Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Best read book this year - "Singapore Samurai"

My friends have been reading Penrod Dean's "Singapore Samurai" in quick succession since Ladybug brought it back from Boston. This started when Simon Goh of Changi Museum alerted me to the existence of highly relevant content in Dean' book and the fact that it was no longer available in Singapore. Immediately I checked with and true enough a reseller had a copy. That delivery was delayed due to some mix up at VPost, so I ordered another and had it sent to our friend's place in Boston.

So now I have two books, and they happened to be different editions - the first edition (1988) and the second (1990) edition which I loan out - with its dramatic cover and compact size, its the better book to circulate. After I had read it with great relish, i handed it to fellow Pasir Panjang guide Kenneth Pinto. His hair was almost standing on end when he returned it to me with bright eyes. Roused out of his blogging hiatus, he penned a review that would inspire at least one librarian to high browse it and another to promise to read.

Next was senior Pasir Panjang guide Kok Oi Yee, who laughed loudly in great delight at Dean's honest style. Next was Daphne Fautin, a busy visiting academic who I had come to find out had a great interest in the war. She agreed that it certainly was a fast read that she had enjoyed. Next was Teuteberg returned the book yesterday afternoon. As he waited for me to join him for lunch, he read aloud the part in which Dean and friends meet an English officer from the Malay Regiment trying to recruit the feeling soldiers to join them in holding the line.

I had already incorporated some of Penrod Dean's stories into my account of the Battle of Pasir Panjang during our commemorative walk in February. You see, his inspiring account of how "The Malays" fought off the Japanese at Reformatory Road (later Clementi Road) still makes my hair stand - you can hear his account in a 20 minute feature called "The Malay Regiment," which is screened regularly at the Memories at Old Ford Factory. Thankfully the Oral History Department of the National Archives of Singapore had conducted a series of interviews with the old boy before he passed on last year. I am told there is lot more in National Archives beyond the clips we saw and I rub my hands in anticipation of viewing them one day.

Having just read Singapore Samurai, many more aspects from his stories reverberate in my mind right now: his account of the battle, of course, from yet another perspective, it fits in like one of many more pieces of a jigsaw I will never complete. Images of a "Buena Vista" littered with bodies and body parts conjured up by his words. His immediate plans to escape from Changi when others were too accepting, and I think of John Larkin who says his father talked about'choko soldiers,' poor buggers.

He sabotaged rubber plantations that the Japanese had got working and an opportune destruction of a railway, meeting Chin Peng, evading capture, racial attitudes, the water torture, the horror of Outram Road goal (which Oi Yee's mum used to point out to her in horrified remembrance of war time torture), an incident of unlikley relief involving a sword and scathing views of almost everyone which leaves only a few characters and the Malay Regiment emerging with honours.

Penrod Dean was also very contemptuous of the War Crimes Trials in Tokyo, emphasising sad impressions I had gathered elsewhere only recently. His conversational tone throughout makes the book a one-sitting read. Kenneth and I agreed that he ad his mate were exceptional soldiers and to bear that in mind in relation to his assessment of others.

Many of his stories were incorporated during's last Saturday's Pasir Panjang guiding that we had done in conjunction with the Singapore Heritage Fest '07. I just wished I could have handed out copies of his book as a parting gift - I think my well-read participants would have appreciated it.

The book is available National Library.

In the midst of writing this, Kenneth pointed to "Not Just a Foreigner's War: A Review of "The Battle of Pasir Panjang Revisited," by Edgar Liao. Citizen Historian, 31 July 2007. He highlights other relevant literature and a pertinent issues we actually discuss during the walk! Hmm..we should recruit Edgar for the Pasir Panjang guides next engagement: the Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk in February 2008.

First posted to Otterman speaks, 01 Aug 2007.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Battle of Pasir Panjang layered over Google Earth

Kenneth (inspired by SingGeo) sent the Pasir Panjang Guides a kmz file of Dol Ramli's "Map showing the Japanese advance on Pasir Panjang from 12 to 15 Feb 1942." It was published in Ramli, D., 1965. History of the Malay Regiment 1933-1942. JBRAS, 38 (1): 234.

