06 May 2008

I realised that we aren't very good at remembering our past

Little Fish, a modern day incarnation of Horatio Nelson, uttered these immortal words* in a poignant post about remembrance. Little Fish had pontificated on the decommissioning of our older warships, the TNC-45 missile fast attack craft. His sentiments that as a people we were not good at remembering the past were quite similar to my thoughts when I was flipping through a newly purchased book, 'Over Singapore 50 Years ago: An aerial view of Singapore in the 1950s', a week or so ago. The book had featured black-and-white 1957-58 aerial photographs of an earlier Singapore. These wondrous images were, of course, of a different era, that of a overcrowded city in the heady days of rebuilding in a postwar world, amidst a crumbling colonial empire.

I bought this book when I spotted it on a shelf in the gift shop when I visited the Changi Chapel Museum on Sunday. A little earlier, I had sighted the Johore Battery for the first time ever. That clumsy reconstruction was tucked in a little road between wire fences in the midst of prison camps.

I envisioned the places I had visited in my childhood of the mid-seventies and thought of the transformation the urban landscape or mindscapes if you would, had undergone since the 1950s. I was, reminded of the changes that Bukit Timah Road, Orchard Road and Raffles Place had undergone since. I realised that the number of books of pictorials such as that depicting the cityscape of my childhood in the seventies and early eighties were far and few.

Are there no dedicated volumes depicting the sixties, seventies and eighties? Even as we race towards the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the nineties have largely receded into faint memories for most. Most of the young that I know would regard history as boring or irrelevant. I guess as a forward looking people, not bound by much ideology** besides that of realism or hindered by the baggage of history***, there is little urgency in understanding the past. Pity.

'Over Singapore 50 Years Ago: An Aerial View in the 1950s' assembled and written by Brenda Yeoh and Theresa Wong from the photos in the National Archives and published by Editions Didier Millet is recommended.

*Refer to the title.
** Now that is. Communism and socialism were, of course, huge in the interwar years to the sixties.
*** To be precise, we are actually very bound by history and circumstance but in practical terms the average person on the street can't care less. And they don't know either.

No comments: