On the end of an era
By Toh Hsien Min
It had not been a bad second day on the road. Often the second day feels like the most tiring one in an entire trip because the adrenaline has worn off but the recovery hasn't kicked in yet, but a day that had begun with a mild hangover from dinner at Pavillon Ledoyen the night before turned out not to be too taxing as the enforced stillness of being again on the move took hold. By evening, I was getting lost in the streets encircling Staroměstské náměstí in Prague, and then having dinner at a restaurant that, true to its name, had a beautiful view of Karlův most.
Then I retired to the hotel, and some time between planning for the next day and having a shower decided to flick on the TV. And there it was. The news. The confirmation that we had put a close to one era and were starting a new one.
Later I worked out that it had taken just half an hour between the event and blanket coverage on all the major news channels. Most of Singapore wouldn't even have woken up yet. But as the days went on, even though it was illuminating to be fed by an entirely external coverage that, I should say, was universally in consensus on what had been achieved if a little more reserved in how it had been achieved, it also became clear to me just how momentous a week I was missing just by being in central Europe. The news footage on the BBC swept over crowds snaking along the Singapore river. Friends back home sent me photographs of the queue as it transitioned to the Padang, and at one point busted that completely and carried on apparently to the floating platform by Marina Bay.
I say apparently because I couldn't keep track, so many miles and hours away, of where how the queue was evolving. But what became clear during that week was just how large a silent majority there was in Singapore:- all those many people who by choice don't take part in vociferous fights over the actions of librarians or CPF bloggers. It is, after all, a freedom of speech not to speak. Yet, at the right moment, they do have so much to say even without speaking. In that last week of March came unscripted and unstaged proof that a large chunk of the population truly believes that notwithstanding the noisy ones the country has chosen the right path and would have been by far a worse place without the man who had set us on it.
At QLRS, we did, of course, receive poems about the man, and (unlike those in a recent anthology) specifically about his passing. We did not decide to use them however, because they were raw, and possibly this in turn because not enough time had elapsed for considered reflection to have taken place. Nevertheless, there were some poems that had turned to the subject of Singapore's 50th year of independence, and we have selected two. They carry just a hint of dissidence, but anyway as a journal we're non-aligned. We're open even to publishing a short story with the memorable line "Fuck QLRS" (it is a hoot). In Essays, David Fedo devotes his letter to the man, and Yuen Sin writes a quietly sensitive account of being in the space between two languages, although the miniature masterpiece must be Koh Jee Leong's reading of QLRS editor Yeow Kai Chai (it is also a hoot). There is also a differently close reading of James Shea by Duana Chan in Criticism, and perhaps, just perhaps, the Acid Tongue taking a break with this issue is not the most inappropriate timing.QLRS Vol. 14 No. 2 Apr 2015