not involve a look at the future but a peep into our past to understand where and how our thoughts of foreign labour have emerged and at which points they begin to change in order to understand concepts of our common identity and where foreign labour stands in our history as well as in our future.
OUR GURKHAS Zakaria Zainal has worked as a reporter and photojournalist in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Singapore. He recently published Our Gurkhas: Singapore Through Our Eyes, is anthology on the Gurkha community of Singapore. He continues to share about the Gurkha community through digital channels.
ANDY CHONG A0072101@nus.edu.sg JASON SENG A0072315@nus.edu.sg Photographs courtesy of ZAKARA ZAINAL Hi Mr. Zainal, can you tell us about your background and your initial interest in the Singapore Gurkhas community? When I was a student at Nanyang Technological University, in the Mass Communications department, I took a 6-month internship in Nepal and started meeting with the retired Singapore Gurkha community there. I met the children there who reminded me of our Singaporean children as they were born and raised in Singapore. As a result, they found it hard to assimilate back in Nepalese society due to cultural and language barriers. My friend and I featured them in our thesis, The Invisible Force. It is a 15000-word investigative feature on the Singapore Gurkha community – why they are here, what they do here, their feelings upon retirement and the persisting issues they faced that have not been addressed by the authorities.
INTERVIEW How have your photo exhibitions impacted the Gurkha community in Nepal and Singapore? The impact has been symbolic. There is a sense of pride among the Gurkhas. They appreciate the fact that there is a Singaporean who wants to understand them better. I feel that the retirees feel a lack of appreciation, especially after they hang up their uniforms and become civilians. The Gurkha community is not allowed to integrate with the mainstream society in Singapore. The nature of their role is really that of an impartial force. Technically, they will be activated if something [e.g. racial riots in 1964] happens again.
Can you tell us about the Gurkha Memory Project too? The Singapore Memory Project wants to be inclusive of the foreign communities’ memories of Singapore. I think the beauty of this work is that it is transnational in nature and is without borders. Of course, the deeper issues about the Gurkhas remain unresolved. The main reason I collaborated with them is to raise awareness towards the Gurkhas before tackling the other issues.
Anti-foreigner sentiments and xenophobia seem to be hot topics in Singapore now. There has been bashing of foreigners online about negative issues. On the other hand, the sentiment towards the Gurkhas is a counter-example. Yes, we call them a different kind of foreigner. People do actually lionise the older generations of Gurkhas. However, members of the older generation comment that the younger generation has a different outlook and ethos– they do not have that old mentality of working hard to send money home. You can ask taxi drivers and they can tell you that they do send young Gurkhas Can you share with us one of the most to nightclubs. In one incident involving them, a few of memorable accounts that you recorded them were caught brawling in a nightclub and one was from the Gurkha veterans? busted. Maybe after they get married, they will become I remembered one of the Gurkhas more mature. No doubt they are a different breed of sharing an analogy which he atforeigners, but we must not lionise them too much. tributed to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The analogy is – What are your thoughts about the future of the Gurkha com“your family dog will only bark at munity in Singapore? the outside intruder, but not at the I feel that perhaps another reason why the Gurkhas are thief within your home. If you bring still here is because of one man [Mr. Lee Kuan Yew]. Do an outside dog into your home, he his successors still want to keep them here even when barks at everybody.” The Gurkha I he is no longer around? My guess is probably yes, as interviewed insisted it was from you can observe the numbers of the Gurkha communiMr.Lee but I was unable to verify it. ty increasing steadily over the years. In April 1949, there The interesting idea about mem- were only 149 recruits and it increased to 500 to 600 in ory is that a person may believe it the 1980s, and now in 2013, they are 2000 strong. The so much that it becomes entrenched Gurkhas are still important to us. They protect our key in his mind. Some of these Gurkhas installations and foreign embassies in Singapore. may remember Singapore so much that something fictional may beMr Zainal’s book can be downloaded at this link: come a real memory to them. http://www.singaporememory.sg/data/res30/gurkhas_zakariazainal.pdf For more information, visit: http://www.facebook.com/gurkhas.sg/info
MY BIBIK SAYS!
BEYOND BROOMSTICKS, MOPS AND TOILET SCRUBS What do Singaporeans really think of the maids who come to work with us? Mizrahi shares his experience with his bibik. they can leave lasting impressions. Before writing this article, I had asked bibik what she would miss about Singapore. She THE TERM BIBIK MEANS “AUNT” IN BAHASA INDO- mentioned the usual: the house, family, etc. nesia and is somewhat likened to kakak or It would only be fair if I share what I will jie jie. It is also how I affectionately address remember of her. my maid, Bibik Rosmini. “Bibik, it’s raining – Bibik has been with the family since 2006. close the windows!” or “Bibik, a glass of water We had two previous maids prior to her. please?” However, don’t get me wrong. I am Both returned to Indonesia after completno spoilt brat. My mother would have seen to ing their two-year contract. When I was in it if my eleven-year-old brother and I behaved National Service, I tended to use their twolike little princelings. Before I go on to indulge in some sentimental reflection about bibik, let’s set some things straight. Firstly, families with maids are not royalty; and their maids are not servants. Like any other employer-employee relationship, both have their own rights. I believe that bibik and my family enjoy a certain kinship that is perhaps as strong as blood. Secondly, it is shallow to think that all maids are transient figures in our lives. You’d be surprised at how
MIZRAHI MASZENAN firstname.lastname@example.org
-year stint as a motivation to survive each passing day in camp. When bibik extended her contract for the second time in 2011, I joked how she had chosen to “sign on”. Of course, bibik didn’t understand the joke (she finds my sense of humour rather unpalatable). However, Bibik’s current contract is slated to end in May this year. This time she won’t be coming back. Bibik recounted to me how my mother had cried when approaching the usual two-year question. My mother’s line of defence had been, “Wouldn’t you want to see Amann (my younger brother) go to secondary school after his PSLE?” Oh yes, my maid knows what PSLE is. She knows what the O levels and A Levels are too. When I asked her what she wasn’t fond of about Singapore, she pointed out the rigorous education system which you and I are the product of. “There are just too many exams, too much stress and it gets worse as you grow older. You (referring to me) are staying up late, glued to that computer and always whine about deadlines”. “I am not whiney,” I had responded passively. However, deep inside, I knew bibik was right and had placed my interest at best. She had been right on other occasions as well and quick to correct me if I was wrong. Sometimes, I would go on one of my ambitious culinary exploits in the kitchen. Bibik would be in the background rearranging scattered condiments. I had never minded her company and would have a good laugh or two with her. On one occasion, she had advised me to pour olive oil into the pot of boiling spaghetti. She reasoned that it would prevent the pasta from sticking together, but I ignored her. Ten minutes later, bibik was grinning as I sieved out strands of spaghetti with my hands. Bibik is quite the unlikely political pundit as well. Last semester, I did some research on the events leading to Suharto’s demise from power in 1998. I had mixed up Wiranto
with Prabowo . If I had not asked her what she thought of Prabowo becoming president in 2014, I would have made a fatal mistake for the exams. She later went on a monologue endorsing Megawati. Bibik, the die-hard feminist. Singaporeans are quick to associate maids with the stereotypes we gather in the news. We doubt their integrity and sincerity in serving the household. Very often, we overlook their loyalty and tenacity. There is more to the person than what her work permit pass defines her as - a foreign domestic worker. Bibik was more than just bibik. She was a friend, Malay language teacher, political pundit, food critic, and occasional prankster. Like family, it will be difficult to say goodbye to somebody whom we have come to cherish and value. Thank you, bibik. You truly are the kakak I never had.
