This is the interview I did with Morgan Chua on the night of 6 August 2008. We had makan, drinks and a good chit-chat. Miel was with us too.
Interviewing Morgan again reminds me of something the late Kuo Pao Kun said 10 years ago after the ARX5/Zunzi episode at SAM. We can make fun of other world leaders in our political cartoonists. But we can't laugh at ourselves.
Q: How did the new edition of My Singapore come about?
A: Blame it all on Kenny Chan (Merchandising Director of Kinokuniya). He arranged for me to meet the Marshall Cavendish people last year and things took off from there. [Kenny was one of the main people in Singapore National Printers behind the original edition of My Singapore back in 2000.]
Q: How was it revisiting My Singapore after eight years?
A: Well, considering that I ‘lost’ to Lee Kuan Yew eight years ago (My Singapore came out as the same time as the MM’s second memoirs), it’s good that I got another go at it.
Q: You drew new cartoons for this new edition. LHL, MSK, TT Durai, Anwar, etc. How did you feel when you completed these new cartoons?
A: Relieved. I did a lot of research at the National Library, the archives and also NUS library. You can’t find all the info on the internet, you still need to go back to the libraries and archive. You need know your history in Singapore. But that’s the problem. There is no sense of history in Singapore.
Drawing cartoons about Pedro Blanca, the MSk escape and the Ren Ci scandal, I was excited but it was hard work.
Q: Tell me, how important is the political/editorial cartoonist for a newspaper?
A: If the editors are the flesh of the papers, the production people the backbones, the artists are the spirit of the publication. They should be recognized and be paid as much as the editor. One picture tells the whole story. An editor needs 10,000 words to tell his story, so our cartoons are worth 10,000 words. The cartoonist should be paid on par with the editor. We can’t make mistakes. But in a 10,000 word article, no one can tell if a mistake was made.
Q: You have stayed at Tanjong Pinang for the last 10 years since you came back from Hong Kong. What’s the attraction?
A: I like the kampong life, nature and the natural self. A cartoonist should be close to nature, then the strength and feelings of their art would intensify. Just like Lat in Malaysia.
Over there, you got time. You read books, magazines and get the current news. It’s stress free.
Q: What are your feelings of Singapore today?
A: Sad. All the HDB flats remind me of a private automated prison. There’s no movement of one self. Not like in Tanjong Pinang where at night you can see thousands of stars. It just makes you feel humble. You get to know yourself. But not in Singapore. We’re becoming the Monaco of Asia. Singapore will only be for the rich and famous.
Q: Are you disappointed in Singapore then?
A: In a way, yes because of the lifestyle of the people where people are not getting married and our women are not giving birth. But also no, because I’m happy with the progress that we’ve made. Our international standards in areas like aviation. Life is tough in Singapore. Nevertheless, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
You don’t have much choices in Singapore, it is no bed of roses. Our old folks, they got to work in coffee shops and McDonald’s. It’s very sad. That’s why I paid tribute to the Samsui Women in the new edition of My Singapore. They built the foundation of Singapore. But we have lost our culture in Singapore.
I’m still a Singaporean. But I can’t stay here anymore. It’s not real, it’s a make-believe world. My spirit is still in Singapore. I still love my country. But it has changed.
Q: So why can’t we draw caricatures of local politicians in Singapore?
A: In Asia, we honour the father. Very Confucian. Unlike in the West. There was once when former US President, Ronald Reagan was asked how he felt about the cartoons making fun of him in the papers. He said that he would wake up every morning, read the funnies about himself, have a good laugh, knowing that the cartoons were telling the truth. And then he would fire all his advisors.
But if you were to ask me, I would say we have human rights in Singapore. Morgan can draw Lee Kuan Yew. But I stick to the facts, the events.
Q: Name one person who inspired you.
A: Peng, the legendary Straits Times cartoonist of the 1950s and 1960s. He opened the doors for me as a political cartoonist. Someone needs to compile his cartoons from those heady days of exciting politics.