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)

Hello followers. So did you enjoy your day’s rest from my incessant and no doubt slightly irritating prose? As nothing much of note happened yesterday I decided to give you some brief respite. Tonight, however, I intend to regale you with two stories I unearthed from the oral archives today. One is a stirring wartime tale of hardship, deceit and endeavour, which ultimately highlights life’s unpredictability and the randomness of fortune. The other is a ghost story (of sorts). Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin…

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a man who served in the Royal Malayan Navy. His name was Dahim Ahmad. He had only joined the navy two months previously when the Japanese began the war in the Pacific. After overrunning the British defences in Malaya and invading Singapore, the British gave the order to evacuate the island in February 1942. Ahmad was given a choice, either to stay in Singapore, or to leave with the British. He chose the latter, and found himself aboard one of 6 transports heading in convoy to Jakarta, at that point still part of the Dutch East Indies and friendly territory. During the journey though they came under attack from a Japanese bomber, and a bomb landed to the rear of Ahmad’s transport, and though it didn’t destroy her, it rendered her immobile. Ahmad, 40 Malay Navy comrades, and the European men, women and children who were also passengers aboard, were forced to abandon ship and land on nearby Bangka Island. Ahmad’s bad luck continued, as the following morning, the Japanese invaded the island and Ahmad and company were arrested as prisoners of war and he was put into forced labour. On the 2nd day, he was ordered to carry the ammunition for a company of Japanese troops marching across the island. After 2 or 3 kilometers they stopped for a rest, and under the pretext of going to the toilet, Ahmad made his way to a set of trees and bushes and promptly ran through the undergrowth and escaped. After 4 months on the run, he finally moved to a town where he got a job working for the Japanese military administration no less! After 2 and a half years he asked to be allowed to go to Jakarta in order to join the Imperial Japanese Navy. His request was granted, but it was merely a ploy, and on arriving on Jakarta he took up a job in a post office for a month, before attending navigation school and negotiating himself a position aboard a rice cargo vessel. As fortune would have it, the vessel was heading home, to Singapore! Upon arriving in port and seeing his chance to escape, he posed as a local coolie labourer to get passed the security guards at the port, and make his break for freedom and his family home. A few months later, the Japanese surrendered and the British returned, at which point Ahmad rejoined the Malay Navy.

'Ghost Ship' - RSS Endurance when she was the USS Holmes County

'Ghost Ship' - RSS Endurance when she was the USS Holmes County

Be warned, this next ghoulish tale will chill you down to your very soul! In 1975, the Singapore navy, now an independent force from the British, took delivery of an old American transport vessel, the USS Holmes County, renamed RSS Endurance. It was not long before strange happenings began occurring aboard the ship. Several of the men reported seeing a black sailor walking about in the engine room, however, no black sailors served in the Singapore navy. Neither was this a singular occurrence, and several more sightings were reported by others of this mysterious ghostly figure. Some say that the sailor was an American who died aboard the Holmes County during the Second World War. The chief engineer even remarked that he considered the figure an extra hand! To this day, however, the official line is, the Singapore Navy does not believe in ghosts.

You make up your own mind. But be sure to sleep with the light on tonight….

Posted by: danguard | June 15, 2009

Day 7 – Arts and sparks

Well, it’s Sunday, which means it’s my day off. I started in typical fashion with a lie-in, as I’ve been feeling tired all week and been prone to drifting off in the afternoon either in the archives or another embarrassing public place. This was only made possible thanks to the earplugs I finally remembered I’d packed and which make a world of difference when you’re sharing a room with 5 other people. After finally getting up around 11, I logged on to check my emails only to find that someone had broken into my account and sent scam emails to my entire address book (sorry if you feel left out for not getting one). I must say, I was thoroughly ‘hacked’ off!