TRANSIENT WORKERS COUNT TOO
Restoring dignity to those whose dignity has been denied
RAYNER TEO email@example.com improving upon its pre-existing programmes, TWC2 constantly strives to remain relevant to the plight of the differPhotographs courtesy of TWC2 CONCEPTUALISED IN 2003 AS A YEAR-LONG CAMPAIGN ENTITLED The Working Committee Two by a group of individuals dedicated specifically to improving the conditions of domestic workers in Singapore, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) is a homegrown and non-profit organization devoted to bettering the situation of low-wage migrant workers (possibly Singapore’s largest disadvantaged persons group) residing and working in Singapore. The aim of TWC2 is to minimise the perceived differences between migrant workers and Singaporeans within Singaporean society, and to promote equality in the treatment of migrant and local workers by Singaporean employers. At the core of TWC2’s organizational philosophy is effective action. Thus, it is not surprising to see that much of TWC2’s programmes are tailored with the goal of dealing with both the symptomatic aspects as well as the root causes of the problems faced by low-wage migrant workers in Singapore. Apart from designing its programmes to effectively tackle the predicaments of low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, TWC2 is also one of the few local non-profit organizations that ardently believe in the value of advocacy in promoting and effecting qualitative and quantitative change. Operating from their main office on the sixth floor of the megastructure-styled Golden Mile Complex, TWC2 is organised around an intimate core of regular staff and a comparatively larger volunteer force. With the help of its volunteers, TWC2 conducts a myriad of outreach programmes that serves to create awareness amongst low-wage migrant workers of the organization’s aims, values and activities and to furnish these migrant workers with relevant information regarding the various channels of help they can turn to in their moments of crisis. TWC2’s joint initiative with ONE (SINGAPORE), The CUFF Road Project (TCRP), is one of such outreach programmes. Started in 2008, TCRP endeavors to provide free meals on a daily basis, in a restaurant environment, to homeless and jobless migrant workers. Apart from providing warm meals to destitute migrant workers in a safe and protected environment, TCRP enables these workers to eat in a dignified manner and also serves as a platform for TWC2 to reach out to needy migrant workers and to better understand their individual predicaments and plight. Apart from following up and
ent groups of low-wage migrant workers living and working in Singapore. For instance, in light of the increasing movement of low-wage migrant workers from China into Singapore, TWC2 have started devising and conducting outreach programmes, with the hope of disseminating appropriate information to the Chinese migrant workers in Mandarin. Additionally, TWC2 has also welcomed two professional social workers into its organizational family structure in recent years to improve on the quality of their existing as well as future endeavors. While TWC2 has made significant progress over the past decade, it still faces a wide variety of challenges. Like most non-governmental organizations across the world, TWC2
... to minimise the perceived differences... and to promote equality in the treatment of migrant and local workers by Singaporean employers. often faces challenges in acquiring sufficient funding and in recruiting a regular pool of volunteers for some of their less popular programmes. In addition to the abovementioned quandaries, TWC2 also regards the increasing placement costs for migrant workers (one of the prime reasons for low-wage migrant worker debt and source of exploitation) as well as the lack of new regular staff to inject fresh ideas as their immediate challenges. In spite of the daunting challenges ahead, TWC2 remains optimistic. After all, there is still more to be done for low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, and even more mindsets that need to be changed. Transient Workers Count Too can be found at 5001 Beach Road (Golden Mile Complex) #06-27, Singapore 199588. To volunteer, visit their website at http://twc2.org.sg more details.
I N A NOTHER L AND LAI JUN WEI firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU LOOKED AROUND HARD ENOUGH, LISTENED CLOSE ENOUGH, YOU’LL probably be able to identify the many foreigners within our midst; working, playing, earning a living. Here’s a picture story of some of these individuals “in another land”.
3 Special thanks to Ms Eunice Koo, Mr Yong Man Loong and Ms Liaw Yee Voon from Practical Furniture Pte Ltd; Mdm Lee Young Hee from Tokio Fruits Cafe; Mrs Veronica Beh and Mr Walter Loo for their assistance in this photo spread.
1 Thai Buddhist monks at Wat Ananda Metyarama leading devotees in a chanting session on Chinese New Year eve. Wat Ananda houses several Thai resident monks and is the oldest Theravada Buddhist tradition Temple in Singapore. 2 Workers waiting for their vehicle to set off in the morning. 3 Philip, who hails from Manila, Phillppines assisting fellow stall assistant Mrs Oh, a South Korean, at Tokio Fruits Cafe in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. 4 Chinese worker Chu Yuan Li cuts down a piece of wood to size. 5 A worker applying paint onto a block of HDB flats along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1. 6 A passenger waiting for the daily Singapore-Malaysia train to set off. The daily shuttle service is run by Malaysia’ KTM Berhad. 7 Clinic Assistant Eileen W, from Penang, Malaysia attending to a phone call at a gynaecologist clinic in Thomson Medical Centre. Prior to this, she also had a stint in K.K. Women’s and Children’s Hospital. 8 Revellers attending the weekly ‘Little Myanmar’ church service held at the
St Andrew’s Cathedral, where songs of worship and prayers are conducted in Burmese. 9 Bangladeshi workers Rethiy Mondal Late Chan Mohan (left), Mohammad Suman Houlader (centre) and Al Amin Shanjahan (right) engaging in carpentry work on the shopfloor. 10 Domestic helper Sri Windarti Sudiharjo, from Yogyakarta, Indonesia during one of her grocery runs at the local supermarket. She has been working in Singapore for the past 17 years. 11 An expatriate member of the Singapore Cricket Club taking down an opponent during the SCC Rugby 7s Competition. The rugby fraternity sees many expatriates taking part with the Singapore national team comprising numerous naturalised Australians and New Zealanders.fellow stall assistant Mrs Oh, a South Korean, at Tokio Fruits Cafe in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. 12 Iyyappan Saranraj, who hails from Chennai, India, works as a Quality Surveyor in local furniture firm Practical Furniture Pte Ltd. He has a B.A, in Automobile Engineering and a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering.
