they came, lived, talked (and talked some more)

While having lunch with my colleagues at Earshot, the bookstore cafe at The Arts House at Old Parliament, I took the chance to scan its shelves of Singapore publications and music CDs...and came across this gem - Pioneers of Singapore: A Catalogue of Oral History Interviews (Archives and Oral History Dept, 1984 - now called National Archives of Singapore).

Check out this pre-Adobe Photoshop cover where you can see the crude edges of the cut-out lady/computer in foreground.

To be sure, the book is nothing more than what it honestly states in its subtitle - a catalogue. It does not contain the actual stories. It is not a transcript of the recordings. It does not even have photographs of the interviewees.

A colleague who flipped through its pages wondered why anyone would purchase this, well, boring book. Of course, there are fools like me.

Try this extract on civil servant Mr Sng Choon Yee (b.1897):
R01Family background. Early education in Chinese classics. School fees. School hours. R02How his eldest brother helped other scholars to pass examination...Recommended his father to a tax collector's job. R03His father infected by cholera.
Mr Sng, by the 4th recording, got to the story of his family's journey to Singapore. In his 6th and 7th recordings, he spoke about his school life at Gan Eng Seng School and how he had organised a strike in school to protest against praying in the rain, how he compained to each trustee of the school. He switched to Raffles School (yes, even in those days, civil servants had already hailed from that institution!). There are 24hours worth of stories from the anti-Japanese days, the China Reflief fund, mention of Tan Kah Kee and Lim Nee Soon, the printing of the Sin Chew Jit Poh (Chinese newspapers), the transport system in China Town.

Or the less chatty Forwarding and Security contractor Mr H J C Kulasingha (1900-1982), who had left his home town in Ceylon for Singapore and eventually started his own business in 1946. In his 4th recording, he spoke about
Reason for closing of company in 1967. How he got the name "King of the Islands". His public service activities. Interest in politics. Involvement in Progressive Party. 1951 Election campaign...
And what else did Mr Kulasingha contribute to? He was a Director of the Jurong Bird Park!

While this catalogue does nothing more than provide these "headlines" on the lives of these pioneers, I was amazed how eventful (I cannot think of any word but this) , even when recounted only in short phrases, the lives of these men and women were! In fact, I think I quite prefer it told this way. These bits and pieces, these skeletal fragments, leaving the skin, flesh, organs to the curious imagination - and to fiction.

Lucky tym actually gets to listen to these archival recordings as part of her job! Oh, envy!


wahj said…
What a fascinating find ... you're right - the synopses and tables of content are like condense epics in themselves. There're whole biographies and life stories waiting to be filled in ...
ampulets said…
yah, the folks at earshot have done a pretty good job digging up these old, out-of-print books, and books by smaller publishers - not ot mention the music cds.
orangeclouds said…
Fascinating book cover. And hey, I do believe I know tym too, two degrees of separation in several different directions...

Is earshot new? Gee I must visit the next time I'm back.
ampulets said…
OC - earshot is fairly new, maybe just under a year old. (hmm, i guess you might know tym since we already have quite a few friends in common!)

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