Book Review: Singapore a Biography

Singapore a Biography by Mark Ravinder Frost, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

”Singapore a Biography” is an enlightening read about Singapore from the era of her founding by Sir Stamford Raffles till the 1960s. The authors use narrative devices like alliterations and metaphors to create a vivid and lively biography quilted together with a large collection of eye witness accounts and photos.

What really sets this book apart from those of a similar genre is the provision of alternative and sometimes contrarian perspectives. The book lends a voice to a diversity of people – commoners, survivors, heroes, antagonists. For example, the account of the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Singapore included anecdotes from Japanese imperial Guard Corporal Tsuchikane Tominosuke’s memoirs, who had described his journey to the ”impregnable fortress” that was Singapore.

Getting to know the Singapore story from different view points helps drive home the reminder that history as told is not necessarily the absolute truth, but a winner’s narrative, and it is important to learn it from multiple perspectives.

Readers will also learn about some interesting anecdotes that would be omitted from the school curriculum for being controversial, such as the Karayuki-san (Japanese prostitutes trafficked from Japan to Asian countries) and how Singapore used to be christened “Sin-galore” and ”Chicago of the East” due to the excessive violence and chaos before law and order set in.

A downside is how this book stops abruptly at the events in the 1960s/70s. Several readers agree that a good concluding chapter could link modem-day Singapore to her past, with a discussion of attitudes that Singaporeans today hold towards the major themes in the book. Singapore a Biography is an entertaining book to supplement your knowledge about Singapore’s past. Even if you’re not a fan of history, the engaging narrative is likely to change your mind.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.


Make your ride fun and safe

In the next five years, residents of Bishan and Toa Payoh can expect their very own cycling network. This is a network of cycling paths that will connect cyclists from their homes to MRT stations, bus interchanges and nearby key amenities like shopping malls and schools. These cyclist paths also connect to the Park Connector Network, a scenic cycling route that brings you close to gardens, parks and nature all around Singapore.

But do remember that bicycles can cause serious accidents too, if misused. There are previous cases where cyclists were jailed for knocking down pedestrians in Singapore. All cyclists must practise responsible habits and mutual respect.

• Wear bright visible clothing so you can be seen, especially at night.
• Wear a comfortable safety helmet to protect your head.
• Maintain your bike on a regular basis to ensure that it doesn’t break down while you’re on it.
• Typical parts to check before beginning your ride include all the signal lights, brakes and tyre pressure.

• Turn on your lights when it is dark.
• Do not speed or ride haphazardly.
• Be aware and alert of your surroundings at all times. Do not listen to your mp3 player or use your phone. Eyes and ears on the roads at all times.
• Follow instructions on signs and markings.
• Keep to the left except when overtaking, and overtake in a safe manner.
• Use hand signals to alert others when making turns or stopping.
• Ring the bell only when necessary, and give ample time for the other cyclist or pedestrian to react.
• Give way to pedestrians. Remember to slow down at intersections of cycling paths with pedestrian access.

• Cycling is prohibited on pedestrian overhead bridges, pedestrian underpasses and pedestrian crossings, and malls. Dismount and push your bicycle.
• In places with high pedestrian traffic such as covered linkways and bus stops, be prepared to slow down and dismount.
• Look out for signboards and markings on the path. If there is nothing that indicates bicycles are on it, it should be assumed that you can’t ride in those areas.

• Park your bicycles at the designated bicycle racks in your estate. Single and double tier racks are available.
• Lock your bicycle if you have to leave it unattended. Secure all removable bicycle components.
• A U-lock provides better security compared to cable locks.
• Affix a bicycle security label on your bicycle. This label comes with a unique serial number that helps you and the Police to identify your bicycle if it is stolen. Approach any Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) with your bicycle to collect a label.

– This article first appeared in a newsletter for Bishan-Toa Payoh residents

Image from Pixabay


Book Review: Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo, translated by James B. Harris 

If you enjoy the horror works by the legendary  Edgar Allan Poe, this collection featuring nine of Edogawa Rampo’s best short stories, described as the author’s homage to Poe, may well give you your horror fix.

The stories are not as macabre as some of Poe’s works, so those with a weak stomach, take heart. They are mostly short, which makes them great entertaining little stories even for those who lack the time and focus to read. The stories are creepy and nicely crafted, with a few that stand out. “The Human Chair” in particular, has received plenty of praise from fans, and readers in their chairs might feel goose bumps all over while reading. “The Caterpillar” is unique in the sense that it differs from your typical horror story. It is about a war veteran who has lost his limbs, become severely disfigured, deaf, mute and dumb, and has to rely on his increasingly resentful wife for his daily needs. Aside from the horrific twist at the end, the main horror depicted in this short story is the helplessness and lack of independence that many handicapped people still experience today, especially in countries with less developed technologies.

The shock factors aren’t there just to shock. The stories are also meaningful in focusing on the duplicity and complex psychology of human nature. Overlooking the incredibility of some of the plots, the situations explored are realistic possibilities, stark reminders of elements of horror that still exist in the real world, which is what makes a horror story truly frightening.

This dark collection of stories makes an entertaining read that can be finished in a few nights. The only complaints are that  the stories are fairly simplistic, lacking technical complexity and some of the endings are too convenient.

Despite being a translation, the stories read smoothly, and display good narrative craftsmanship. This is explained in the introduction, which describes how the author and translator met up once a week over a period of five years to work on getting every line right. Harris recalls perspiring over his type-writer, experimenting with sentence after sentence until Edogawa was satisfied that the translation was true to what he wanted to portray in meaning and nuance.

– These book reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.


The Mentors in Our Lives

The Chinese philosopher Confucius said ”三人行必有我师”. Literally, it means that among three people walking together, at least one of them can be my teacher. We can learn from just about anyone around us. From the friendly fishmonger at the market to your helpful neighbour, to the insurance agent friend, each person has their own unique wealth of knowledge and expertise awaiting others to tap on.

Of course, there are also the mentors who leave more permanent imprints in our lives. In September, we celebrate the dedication of teachers, who not only impart academic knowledge and skills, but also important values that shape our character. These are the people who guide us through the awkward teenage and young adolescent years. We might benefit from their advice and graduate with flying colours, or it might take years before their words of wisdom hit home. In any case, their stories stay with us for life.

At home, parents and older siblings are our very first teachers. Consciously or subconsciously, they impart to us many seemingly simple yet significant nuggets of knowledge. Life experiences, cultural insights, virtues, ethics, behaviours and more… we often mirror our loved ones. But there comes a time when we grow up and get a little too conceited. If we reel ourselves back in time, we could gather many useful life lessons and insights. If we ignore them and do not give our elders the respect they deserve, we will have to learn the hard way.

For those who are working, let us also not forget our bosses, supervisors or seniors, who share with us their experience relating not only to the job, but also important matters in life like work-life balance and helping you to get along with co-workers and clients. Good bosses will show you that no job is too trivial or undignified. Make use of the opportunities you are given, even if they are small, and you will open up many more doors.

As the world gets more connected and saturated with all sorts of information, having a strong moral foundation and being discerning of what you see and hear has never been more crucial. Some of the messages we received are negative and falsehoods, and if one is easily swayed, the outcomes can be disastrous. Just look at the examples of the young men and women who plot heinous crimes to harm their fellowmen. In times of doubt, if we are fortunate to have good role models and mentors in our lives, their teachings would help us to turn back up the right path.

So taking all the above into consideration, if we look around us, there is a virtually bottomless treasure chest of wisdom to be harvested. The million dollar question is, how can I benefit from it?

To be able to listen is a gift, and an often underrated one. These days many people are too preoccupied with proving themselves and defending their existing knowledge and accomplishments. If we are too close-minded to listen, we will never gain new insights and knowledge. So open your ears and refrain from trying to talk over others. The term mentor can potentially apply to anyone who crosses your path in the lifelong journey of learning.

On the hindsight, be mindful about your behaviour and the information you share. Refrain from acting recklessly or disseminating information without care for authenticity. You never know, someone might be looking up to you as a mentor.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

Image from Pixabay


Book Reviews: Down and Out in Paris and London & How Not to Die

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell 

The narrator, an aspiring writer, moves to Paris and rents a room at a motel. He came with a modest amount of savings which he thought would last him until he finds a job. His life takes a downward twist when all the motel guests were robbed. Having to live from hand to mouth, he finds work at the bottom of the culinary stratum as a dish- washer. The dullness of all work and little rest prompts him to move on. In London, he finds himself in a worst predicament – jobless, homeless and forced to live like a tramp in a different lodging house each day.

In spite of the depressing nature of the book, the writer narrates without self-pity, and even with humour. He retells many of his encounters in great detail and with great believability. Many of the incidents that he encounters provide a rare perspective of one’s descent into poverty. This book will be an eye-opener to many readers.

Yet under such harrowing conditions, there is no blame for lack of wealth, no envy for the rich. The narrator believes, and looks up to those who share his belief, that education is the crux to a meaningful life. The subtle message about positive thought and knowledge over material possessions that runs throughout the book is something one can benefit from.

Considering that the story is set in the 19205, there is some inevitable display of xenophobia and lack of understanding towards foreigners and minority groups.

How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Michael Greger and Gene Stone

Author Dr Michael Greger is the physician behind online book for healthy eaters NutritionFacts.org. The Cornell University-educated physician is also an internationally recognised speaker on a number of public health issues.

In this book, he shares how diseases and premature death can be prevented through certain diets, evidenced with scientific facts. The book explores 15 top causes of premature deaths. The diseases include heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure and some common cancers.

Here is a look at some of the advice he provides:

– Less dairy, more flaxseed in a diet for one with a family history of prostate cancer
– Hibiscus tea is more effective than hypertensive drugs in controlling high blood pressure. Best of all, it is without all the unpleasant side effects.
– Drinking coffee reduces liver inflammation
– Soy helps to prolong survival in breast cancer patients.

Overall, it is a helpful book with suggestions that are easy to follow. Advice is backed by explanations, which is important especially when it comes to a controversial topic like diets.

– These book reviews first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.