MY SUMMER AT
CHRISTOPHER CHOK email@example.com Growing up alongside the Harry Potter craze tinted my perception on education greatly. In primary school, I often wondered why my school buildingswere not as grand or as fantastic as the Hogwarts castle; why instead of donning cool-looking cloaks and attending fascinating classes such as Defense against the Dark Arts, I had to wear dull uniforms and attend mundane classes.Needless to say, I am quite an avid fan of Harry Potter. In fact, a close friend actually bought me a t-shirt bearing the words “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good” and I happily wore it on my first consultation with Professor Bruce Lockhart (I can’t quite remember how that consultation went).Having read that some Harry Potter scenes were filmed at Oxford University, I fantasised about visiting Oxford someday in my life. As fate would have it, childhood fantasy became a reality for me last summer. An opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill allowed me to read a class at St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford University, in June 2012. Organised by the Carolina Honors department, this class allowed students to learn more about drama, theatre and Shakespeare in particular. Dr. Christopher Armitage, Professor of Distinguished Teaching and adjunct Professor of Peace, War and Defense, taught this class. An Oxonian himself, Dr. Armitage was a student of both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien during his undergraduate days. During our tutorials, he would often recollect and share interesting (and comical) anecdotes with us about his interactions with both those literary geniuses. That being said, it is little wonder why the academic experience of this summer session was so rigorous. The class required us to watch Shakespearean plays almost every other day and a six-page critique of the play was due the very next day. Never in my university life have I experienced so many all-nighters for a particular class. But in a sense, this intensity made this class all the more enriching and exciting. As part of the summer session, Dr.Armitage wanted us to also get a feel of the Oxford education and thus made us present our papers during tutorials.We were also expected to provide feedback to our classmates’ papers as well. A quirky
characteristic about my professor was that he always addressed us by our surnames. And so, whenever he called me “Mr.Chok,” I would suddenly imagine myself being in a Harry Potter movie. “Mr.Chok, could you elaborate more on that thought?” “Interesting comment, Mr.Chok.”“10 points to Gryffindor, Mr.Chok.” Learning and living at St. Edmund’s Hall (colloquially known as Teddy Hall) – a place filled with so much history – was simply awesome. I remembered visiting the college’s ancient crypt during orientation week. The staircase that connectedthe courtyard of the Teddy Hall to that of the crypt was from the 13th century! Spending a few minutes in the crypt was quite a chilling experience. The cool temperature, along with the cobwebs and uneven flooring made me feel as if I was Indiana Jones searching for treasure in Raiders of the Lost Ark.That being said, I learnt that this place was once used as a place for worship for both students and professors at Teddy Hall. The library that was subsequently built above the catacomb was once a chapel that dates back to the 13th century as well. On days in which I was not churning out essays for the class, I spent my timetouring around the town of Oxford. Just gallivanting around Oxford was a very enriching experience; I likened it to be an interactive and intellectual history lesson on the go. Walking down High Street for example, I came across a plaque that documented the discovery of Boole’s Law, read that the world record of the first Mile ever run under 4 minutes was set by Roger Banister on the 6th of May 1954 and even touched a monument that symbolised the extermination of many people during a historic witchhunt. Also, standing at the top of the Sheldonian Theatre (the same venue where Aung San Suu Kyi was conferred her honorary doctorate a few days before), I remembered feeling overwhelmed with joy and gratitude as I gazed upon a spectacular vantage point of the town, a place that was brimming with so much history, heritage and culture. My most memorable moment at Oxford has to be my solo visit to the Divinity School, which coincidentally was the setting for two scenes of Harry Potter: the Hogwarts infirmary (The Philosopher’s Stone) and the ballroom dancing class (The Goblet of Fire). Standing at the beautiful grounds of the Divinity School and gazing up at the intricately-designed ceiling consisting of very elaborate lierne vaulting with bosses – architectural marvels that told a beautiful narrative – was quite an experience in itself. Being at the Divinity School made me feel as if I was standing on very hallowed grounds. It was a very sublime moment. The tour of the Divinity School included a visit to the Bodleian Library – one of the oldest libraries in Europe. To think that so many brilliant minds studied at this place and walked through these very doors was a very humbling yet awe-inspiring experience. I half expected the numerous portraits adorning the walls of the library to move and talk. All in all, my experience at Oxford was – for lack of a better word – magical. It was a fantasy turned reality and a dreamcome-true; it was my very special summer at Hogwarts.
A Muggle’s Muddle
THE LESS MAGICAL SIDE OF BEING A FOREIGN SCHOLAR
Derek Wong offers a response to Christopher, detailing a brief history of foreign scholars in Singapore. DEREK WONG firstname.lastname@example.org
From the reaches of the magical educational institute that is Hogwarts, we now traverse to the equally enchanting surroundings at home. Welcome to Singapore – the land of appearing parking tickets, magically clean streets and bewitching examinations. It too, is a land where dreams of many a foreign scholar lie. Yet it is unfortunate that Singapore might not be as magical a place to these sojourners, who at times might very well have been made to feel like mudbloods. The question is, of course, why this hostility? Why this xenophobic response to our foreign counterparts? The simple answer is that we Singaporeans fear sharing our butterbeers and our Bertie’s Botts Every Flavour Beans - we assume that the government is spending a disproportionate amount on bringing in foreign talent on all-inclusive scholarships (allowance, accommodation and tuition fees) at the expense of local talent. It is tremendously easy, therefore, to see why there has been such an uproar. However, before quivering wands emerge from within our cloaks in anxious, knee-jerk retort, let us first examine the justifications and the numbers presented regarding this issue. There are a number of possible reasons for the influx of foreign scholars and they are similar to the reasons Singapore brings in foreign workers – the first is to replenish a local population that is struggling to repopulate. By holding foreign scholars to bonds, the government is able to bolster the ranks of the workforce here amidst the worrying backdrop of an ageing population. Another possiblereason is that specific sectors such as the engineering industry suffer a dearth of local expertise, and as a result, foreigners have to be recruited to fill this talent vacuum. Yet another macrolevel, nation-wide concern is the issue of establishing healthy bilateral relations with other nations – it is intended that foreign scholars, in the probable event that they return home eventually (and become influential business and political leaders), would have a positive impression of Singapore and therefore be more willing to establish purposeful working relations with their second ‘home’ country. Delving back further into history however, the purpose of attracting students here was arguably derived from an intention to improve the status of the educational institutes in Singapore. Theoutflow of Singapore students to overseas educational institutes actually predated the inflow of foreign students here, with the most promising students offered Commonwealth scholarships to study in countries such as New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom in the postwar period. However, the inflow of international students has since severely outnumbered the outflow of Singaporean students overseas due to purposeful interventions on the government’s part to make education here more accessible
to foreigners. This started with the provision of substantial subsidies for international students in tertiary institutes (called a Tuition Grant, where an international student only pays a marginally higher tuition fee than a local but has to work in a Singapore-based company for three years upon graduation). In an attempt to portray its tertiary institutions as ‘global institutions’, the Singapore government is keen to ensure that that a significant proportion of students in the institutions are talented foreigners. This is to boost the reputations of the institutions as being capable of attracting the global crème de la crème, something the world-class Western universities can boast of. To be a truly globally recognised educational hub is to therefore distance from being parochial in scope. It is however, undeniable in the contemporary context that the nerves of Singaporeans remain frayed regarding the issue of foreign scholars, as paranoia about education and career opportunities exerts a vice-like grip on an increasingly saturated island-nation. This public sentiment culminated in the outright challenge in 2012 from Worker’s Party NCMP Yee Jenn Jong in Parliament , resulting in the following exchanges (I would leave the determination of their implications to you): a) Yee:[What are] the number of foreign scholarships granted by the MOE annually? Parliamentary Reply:ASEAN students: 150 pre-tertiary level, 170 undergraduate level. International (nonASEAN) students: 800 pre-tertiary, 900 undergraduate b) Y: [What is] the cost of each scholarship? P: The scholarships cover school fees and accommodation, and the annual cost is about $14,000 for each pre-tertiary and between $18,000 to $25,000 for each undergraduate scholarship. c) Y:[What is] the percentage of foreign scholars in local universities who had graduated with Second Class Upper Honours or better? P: Of all the international students who graduated from our Autonomous Universities in 2011, around 45% did so with a second upper class of honours or better. The discourse on foreign scholars being a boon or bane will likely prove inexorable for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, let us not take anything from the sheer joy a foreign scholar experiences upon receiving a letter of acceptance from the Hogwarts that is NUS – at least Potter in his procurement of the invisibility cloak had somewhere to hide. Let us summon the Patronus, and do away with the patronizing.
