If we dream too long...
the long march
While talking with some colleagues whether there was such a thing as "The Singapore Novel", a colleague recommended that I read Goh Poh Seng's If we dream too long (Singapore, 1972: Island Press). Well, how to resist a book with such a dreamy proposal?
But first... who is Goh Poh Seng?!? I googled his name and this was what I found:
Goh Poh Seng was born in Malaya in 1936. He received his medical degree from University College in Dublin, and practised medicine in Singapore for twenty-five years. Goh's first novel, If We Dream Too Long, won the National Book Development Council of Singapore's Fiction Book Award and has been translated into Russian and Tagalog. His other books include The Immolation, Dance of Moths, Eyewitness, Lines from Batu Ferringhi and Bird with One Wing. (Extracted from here).
I also found this vague article by Think Centre which teases and insinuates that Goh left Singapore for Canada under unhappycircumstances in 1986 to be an outport doctor at Newfoundland.
I finished reading the book today, and I must admit that I do like this straightforward coming-of-age story of 18 year-old Kwang Meng who learns what makes us all "small frightened people" in Singapore.
Though written in the late 60s, so many of its issues and its chief character are still real and relevant. But best of all is Goh's narrative voice. There is a directness and exactness in Goh's writing, but there is also a distinctive humour. Unlike so many Singapore writers, Goh's writing laughs, laughs at and laughs with his characters. (In the book, Kwang Meng is introduced to and begins to read the late Indian writer, RK Narayan. And I think Goh must also be a fan of, oh, lovely Narayan!).
So, what if we do dream too long?...Ok, so I just turned 31. For the last 3 days, J and I have been at this design conference organised by idN. As with last year, the place was filled with these teenage design students from Singapore and around the region who were more keen to collect the autographs of the speakers than listen. But age is on their side. And since we are neither teenagers nor designers - we don't even have a design education - we came away from the show wondering if it's really too late if we wanted to make a career switch?
And what about Goh Poh Seng? Where is he today?
As part of my google search, I chanced upon this short biography by Goh himself on the website of a Vancouver senior's home called "The Lion's Den":
After receiving his Canadian medical licence, he returned to practise in Vancouver. In 1995, Goh was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and had to give up his profession. He now lives part of the year in Vancouver and part of the year in Newfoundland. Goh began writing poetry at 19 while frequenting the pubs of Dublin where he met writers Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan. Encouraged by the publication of his poetry in the university magazine, he wanted to become a writer and at one point dropped out of medical school. Starvation and a love of eating drove him back to medicine. (italics mine)
Reading this write-up, the image I have is of a 69 year-old man who, Parkinson's disease or not, medical practitioner or not, continues making a life out of what he has. And over our weekly Saturday lunch at Killiney Kopitian, J and I came to a similar conclusion. Designer or not, young or old, what mattered was the precious salvation and people we already have. Maybe we've been daydreaming again, but I think what we have is enough.