When Tolkien's Middle Earth trumps South-east Asia

With Singapore’s open borders and ready access to entertainment from Hollywood to K-pop, it’s easy to overlook the rich and diverse cultures in our immediate neighbourhood. We should rebalance that.

Peranakan Indian (Chitty Melaka) Association Singapore members (from left) Ponnosamy Kalastree, Sanasee Philips Roy and David Bok contributed stories of their family histories and artefacts to a 2018 exhibition on their community. PHOTO: ST FILE
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Leading historian Farish Noor, who has taught in Singapore and is now based at the University of Malaya, recently commented that his history students today seem to know the map of Tolkien's Middle Earth better than that of South-east Asia.

His comment is not an isolated one. Many have observed that as audiences, our imagination and attention seem too keen to leap-frog out of our domestic milieus into a purportedly more glamorous globalised culture, often found in its Western formulation.

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