“2012 Parliamentary Replies”, Ministry of Education Singapore. Accessed 27 Feb 2013, from http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/parliamentary-replies/2012/. “Straits Times: Student exchange stints help S’pore-Indonesia ties”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Accessed 27 Feb 2013, from http://www.mfa. gov.sg/content/mfa/media_centre/singapore_headlines/2012/201212/infocus_20121201.html.
BOOKSTORES In the first of a four-part series, Mnemozine collaborates with the National Heritage Board to explore the unknown in Singapore. Photography by LAI JUN WEI
TEO WEI HOW, RAYNER email@example.com Mentored by ALVIN TAN, Director/Heritage Institutions, National Heritage Board FOUNDED IN 1977 IN THE MIDST OF AN ECONOMIC RECESSION AS AN entrepreneurial means to an end by the husband and wife duo Alley Ong, age 66, and Judy Ho, age 65, Pro-Saint Bookstore bade its loyal patrons and customers a final goodbye at its closing down sale in November ’12 after having been in business for over 30 years. Stowed away in a quiet corner of the famed Bras Basah Shopping Complex along Bain Street, Pro-Saint Bookstore was an understated gem of a secondhand bookshop whose name was instantly recognizable amongst secondhand book collectors across Singapore. In its small air-conditioned unit on the second floor, one found reprieve not only from the heat and humidity of tropical Singapore but also, a temporary relief from the hustle and bustle of city life as one found themselves lost in the Pro-saints Bookstore’s unassuming but seemingly endless and diverse catalogue of books that stretched across different genres. Here, one could expect to find the works of contemporary authors such as Jackie Collins and John Grisham stacked alongside timeless classics written by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. As with all businesses, Pro-Saint Bookstore has seen its fair share of ups and downs, changes in its business strategy, as well as its location. In our brief conversation with owners Alley
and Judy, they revealed that Pro-Saint Bookstore was originally located at Beach Centre, at the intersection between Beach Road and Seah Street, and operated at a much larger capacity. However, as a result of dwindling patronage since the 80’s and 90’s and escalating rental costs, both husband-and-wife were compelled to make the pragmatic decision to relocate to a smaller space at Bras Basah Shopping Complex. Also interesting is Pro-Saint Bookstore’s method of sourcing for books. In its early days, Pro-Saint Bookstore depended greatly on its customers for its secondhand books but as it expanded, it started sourcing books directly from book publishers as well. When asked about the future of the secondhand bookshops in Singapore, both Alley and Judy appeared somber and mused aloud that it was, in their opinion, a dying trade. They attribute this decline in businesses to the proliferation of public libraries in the heartlands, as well as the organization of warehouse sales by book publishers in Singapore; both of which serves to undercut and undermine the profitability of the secondhand bookshop business in Singapore. In spite of the doom and gloom of closing shop after bittersweet 35 years of business, both Alley and Judy remain optimistic about their own lives as Alley reminds us, “This is Singapore! If you work hard, you can still make money!”
DHWANI SHASHANK DHOLAKIA firstname.lastname@example.org TAN YAN TONG email@example.com Mentored by ALVIN TAN, Director/Heritage Institutions, National Heritage Board Yan Tong once sold her A-Maths textbook to the secondhandbookstore after her finals, only to buy it back at three times the price the next week because she had to sit for a retest. Dhwani believes that despite the advent of technology, printed books will live on, because an E-book can never replace the physical beauty, the history and the connection with the reader that a printed book offers. BRAS BASAH COMPLEX, ALSO KNOWN AS “SHU CHENG” OR “CITY OF Books”, is home to many secondhand bookstores. Bookpoint, located prominently on the third floor, prides itself on being among the pioneer bookstores when the complex was first built in the 1980s. Spanning three stalls and stocking about half a million books, Bookpoint’s claim of being Singapore’s biggest used-book store seems justifiable. Currently owned by Mr. S. Jawahar Ali, Bookpoint was founded in the 1970s by his father, and the business moved into Bras Basah Complex shortly after the complex was built. The owner shares that Bookpoint faces stiff competition from other second-hand bookstores as well as mega bookstores like Popular Bookstore. In the past, Bookpoint only sold school textbooks. Today, Bookpoint’s main draw is its wide range of rare or out-of-print editions. Out-of-print textbooks, such as the popular history textbook, Milestones: 20th Century, are commonplace in Bookpoint. This shift in the 1990s was necessary in order to stand out from other second-hand bookstores in the complex which also offered management books, fiction books and comics. Hence, collectors looking for a specific book, or to complete a book series, often visit Bookpoint. This is how it widens its customer base from the usual students and working professionals. Noticing that Popular Bookstore is located across from Bookpoint, the competition it faces from the stalwart mega bookstore is considerable. Mr. Ali mentioned rising costs as the key challenge secondhand bookstores may face in the near future. Cost price of books and rental fees are rising, yet these bookstores cannot drastically increase the price of their goods because of the nature of the market structure they are in. Second-hand bookstores operate in a monopolistically competitive market, where each shop only has a relatively small share of the total market. Since these bookstores offer products that are slightly differentiated from those of other firms, they have little control
over the market price of their books and so prices tend to be relatively similar and stable. If one shop attempts to raise the price of their books, they will lose out as customers can turn to other bookstores. In light of this, second-hand bookstores have to rely on volume of sales rather than sale prices if they want to make a profit. That is, selling more books at low prices would be more effective than selling a few books at high prices. Hence, the owner often holds a “1 for $1” sale for his books–usually children books–to draw in the crowds. Bookpoint has been relatively successful so far, although the owner laments that it is getting harder to reach out to the younger generation. Because of this, he wishes to transform the bookstore’s style of operation to attract a new generation. He is considering a Facebook page and an online catalogue to reach out to the younger, tech-savvy generation. The odds are stacking up against the second-hand bookstore business with rising operation costs, commercial competition and a general decline of interest in books among the young, but Mr. Ali says that books are his passion and he is trying to stay positive as well as encouraging his son to take over so that the business will not end with this generation.
