Thursday, February 24, 2005

Our secret history

'A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that that patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.' -Jorge Luis Borges, Afterword, El Hacedor
I've used this quote before. And I'm doing it again because I don't have anything else at hand that describes better what I feel right now. I was quite pleased to find out last night that a letter I wrote to someone I fell in love with ages ago was still being kept. Why keep all your old love letters? Because. See above quote. And read this. Same reason why we should document, narrate and journalise other things. There is an especially desperate need to do this in Singapore, because our past is being erased so efficiently (try getting 8 day old Straits Times articles online), and I've been thinking that maybe that's why there are so many of us who feel so alienated in our own country. I think there are very few people around my age who can say the house/flat they lived in for the first three years of their lives is still standing. The other thing that precipitated this warm-fuzzy-serious sentiment was another conversation I had where I remembered I didn't speak English for the first five years of my life, stayed in a house on Pasir Panjang Road, across from a beach that had a jetty, and where fishing boats would come in daily and unload their catch for fishmongers who set up shop down the road. I've kept notes on and off:
The shophouses on the corner of Pasir Panjang and Clementi Road are still there, but the beach is now part of the PSA, stretching beyond the West Coast Highway and how many kilometres before you can even smell the sea. The same sea which my father threatened to throw me into when I had a fight with Grandma. (And he really looked like he was gonna do it when he put me in a wicker basket and carried me across the road to the beach.) The car park at Cold Storage Orchard Road, where Centrepoint is now. There was a Milk Bar out front, where we'd pester my mother to buy us milkshakes after grocery shopping. We'd drink our shakes and then throw up in the car after, because the the road back home was a winding two-lane deal, from Orchard, to Napier to Holland to Clementi to Pasir Panjang Road. The grand old airport at Paya Lebar. Where the departures and arrivals were two separate buildings, and where they had signboards telling male visitors to keep their haircuts neat and short. And where I fell off the airplane steps boarding my first airplane journey and where I bumped my head as a result.
There are more notes but there are also many of us who can make a much more coherent history of all the things around them. And many of you are blogging. I'd like for you to keep doing it and get around this contemptible policy of denying us easy access to our history. Now, read that quote again.
iTunes' party shuffle is playing a copy of: Something - The Beatles - 1967-1970 Disc 2, of which I have the original CD and therefore didn't steal music.


Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

My contribution on the part my history in Singapore that has been erased.

Punggol Lost.

2/24/2005 04:14:00 AM  
Blogger child said...


2/24/2005 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Tym said...

I count myself lucky, that the places I lived as a kid are all still intact. In this age of en bloc sales though, I'm sure that won't last long.

Thanks for a timely clarion call.

2/24/2005 08:03:00 AM  
Blogger mb said...

"try getting 8 day old Straits Times articles online"

Er, try getting ANY ST article online from March the 1st, when they start charging.

That is why I am very happy to see Flickr and blogs on Singapore. I want my kids to be able to read the history of the common man 20 years from now.

And they won't be getting it from ST.

Here's an interesting thought: Terz's coverage of Aceh has been more compelling than anything the ST can muster. We need more content like this.

2/24/2005 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Barffie said...

hmmrrph, i agree that's why i blog down alot of things sometimes. even though they are the most horrifying memories, i'd wanna look back a few months later and laugh at myself. it's a good healing process!

2/24/2005 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger aGent X said...

i felt the same way...years ago, thanks, it has inspired and given me the reality-check that is necessary.

all the schools that i've attended since kindergarten to college have either gone or moved.

the house that i was born has been destroyed, and soon my childhood neighbourhood of Hillview Road/Avenue will be gone via enbloc to build more swanky condos.

its time to document them before the already distant memories fade away.

2/24/2005 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Miyagi said...


2/25/2005 02:02:00 AM  

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