Capturing Memories of Singapore and Malaysia (Part 2)
By Kiew Li Lian
Continued from Capturing Memories of Singapore and Malaysia (Part 1)
Lee Yung-ping: Depicting the Turbulence Underneath the Tranquility
While both Zhang Hui and Ding Yun talked about Singapore, Lee Yung-ping focused on Sarawak – the place where he was born and grew up in. He opined that writers should view themselves as folk historians sharing the memories of the people to supplement the official records. Lee expressed his envy for the Singaporeans who had witnessed Singapore’s nation-building, and said he always has to ask himself what to write about Kuching, his hometown, which had a population of only 60,000.
Because of this, he once wrote The Jiling Chronicles to describe a fictitious Mainland China and The Eagle Haidong Qing to depict Taiwan. It was only when his pining for home intensified that Lee started writing about his childhood. Still, many of his friends were skeptical as they perceived Borneo as lacking interesting stories.
However, the calm water surface belies the turbulence underneath. The Snow Falls in Clouds: Recollections of A Borneo Childhood highlighted the political situation in Borneo through nine of his childhood memories. One of which describes how a Taiwanese “comfort woman”, who ended up in Borneo after the Second World War in the 1950s, did not dare to go home and could only stare longingly northwards towards her hometown while waiting for clients in the evenings.
Freshly graduating from lower secondary school in the 1960s, Lee prepared to hike along Kapuas River – the largest river in Borneo – to explore the holy mountain of the indigenous people. He later wrote his novel End of the River based entirely on his memories of Borneo’s rainforest. However, the pristine tropical jungle was blanketed by a layer of dust – the innocence and sinister aspects of the characters, colonialism, and imperialism in his novel – that appears impossible to remove.
Novels: Gifts for the Nation
Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once hoped that the literary works that he had collated and recommended to readers would present his country’s history through the dark and brutal period to become part of his comrades’ consciousness and memory. Alas, memories will fade into oblivion with the passing of time if nobody pays attention! Therefore, novels are the writers’ gifts to the country. These exquisitely packaged books are not only painstakingly collated memories and words, they also represent the country that the people – love or hate – are irresistibly drawn to.
About the writers
Zhang Hui (1942- ) started writing in the 1970s and had authored more than 10 publications, including novels, prose, and poetry. In 1992, he was awarded the Singapore Book Award and Southeast Asian Writers Award for 45.45 Meeting Confidential. His 2015 publication, The Years and Incidents at Shuang Kou Ding First Village, won the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award. He is the current Chairman of the Singapore Writing and Literature Society.
Born in Malaysia, Ding Yun (1952- ) left scriptwriting for fiction and prose, and had authored numerous publications since. He was awarded the Fang Xiu Literature Awards Merit Prize in July 2016.
Born in Sarawak, Malaysia, Lee Yung-ping (1947- ) is a renowned Taiwanese writer and translator who graduated from National Taiwan University with a Bachelor’s degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures, and from State University of New York and Washington University in St. Louis with a Master’s degree and a doctorate in comparative literature, respectively. He was awarded Taiwan’s National Awards of Art in 2016.
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