PEARL WEE AI TING firstname.lastname@example.org Mentored by ALVIN TAN, Director/Heritage Institutions, National Heritage Board ANA BOOK STORE IS LOCATED AT FAR EAST PLAZA, OFFERING A VARIETY OF books and magazines that caters to a wide range of customers. After the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s request for the relocation of several tenants in 1990, Mr. Islam and ANA Book Store moved to Far East Plaza. Previously, the family-owned bookshop was located at Bras Basah Road. After the passing of his late father, Mr. Mohammad Noorul Islam inherited the second-hand family bookstore and continued the business, owing his motivation to his love for books and reading. Being an independent bookstore keeper, Mr Islam mentioned he has been manning the store by himself since its relocation. According to Mr. Islam, the second-hand bookshop business used to be profitable during the 1960s, and was popular amongst students for its relative affordability. ANA Book Store still caters to the young, as Mr. Islam mentioned several authors, such as Sophia Kinsella and Cecelia Ahern, have been his best sellers in recent years amongst the younger generations. However, he added that due to the rising accessibility of the Internet and “E-books”, people are now less inclined to patronise bookstores, much less second-hand ones. Nowadays, only his regular middle-aged customers or “old-timers”, as Mr. Islam termed it, continues to buy and rent books from him. Mr. Islam expressed his concerns over the possible decrease in second-hand bookstores in the future, noting that he is one of the few remaining tenants of such bookstores. Finally, he shared that he has no intention of passing on the second-hand bookstore business to his children, because they are currently employed full-time and have no interest to inherit his business. An avid reader of novels, Pearl finds enjoyment in selecting and buying books from the wealth of titles along bookshelves, no matter if they are second-hand or not.
Our Mongrel Film Industry:
A Brief History of its Conception (1930s to 1970s)
GOWRI D/O RAJARATNAM GOWRI_RAJARATNAM@HOTMAIL.COM
Pioneered by two foreign film giants and shaped by western presence, the Singapore film industry emerged as a seamless counterpart to Singapore’s cosmopolitan identity. Yet many Singaporeans are dissatisfied with our lack of a distinguishable film industry and see it as a clear deficiency of talent and originality. However, how can our film industry be inimitable when our nation is essentially a medley of many ethnicities and thus reflective of many other countries? Two questions follow: what exactly is considered to be a foreign presence in multi-ethnic Singapore and how long does this presence have to exert its influence before it is recognised as a native facet? With our small pool of talent, it is needless to say that from its conception, the film industry in Singapore has been riddled with “foreign” influences in the form of producers, distributors and exhibitors. Like a sponge, Singapore soaks up any and every influence it is privy to. The first motion picture came to Singapore in 1902 and the first sound film in 1929 (The Jazz Singer at the Victoria Concert Hall). With that, Hollywood had us by the hook: our population of film-goers grew steadily till the Golden Age (19501960s) emerged. By 1950, Malaya led the world in per capita film-going (UNESCO, 1954) Thus, Hollywood, by bringing film to Singapore and Singapore to film, inadvertently sparked an intimate love affair that gained momentum and eventually snowballed into the first local film industry. With its beginnings as a tug of war between the Shaw Brothers Film Production and the Cathay Film Studio, the Singapore Film Industry emergedin the 1930’s with an entirely foreign reserve of movies, directors, actors and distributors. The Shaw brothers, originally from Shanghai, utilised Singapore as a base for their corporate operations and were the first company on the market to enter the local film industry.Holding the monopoly over film production and distribution in Malaya, they brought the Hollywood studio system to Singapore and began to build up their own store of directors, thespians and specialised crew (Heng & Aljunied, 2009).On the other side of the battle was wealthy Malaysian heir Loke Wan Tho,who founded the Cathay empire. This intense rivalry eventually produced the Golden Agewith about 18 films made a year and a grand total of 267 films being churned out from 1950 to 1969 (Ciecko, 2006). On the other side of the battle was wealthy Malaysian heir Loke Wan Tho, who founded the Cathay empire.
This intense rivalry eventually produced the Golden Age with about 18 films made a year and a grand total of 267 films being churned out from 1950 to 1969 (Ciekco, 2006). The Japanese Occupation surprisingly introduced new cinematic styles and genres that were adopted and adapted by our film studios. Japanese films by directors such as Mizoguchi, Ozu and Kurosawa, as well as popular Japanese film genres such as the shomin-geki (comedies about the lower-middle class), and nonsensu-mono (“nonsense” comedies) were popular influences for the post-Nipponisation film industry (Heide, 2002). Even in its infancy, the film industry in Singapore was thus very much a reflection of the diverse ethnic and cultural society characteristic of our small island port.The studios relied on Indian directors (who used Indian cinematography) and Bangsawan thespians (from the local musical theatre) while colonial censorship steered the production of movies into a few specific genres and cinematic styles. Hollywood films were accused of spreading communist propaganda, portraying Caucasian women negatively, propagating criminal behaviour and promoting interracial marriage. The turning point in the Singapore film industry’s identity struggle came with the political division of Malaya. The separation of Singapore and Malaysia marked the end of the Golden Era where our film industry emerged from the Malayan film industry without much of a distinct identity.
From that point on, the Singapore film industry struggled to achieve success until the 1990s when a new breed of directors (Eric Khoo and Royston Tan) revived the local film scene (Tan, 2008). Even then, one of Singapore’s more publicised film feats from this era (Bugis Street, 1995) can be attributed to Macau-born director ManshihYonfan. This brings us back to the issue of a unique film industry. While most national cinemas are easy to identify from their unique film style (e.g. Bollywood’s musical numbers) or a common language (e.g. French.), Singapore cinema cannot lay claim to either characteristic. Additionally, the other aspects of our film industry (producers, exhibitors, distributors) have essentially foreign origins too. 40 years from their inception, the Shaw and Cathay empires became traditional pillars of the Singapore Film Industry. Similarly, it took British censorship laws and Japanese genre influences approximately 50 years to be perceived as local aspects. With this in mind, it can be predicted that foreign influenceswithin the industry wouldevolve into a native facet within a few decades. Thus, singling out a foreign presence in our film industry presently would be counterproductive and tantamount to discrediting the previously foreign influences. If our distinct Singaporean culture has taken decades and multiple influences to evolve into a single inimitable culture that we stand by, why should our film industry be any different? Given time, it is entirely possible that the Singapore film industry will evolve its own distinct manifesto. However, it must be noted that such a unique identity can only be an amalgamation of various foreign influences from the past, whose contributions should not be discounted in the present.
