Home and Away
By Toh Hsien Min
Now that the whistle has blown for half time for the year, I can look back and think: how did I survive it all? What with the not-inconsiderable distractions of the World Cup in June (pity about the result), the time pressures of the Arts Festival (QLRS being involved in a three-way tie-up with the National Arts Council and MSN Singapore that saw reviewers writing critiques for editing and posting within 24 hours), my own literary tour to Austin, TX, and Atlanta Review editor Dan Veach's tour to Singapore, lots of wine-tastings (would you have expected anything different?) and social events, and now having to code the most massive QLRS issue to date, I've missed for a bit the luxury of being able to stay home and chill. There are compensations of course. In terms of QLRS, the journal continues to do well, its readership is still growing (July looks set to smash all our previous records), and it had a recent mention in the Sunday Times commentary pages, where we were felt to be, among the journals in Singapore, "staid but weightier".
And this issue is weightier, not only for the sheer volume of submissions we had to read and the eventual number that we've published, but also for a completely serendipitous crystallisation of many of the articles around the theme of home. One may surmise as to why this could be the case. My own position is weighed out in an essay whose roots were originally from the two extremes of a bit of curiosity about the development of some Old English words and spending too much time in too short a period in aeroplanes. But how do you explain Gui Wei Hsin's essay on the centripetal and diasporic impulses concerning Chineseness in Singaporean poetry, Koh Jee Leong's poem on buying a home, or reviews on books that celebrate the Singapore focus, such as The Merlion and the Hibiscus and Postmodern Singapore. Or for that matter, out there on the flanks, Liana Chua's appreciation of a travel anthology that collects what people have thought about Singapore over the edges, Richard Lord's focus on "local content" in his theatre reviews, or Stella Kon speaking about her relationship to Singapore (and Ipoh and Edinburgh) in her interview. Even the pieces on travel, such as Stephen derwent Partington's wander through Lamu, Ethiopia, or Ng Shing-Yi's piece on Paris in spring (written as a Singaporean in Rhode Island!), qualify as explorations of alternative homes.
From the Singapore angle, without assuming a causal relationship, I would nonetheless observe that there's been increased scrutiny in the public arena of what kind of home we want Singapore to be. The 'Remaking Singapore' initiatives constitute one example. The recent media attention on The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, by Richard Florida, the H. John Heinz III professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is another. Even the recent public furore over the extremely ill-timed public transportation fare hikes (at which point it's worth quoting Tan Soo Khoon, MP: "Consider this - GST up, ERP up, petrol up, carpark charges up, telephone charges soon to be up, and of course unemployment is up, retrenchment is up. Morale is upside down. And so is our pay. People are not only fed up, they are frightened about their future.") is at least as much about the kind of place we want to live in as the three to five cents less in the pocket - a place that is sensitive to the circumstances of those who live in it. And that can only be good for Singapore. After all, as South Korea showed, one can perform so much better at home than away.QLRS Vol. 1 No. 4 Jul 2002
What aspects of your home would you want remade? Discuss in the Forum.