ComasNow that you’ve recovered from the hilarity of my pun, I’ll continue. I decided to investigate the Singapore Art Museum not sure quite what to expect. It turns out its a contemporary gallery displaying artists reflective of the wider region, and it housed some really good stuff. The main focus currently is on their ‘TransportASIAN’ exhibition, advertised as part of the art festival. Two artists stood out in particular for me from this, Xavi Comas and John Clang. Comas’ work, titled Pasajero (Passenger), constituted a video installation documenting a collection of photographs taken on the Tokyo rail network and explores how moments of chance encounter, silence and emptiness can carry meaning. I’ve posted three of my favourites here. The humour of the first situation is quite clear. In the second picture, the man with the paper is physically trapped in the train, squashed up against the window. Upon the window is a sign, with the image of a man crossed out, as if behind bars. Like the image, the man with the paper is physically confined within the space he inhabits, he is a prisoner. Perhaps metaphorically too, a slave to modern work and living. In the third image, two women are displayed, one holding a mobile phone, and one wearing a white top. Only the woman with the phone and the passengers behind her are in the camera’s field of vision when the picture is taken, the woman in the white top does not physically exist within that space. She invades it, and in doing so, Comas is drawing our attention to the things around us that we don’t normally see as we speed forward through our busy modern lives.

ClangJohn Clang’s piece, called White Book, took the form of a raised white box which you stepped inside to view, as the title suggests, a white book containing the artist’s work. With use of montage, his work looks to invert space by removing people from their original surroundings and placing them in an abstract setting. He also invades the ‘real world’ with sculptures he has fashioned which simultaneously seem to fit and yet are at odds with their environment. Such scenes, though they perhaps initially seem surreal, become eerily believable. I would argue that in such pieces, Clang is commenting on the phenomena of global migration and social displacement, particularly when one considers his Singaporean roots and the fact he lives and works in New York, two places fundamentally shaped and defined by immigration. In a world constantly in flux where borders have become increasingly blurred, Clang’s distortion of reality challenges us not to accept things at face value, and to shed our preconceptions.

I ended the day by attending a firework show, Crackers?, arranged to bring to a close the 2009 Singapore Arts Festival. We were all herded into a large circle enclosure (all 12,000 of us), with a large totemic cylinder at the centre, and with edifices of human figures situated around the perimeter. The cylinder beamed out some arty video montage of explosions, accompanied by pumping music and discovery channel-style scientific commentary, like some pyromaniacal geeks rave. Slowly the cylinder ascended into the air, a projected spark moving with it until it reached the top and triggered fireworks to launch from the summit. Like wicker men the edifices burst into flame, and for the next 20 minutes we were bombarded by pyrotechnic bombs which seemed to rain down on us from all sides. Around the perimeter, with the wicker men, a dozen huge catherine wheels spun. It was quite an impressive show, and inspired by the photography I’d witnessed earlier, I desperately tried to document it all on camera. Doing so though only served as a distraction which prevented me from fully experiencing and enjoying the display, of which a photo is ultimately a pale imitation. At the end I felt a little hollow, like I’d missed out on something big even though I was physically there. Sometimes it’s better to just live in the moment.

Posted by: danguard | June 14, 2009

Day 6 – Boats and Bungs

Well, it’s the weekend, and like a good little PhD student I spent Saturday morning back at the archives. As fate had it, I made some rather exciting discoveries. Yesterday I started working through the interviews conducted with Captain Kuttan, a former officer in the Royal Malaysian Navy of Indian extraction. There was a lot of good textural material though nothing particularly revelatory, until today that is. First, he talked about how he was put in charge of running the recruitment for the RMN, but upon having his first batch of candidates rejected by the naval board, he was told that he had to adhere to a quota system, 7 Malays, 2 Chinese, and 1 other race for every ten recruits. Consequently, many men were not recruited into the RMN on merit, but because they were Malay, institutionalised ethnic discrimination on a national level.

