Blog To Express

A blogosphere learning experience to express with blog

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A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Jul 6, 2013

"Squatters into Citizens" Book

The "Squatters into Citizens - The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore" book by Loh Kah Seng is launched today. Face-to-Face with Loh Kah Seng, author of Squatters into Citizens:on Saturday, 6 July 2013 at 5:00 pm at Select Books, 51 Armenian Street, Singapore.

Loh Kah Seng is Assistant Professor at the Institute of East Asian Studies, Sogang University. He co-authored The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity (Amsterdam University Press and NUS Press, 2012) and co-edited The Makers and Keepers of Singapore History (Ethos Books and Singapore Heritage Society, 2010).

About Squatters into Citizens:

The crowded, bustling, 'squatter' kampongs so familiar across Southeast Asia have long since disappeared from Singapore, leaving few visible traces of their historical influence on the life in the city-state. In one such settlement, located in an area known as Bukit Ho Swee, a great fire in 1961 destroyed the kampong and left 16,000 people homeless, creating a national emergency that led to the first big public housing project of the new Housing and Development Board (HDB). HDB flats now house more than four-fifths of the Singapore population, making the aftermath of the Bukit Ho Swee fire a seminal event in modern Singapore.

Loh Kah Seng grew up in one-room rental flats in the HDB estate built after the fire. Drawing on oral history interviews, official records and media reports, he describes daily life in squatter communities and how people coped with the hazard posed by fires. His examination of the catastrophic events of 25 May 1961 and the steps taken by the new government of the People's Action Party in response to the disaster show the immediate consequences of the fire and how relocation to public housing changed the people's lives. Through a narrative that is both vivid and subtle, the book explores the nature of memory and probes beneath the hard surfaces of modern Singapore to understand the everyday life of the people who live in the city.

An informal session of "Face-to-Face with Loh Kah Seng"on 6 July, 2013

An autographed book with the author
Dr Lai Chee Kien introduce the book and the author at the launch

Congratulations to Kah Seng for this excellent book which he said "Dedicated to my parents and other kampong dwellers".

"In the Singapore Story, the fire is depicted as a "blessing in disguise" whereby an enlightened government rehoused the "inert community" of squatters after a disaster and set the country on the right path to progress and modernity".

In the acknowledgements  in his book, Dr Loh Kah Seng mentioned the numerous individuals and institutions have made this book possible.

I am glad to be associated with this book and included in the "Bibliography" as Seah Kok Thim, James.

Although I have not completed reading the book every pages, I would like every Singaporean to read the Singapore Story, especially the younger generation who have not heard about the Bukit Ho Swee kampong and the making of Modern Singapore.

This is not a fiction or the movies like "The Towering Inferno" or a similar catastrophe genre, unrealistic and created with the figments of imagination of the movie directors.

This is a story of Bukit Ho Swee kampong dwellers whom Kah Seng had interviewed.  His first interview was conducted with his father, Mr Loh Tian Ho on 2 Feburary, 2006. Please read this book to find out more. 

My former dwellers of Bukit Ho Swee, my family and I would remember the fateful day of the Bukit Ho Swee Fire on 25 May, 1961.

My friend, Angeline Koh of Digital Storytelling Asia who produced the video "Promise - The Bukit Ho Swee Fire".

Kah Seng conducted an interview with me on 12 October, 2006 one afternoon at my home.

That was the first time we meet and had communicated through email with the introduction of  my blogger friend, Victor Yue of  Bullock Cart Water .

I  willingly obliged from Kah Seng's request for interview as his PhD thesis because I was 13-years-old on the day of the Bukit Ho Swee fire.

However, I need to do some "homework" to prepare myself for the interview with Kah Seng to provide him with my answers to his questionnaires.

I was 58-years-old at that time and I am not a person with "elephant memory" and the memories of the Bukit Ho Swee fire did not cross my mind for 45 years.  I did not mention about that personal event to my children.  So, I had to spend two or three evenings alone in the quiet to try to visualise what had happened to me as a young boy.  I wrote the notes to refer at the interview with Kah Seng and he would remember that I did not just speak off the air.  To me, it was a "mind exercise" process about the Bukit Ho Swee fire.

Thanks to Kah Seng, I started to blog.  My first blog on Why Blog  at "Blog to Express", "A blogosphere learning experience to learn with blog" on 7 October, 2007.  As they said, "the rest is history".

I would like to share a meaningful article on "The Attitude of Learning", excerpt from  "Michi wo hiraku" , literally meaning Open the path and often translated as The Path, is a book written by Konosuke Matsushita, a Japanese industrialist in the book first published in 1968,
We are apt to think that our ideas are the creation of our own wisdom, but the truth is that they are the result of experiences through outside contact.

Without studying or being taught by others, we cannot formulate even a single idea.  Children learn from their parents, pupils from their teachers, and the young from their seniors.  Thus, through the influence and guidance of others our ideas take form.  Therefore, it can be said that a person who can create ideas worthy of note is a person who learned much from others.

If we are willing to learn, everything in the world can be our teacher.

The priceless wisdom and experience of each individual are the accumulation of knowledge from the nature of this vast universe - The stones and plants that do not speak; the floating clouds; the long history of mankind, however insignificant it may be; murmurings of innocent children; severe reproofs from elders; or the sincere criticism of youth.  With sincerity, we hope to absorb wisdom from all people, and all things.  It is from this attidtude that fresh and brilliant ideas are created.  The sincere willingness to learn is the first step toward "prosperity".



Blogger ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you James. Good coverage. Didn't realise a book about the big fire is available. I would have attended the meet if I had known.

July 8, 2013 at 9:17 AM  

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