Betel chewing is a time-honoured practice in Southeast Asia although the custom has mostly
died out here. In our cover story, Fiona Lim and Geoffrey Pakiam explore various aspects of the betel quid. Years ago, I remember asking my husband’s late aunt to make a quid for me to try
but she refused, saying that it would be too intoxicating.
Those intoxicating effects are nowhere near as dangerous as opium smoking. Yet, about a century ago, partaking of this opiate was so prevalent among the Chinese coolie community
that it made up half of the colonial government’s annual tax takings. Diana S. Kim explains how the colony ended its dependence on opium revenue.
Violent gun crime also used to be common in Singapore; up until the 1960s, street shootouts
and kidnappings of millionaires were regular occurrences. Tan Chui Hua’s account of the city’s gun-happy gangsters is a reminder that the “good old days” weren’t always so good.
On a less violent note, this year is the centenary of former French Prime Minister Georges
Clemenceau’s visit here and the 50th anniversary of the opening of Queenstown Library. Lim
Tin Seng revisits 1920 while Paddy Jonathan Ong recounts the history of Singapore’s first proper
We then turn to the National Archives of Singapore with Yap Jo Lin as our guide. She tells us what the 250,000 plans in the Building Control Division Collection reveal about Singapore’s architecture. The archives are also the focus of Meira Chand’s essay. By poring over memoirs and listening to oral history interviews, the London-born author was able to recreate in her mind the sights and sounds of mid-20th century Singapore.
As a resident of Marine Parade, William L. Gibson became fascinated by two old buildings in his neighbourhood. That led to his essay on Karikal Mahal recounting the colourful history of the two landmarks on Still Road South.
A somewhat larger structure inspired Erni Salleh. After completing her Masters degree, the librarian turned her research into The Java Enigma, a thriller that delves into the origins of Indonesia’s Borobudur, a Buddhist monument from the 9th century.
Collecting materials that capture present-day events or culture is a way for the National Library to preserve a documentary heritage representative of Singapore. Janice Loo’s piece on the COVID-19 documentation project explains how you can help future generations understand this extraordinary time. Shereen Tay, on the other hand, provides an update on a different, but no less important, collection effort: web archiving.
Also, don’t miss Lee Meiyu’s essay written in Chinese on the Kim Mui Hoey Kuan Collection and Wan Wee Pin’s review of the recently published book, The Year 1000.
Finally, I would again like to invite everyone to take part in our readers’ survey. We want to make BiblioAsia better than ever, and your feedback is invaluable.