GeorgeGraham_468x462

George Graham - could have learned a thing or two from the Royal Malaysian Navy

Though Malaysia was an independent country by the late 1960s, British officers still held senior positions in the force, though this in itself is not unusual. Kuttan talked about a batch of MTBs (Motor Torpedo Boats) which had been ordered during this period from the Royal Navy but were constantly being delayed, much to his frustration as the officer in charge of training the men needed to operate them. Upon questioning his British superiors about them and why a penalty clause was not being exacted, he was told “you guys are not ready to drive Rolls Royces”. The British had been deliberately holding up the transfer of the MTBs because they didn’t believe the Malaysians were ready to run the vessels, or by extension their own navy, by themselves without continued British guidance. Even a decade after Malayana independence (1957), and with the retreat from East of Suez on the horizon, British officers still believed they had a paternalist role to play towards the ‘inferior’ races of the Commonwealth. Kuttan goes on to say that the reason the penalty clause was never exacted was because all the way up people were ‘on the take’ from the deal, which ran into several millions of pounds. It is a startling revelation, that British naval officials, who were only still there by invitation of the independent Malaysian government, were playing on their hegemonic relationship and Malaysian dependence to arrange ship procurements with British firms, so that they could make personal profit from the deal. It adds a whole new economic subtext to this complex post-colonial relationship.

Feeling pleased with my discoveries, I spent the rest of the afternoon taking advantage of the cloud and slightly cooler temperature to explore a bit more of the city centre on foot, walking around the old colonial core and river. For late lunch I sampled soft shell crabs, which were an interesting experience. I couldn’t tell you whether I liked the taste of them or not (I’m sure I would have, as I like normal crab meat), as they were completely overwhelmed by the flavourings of black pepper, garlic and ginger (and I hate ginger), but I had no problem with the texture or the prospect of eating them whole, the crunch of the shell is similar to batter. Afterwards I managed to pick up a discounted single seat ticket for Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow soloists’ second and final concert tonight as I enjoyed last night so much. I’ll save you from the in-depth review this time, save to say, they didn’t disappoint, mixing familiar classics by Bach and Tchaikovsky with some very stirring pieces by Edward Grieg, Max Bruce, and Paul Hindemith, and playing a lively Russian folk song for the encore. Highly recommended.

Posted by: danguard | June 12, 2009

Day 5 – A Night at the Esplanade

Well, not much to report on regarding the daytime’s activities. Going through all these interviews is proving quite taxing, it is really quite tiring having to concentrate so closely for so long transcribing exactly what’s being said, particularly with the dialectical differences, a process not being helped by poor original recordings (either too close to the mic and too loud and muffled, or with too much background sound going on, speeding cars, etc. – God knows where they were originally recorded), or an interviewer who keeps interrupting and clearly considers himself the Singapore version of Jeremy Paxman rather than a professional oral historian! On a couple of occasions the interviewee would be about to say something interesting regarding the navy, only for the interviewer to pull him back and ask something boring about the civil service or teaching instead! Grrr…. At least I now know how NOT to conduct interviews.

MoscowYuriChoirAs I previously mentioned, I went to the Esplanade in the evening to watch the Moscow State Chamber Choir and Chamber Orchestra Moscow Soloists, conducted by and starring Yuri Bashmet, Ukrainian violist. The venue really is fantastic, inside as well as out. Asthetically pleasing throughout, the main concert hall resembles a cross between an upturned Noah’s arc, and a wooden cathedral, and the acoustics are excellent, I’d say better than the Albert Hall’s from past experience. During the interval I wandered out to the bar to grab a swift beer, which enjoys fantastic views overlooking the marina which is really quite spectacular lit up at night.

I really enjoyed most of the programme. It opened with Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for strings, which sounds very contemporary despite it being over 60 years old. The first movement, Vivace, really stood out, a frantic, bustling piece, which conjured up images of a busy metropolis such as Singapore, and with a fantastic recurring discordant motif which feels like it’s always teetering on the brink of crashing but remains beautifully balanced throughout.