Ciecko, A. T. Contemporary Asian Cinema: Popular Culture in a Global Frame. Oxford; New York: Berg, 2006. Heide, W. V. Malaysian Cinema, Asian Film: Border Crossings and Natinal Cultures. Amsterdam: University Press, 2002. Heng, D. T., & Aljunied, S. M. Reframing Singapore: Memory - Identity - Trans-Regionalism. Amsterdam: University Press, 2009. Pautz, M. (2002). The Decline in Average Weekly Cinema Attendance: 1930 -2000. Issues in Political Economy, 11.2002 Tan, K. P. Cinema and Television in Singapore: Resistance in one dimension. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2008. UNESCO. (1954). Film and Cinema Statistics: A preliminary report on methodology with current statistics. Statistical Reports and Studies.
ACROSS TO SINGAPORE Across to Singapore is a 1928 American silent film directed by William Nigh with a predictable narrative chock full of romance, laughs and adventure. The screenplay was based on the novel All the Brothers Were Valiant by Ben Ames Williams. The film’s protagonists Joel Shore (Ramon Navarro), and Priscilla Crowninshield (the gorgeous Joan Crawford), are suddenly shoved into a love triangle upon the return of Joel’s older brother, Captain Mark Shore, played by a brilliant Ernest Torrence. The young, impetuous Priscilla catches the Captain’s eye and in a series of misunderstandings becomes engaged to him against her will. As this was in the 1920’s, women got little say in their life, and this is a theme that runs throughout the movie. Priscilla is neither consulted nor informed of her engagement and in the second half of the movie, is kidnapped and forced to participate in a comical rescue mission for the Captain. The filmgenerally churns out unexpectedly good laughs within the first 15mins (with an exceptionally funny dinner and bar fight) and continues to do so till the film reaches its climax. The melodrama then takes over with the announcement of the engagement, the soppy goodbyes, and the voiced (or in this case, written) regrets. Thankfully, this ends when the protagonist and his brother get on the ship and leave for Hollywood’s favourite destination: Singapore! This is where the story gets fun: the mutiny occurs, the captain appears to have died in Singapore, and his brother, Joel, is brought back and put on trial as his murderer.
23 Apart from being a predictable love triangle with bromance and romance pitted against each other, the film also doubles as a coming of age story for Joel Shore, an unexpected angle. My favourite part of this movie has to be the final shoot-out where Joan Crawford, with one shot, effortlessly picks off a man high up on the ship’s mast. Additionally, as this is the first silent film I have seen, I was delighted to find that it is just as enjoyable as any of our mainstream flicks with sound and lengthy dialogues. It is amazing that this film has such a timeless appeal: the melodrama is not too extreme (it is far more palatable than the chick flicks of today) while the action and comedy sequences are very well rehearsed and are capable of eliciting just the right response from the audience. In a film with barely any dialogue, the actors’ performances shone and the audience was never left out. All in all, Across to Singapore was a great film and while it may not be still running, readers should not hesitate to grab a seat for the next film showcase at NUS Museum’s Malaya Black and White film series.
The Malayan Black and White Series By the NUS Museum In conjunction with NUS Museum’s Camping and Tramping Through the Colonial Archive: The Museum in Malaya exhibit, The Malaya Black and White series introduces an often overlooked aspect of the colonial era: the moving image. With its extensive repertoire of material, ranging from propaganda films to Hollywood features, the screenings aim not to educate but to stimulate curiosity about the various celluloid representations of Malaya in the pre-independence era. Within this series, the Filem Noir (Entangled Journeys) segment, contributed by NUS History graduate Fiona Tan, is particularly intriguing due to Hollywood’s cinematographic illustration of ‘exotic’ colonial Malaya; an example of which is the Hollywood classic, Across to Singapore, which was screened on 23 January 2013. The current segment in this film series, titled Wild Wild East, should not be missed as it features films that illustrate adventures in the dangerous and lush Malayan jungles; Frank Buck’s Bring em back alive premieres on 13th March while the 20th March feature will introduce actual footage of komodo dragon hunting accompanied by an informative talk by A/P Timothy P.Barnard. The NUS Museum is desperately seeking contributors to www.malayablackandwhite.wordpress.com. Interested parties can write to email@example.com or leave a comment on the blog. A modest honorarium will also be offered. Conceptual framings, screening times, feature details and further information can be found at www. malayablackandwhite.wordpress.com. Camping & Tramping Through the Colonial Archive will run till 2 Jun 2013.
YOUR VOICE IS MINE a Japanese artist. Combining his interests, Yamakawa collected oral testimonies from both Singaporeans and Japanese about their memories of the war in a sound WHAT DO FOREIGNERS SEE WHEN THEY TAKE A installation housed in a walk-in black box. closer look at Singapore? How can the As if to demonstrate the lingering presence limitless possibilities of art express their of the past in the present, the installation is findings? In OMNILOGUE: Your Voice Is Mine, accompanied by a live sound transmission the Japan Foundation and the NUS Museum from the Syonan Jinja (“Light of the South invited contemporary artists from Japan to Shrine”), a Shinto shrine built by the Japanese create works based on their impressions in 1942 and which stands abandoned in the of Singapore. The artists – Makiko Koie, middle of the forest in the central catchment Shun Sasa, SHIMURAbros, Motohiro Tomii, area. The result is an intimate and sensitive Fuyuki Yamakawa and Takayuki Yamamoto – look at something as particular as Singaporeunderwent a four-month period of research, Japanese history and that as universal as how discussion and creation before unveiling their generations relate to each other. works on 19 January 2013 at the NUS Museum. Other artists chose to work from somewhat Arriving in Singapore in October 2012 – less somber starting points. Takayuki for some of them, the first time – the artists Yamamoto, a teacher-turned-artist, brought were introduced to the social, cultural and one of his trademark children’s workshops historical landscapes of the island-nation. here. He asked participants of his weekendThe research process included visits to long workshop to build their own version the quirky Haw Par Villa, the little-known of Hell using colourful craft materials and World-War-II Shinto shrine and even popular to explain their creation to the artist. The nightlife spots in town. The final installations resulting video installation is a fun look into variously reflect their ruminations on the minds of children and their conceptions Singaporean culture and society, museum of good, evil and punishment. Asked how practice at the NUS Museum as well as different Singaporean children were from personal and national histories. From film to others he has worked with, Yamamoto quips, sound to paper origami, the variety of media “Children everywhere are the same, but the in their final works reflects the diversity in children here did seem to include food a lot in practice among the artists, providing a rich their versions of Hell!” and engaging experience for the viewer. Internationally-acclaimed sister-andSound artist Fuyuki Yamakawa was brother duo SHIMURAbros – dressed in their intrigued by the fast-changing landscape trademark all-black ensembles and opaque in Singapore. Interviewing Gen-X-and-Y sunglasses for the exhibition opening – took Singaporeans on their grandmothers and their a leaf out of film history and presented their knowledge of the Pacific War, he discovered rendition of the 1940 Bing Crosby blackthat many had lost touch with their family and-white, Road to Singapore. Stacking histories amid constant change and renewal dozens of grey plastic crates that formerly in Singaporean society. At the same time, held archaeological pieces from abroad, Yamakawa recognised the difficult war past the Shimura siblings mimicked the process between Singapore and his home country, of migration that brings artefacts around something he felt he could not ignore as the museum circuit while commenting on
TAN SOCK KENG firstname.lastname@example.org Photography by LAI JUN WEI
the porosity of Singapore’s boundaries. Their installation integrates seamlessly into the museum’s permanent gallery for John Miksic’s archaeological finds, demonstrating the fluid interactions between the foreign and the familiar. Curiously, many of the issues that stood out to the artists have also been of interest to Singaporeans. Your Voice Is Mine is thus about revelations and resonances discovered through the artists’ peculiar standpoint as both foreigners and professionals steeped in their own creative vision and craft. For Singaporean viewers, it is an intriguing self-reflexive exercise, listening to ourselves through foreign voices. OMNILOGUE: Your Voice Is Mine is the final edition of the OMNILOGUE series of exhibitions, an initiative of the Japan Foundation to foster transnational artistic exchanges. It runs till 21 April 2013 at the NUS Museum.
