National Library Board unveils research series on Singapore and South-east Asian culture

One essay, written by Singaporean author Adeline Foo, looks at the local cabaret industry of the 1940s and 50s.
One essay, written by Singaporean author Adeline Foo, looks at the local cabaret industry of the 1940s and 50s.ST PHOTO: DON WONG

SINGAPORE - A collection of nine essays on Singapore and South-east Asian history was launched on Tuesday (Feb 27) by the National Library Board.

One essay, written by Singaporean author Adeline Foo, best-known for her book series The Diary of Amos Lee, looks at the local cabaret industry of the 1940s and 50s.

Delving into the murky history of Singapore's iconic dance hostesses - nicknamed "lancing girls" after a Singlish mispronunciation of "dancing" - Ms Foo examines the lives and charitable efforts of the women in an industry associated with both glitz and sleaze.

She came across the topic while researching the plight of women associated with doing charity work.

Noticing that there was a group of women who, despite their works in charity, were never acknowledged in English-language literature, her interest was piqued and she decided to dig deeper into the topic.

"As a writer, my instinct has been honed to find untouched stories," she said. "I was intrigued by how these women were never acknowledged for their contributions."

She added that these women, despite being traditionally looked down on and ostracised by society, were hugely influential in local popular culture.

Another highlight piece, written by Dr Chua Ai Lin, vice-president of the Singapore Heritage Society, details her research on the authentic Singapore in Hollywood feature films between 1928 and 1940.

"With motion pictures at the turn of the century showing scenes of a modern, Asian port city inhabited by an exotic mix of cultures, Singapore entered Hollywood's imaginative vocabulary of exotic locations," she wrote in her essay.

In an examination of Hollywood's depiction of Singapore, Dr Chua discusses how real that reflection truly is, and its historical and cultural significance.

"I thought it was really interesting to see how Singapore was represented in the international imagination," she said, adding that she was particularly intrigued by the efforts of director Clyde Ernest Elliot, who had travelled to Singapore repeatedly and released three feature films centred on the Malayan region.

The publication hopes to encourage more people to apply for the fellowship, so as to contribute further to the research of Singapore's history.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, who was guest of honour at the event, said: "This research is really about maintaining our past history, and understanding our heritage and where we come from.

"I would like to encourage people to step forward. Make use of the materials in NLB to look back on Singapore's past, learn from that, and perhaps, put together a publication that is useful for this generation and the next."