Next up was Brahms’ Adagio in B minor for viola and strings. Here Bashmet takes centre stage, and his performance is mesmerising, incessant, and emotive. The dynamism of his viola and the intricate interplay between the cello and viola sections provides the perfect counterpoint. After that was Three Film Scores for Strings by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. Here the highlight was the first piece, Music of Training and Rest from the film Jose Torres,which possessed a great jazz rhythm reminiscent of Gershwin and Bernstein. The manner in which the cellists were transformed into the role of jazz-blues bassists with the violas replicating sharp off-beat jazz piano notes conveyed a really impressive and innovative arrangement.

After the interval was Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilatewith the first choral appearance of the night in the form of a female soprano. To be honest, I found this piece a bit tedious. It was fairly standard Mozart, and the music remained shackled by the piece’s emphasis on the singer. I kept flashing back to my comment the other night regarding the annoying warbling stylings of current wannabe pop singers, as to be honest, what the soprano was doing was basically the same thing but a little bit more elaborate, in Latin, and in a higher key. It was essentially just warbling though of a different kind, but because it is masked behind the respectable face of classical music it is therefore obscured from similar public criticisms. I thought it only fair to redress the balance.

The programme finished with Mass No.2 in G Major for mixed chorus and stringsby Schubert, and saw the full Moscow State Chamber Choir take to the stage. The night ended on a high, and the third movement struck a particular chord with me, with it’s minimal but strident string tones, and deep, ominous choral chanting, it had something of a Soviet vibe to it. It reminded me a little of (and this is where I lose any credibility as a serious classical reviewer, if I hadn’t already done so by use of the word ‘vibe’ in the last sentence)… the film score to The Hunt to Red October.

And on that bombshell, I think I’d best say goodnight.

Posted by: danguard | June 11, 2009

Day 4 – Hegemony and chillinos

Well, I’m freshly shaved and showered and ready for a night hanging out at hawker stalls with very cheap Chinese food (1.50 for a massive amount and variety), supersize bottles of tiger beer, and European football repeats, including last night’s epic demolition of Andorra! Before that though I’ll bring you up to speed with what’s going down.

I have four new Thai roommates. They seem very pleasant, and are clearly quite young and don’t seem to drink, which suits me as it means they go to bed early and they don’t disturb me. Two of them who are clearly a couple even wear matching pyjamas! I suddenly feel myself adopting an almost fatherly role, and playing the archetypal paternalist westerner! I jest of course.

Had a good innings in the archives today, and started tackling the oral interviews they’ve accrued there. There were 7 tapes from one guy alone who was particularly enlightening, he’d served in the RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) in Singapore from 1949, all the way into the 1970s with the independent Singapore armed forces, rising to head of the naval branch. It threw up an interesting couple of revelations. Firstly, through his rhetoric it was clear he had internalised and clearly believed in British hegemony, the superiority of British (or by extension ‘western’ if we’re adopting Said’s Orientalism-model as derived from Gramsci) ideas, practices, training, and technology. It was such acceptance in this ‘intellectual and moral superiority’ by the subjugated peoples of Empire that allowed the imperial project to flourish and the European powers to maintain control, so Said and others since have argued. This is not the first time i’ve witnessed such inculcation within naval contexts, my work on the Indian Navy has revealed it too. In that example, this hegemony continued to resonate for a decade and a half after independence, with the Indians seeking British help regarding officers, training, equipment, and essentially modelling their ‘national’ navy along Royal Navy lines. In Singapore though, it appears the imperial umbilical chord was severed, and the independent navy turned to Taiwan for assistance, a country with no naval heritage to note. This anomaly is not explained, and is particularly striking when considered next to the fact that the Israelis helped train up the army (also having had experience of national service), and the RAF trained up the Singapore air force. It is something which requires further investigation.

All really, really good-looking people love frappuccinos!

All really, really good-looking people love frappuccinos!

Had a fairly chilled day other than that, read more of my book in that nice coffee shop I found overlooking the Esplanade and marina (it really is an engrossing read, I maybe didn’t sell it properly before with my mention of economic theory, but that was really only one chapter). Today’s iced beverage of choice was caramel swirl chillino (not frappuccino Luke)… yummy! I’ll be at the Esplanade tomorrow watching the Russian chamber choir et al, so may not get another post out till Saturday (remember I’m 7 hours ahead). Will no doubt let you know my thoughts on them then.

