Tuesday, January 06, 2015

SG50 Singapore Memories: Tanah Merah Kechil by Yeo Hong Eng

Since this blog is about 60s music the reader must not assume that The Little Red Cliff is a book about Cliff  Richard's childhood as a communist.  The British pop star has never been one. The book is about an area in Singapore called Tanah Merah *Kechil (Malay) or literally, *Earth Red Small.

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.

*//: 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.


dashing hongeng said...

Thank you Andy
Wonderful review!

Dr Tony said...

Hi Andy, thanks for bringing this to our attention. Hong Eng, good job. Properly translated it is Small Red Land". And, Kechil is, of course, now spelt as kecil. It was first discovered by the Portuguese Manuel Gomes de Eredia in 1604 and referred it as tana mera after two red laterite cliffs; James Horsburgh's chart of 1806 also referred (them) as Red Cliffs being the two Tanah Merah Besar and Kecil. Don't mean to show off my knowledge, all gleaned from Wikipedia. I still do speak Malay after three decades away. Trust all is good with you Andy and wishing you a great 2015. I'm still very busy and haven't forgotten what you wanted me to do. Cheers, Tony

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Tony,
Surprised you are still reading the blog. Thought you'd have forgotten me. The posting should be of interest to you.

Thanks for the information you provided. Yes I am aware of the Malay translation and spelling but left the allowance for non-Malay readers too.

Do keep in touch. Singapore is still waiting for the truth about The Quests :-)

Rickie Chng said...

Hi Andy

Thanks for sharing the story about your friend. You did a real nice write up about him that tell it all.


Anonymous said...

Nice review, Andy.

Lima Beans said...

I'm a 15 year old gal and i love music from the 50's, 60's, 70's. [I can't live with out my Beatles & Elvis]. I love mostly anything from the 50's and 60's.

Maria Butler said...

Look around today: show me a singer that has the looks talent and charisma that Elvis had; nature really smiled on the King...


How old was Elvis when this photo was taken? Nice pic!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

He was 28 years young since FUN IN ACAPULCO was released in 1963. Song is BOSSA NOVA BABY.


The 5 Show last night on channel 5 paid a tribute to him. You didn't watch?

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks to Joycelyn, Doris and Nina.

FL said...

Hi, Andy, the pic of the black box, I mean the gramophone reminds me of my late cousin owning one in the early 1960s. It played on 78 rpm vinyl records. As a kid, I remember helping him to wind it (no batteries used)and changed the stylus or needle after each play. Thanks, anyway.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you FL for your interesting comment about the stylus. I didn't realise that it had to be changed after each play.

We have gone a long way haven't we, now only needing to play a CD or stick a thumb-drive into a tablet to listen to a song?

Thanks to the others too who responded to my SLIP-NOTE entry about Elvis Presley. At 80 years old the King is still ruling the air-waves or new optic-fibre phenomenon.