Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged! Having graduated from UEA (I am now a Master!) and returned to Singapore, I’ve just been catching my breath and getting back into the swing of things. But today, I returned to my alma mater, Raffles Girls’ School, to help give a talk. I took so many pictures! And had so many emotions! I just want to note everything down here.
First, a bit about the talk. It was the second of five that I’m doing alongside poet Yong Shu Hoong and fiction writer Dave Chua. We’re presenting the anthology Passages as part of the Singapore Writers Festival outreach programme Words Go Round.
Our talk was at 3pm and we were supposed to meet at 2.30pm, but I ended up reaching the school at around 2.15pm and wandered around the campus for a bit…
As for the talk itself, I think it went quite well. Far from the sullen silence I’d feared (based on my own memories of being a sullen, silent student), the girls asked really intelligent questions about the stories and about writing. They seemed especially interested in what makes a “Singaporean story” (apparently some of them have been tasked with writing such a story for class).
What did sadden me was when one girl commented that it seemed Western settings were more “universal”… it saddened me because I understood exactly what she meant and indeed, when I was her age, I felt completely the same way. To us, the Western setting is the default and any deviation from it is exotic, even when we’re talking about our own everyday Singaporean surroundings.
It comes from speaking English as a first language and from reading literature largely from the US and the UK. Not to mention movies, music, pop culture in all its abundance… And then you’re from a school where the motto is in Latin (no one studies Latin in schools here), where the mascot is a Greek goddess (Athena) and the school song invokes “High Olympus”, where the name of the school is that of a colonial master and all the house names are Anglophone surnames, where success is defined as getting into a top university in the US or the UK…
I don’t know if we managed to convince the students that you can write stories set in Singapore, involving Singaporean characters, and still address, like, the human condition and other such profundities. I don’t know if they believed us. I don’t know if I would have believed us if I were still a student, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the school hall, steeped in the knowledge that life is elsewhere.