The black did not stand out well against the heterogeneous background so curious, I tried colouring the roads, which are thick black lines, yellow or red instead. The roads form a bisected rectangle and it is sprinkled with permanent markers that allow everyone to orientate themselves - I try to convey a sense of geography during the walks as it then allows everyone to tie together the various elements of biology, history and military action.

Adjusting the contrast of the image brought out the roads the best. We should link the layer to a transparent file whose roads and battle fronts are brightly coloured. Next time perhaps.

Meanwhile, at least this highlights the rectangle I'm talking about. For my next talk.

First posted at Otterman speaks, 14 Jul 2007.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Saturday, 26 May 2007

MIA 2007- Plunge into Darkness....

The MIA Trail 2007 was made up of 2 sessions, one at 5.30pm and another at 6.30pm. The revision of timing was made as the last year's event ended rather late (12-1am!) and both the participants and the guides were worn out. Manpower, however, was more of a problem this year. With many of the guides unavailable for various reasons, Ooi Yee, Airani, Wendy and I set out bravely to bring a total of 80 participants on a trail that they (hopefully) would not forget!

Ooi Yee and Airani took the first session while Wendy and I took the second session. Being the man and all (just kidding, last year it was done by Airani!), I took up the role of the Bus Guide, who is in charge of introducing the Trail on the bus by using the on board microphone. Being a poor karaoke singer, the fear of handling the mike coupled with my rusty guiding technique spelled for a rocky introduction. As I silently swore under my breath, I prayed that the guiding session at the Raffles Museum would go much more smoothly.

When we reached the Raffles Museum, which is home to more than 500,000 specimens from all over the region, we caught a glimpse of the guides and participants of the earlier session. They have overshot the supposed timing! Well it wasn't surprising as the Museum gallery, with it's multitude of amazing specimens, has a wealth of interesting stories to be told.

Now it was my turn to give a tour around the Museum! With a time limit of an hour (which seemed very long to me), I secretly hoped that the previous year's training, my secret cheatsheets and hours of Discovery channel would help me spin interesting and realistic stories of the various exhibits. And that is what I did!

Amongst other things, I talked about the various types of natural habitats found in Singapore, how to handle a live tree climbing crab (with alcohol-preserved specimens), King Cobra Encounters "Do's and Don'ts", ultra environmentally destructive Facai harvesting, man eating sharks... Wendy managed to do it too! It seems that as long as you have a passion for nature and willingness to learn, you can tap the treasure trove of information of the Museum Gallery! Hence guiding is a piece of cake, so do come join us if you are interested. You'll have a swell time too!

Next stop: Kent Ridge Park. The view of the Pasir Panjang port, ships at sea and the Southern Islands from Kent Ridge Park was stunning. So many lights!

The participants were brought through the "Tembusu Grove", where the enchanting scent of the flowers of the Tembusu filled the air. Participants would be more at ease with the aromatherapy if only the guide hadn't linked the fragrance to the female vampire, the Pontianak, of Malay Mythology. A little mischief on our part :-)

But it seemed that the park was up to some mischief itself, for when I tried to find cicada moults on the rough tembusu bark to show the participants, I had no luck. It must have been the recent rain that washed the moults away.

And when I tried to look for graffiti on the barks of the Eucalyptus tree bark, I too had a problem cos they were all MIA. I guess the park was trying to fit into the night's theme as well.

Then came the final straw. The bats were all MIA too! Oh well, except for one, which gave me face by flying over our heads while we were on the broadwalk. The rain does seem to affect life in the forest in many ways, most of which I have yet to learn.

We then headed to Reflections at Bukit Chandu, which is an interactive visitor center which is focused on the Battle of Pasir Panjang. There, the National Heritage Board (NHB) guides gave an in-depth description of the events leading up to the Japanese invasion of Singapore and the valor of the Malay Regiment who fought bravely to defend the island during the Second World War.

I took a break at this point, and slipped into an uneasy repose as the "Sounds of Battle" interactive show raged on. My unease was quite expected as the realistic explosions and screams tend to switch us into a reflective mood, as we remember the horrors of war and the value of living in peaceful times.

The final stop was at Memories at Old Ford Factory. As there were NHB guides too at this location, Wendy and I said our goodbyes to our charming participants who were very engaging and inquisitive. I hoped that they had as much fun as we had guiding them. See you next year!