Colorfully-lit artwork around Singapore had me questioning the shades beyond black and white.
By Dulce Zamora
My family and I checked out iLight Singapore last week. The month-long (28 Jan – 24 Feb, 2019) event displays artwork which literally sheds light on the country’s past, present, and future. Jan 29th marked the 200th year since the British founded modern Singapore. Sir Stamford Raffles was credited with transforming a swampy village into a bustling port city.
When I heard the word founded, I was skeptical. Turns out I’m not alone. In a brief online search, I found numerous sites revisiting colonial history, exploring pre-British roots, and reflecting on the current state of Singapore as a nation. Recent excavations around the island have revealed that there were wealthy and sophisticated societies already present here before the British hoisted their flag. When the Brits did come, some historians say it was not Raffles who established trade, law, and order, but his subordinate, Major-General William Farquhar.
I have mixed emotions about this reevaluation of history. On one hand, I wonder how fair it is to judge people of the past by today’s standards. There are some clearly defined rights and wrongs. But what about Raffles? Was he really a monster and credit-hogger as some people point him out to be? What really happened in the 1800s? I’m inclined to defer to researchers who have combed through old letters and publications. However, they depended largely on what is in print. How reliable were the writings? Who wrote them? Was everyone involved able to get their viewpoint on print? This, to me, affirms how important it is to get our own stories out there.
On the other hand, I find it refreshing to see various accounts of the same events. It shows that different stories have always existed through time. Yet, somehow only one, or a select few, make it to the history books. In Raffles’ case, researchers say he lobbied to get Farquhar fired and banished into oblivion.
I wonder: Which version of today’s events will make it to tomorrow’s history lesson? Will U.S. President Donald Trump be known as a villain or a hero? Will China”s investment in developing countries place it as a global leader or a colonial master? Will smart phones be considered a boon or a curse to mankind? These questions may sound simplistic to people who already have firm opinions on the issues. However, how many dead folk would turn over in their graves if they found out about the version of histories spinning today? How would we react if we were able to look into the future and see that the truth we know did not survive?
There are so many questions we don’t have final answers to — yet. What we do know is that right now, there is some sort of recalibration going on around the world. It’s more than just the calling out of sexual harassers and predators under the #metoo movement (although that definitely has its merits). It’s also the questioning of norms. How is the media covering stories? How is the movie industry telling stories? How are we processing the stories? Are we un-friending people on Facebook because we don’t like what they have to say? Are we blacklisting loved ones? Are we aligning ourselves only with like-minded people?
I ask so many questions, because I don’t have many answers. There is a part of me that wants a more black and white world. It would be so easy in live in a world of good and evil, and nothing in between. However, my years of moving and traveling have taught me that things are hardly clearcut. The 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, for example, was more than just an American power move to end World War II. It meant the scorching and suffering of hundreds of Japanese school children, whose burned uniforms, melted lunch boxes, and warped toys are now on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Imagine my surprise when, in 2015, a radioactive fallout survivor approached me and my family in front of the museum, because he was eager to practice his English with us. The world is not so simple. With experiences like these, I’m not sure I want it to be.
Here in Singapore, I am rediscovering what it is like to be an expat, again. It’s exciting to see glowing works of art lit up around glitzy Marina Bay and the different quays around the historical Singapore River. And when the cool ocean breezes blow away the humidity, being here feels even more magical. Maybe it helps that my husband Noel is finally in town after a two week trip out of the country. I know our two girls are happy about having Daddy home, too. I also know that soon, he will leave for an international work trip again. Then, Singapore may not seem so magical anymore. However, I do try to see things from different points of view, and I hope to teach my daughters to do the same. Perhaps we can all tap into our brilliance within and find that we can reimagine our own stories, and create legacies that will bring light to future generations.
© 2019 Windswept Wildflower
February 11, 2019