OF NUS MUSEUM DHWANI SHASHANK DHOLAKIA email@example.com GOWRI D/O RAJARATNAM firstname.lastname@example.org BEHIND THE SCENES OF A POLISHED INTELLECTUAL EXHIBITION lies the gritty work of carpenters, electricians, technicians and of course, the invaluable curator. While most people see the curatorial position as being entirely artistic and conceptual in nature, in reality, curators are far from the flamboyant creatures that we think them to be. Shattering this myth, in his own words, is Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, the curator in charge of “Your Voice Is Mine”, an exhibition based upon the artworks of 6 Japanese artists that examines the dynamics of intercultural encounters. Mustafa, who has been a part of our school’s museum for 5 years, admits that his job is tedious, totally unglamorous, but utterly rewarding. His style of curation pushes the boundaries to stretch our pre-conceived notions of the museum experience. There is an emphasis on the space of the exhibit and a tensive reliance on historical facts. The visitor is confronted not by facts but rather by visuals, oddly-placed artefacts and a physical space in which the visitor has to navigate his or her way in order to experience the different realms and cultures that the museum display has traversed. “Your Voice Is Mine”, in fact, pushes the envelope by exhibiting paper sculptures aside ancient ones, forcing the visitor to
look beyond the historical facts per se but at the interpretation instead. Mustafa feels that a good curator should always be searching for new ways to engage with artists and present the tensions of the gallery in which the artists’ work is deployed. After all, the emphasis of curating is of being between presenting the artists’ work and the audience who encounters it. As Mustafa puts it, “You’re not coming back a more enlightened soul, but a more curious one.” To create such exhibits is a long and tedious process and Mustafa straddles the lines between the allure of the job of the curator and the reality of the tedium that comes with it. Mustafa laughingly admits that the pay of a curator is, unfortunately, not very rewarding. However, seeing exhibits succeed and meeting the most interesting people every day makes his job as a curator worthwhile. His sentiments are shared by a guest curator from the Otani Memorial Art Musuem in Japan, Tsukasa Ikegami, who is part of the “Your Voice Is Mine” exhibition. Tsukasa, oddly, has a background in carpentry and theatrical lighting. He admits that while a curator has to have the grand visions of spatial transformation and artefact placement, a large part of the process involves work such as physical labour and technical knowledge, far less glamorous than what is usually thought of curators. When asked how a curator comes to be in the first place, Mustafa outlines that there are two types: the curatorial or art historical studies route completed in an educational institution, and the ‘accidental curator’. Mustafa admits that he is the latter with a background in political science and area studies. Mustafa aptly ends our conversation by remarking that museums are oddly-shaped and oddly-staffed institutions and that every single person who is part of the exhibition process shares as much credit as the curator himself in the creation of a good museum experience.
CELEBRATING BUKIT BROWN LEAN GUAN HUA email@example.com Photography by LAI JUN WEI “THESE CEMETERIES ARE NOT JUST CEMETERIES TO US, THEY represent our history and our ancestors”: these are words spoken by a 60 year old man, Victor. His strong sentiment towards Bukit Brown Cemetery is quintessential to the views of many different groups of people, nature lovers, people whom ancestors were buried there, and members of Singapore Heritage Society. All of them feel strongly against the government’s plan to build an eight-lane highway through the ancient graveyard. “Celebrating Bukit Brown” was held by the Singapore Heritage Society and All Things Bukit Brown on Sunday, 20 January 2013 at The Substation Theatre in the afternoon. It comprised photo exhibitions, poetries, expert presentations, theatrical readings, a public forum and a film screening. The young generation is also concerned with the demolition of Bukit Brown and a significant number of students turned up for this event. Gladys and Yee Ting are fourth year geography students doing their thesis on Bukit Brown. Gladys’s thesis is on the importance of preserving heritage sites. Gladys mentioned that as “rituals and graves are part of recreating and evoking social memory”, demolition of heritage sites will lead to a permanent loss of these memories. Yee Ting argued that Bukit Brown is a site of tension due to differing interests of different stakeholders: “For geographers, spaces can be constructed differently and becomes a place when meanings are imbued into it. I chose to see Bukit Brown as a space or a contested site of tension between mainly the state as well as the different stakeholders, in this case the activists from Singapore Heritage Society and Nature Society. This tension has
arisen due to the different constructions of burial space, the government, merely sees it as a legitimised space, whereas for the stakeholders, Bukit Brown is not only a burial space but is a place full of heritage and nature values.” Bukit Brown cemetery represents the prominent pioneers in Singapore such as Cheang Hong Lim (Hong Lim Park is named after him), Chew Boon Lay (Boon Lay MRT) and Chew Joo Chiat (Joo Chiat Road). Ordinary Singaporeans from different dialect groups were also represented. Every single grave tells a story about family history and the ancestors who painstakingly built up Singapore. Bukit Brown cemetery was also a war site and Jon Cooper, a battle archaeologist, narrated about the battle between the British and Japanese troops. He argued that “The scars of that battle lie among these gravestones today.” He hoped to uncover the history of the battle on 14-15 February 1942 by digging up archaeological remains of dead British soldiers in Bukit Brown. Nature lovers from Nature Society lamented over the loss of a nature site that is rich in biodiversity and filled with a wide array of flora and fauna. Frequent nature walks and bird-watching trips have been organised and many photos were presented during the event. Andrew, a middle-aged man, takes frequent walks in Bukit Brown and when asked about his interest in this event, he replied simply, ‘I do not want to lose this beautiful place that I have been walking for years.’ It is heartening to see many Singaporeans from all walks of life standing so strongly against the erosion of Singapore’s heritage, and it definitely sends a strong signal to the government to protect heritage sites especially in light of rapid urbanisation.
