Yeo Hong Eng is another Singapore blogger who has finally turned his blog into a book. When he told me that he had been working on it for the past 10 years I was surprised.
"Not 2 years?" I asked.
"No, 10 years."
Hong Eng is a good teller of tales, using his computer keyboard as a tool, crafting words on screen as a sculptor would his chisel on marble. Very intricately he worked on this book to shape and form his story. The cliche, the devil's in the detail, is proof enough as you turn the 435 pages of his masterpiece. Be warned, you need to take time with this piece of literature.
The book discusses life from the 50s and 60s in Tanah Merah Kechil in the east coast of Singapore and describes how Hong Eng's family struggled, to make a living during the lean years after the Japanese Occupation (blurb).
The story details the development of the land they lived on for farming and sand mining purposes. Explanation of coconut being processed into cooking oil and bamboo into food are interestingly told. A tough life it was indeed as he recalled land reclamation, disasters and battling with the elements.
|Shooting Match Sticks|
To keep the balance however, he writes about the fun side too, i.e. their adventures in school, daily home cooked meals, self constructed toys like auto-wheels, sling shots, kites and the incredible shooting match sticks. He describes celebrated days that included community festivities with much kampong camaraderie.
What interested me most was Chapter 14 where Hong Eng discusses Our Entertainment and writes about music. Besides enjoying free movies and reading Chinese story books he was fascinated by his father's H.M.V. gramophone player:
Dad had a huge black box and music coming from it. There was a black disc rotating and a head with a needle lying on the disc (page 301).
The discs were black records that were very expensive and fragile and would shatter once they were dropped. Some of these records had labels from Victor, others from Decca and Columbia. The records his father borrowed were mainly Mandarin songs with some *Hokkien and *Teochew operas.
The reader needs to find out from the book how Hong Eng explains the intricate workings of the gramophone player and where the little needles were kept.
One point to note. Although the illustrations by the author were clear and helpful, the rather dark photographs printed on ordinary paper could have been much better on gloss.
Having experienced that particular period in Singapore's history myself, flipping through the pages was like floating back in time.
Readable, absorbing, the book is worth checking out. A great gift for SG50.
*/tʃ/: ch spelt c (since 1972). Small Red Earth.
Hokkien, Teochew = Chinese dialects.
N.B. Born in Tanah Merah Kechil in 1946 immediately after the Japanese surrendered, Hong Eng was in his 60s when he retired from teaching in primary schools. He is into his second book.
Images from Yeo Hong Eng and The Little Red Cliff
Partridge: A Penguin Random House Company, 2014.
8th January, 2015.
Elvis Presley is 80 years young today. Wow! And still rockin' n rollin' as he would have only a short while ago in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Happy Birthday Mao Wang (Cat King).
Fun in Acapulco was released in 1963. Elvis was 28 and singing Bossa Nova Baby.