IN THE HOUSE OF GUAVAS, screened at the 2001 Singapore
International Film Festival, a young Vietnamese man falls
from a guava tree in his house and becomes mentally retarded.
But he retains an abiding affection and memory of the old
house, even as it - like the country around him - undergoes
at the end of the film, director Dang Nhat Minh expressed
hope that the audience could relate to the story about life,
loss and memory in rustic Hanoi.
stories my grand parents told me carry the vividness & validity of lived experience, with
a force unmatched by any other medium of learning.
cosmopolitan, wealthy Singaporeans connect?
all, our city incessantly reinvents itself to keep up with
the latest demands and trends - from infotech to biotech,
Fullerton Post Office to luxury hotel, national library
to management university.
wonder that our young citizenry - weaned on a constant diet
of the new - finds its national history a chore to plow
harp on the bad old days when what counts is the Next Big
Thing on the horizon?
everyone in my generation feels that way. In his book
A History Of Amnesia, young poet Alfian Sa'at argues that
we have already forgotten far too much about our past and
ourselves in the relentless pursuit of the new.
beef: That we've discarded, too deftly and without regard,
the side stories and little tales that make up our personal
and collective histories.
are the early kampungs in the textbooks? Or the marginal
figures in society, like performance artist Josef Ng, or
former political detainee Chia Thye Poh?
what he's termed the ''poetry of witness'', Alfian hopes
to help Singaporeans remember these oft-forgotten strands
have no such grand ambition - I know no kampungs: My earliest
memories are of the grubby old HDB flats in which I grew
up, now a spanking-new block of upgraded apartments; my
old school has long since gone the way of the National Theatre.
closest thing to a political prisoner I know of is my grandfather,
who was slated to be shot by Japanese soldiers during the
the story goes, he fell backwards into the pit that the
prisoners had been made to dig earlier, just as the rifles
cover of night, he excavated himself from under the corpses
and escaped unscathed.
stories my grandparents told me about wartime and our nation's
early days would never make their way into a school textbook
- they are too individual, too small.
for me, they carry the vividness and validity of lived experience,
with a force unmatched by any other medium of learning.
Who had time for cynicism in the face of raw history?
everyday storytellers among us are precious repositories
of collective history - artists and educators should find
ways to tap their experiences in order to enrich us. And
perhaps it's time the rest of us paid closer attention to
the daily scenes, textures and movements of our own times,
since our relative stability has been accompanied by dramatic
changes in the national and social landscape.
it's our duty as citizens to understand the past. But it's
also our responsibility, and ours alone, to remember, record
and someday recollect the collective memory of our own generation
- its challenges, achievements and way of life. For future
reference, if nothing else.