MEN IN WHITE
LEAN GUAN HUA firstname.lastname@example.org FONG SWEE SUAN, A BARISAN SOSIALIS MEMBER, describes the book as “a book with different political views” and “strongly recommend[s] this book”. It is certainly rare to see a former left-wing radical opposition party leader giving endorsement to a book that chronicles the rise of the People’s Action Party (PAP), Lee Kuan Yew’s collaboration with radical trade unionists to fight for Singapore’s independence, and the agonies of leadership renewal. The key question that results: will the PAP outlive Lee Kuan Yew? Given the fact that a radical oppositional leader endorses this book, does it mean that Singapore is undergoing political liberalisation and writers are free to publish a more objective side of Singapore’s political history? Lee Kuan Yew even stated that “they (referring to the authors) exercise their editorial right”, assuring the autonomy and objectiveness of the authors. Men in White is a huge memory project, aiming to provide a non-partisan, writer’s version of history that was not written for the PAP. It involves a daunting and tedious process of interviewing ex-PAP members, former Barisan Sosialis’s members, British colonial officials, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) leaders and ordinary Singaporeans, hoping to provide a comprehensive perspective on the untold story of PAP’s struggles to achieve a successful Singapore Story. History always favours the victors, and much of Singapore’s history has been written from their vantage point. There is little mention of the role of Barisan Sosialis’ contribution to Singapore’s history in previous writings, but in this book we see an objective account describing their critical role in Singapore’s history, from the initial formative stages of PAP with the strong support from the radical leftist unionists
that garnered support from the masses for PAP’s strong mandate in 1959 elections. Lee Khoon Choy, a former Minister of State, summed it up: “Lee rose to power by riding on the back of the communists – the tiger – and defeating it. Any other weaker leader would have been eaten up by the communists.” However, there are still many unanswered questions, especially with regard to sensitive issues pertaining to Operation Cold Store on 2 February 1963 which involved the rounding up of 113 communists including 24 Barisan members and 21 trade union leaders. Toh Chin Chye maintained that Operation Cold Store was meant to pre-empt the communist united front from mounting any violence in the closing stages of the establishment of Malaysia. The crackdown was greeted by cries of foul play by the opposition and crippled Barisan Sosialis severely, just months before 1963 General Elections. The 50th anniversary of Operation Cold Store was commemorated on 2 Feb 2013 with a huge turnout at Hong Lim Park. Dr Poh Soo Kai, a former detainee gave a passionate speech indicating lingering resentment up to today. He argued that there was an uneven playing field for Barisan Sosialis due to Operation Cold Store and it was ironic that they had ‘legitimised Lee Kuan Yew in those days’. This book is a clear indicator of a more politically liberalised climate and this is a step toward a more objective representation of Singapore’s history and the gradual erosion of “out of bounds markers.” It is definitely a book to read for all Singaporeans for us to understand our national history more intimately. This book was written by Sonny Yap, Richard Lim and Leong WengKam, and published by Singapore Press Holdings Limited in 2009.
VIEWING CAN A FILM SAVE INDONESIA FROM AMNESIA OF A MASS MURDER?
SANDEEP RAY email@example.com TWO STRANGE REALIZATIONS SURFACE WITHIN MINUTES OF watching Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act Of Killing. First, for a documentary that explores one of the greatest mass murders of the twentieth century – Indonesia’s purge of alleged communists almost fifty years ago – the film is troublingly entertaining. Second, it appears that the films producers and the murderers they showcase, actually have the same objective: to revive the muted historical record of that massacre. This is no exposé – the aging executioners speak over each other in their eagerness to let us know about their hard work and youthful enterprise that led to the deaths of millions of Indonesians in 1965-66. The Act
Of Killing is at once mesmerizing and nausea inducing as it hurtles its viewers through a strange journey of genocide ethnography-meets-opera. Perhaps in an attempt to provide a ‘re-entry’ to 1965-66 without making it cinematically tedious with the standard interview format, the filmmakers came up with a clever ploy: they tell Anwar Congo, a charming, mass murdering septuagenarian from Medan, that together they should co-produce a movie that would reveal the actual details of what happened during those dark times. Anwar, who fancies that he resembles Sidney Poitier, gleefully storyboards and plans the production with his friends. But barring a few playful scenes, the re-enactments showcase the harshest, ugliest, and most brutal episodes of multiple murder and torture. Walking around in bizarre costumes – fedoras, religious attire and Medan-meets-Martin Scorsese gangster clothing, the re-enacted scenes do not lull, distance or wedge us into an academic discussion of genocide. They transport us there. But Anwar has a handicap that interferes with his work – his conscience. Once, acting as a victim and not in his role as executioner, he almost has a nervous breakdown. He asks Oppenheimer whether he will be judged for his crimes and looks visibly shaken and possibly remorseful. I do not doubt that some viewers may feel like consoling him. It is this lapse into a confusing, compassionate territory – feeling sympathy for a reprehensible mass murderer - that makes this film unique. Unlike Anwar however, his former partner-inexecution Adi Zulkardi is almost sage-like in his position on murder. Handsome and distinguished in an avuncular Javanese way, Adi explains his ethical precepts with a philosophical bent that could rival Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita. He chillingly posits that killing is merely a worldly affair and winners are the one’s who adjudicate the moral high ground.
He reminds us that George W. Bush was never tried as a war criminal. At Oppenheimer’s egging he says that he is ready to take on any human rights commission, even The Hague. We realise that Zulkardi is not calling anyone’s bluff; beyond his ethical posturing, he is also well aware that the current Indonesian government would protect him. But why would murderers living in a democracy wish to corroborate and even brag about the number of people they killed? This, we are made to realise, is the legacy of the aftermath of that still un-usurped brutal, dictatorial regime – The New Order. Though officially ousted with the fall of Suharto in 1998, it thrives through its strong connections to a hideous game of terror politics. The Pancasila Youth for example, Anwar Congo’s former political base, a powerful paramilitary outfit responsible for horrific murders during that purge, is one of the groups that still flourishes and is still backed by former Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla.Kalla makes a cameo appearance in the film during a rally and explains that such thugs or ‘premans’ (or ‘free men’ as he describes them), have been historically valuable to the nation as they carry out the important, dirty work that the government cannot itself access. Though yet unreleased in Indonesia, the film is being watched with cultlike fervor in dozens of unofficial venues. In a recent Al Jazeera coverage of this phenomenon, Anwar himself is recorded talking to the director after seeing the film for the first time. Oppenheimer tells him that his honesty and complicity was an important contribution to the history of the nation. They are both tearful. This is a tone that will no doubt keep recurring if a Truth and Reconciliation committee is actually set up in Indonesia. The nation will have to haul in a line-up of dozens of Anwar’s and set in motion what will surely become its harshest, gloomiest days of reckoning. A treasure trove for historians, educators and social scientists, this movie may also be the landmark event by which legislation is finally passed for a proper investigative body to be established. Anwar Congo remains a free man. The Act Of Killing has won numerous awards at film festivals around the world including the Berlinale Panorama Ecumenical Prize at the 63rd Berlin Film Festival. Arrangements are being made for a screening at NUS later this year in participation with director Joshua Oppenheimer.
A publication of National University of Singapore's History Society