Gotong Royong

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Had the privilege of bringing this author around the Gardens. We exchanged books that we wrote and of course she got the shorter end of the deal.

My, this was one of those books you don’t want to finish so fast, so as I was reading it, I kept eyeing the remaining pages with anguish that it wasn’t many times thicker. Do books come with different speeds? Why did I read the 236 pages in such a short time? It was such an enjoyable book, like kachang that once you started eating is very hard to stop.

I was transported in time to a kampung in Potong Pasir set in the 1960’s mainly where the author lived and grew up as a child. Little things like how her mum cooked nasi lemak and how she described the smells but yet could not have the satisfaction of eating it because it was meant to be sold off as a means to make ends meet really gave the book the “dramatic arc” the author had mentioned about writing to me.

You also get a glimpse of the political history of Singapore as the stories and struggles of kampung life she writes weave the kampung peoples’ lives with Singapore’s independence and how aspects of their lives are affected by the riots, konfrontasi, elections and separation from Malaya. Tan Howe Liang’s sporting achievements are featured especially in the last chapter “The Lion must learn to roar again, 1965”.

Not only did I appreciate water running from taps, books that litter my home and flushing toilets after reading her book but the greatest take-away from the book was mostly about soul, the kampung spirit, friendship where no one is afraid or inhibited to lend a hand or to share in burdens and joy. The paperback is light in the hands but you can feel its weight in its words and stories.

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