On new surroundings
By Toh Hsien Min
Alert readers may have realised that in my last editorial I talked about triple witching but never said what the third thing keeping me so busy was. The reason for that was that I wasn't so sure that I had a grip on it yet. True, by the time I was penning those words I had already been installed in my new apartment for just over a month, yet I couldn't say that I had properly completed moving in.
It was the sixth time I've moved in Singapore — including once when I was three and once when I was away so everything got magically transported to the new place — but this was the first time I was moving into an apartment that was mine, and the first time I was moving out without a housemate with whom to share the administrative hassle and who could be relied on to keep track of whether the TV license was paid (thanks Charms). Even though I wasn't doing a full renovation, I found already so many things to do that I didn't know what to do and in what order.
I had help of course. Dad used his industry connections to get a contractor in and measuring things up within a couple of weeks. Mum helped get the place the cleanest it has ever been and gave me tips on what to do (use chlorine for this, don't use scotch-brite for that). A couple of close friends who were moving at the same time and marshalling a full renovation and acquisition spree from Hong Kong gave invaluable advice, although there was a double-edged blade here as thanks to their recommendations my moving budget doubled. But their sort of organisation eluded my wait-and-see personality, and visiting what seemed like every source of furniture in town carried its own deferrals, as the perfect piece might be in the next shop. So dinner was off a low side table for two months while I first tried to decide on a dining table and then had to wait for it to arrive. I spent so long searching for the perfect sofa — agonising over a Refolo but finally letting it go for a less flashy but more comfortable Didier Gomez — that four months after moving in it is still only being readied for shipping in November. I still do not have a coffee table.
For all the bother, I found the move revivifying, and it was not just for the benefit of a commute that is about one-quarter what it used to be. Rather, it seemed that the new apartment compelled me to revisit the assumptions around which I had built... well, for want of a better word, life. Moving my books meant I had to decide how to arrange them, how much space to allocate each identified section, and which books to leave behind. Having my own kitchen meant I could start reorienting myself in the beautiful and therapeutic art of cooking, and being close to Tekka Market means I now look forward to weekends for the creative exercise of wandering around trays of iced seafood, chilled meat and possibly the best vegetable supplier in Singapore, with no fixed objective beyond what produce looks best. Being in striking distance of town means going somewhere no longer feels like an expedition that has to be planned in advance.
I may have been lucky, first with finding the right place and then with how every problem with moving seemed to have solved itself. How all this isn't necessarily an outcome of moving was brought home when earlier this month I had a second move. This time, it was from my old office at Battery Road to the new office in the Marina Bay Financial Centre, which we have already nicknamed Dubai for the way the towers seem to arise out of an arid desert. It's a ten minute walk to food, transportation, and the rest of civilisation. The sun comes in too brightly through the blinds, which must have been chosen in London given their improbable uselessness for the tropics. There is less space than ever for the equipment and files we need to work with. This move was planned with corporate precision; everything was down and up again over a single weekend, and we were able to plunge straight into work on our very first day in. But the new office lacks something. A beating heart, perhaps, or a soul.
Happily enough, this issue we have an essay that looks at how some of the feats of architectural grandeur in Singapore have been interpreted in the West, notably as the result of tabula rasa. We have another essay that looks at a recent argument championing Milton over Shakespeare, while the criticism looks both backward through Fifty on 50 and forward to the first of the crop of poetry brought out by firstfruits publications this month. The short stories look at lives lived by other assumptions, while the poems virtually picked itself this issue and still came up with a natural arc, the core of which was... well, moving.
A final note. I had many kind messages from many of you about my being conferred the Young Artist Award earlier this month - many thanks. But I thought I would add that at least part of the award must have been for QLRS, whereupon it is necessary for me to express my deep appreciation for the team that continues to make this possible. Thank you, Kai Chai, Wei Chian, Shu Hoong, Cyril, Alvin, and all the past editors: you guys are amazing.QLRS Vol. 9 No. 4 Oct 2010