Having read the Mr Kiasu comics when I was growing up, I couldn’t resist the chance to meet one of the co-creators, James Suresh at his book launch. He has written a new book, Singapore in the 60s, illustrated by Syed Ismail.
It was held at Queenstown Primary School, which was an apt location because the book was about his growing up years in the area, and he had attended this school. This school has a tree house in the library! As a former library co-ordinator, this is something extremely exciting to me.
I was early and had lots of time, so I took a selfie.
The book launch finally started!
Suresh was a great storyteller, and he regaled us with many amusing tales.
He said that Brian Richmond used to play soccer in the school field, and he would wash his feet in the basin, hence his former principal actually wanted to ‘scold’ him at the book launch. Unfortunately, the retired principal was unwell and could not make it to the launch.
Queenstown was the first satellite town, and there were flats where the people lived in.
People of different races lived next to each other, and the children would watch Cantonese dramas and Malay Pontianak shows at their neighbours’ houses. There was also a Chap Si Lau (Fourteen Storey Flat), which was infamous for the number of suicides.
There was one incident which he remembered clearly. A man was sitting at an outdoor noodle stall having his meal. 3 gangsters came and tried to attack him with sticks and parangs, but this man managed to fend off the attack with a chair. The best part was after the gangsters fled, the man sat down and continued with his dinner.
Even though I grew up in the eighties, twenty years after the book was set, many of the events were familiar to me. My nanny lived in a ground floor unit of a four-storey flat too. I would run around the area with the neighbour’s children. Once, I must have done something wrong, and she chased me with a cane and I ran all the way to the other end of the block of flats, which I had never done before. Apparently, it had also happened to James Suresh and his friends, amusingly captured in the drawings.
He also wrote about games girls played in the past, such as hopscotch, zero point (he used a different term) and five stones, something which I played in primary school too. For the boys, they caught spiders and fish from longkang (drains) and made kites with glass strings aimed to cut other kites. There was also a milk programme for undernourished children. I remembered ordering packets of chocolate milk in school though.
Various occupations (Samsui women, nightsoil collectors, milkman, teh Tarik men, and more) and other recreational activities were introduced. This is fantastic for Secondary One students taking history. I am no longer teaching history, but I will still introduce the book to my students. The time frame does not fit that well, but many of the activities were similar. All these memories and events were captured in realistic and funny comic drawings. It would make very good material for history lessons.
Unfortunately, because he had been living in flat since he was born, he did not mention about kampongs. I had grown up in a kampong, living in a zinc-roofed house. Whenever it rained, the roof thundered. My cousins would pluck hibiscus that were in the garden to suck the sap. Some would explore the garden and cut down the trees. My mother did not let me explore the place that much though. It would make good stories though.
Other speakers also recounted their childhood, such as Dr William Wan, General Secretary of Singapore Kindness Movement, Dr Chia Shi-Lu, MP of Tanjong Pagar, and Brian Richmond, the veteran deejay. Dr Wan remembered the Redifussion radio, where Lei Dai Sor, a famed storyteller would always end his radio shows with a cliffhanger.
Brian Richmond talked about how he used to tease girls from nearby schools, and managed to date his future wife whom he met when they were 14 and 15. He became a policeman and his wife, a teacher. They held their wedding dinner with four tables at Golden Crown Restaurant. It was interesting seeing him in the flesh.
After their talk, the author and illustrator autographed their books and took a picture with the VIPs.
I managed to get a (blurred) shot with them and received an autograph.
What’s great is that every school will receive 10 copies of the book as part of the SG50 grant.
I had shared the book with Gar, my three-year-old son, and he enjoyed the stories, including one that had a floating pig carcass, and the one of the hardcore gangster.
Note: I received the book, Singapore in the 60s, for review.