Friday, April 30, 2010

'The Modern Ancient Mariner'

'Rice, rice, everywhere, nor any grain to eat.'

The Free Press, 18 Sept 1946, Wednesday.

Reference to Coleridge and Killearn again. But what is the bird doing there?

It'll be interesting at this point to place the cartoons so far in context and also to see how the other cartoonists/papers were portraying the same event. (Thanks to Kevin Blackburn for the notes and cartoons below)

The reports in the ST for 24 August 1946 (taken from Singapore: Illustrated History (1984)) seem quite scathing of Lord Killearn, especially the ‘letter’ with the former Japanese Mayor Odate congratulating Killearn on reducing the rice ration to a level that even he could reduce it during the Japanese Occupation.

The Peng cartoon for ST 24 August 1946 is hard on Killearn as well. He seems to be getting the blame for the reduced rice ration. The cartoon in the Illustrated History that has Lord Killearn as the ‘Black Market King’ is particularly strong, and it is submitted by a reader, Mr Goh Seng Lim.

These cartoons and letters seem to be in response to Lord Killearn’s 21 August 1946 speech frankly telling the public ‘the days of Japanese tapioca are not over’ and asking the public to ‘grow more food’. (which inspired the following cartoon from The Malayan Tribune, 5 Sept 1946)

In the same speech on 21 August 1946, Killearn did explain that the Thai government had declared all rice supplies national property in order to help supply Malaya, and prevent hoarding. He also mentioned that Burma was trying to fix up its bombed infrastructure to get rice to Malaya. But cautioned that the stocks of the supplying countries are at their lowest in the aftermath of the war.

All these thus provide the context for the first Kwan cartoon on 26 August 1946.

By the end of the first week of September 1946, Peng of ST shifts the blame to the hoarders in Thailand, and not Lord Killearn. (ST, 7 September 1946)

[NB: The figure behind Malaya is Dato Onn.]

It looks like Killearn was not seen as to blame by then. His visits to Java, Indochina, and Thailand seemed to have clarified that the causes of the cut in the rice rations lay well beyond the British administration. The Malaya Tribune cartoonists were not as forgiving based on their 5 September 1946 cartoons. (see Tapioca cartoon above)

Kwan was of the latter camp. In 1946, at the age of 26, Kwan was already married and trying to start a family, making ends meet. He would not make any excuses for Killearn.

Again, thanks to Blackburn for the excellent close reading.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Food Shortage

3 Sept 1946, Sunday.

3rd appearance of Killearn in so many days. Kwan really had it for him. Either that or the situation in 1946 was very dired - food shortage, corruption, rampant black market, incompetency and inefficiency of the returning British forces and government. The people had it, even for the English-educated like Kwan. These laid the seeds for the postwar anti-colonial movement.

You could read more about these in the books by Kevin Blackburn, Karl Hack and Paul Kratoska about the Japanese Occupation in Singapore and Malaya and its aftermath. Mark Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow's Singapore A Biography also contained scathing comments about the British Military Adminstration (BMA). The bad times are recorded in the various oral history tapes in the National Archives of Singapore. Also captured in Beyond The Empires: Memories Retold.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

'Fairy Tale'

31 August 1946, Saturday.

It's Lord Killearn again as the Fairy Godmother.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

'Indonesian Holiday'

26 August 1946, Monday.

Start of a new series

Kwan Sai Kheong (b. in Malacca in 1920) was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education from 1964 to 1975 and concurrently, Director of Education from 1964 to 1972. From 1975 to 1980, he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Singapore. He passed away in 1981.

Kwan started out his career as an art teacher at Raffles Institution in 1946, his alma mater. (he attended a Chinese medium school before that) He obtained a diploma in arts from Raffles College on a scholarship. In the 1950s, he received another government scholarship to study painting at the Royal College of Art in London. (University of London)

In the mid 1940s, while working as a teacher during the day, Kwan was making ends meet by playing the violin and the saxophone at nightclubs. He was also an accidental cartoonist as he drew cartoons for The Straits Times and The Free Press to supplement his income.

A few years ago, a family member of his passed me a set of the cartoons Kwan drew between the period 1946 to 1951. A lot of them dealt with life in postwar Singapore, the changing socio-economic millieu and the emerging political landscape towards independence.

I am starting this new series to load Kwan's cartoons in chronological order on a daily basis. I'll add whatever comments I can about the context of the cartoon. But this is where I hope the rest of you can come in, especially the Singapore history buffs and those knowledgeable about Singapore in the mid 1940s and early 50s.

Btw, Kwan also designed the Merlion.

Friday, April 23, 2010

More Good Ideas Never Die...

By Miel, from The Straits Times, 23 April 2010

By Hokusai, circa 19th Century

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rick Geary

Here's a list of Rick Geary books that I have read. In order of preference:

1. The Lindbergh Child

This one really sets the tone/standard for The Treasury of Victorian/XXth Century Murders and got us hooked and on a hunt for the rest of the series by NBM.

2. The Murder of Abraham Lincoln

'Nuff said. Can read this together with the recently released, Booth by CC Colbert and Tanitoc. (First Second)

3. The Mystery of Mary Rogers

Borrowed this from the library. I must buy this next.

4. The Saga of the Bloody Benders

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre/The Hills Have Eyes.

5. Famous Players

Okay, i didn't like this as much. Read this more for the early Hollywood background which Geary delved into quite a bit here.
(cross-reference this with Blanche Goes to Hollywood; see below)

6. Jack The Ripper

Quite disappointing after the magnum opus that is From Hell. Also this third printing I got is too dark. The blacks almost smudge.

7. The Invisible Man

Papercutz bought the rights to the First Comics Classic Illustrated. This adaptation of the HG Wells sci-fi story doesn't quite cut it.

