There is lots of rain, sometimes a fine drizzle, other times, tree-bending storms in the day and in the night. I am staring at this quaint hotel and it reminds me of quite a few Wong Kar Wai movies. It strikes me, perhaps my memories of 70s Singapore, memories I don't possess, is mediated by the 70s noir of WKW's movies. where does this 70s feel come from? In Mee Pok Man, Singapore Dreaming, 15, 4.30, the movie-makers search for this 70s feel; almost invariably at Tiong Bahru with those first generation low HDB flats and their circular stair-wells.
When you search the history books for 1970s, you are told its a period of movements, resettlements and displacements. In Hokkien, they term this period of displacement as "Chu Keok Lai Kuar Chu", which literally means authorities are chasing people out of their houses. In history books, it reads as demolishing squatter settlements and re-settling inhabitants in brand new housing estates. The National Housing Programme.
There is not much more of the 1970s I can remember except perhaps the National Theatre and the National Aquarium inside. It was dark and cold and had very colorful aquariums.
Tonight, I am standing on this little balcony of a Hainanese hotel looking into a drizzling street where there are many motor-cycles, taxis, tricycles and bicycles. Smoking and thinking that this is 70s Singapore when I have no recollection of the 70s. It is really odd. How does it feel in 70s Singapore? Was there greater anticipation, more hope, more belief in opportunities, in the possibility of change? It had to be more noisy, less efficient, less stream-lined, less neat ... but the atmosphere? Is it like this? A slight buzz, something more charged.
It could have been the conversation I had in the afternoon with an old friend. Over a bowl of steaming rice noodles, looking out into a charming wet courtyard. He is a Singaporean and has been here for 15 years. He used to run a very profitable medium sized company in Singapore. Until a GLC squeezed him out of the market. Since then, he has not looked back; he tells me simply : "there are more possibilities here". Singapore is only a place to park money. That’s all. A massive parking lot for money.
He is not even looking for probability. Just possibility. And it drives him, makes him happy, keeps him satisfied. You don't really have to ask him about going back. Its just an unnecessary question.
Wanted to write about LKY and the banning of FEER. But they are old news really in new Singapore. The myth-making of racial marginalisation and the relative merits of Singapore's meritocratic system was systematically addressed and articulately critiqued in Dr Lily Zubaidah's seminal book, The Singapore Dilemma, years back. Publications, whether foreign or local, in Singapore are banned, restricted whenever OB markers are crossed. What is really new in new Singapore? If you are not in the ruling party, anything racial is construed as time-bombs and the racial riot specter is invoked. If you are not in the ruling party, any critical political commentary is deemed interference and treasonous.
Over here in a this city that is not Singapore, where I recall memories of 70s Singapore which I do not possess, I feel a bit elated somehow. Strangely distant from the events in new Singapore. In this constructed and imagined remembrance of old Singapore. A feeling more personal and stirring of things possible and thinking possible. Maybe its the reason why writers used to go to Singapore, downing a few Slings at the Long Bar and start writing their novels. Wonder what has happened now; where do writers go for inspiration, for possibilities.
Why go back and write about old news when there is something intangibly more promising in this imagined Singapore of the 70s where change seems so much more possible even though its a bit noisy, a bit chaotic. Except that I am betraying this city. A disloyal tourist, a disloyal visitor. Recalling the name of a lover you never had, in front of her.
Rain is getting heavier now. The last time they had a typhoon here, over two hundred people died. Preparations seem much better this time round. Most people are fairly sanguine, unpredictability is part of their lives. And it is quite fine.
Quote of the Day --
"I am she who asks what walks upon four legs at sunrise, upon two at noon and upon three at evening. And all who cannot answer me, at evening die ... In the morning of life, a young man goes forth as though mounted, because he is carried on the shoulders of his parents. By midday, their support has vanished, and he must walk by himself. In the evening of life, he can hold up his head only because he is supported by the memory of what once he was." -- Latro in the Mist, Gene Wolfe