During the “circuit breaker” period, a widely circulated video showed a family of otters scurrying around the suddenly quiet streets of urban Singapore. Elsewhere around the world, skies, seas and rivers cleared up because of widespread lockdowns. Some conservation groups have cautioned against thinking that the COVID-19 pandemic has given nature a break, pointing to mounting pressures to exploit nature further because of economic disruptions caused by the virus. Humans and nature – a very complex relationship.
In our first article, Danièle Weiler recounts the story of two French naturalists who were hired by Stamford Raffles to collect wildlife specimens in the region. These two young men accompanied Raffles when he arrived in Singapore in 1819. A year later, the first systematic recording of Singapore’s rainfall and temperature was started by William Farquhar, as Lim Tin Seng notes. These stories remind us how scientific endeavours of the past were often associated with colonial, economic and military interests.
Appropriately for the times, we have two stories that deal with pandemics. Bonny Tan looks at how 19th-century Singapore responded to a series of cholera outbreaks, while Kevin Y.L. Tan tells us how the Penang-born doctor Wu Lien-Teh – despite being marginalised by colonial authorities at home – played an instrumental role during the Manchurian plague.
This issue is not only about disease and death. If you enjoy meeting up with friends over coffee, Vandana Aggarwal takes us back in time with her essay on G.H. Cafe. And while we wait for the reopening of cross-border travel between Singapore and Malaysia, you can read about the history of the Causeway. Also, don’t miss Margaret Chan’s deep dive into the world of the Chinese tangki. Her essay helped to put in context some of my childhood memories of seeing such rituals.
In part two of Gracie Lee’s essay on the history of early printing in mainland Southeast Asia, she examines how modern printing technology came to Myanmar and Thailand. We then move from the printed word to the medium of photography with Janice Loo’s tour of the National Library’s PictureSG Collection.
We round up this issue with Derek Heng’s essay on a character of great importance to the story of Singapura – Sang Nila Utama – through the lens of different versions of the royal Malay text Sulalat al-Salatin (better known as the Sejarah Melayu).
Finally, I would like to announce that we’ve migrated the online version of BiblioAsia to a new platform. Do check out our new look and please let us know what you think by taking part in the survey.
Happy reading and take care.