Laters.

It’s been a long day. I woke up at some time between 5 and 6am, couldn’t drift back off, so waited until 6 to get up and give it an early start, thinking I could find a coffee shop somewhere early doors. No chance. A few food stalls were open seemingly selling the same stuff as the night before, but pork leg (with extra crunchy bone! Sorry Ian) didn’t appeal to me for breakfast. I killed time in an internet cafe and read my book (‘The Singapore Grip’ by J.G. Farrell – very good so far, great mix of humour, satire, historical context and economic theory – a winning combination!) in the park before the archive opened at 9. Inevitably I felt knackered by 11, but ploughed on till 4 before grabbing a cheeky kip in a coffee shop (now open – I’ve discovered a new-found love of iced coffee and iced peach tea). Then at 6 I was off to this piece of postmodernist theatre.

etiquetteAn interesting experience (it’s called ‘Etiquette’ by the way, in case you want to look it up). I’m not sure it entirely succeeds in ‘blurring the distinction between actor and audience’, as for parts of the play you’re too busy frantically reciting your lines as they’re put into your head to fully be able to follow the plot and listen to what the other person’s saying, and also means you don’t have time to really develop your own performance and non-verbal acting. I must have done alright though, as the girl I was with said afterwards she thought I was an actor because of some of my expressions (used to be an actor I corrected, those days playing Danny Zuko at Cas High are long behind me now). Maybe I should take back some of those comments I made yesterday regarding stage-school kids! It was fun though, and maybe I’ll look into doing some Am-Dram when I get back, or maybe I’ll just file it away with all those other pipe-dreams like playing double-bass in a Jazz band, speaking fluent French, sailing, writing a novel, playing rugby league, lecturing at Oxford, blah blah blah… (or should I say Bob Loblaw, attorney of Law? 😉 )

No philosophising today I’m afraid, I’m way too tired (“hurrah” I hear you cheer!). The only thing I’m left deliberating is whether this shirt looks camp with the sleeves rolled up??… Answers on a postcard please.

Howdy all. I am just in the middle of demolishing a packet of all-blackcurrent fruit pastilles! Why BritainFruitips constantly misses out on such innovative confectionary variations that the rest of the world gets to enjoy is beyond me.

Well, I made it to the Singapore national archives today, albeit a little later than I’d hoped as my body clock’s still aclimatising. It’s so much more relaxed than the UK one, for a start nobody’s there, and you also get free prints of the microfilms! Saves on lots of time-consuming note-taking. Very happy to find an early service journal for the Singapore branch of the Malayan RNVR circa-1956, with stories from the war and before. Also some interesting propaganda/recruitment posters and insights from the Governor. I’ve barely scratched the surface though.

Esplanade_-_006Afterwards I headed to the Esplanade, Singapore’s iconic premier performance venue, to book tickets for a couple of events that are part of the Singapore Arts Festival. One’s a piece of theatre called ‘Etiquette’ set in a public cafe, where you take on one of two roles, and are directed your lines and actions through headphones. I also got a ticket for a classical performance by the Moscow Soloists, Yuri Bashmet, and Moscow State Chamber Choir. That’s on Friday, with ‘Etiquette’ tomorrow, so will let you know how they both go.