The following are must-haves:

J Edgar Hoover
Geary is doing these "Serious Comics" for Hill and Wang. The size is smaller than the NBM books, reminds me of Ladybird books. Excellent, excellent stuff, especially the Trotsky one. Let's hope he does more of these for Hill and Wang.

The Adventures of Blanche
This is what got me paying attention to Geary all those years ago. Reviewed Blanche Goes to New York in the early 1990s and followed her adventures in Hollywood and Paris. I suggested to Geary that Blanche should head East and drop by Southeast Asia/Singapore. He said he has 2 more Blanche stories planned out but they are set in USA. If he got round to doing these and there's enough interest from publishers and buyers, maybe one of these the meantime, go get this from Dark Horse comics.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Good ideas never die...

The first cartoon is by Miel. (ST, 17 April 2010)
The second cartoon is by Peng. (ST, 2 May 1959)

Interesting how in 1959, the opposition was still in the ring and in the running. Today, they are out of it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Red Brick Memories

There's an evocative passage in Boey Kim Cheng's Between Stations about his memories about the old National Library at Stamford Road. He wrote about listening to Mahler LPs in the Lee Kong Chian reference section. (pg.53)

Today we have the Esplanade Library with its wonderful collection of arthouse DVDs. But back in the 80s, the CD and vinyl collection at the reference section of National Library was a lifeline for a youngster starved for rock n roll.

2 standout albums: Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run CD and Sonny Rollins Live At the Village Vanguard record. The CD they let you take it away from the counter and play it on your own at the CD player section. But the vinyl, the librarian will tell you which headphone station to go to. You sit down, put on the headphones while the librarian will play the record on a turntable at the librarians' workstation. When you are through with Side A, you go over and tell the nice librarian lady to turn over the record.

I finally got round to buy the 30th Anniversary boxset edition of Born To Run. HMV is selling them for a good price. Brought back memories of afternoons spent at the Red Bricks after school. A quick lunch and then hours spent listening intensely to the music. What is this thing called rock n roll? Is it the words or the music? The guitars? But Born To Run gave prominance to the saxophone and piano.

Back then, I focused on the words, sort of a pract crit approach to rock. But of course, it's the sound, the vibe and the attitude. Still, 35 years on, Thunder Road, the opening track of Born To Run, still sends a shiver down my spine:

The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that's me and I want you only
Don't turn me home again
I just can't face myself alone again
Don't run back inside
Darling you know just what I'm here for
So you're scared and you're thinking
That maybe we ain't that young anymore
Show a little faith there's magic in the night
You ain't a beauty but hey you're alright
Oh and that's alright with me

You can hide 'neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a saviour to rise from these streets
Well now I'm no hero
That's understood
All the redemption I can offer girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now ?
Except roll down the window
And let the wind blow
Back your hair
Well the night's busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back
Heaven's waiting on down the tracks
Oh-oh come take my hand
We're riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh-oh Thunder Road oh Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it's late we can make it if we run
Oh Thunder Road sit tight take hold
Thunder Road

Well I got this guitar
And I learned how to make it talk
And my car's out back
If you're ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door's open but the ride it ain't free
And I know you're lonely
For words that I ain't spoken
But tonight we'll be free
All the promises'll be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road
In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they're gone
On the wind so Mary climb in
It's town full of losers
And I'm pulling out of here to win

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hang Time

An old friend, Patrick Chng of the Oddfellows, got married a few weeks ago. A pioneer in the local music scene, he had a post-wedding gig, bringing together a few of his favourite bands to play.

The last time when local bands gathered to celebrate an occasion was not a wedding union but to pay tribute to the life and times of one of us – Wayne Thunder in 2007. I missed that show, but it’s available on DVD, Rock For Wayne.

But the mood and vibe would be the same for both – people digging the bands, hanging out between sets, shooting the breeze and basically catching up with old friends you haven’t seen in a while. We’re there for the music and the camaraderie. For some, there was a magical moment when Etc played a mash up of local songs from our youth – the Oddfellows’ Your Smiling Face and the Padres’ Radio Station (“we’re so young we got time”). The band even threw in Violent Femmes for good measure – a song that Patrick performed at the 1987 X’mas Underground gig at the old Marine Parade library. For me, I got a kick when Livonia opened their set with Backseat Star.

Still, I try not get sentimental about such things or else we’ll be just be talking about the glory days like that old Bruce Springsteen song. Me, Patrick and Joe Ng (Corporate Toil and later, Padres) were in a short-lived band called Primitive Painters, which hardly anyone remembers. That’s fine by us because we should always be on the lookout for new music. One of the better gigs I attended recently was the launch of Zai Kuning’s Live in Tokyo CD at Black Hole and I’m looking forward to B-Quartet’s new album.

One more story to tell: back in 1988, me and Patrick rushed down to Da Da Records (Funan Centre) after reading X’Ho’s review of Soul Asylum’s Hang Time. The song that closes Side A of that record is a fitting coda as Patrick and Stephanie begin a new chapter in their lives:

Rise and shine, keep your razor sharp
Size up yourself in the mirror
A slice of life to last throughout the year
But sooner or later it all comes back to you

You give and you take and you leave, leave it alone
What I want so badly for this to be a place you can call home
And I haven't felt this way since yesterday, but I don't remember when
What I want so badly to be someone you can call a friend till we meet again

Endless farewell
Hello, hello, hello again
Endless farewell

Btw, congrats guys.

Kino Bestsellers Mar 10











Saturday, April 3, 2010


just about the only interview ken foo is willing do about freedom love forever as he doesn't want any publicity for the book, reviews included.