Thursday, January 16, 2014

Latest stash!

So I'm kind of busy with work at the beginning of the semester, so I'll just supply you guys with an update about what I picked up in Singapore, mostly from BooksActually and the Substation's Alternative Art and Book Festival:

Top row: Zhang Yueran's Ten Loves, Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen's Dim Sum Warriors 2, Jay Bernard's English Breakfast and Tan Mei Ching's Beyond the Blue Gate.

Bottom Row: Escape from the Lion's Paw: Reflections of Singapore's Political Exiles, Jason Wee's The Monsters Between Us, That We May Dream Again (writings of the detainees of Operation Spectrum) and Bernice Chauly's Onkalo.

Ooh, but I haven't shown you my latest find. The National Library's got an exhibit on about the early 20th century Singaporean poet Khoo Seok Wan, and there's free bilingual chapbooks available on Level 8!

Khoo's remarkable for many reasons. He was an intellectual of the Qing Dynasty, and actually qualified for the second (but not the third) round of Imperial Examinations - no mean feat for an overseas Chinese (granted, he was born in China, but spent much of his developmental years in Singapore). He thus wrote poetry in traditional Chinese structured forms - not the free verse you get today, but a dense, highly symbolic version of the language, going back to the Han and Tang Dynasties.

Renowned for his craft in his teens, he later started to describe his Southeast Asian landscape in his writings, describing Malay students, even incorporating Malay words in his pieces. Wrote eulogies for both the Empress Dowager Cixi and Queen Victoria! And he died in 1941, just before World War Two, when modern Singapore as we know it was just starting to get formed.

I've transcribed a couple of his poems here. The first one uses a different name for Singapore - Sin Chew, which literally means "the continent of stars". So nice!

Sin Chew

Of the many islands strung together
The most prominent is Sin Chew
Situated in a sea so vast
That rocky mountains can hardly be seen
Today's travellers to the region
Will find their sojourn easier now
Steady in its role as a favourable locale
A well-equipped, strident junction



Here's another, more political piece. Couldn't find the Chinese ideograms to transcribe the first word, sorry, so you'll just have to read it in English.

In the eighth month, upon hearing of the coup in Beijing

A tempest rattles the window
The beating of flags against the wall
An echo of guns

After the wind, leaves and branches lie
Fallen, as the storm clouds depart
For other locales

In slants of afternoon sunlight
Dust spirals in the wind
A swirling dragon

And in its flight, an anser
Separated from its mate

Where are all our heroes?
It falls to you and me.

Brill, huh? Catch you again next week.

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