While at the Esplanade I caught a free live performance by what seemed to be some stage school kids. It’s good (or perhaps bad) to see that concepts of over-acting and ‘jazz-hands’ are universal. Some of the group harmonies were decent, but when it got to the soloists I had to leave. The male soloist attempted to capture the current zeitgeist by performing an only slightly less-cringeworthy rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ than X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke, while the audience (all except me it seemed) were going wild for the female soloist’s ridiculous warbling (I couldn’t name the song, something from the US judging by the American accents adopted). I’m sure the Hunter House Rd-boys would have loved it! 😉 There wasn’t a hint of any Singaporean, Chinese, Malay or Indian influence to the performance. You really could have just lifted them and placed them in a US or UK Cowell-derived talent show and they would not have sounded out of place (and by that I mean interesting, different or original). I heard before I came that Singapore was fairly westernised compared to other Asian cities, but it’s rather sad that this extends to cultural events such as this. Even when you walk through the many ‘malls’, you see very few Asian models in the windows, most are Caucasian. Clearly nobody questions this. I guess historically, ethnicity has been a delicate subject for Singapore, being a Chinese-dominant immigrant society (both politically and deographically), with a smaller native Malay population surrounded by larger Malay-dominant countries, and with groups of Indians and Eurasians too. Perhaps it is less contraversial and more politically-correct to embrace ‘neutral’ attributes of western culture than promote the country’s own ethnic heritage at the risk of alienating one or more of its other ethnic groups?

I wouldn’t be a Brit abroad if I didn’t continue to reflect on the weather out here. It’s hot, hot, hot. I’ve never experienced heat like it. The more I feel it, the more I start thinking about British imperial racial ideology regarding how climate affects character. It was said that those native to the tropics were innately lethargic and less martial than those of cooler climate, e.g. Bengalis were dismissed as effeminate, wherease Punjabis from the cooler north of India were considered one of the Empire’s premier martial races. I am not agreeing or justifying such rhetoric, but part of me is beginning to understand how such misguided notions first came about. For example, needless to say the heat is unquestionably energy-sapping, and as I alluded to yesterday, I’m finding that things which would normally piss me off, such as missing a bus, or mislaying something, I’m suddenly accepting with a newfound and uncharacteristic stoicism. To get angry, would be to get hotter, and become more uncomfortable, therefore it’s better to just shrug them off. Perhaps this natural avoidance of confrontation and emotion was seen to reflect a reluctance to fight, and thus, an inability to make a good soldier? The actions of colonial troops in the First World War clearly disproved this theory, but its influence still resonated amongst British military and naval planners until the disolution of Empire.

Posted by: danguard | June 8, 2009

Day 1 – Sorry, we’ve moved…

I’ve found a major flaw with my hostel… it is even more sporadic than my own home connection! I tried logging on this morning before I left, and twice this evening but to no avail, so I am in an internet cafe typing this (surrounded by Asian ‘kids’ playing ‘World of Warcraft – I’ve never felt less of a geek!) and will thus try not to be too long.

As it was my first full day here and I would be still suffering from the effects of jetlag, I decided not to dive straight into the archives but to investigate the Singapore Navy Museum and try to arrange a meeting with the curator. So, armed with the map and directions I’d downloaded from the internet before the trip, I ventured forth to the northern part of the island, Sembawang, where my research told me I’d find the museum. After a comparatively lengthy trip on the MRT and bus, I eventually got to the location, only to be told that the naval museum had moved to the new naval base at Changi (where I’ve subsequently found out there is no public transport to). I was not happy, but it was too hot to get worked up about it (this weather’s doing wonders to my naturally irate disposition), so I decided to venture into the city to gain my bearings and maybe visit a museum. It is so hot during the day and you can’t walk for more than a few minutes in the sun without soaking from perspiration, despite the Mitchum-strength protection I was rocking.

National_Museum_of_Singapore_2,_Aug_06I ended up at Canning Fort Park, around which the national archives are located, along with cultural attractions such as the National Museum of Singapore and the National Art Museum. As half my day had been wiped out already, I visited the museum, and explored the Hsitory of Singapore section, hoping to gain some more insights and solidify my contextual knowledge. I was impressed by the curator’s approach, where for half the tour you choose whether to follow the ‘events’ route, or the ‘personal’ route. This resonates strongly with my own work and much postcolonial history in the attempt to give ‘voice to the voiceless’. For most of the tour I chose the latter route needless to say, until it got to the story of women, which doesn’t really interest me that much (sorry to the feminists among you, you know who you are!). I had one major gripe though, and is something of significance for my own prospective interviews and for when I’m analysing the discourse of other oral-based sources. At one point there was an acted audio conversation played out between a British colonial official and a local activist, which had been lifted from a transcript taken of the original meeting in the late Nineteenth Century. Listening to it, I was struck with the distinct impression that the British ‘character’ had been ascribed with a purposefully arrogant and condescending tone, something that couldn’t have been picked up from the dialogue lifted from the transcript alone. I left with the uncomfortable feeling that this historical moment had been purposefully manipulated to propagate the anticolonial nationalistic message reflected in the rest of the exhibition. It did not sit well with me.

