Monday, July 23, 2007

Leave kids something to remember

The Electric New Paper :
By Leong Ching
23 July 2007

HOW quickly we forget. For years, I have been driving to work, passing by a giant on the left, and on Monday, he was gone.

I almost didn't notice it. A negative presence is like a ghost and we have no time for ghosts in our determinedly cheery island.

It was sad, too bad, but life goes on, with or without an 80-year-old Angsana tree.

We are stupid and cruel and ignorant, and after 20 years, when it is several degrees hotter, we will realise it, but it will be too late.

In the meantime, we have National Day Parades to watch and new property launches to view.

Our homes are all new, because the old ones have been torn down.

There is no room for old in this young country, because we are for peace and prosperity, don't you know?

I once shed a tear for the National Library. It was the place of many memories and a reminder of a time of innocence.

But now it's gone, like innocence lost. It was found to be - too small, too old, standing in the way of the new university. Today, it's a nice big tunnel. Much better. It's short, doesn't save us much time, but every second counts, don't you know? How many of you even remember the old National Library?

Can't remember right? You won't even notice it's gone. Chipping away at memories doesn't seem to matter.

It doesn't show up in any national statistic, it doesn't lead to Singapore slipping down any competitive index.

It is merely a negative presence in the hollow of our collective minds.

Recently, there appears to be a greater urgency for the older generation to tell their stories - before they are forgotten.


The older MPs are writing books, former Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee, who ought to have written his own memoirs, had a biography released.

Why do they bother? Because they think, as I do, that it is important to have a history.

Here is what former MP Chiang Hai Ding said about writing his memoirs and encouraging other MPs to do the same.

'Our nation is just over 40 years old, or two generations. How did it come about? What did it take to make it up to here? What future awaits us?

'How many younger Singaporeans, of 50 years and below, know these historical facts?'

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who has written his own memoirs, said that the stories by different MPs will 'give a multi-dimensional view of past events and provide richness and texture to the story... When writing memoirs, you are talking to posterity.'

It is an urge which springs from something primordial in us, in any collection of people who have shared experiences. Somehow, having gone through something together - dengue outbreaks, Sars, financial crises, race riots - we become closer.

But it is one thing to tell a story. It is another to listen to it. You can't get people to listen to a story if they feel it bears no relation to their lives.

We can't feel part of the same country if it is like a dune of shifting sand, change from one day to the next, with no sense of permanence, no sense of history. We ought to be more judicious in what we are doing in the name of progress.

I like to tell my kids about the places I ate in when I grew up (Odeon beef noodles), the places I studied in (the kindergarten off Oxley Road where I lived), my favourite place for ice-cream (Cold Storage Creamery, opposite the present Centrepoint).

Most times, the stories hang in thin air - I can't take them to look at any of the places because they were nearly always gone.

One day, I might wake up and see there isn't really anything for me to remember.

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