Posted by: danguard | June 19, 2009

Day 11 – Progress, poetry, and the stench of durian

Well, it’s an old cliche, but what a difference a day makes. Last night I was feeling rather low as I swigged my beer in my usual haunt. I had run out of directly useful material in the archive, I was feeling sceptical about my ability to access sources in Kuala Lumpur, and my attempts to find retired officers to interview had so far thrown up nothing. Feeling like I needed a change of surroundings, I relocated to the National Library, which I knew held some books on the navy, though I was dubious as to their usefulness.

To my pleasant surprise, the first book I picked up, a 30th anniversary commemoration, had loads of great stuff. It took me 5 hours to take down everything I needed from it! As well as filling in some of the chronological and etymological blanks, it contained dozens of contemporary newspaper articles about the navy which provide lots of interesting cultural insights into the force. To further boost my spirits I also received an email from the Oral History Centre with the contact details I’d requested. I subsequently called and set up interviews with three former officers for when I return to Singapore after my fortnight in KL, I have sent an email to another individual, and have four letters written which will get forwarded for me tomorrow. I also have three more organisations to chase up tomorrow, and I’m arranging to meet with a local amateur naval enthusiast in KL next week who’s already given me contact details for three former British RMN officers back in the UK. So things are finally looking up on that front.

The national library is a great place to work. I’m up on the 11th floor, and from my desk have views of the south part of the city, including Raffles, the Esplanade, the marina, the ‘eye’, the war memorial, the south bay, harbour and Sentosa island. Furthermore, the hand soap carries a delicious scent of apples, and the cafe does the tastiest tomato soup I’ve ever had!

durian_bannedI’m looking forward to a change of scenery and heading up to KL on Sunday though. Most of all I can’t wait to escape the stench of durian which completely shrouds the area in which I’m staying (Aljunied). For those of you unfamiliar with this tropical fruit, it has been said that ‘its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock’ (Richard Sterling).  Imagine that smell greeting you every morning and every evening as you board and depart the train. Not pleasant I tell you. Singapore can sometimes be a place of contradiction. It is famed for its sterile clean streets, but that’s certainly not the case in this part of town. I also heard that in Singapore jaywalking is a serious offence, but everybody does it. What’s more, cars will happily drive around the corner when pedestrians are crossing the road and have right of way!

As it’s my aim to enlighten you culturally as well as historically, I’ll end tonight’s post with a poem I found today, which signifies the passing of the old guard and the birth of the Republic of Singapore Navy:

sg~nA Day to Remember
(Anonymous)

The cool silent breeze kept blowing from the sea
Big ships, small ships, sailed along merrily
The day had come, the day we waited for
The guests arrived, they sat, they saw
On spotless deck, we patiently stood
With golden badges, snow-white uniform and shining boots.

The pretty swans with uniform sparkling white
Were smartly dressed and look up with pride
The SIR band with instruments shining like morning dew
Were waiting patiently for their cue
And beside them we proudly stood
With golden badges, snow-white uniform and shining boots

The silence was broken by a voice loud and clear
It came crashing and deafening to the ear
After the alert had sounded, in came the band
On the rostrum stood the handsome Secretary of Defence
Smartly at attention we all stood
With golden badges, snow-white uniform and shining boots

As the band plays on gracefully
Around the smart looking guard walked the Secretary
With rifles held closely to their side
They neither looked up nor down nor left nor right
Eyes staring straight ahead, like statues they stood
With golden badges, snow-white uniform and shining boots

“Majulah Singapura” the band struck on
Today our white ensign is born
Dancing and waving in the air
Today a happiness we equally share
Looking paternally down towards where we stood
With golden badges, snow-white uniform and shining boots
Marching by her flapping sound we could hear
Made our little hearts so full of cheer
It was all over before we knew
That the band had played a final tune
It was now empty where we had stood
With golden badges, snow-white uniform and shining boots

Many years would come and be gone
But our white ensign will fly on and on
Flying high in all our warships for all to see
Keeping our waters and peaceful island free
For when we are gone, our children would stand
With golden badges, snow-white uniform and shining boots

(Written to mark the occasion of the hoisting of the Singapore Naval Ensign on Friday 5 May, 1967)

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Responses

  1. Wow. What a beautiful poem. That one will make it into the thesis, if you have any sense. You’d get brownie points from me if I was the external (though it has to illuminate a point you are making, of course). Good luck with the interviews. Do you have a digital voice recorder? With spare batteries?


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