My cousin recently uploaded some old photographs of the family onto our family group on social media. We all looked so young – and strange. It sparked a deluge of bemoaning of bad fashion and hairstyles, a string of “who’s that?” at seemingly unfamiliar faces, and “Oh, I remember that” exclamations.
As a kid, and even now, I love to ask the adults about their pasts – what were their childhood like? What did they eat? What did they do? Very often, the stories reveal a lot more of the person whom I thought I know. Thankfully, the people around me are always nice and obliging in answering my questions.
While a lot of these queries were to satisfy my personal curiosities and quest to understand the past better, I had the opportunity to incorporate many of these stories in a book I was commissioned to write, Singapore Childhood: Our Stories Then and Now.
The book was commissioned by the Singapore Children’s Society to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2012. It was launched by former president, S. R. Nathan. It took two years to research and write. Numerous interviews – formal and informal – were conducted and I mined my family and contacts for more stories. It was a tricky book to write because much as most people share some collective experience, others have completely different ones. Some even tried to invalidate another’s experience simply because it’s not theirs.
The biggest takeaways I had from that project were the rich experiences Singaporeans had. No, Singapore history is not boring, if you are willing to listen; and that children are a resilient lot, and that we should not rob a child of its childhood – it happens only once. And once gone, will be hard to regain.