Speak tomorrow.

Posted by: danguard | June 7, 2009

Lost Mp3s, Aussies, and Spillage – the Journey

Well, I’ve touched down in Singapore, and am writing this in the hostel after God knows how many hours without sleep. It was very disconcerting sitting in Dubai airport at 2am only half-way into the journey. Strangely, considering it feels likeI’ve been awake for 2 days, I don’t feel too bad regarding the jetlag right now. But then the test of that will be whether this post makes any sense I guess!

The journey started off on the worst possible footing when after getting through check-in at Manchester airport, I discovered I had gone and bloody forgotten my mp3 player, despite my dad asking whether I had it when we got in the car! With a head full of beer and wine last night (or is that 2 nights ago now??), I forgot I’d taken it out of my bag in order to drift off to sleep to the soothing sounds of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ (from the film Master and Commander, so there’s your naval reference!). Despite this setback I was consoled by the fact I had my laptop with me with music on, and I could pick up a cheap 2gb mp3 player for around £20 to tie me over for the trip. God bless new consumerism!

'...he drinks a whisky drink, he drinks a lager drink...'

'...he drinks a vodka drink, he drinks a lager drink...'

No more calamities ensued for the first half of the journey, apart from a mislaid bottle of water, and I enjoyed watching ‘Frost/Nixon’ and ‘Revolutionary Road’ on the plane. Compelling performances all round. After changing at Dubai I was planning my next film choices, when a drunken Aussie bloke and his ‘Sheila’ sat down next to me and uninvitedly engaged me in conversation. Normally talk of my PhD would turn people off instantly, but sadly it seemed to just spur this guy on, professing that tired and cliched old assertion, ‘oh, I like history too!’. Realising I couldn’t shake him, I decided the only option left open to me was to join him aboard the ‘booze-plane’, and we proceded to order a deluge of complementary drinks that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Chumbawumba song. Suprisingly, the first 3 hours were rather enjoyable as I gradually caught up with ‘Karl’s inebriation, with a discussion of, amongst other things, Australian rugby league, town planning in the credit crunch, Asian philosophies towards education, and the origins of American multi-nationals. In the process of trying to order more drinks via the handset, however, my beer (or was that G&T?) got spilled over my linen trousers. At least I was thankful I’d decided not to wear my jeans.

Eventually the aforementioned Sheila (her name was actually Annie) got rather annoyed at our loutishness, as were the cabin crew it seemed, and I tried to grab a kip as he tried to smooth things over with her. The last 3 hours of the journey were not pleasent, drifting in and out of boozy consciousness, tired and dehydrated, with only the sight of Isla Fisher in the next row (on the screen, not in person) to get me through it. Anyway, eventually we landed, bid our farewells and went our seperate ways – me to the hostel, Karl to the airport bar! I had no problems finding the place, and though it looked a little run-down from the outside, inside the place seems clean, comfortable, and most importantly, air-conditioned! Grabbed a brief kip, spoke to a Taiwanese lad and an older English couple who seem sound, and wrote this, which brings you up to speed.

One interesting observation to end on – on the MRT (tube) I noticed a poster advertising the 111th Phillipine independence day festival. Seemingly their national history discounts the 40+ years the Phillipines were part of America’s informal empire after the Spanish were evicted!

Righto, I’m off to find a hawker stall now for some dinner…

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