Looking at Chulia Street off Raffles Place and Boat Quay now, no one would know what it was like before. Chulia Kampong, unlike Kampong Glam, has vanished from the map of Singapore. So I was intrigued by the description given by the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh in his novel, River of Smoke. The book, set in the 1830s, is about the opium trade between India and China which used to pass through Singapore. Continue reading “Chulia Kampong, Singapore”
I saw this book and loved it at first sight. How could I not with its poems about Singapore?
It is called Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond and edited by Edwin Thumboo.
As luck would have it, the very first page I opened had a poem by him about the transformation of Singapore. The poem, Island, begins like a fairy tale:
As the plane broke through the cloud cover, the pilot announced we were approaching Singapore. A lush green land stretched below us — and then came the sea. We had been flying over Malaysia.
The view was glorious. The sea, wide and deep, dotted with little islands, offshore platforms, ships cutting a wake through the waters. Lower and lower we dropped until the first Singapore building came into view — a low, red-roofed building almost hugging the edge of the island. There was little traffic on the road as the plane came down on the runway at Changi. There was a reassuring thud as the landing wheels touched the ground of my beloved Singapore.
It felt good to be back — and the satisfaction lasted all the way through the smooth immigration clearance, the speedy baggage arrival and the taxi ride home. The taxi, needless to say, had been waiting at the stand and the driver kindly helped me with the luggage.
Familiar sights and sounds now surround me. I love Singapore.
Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is compared to Indira Gandhi by the Indian journalist, Sunanda Datta-Ray, who once worked for The Straits Times.
In his book, Looking East to Look West, exploring India-Singapore relations, based on his interviews with MM Lee, he writes:
Lee and Indira Gandhi shared a brutal commitment to power, an almost brutal pragmatism and a fascination with mystic predictions of the future. Both dominated the scene around them. So much so that though lacking the alliterative resonance of the loyalist chant during the Emergency, 'Indira is India, India is Indira', it might be more accurate to recite 'Kuan Yew is Singapore, Singapore is Kuan Yew'. He is probably the world's only democratically elected leader who can boast, as France's Louis XIV is believed to have done, 'L'etat c'est moi' (I am the state). That, too, has an Indian parallel. It was only half in jest that British newspapers bestowed on Indira Gandhi the 'Empress of India' title invented for Queen Victoria.
One poem leads to another. Reading Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems edited by Edwin Thumboo and Yeow Kai Chai, and co-edited by Enoch Ng, Isa Kamari, and Seetha Lakshmi at the public library, I wanted to read more poems about Singapore.
And, as luck would have it, I came across another anthology, this one co-edited by Alvin Pang, whose poem, Merlign, I particularly liked among all the poems about the Merlion. This anthology is called Over There: Poems from Singapore and Australia, edited by Alvin Pang and John Kinsella. I immediately liked two of the poems: Bumboat Cruise on the Singapore River by Miriam Wei Wei Lo and They Say by Kirpal Singh.
Why are poems so hard to find on the Net? There should be a few by every poet so we may want to read more of their works.
Singapore's Straits Times and Hong Kong's South China Morning Post are the only English language newspapers I know that do not allow their stories to be read online for free.
Even the Financial Times allows some of its stories to be read for free.
Not the Straits Times. All you can read for free on its website are wire stories, letters to the editor, readers' comments — and, yes, its blogs. Just don't expect to see the newspaper's regular columnists there. You can read Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman for free, but you have to pay to read Andy Ho and Sumiko Tan.
It just goes to show the amazing strength of the Straits Times that, while virtually everyone else is giving away original content for free, it can still charge for what it has to offer.
Newspapers can allow free online access because the digital medium is so cheap, says Chris Anderson in his book, Free. It's fascinating reading. The Wired magazine editor says why readers must pay to read his magazine but enjoy free access to the website:
"In print, I operate by the rules of scarcity, since each page is expensive and I have a limited number of them… Not only are our pages expensive, they are also unchangeable. Once the presses run, our mistakes and errors of judgment are preserved for posterity (or at least until they are recycled)…
"Online, however, pages are infinite and indefinitely changeable. It's an abundance economy and invites a totally different management approach. On our Web site we have dozens of bloggers, many of them amateurs, who write what they want, without editing…
"Standards such as accuracy and fairness apply across the board, but in print we have to get everything right before publication, at great expense, while online we can correct as we go."
The website costs only a fraction of the magazine business:
"We pay dollars to print, bind and mail a magazine to you… but just microcents to show it to you on our Web site. That's why we can treat it as free, because on a user-by-user basis, it is, in fact, too cheap to meter.
"Overall, our server and bandwidth bill amounts to several thousand dollars a month. But that's to reach millions of readers."
Newspaper publishers are beginning to ask what's the point of reaching millions of readers when advertisers are willing to pay for only a certain target audience.
But money alone no longer makes the world go round, as even businesses acknowledge. Why else do they make such a fuss about brand recognition?
Welcome to the attention economy. Another reason to read Free, especially if you are a blogger or interested in the media.
Anderson explains the new economy in terms any blogger or user of Facebook, Twitter or MySpace will understand:
Malaysia celebrated its 52nd independence anniversary recently. So how much has it changed since Anthony Burgess wrote about it in The Malayan Trilogy?
The book is based on his experiences as an education officer in Malaysia in the 1950s.
In his introduction to The Malayan Trilogy, he writes: “The Malays resented Chinese wealth and were determined to keep the Chinese out of politics.”
On the other side, says Burgess, were the “Chinese communist terrorists” who fought a guerrilla war throughout the 1950s. “These were young men and women, possessed of weapons left over from the war (World War II) and animated by political ideals taken from Peking, who were determined to prevent Malaya’s emergence to parliamentary democracy and wished to see a communist state ruled by Chinese,” he says.
Here is his introduction to The Malayan Trilogy, which is worth reading in full.