Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong draws record ST Book Club attendance

ST Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong (left) and journalist Denise Chong taking questions after the discussion. Ms Chua's book Singapore, Disrupted has sold more than 2,200 copies in the past six weeks since its publication.
ST Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong (left) and journalist Denise Chong taking questions after the discussion. Ms Chua's book Singapore, Disrupted has sold more than 2,200 copies in the past six weeks since its publication.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - The fourth edition of the Straits Times (ST) Book Club attracted its largest crowd to date, with 213 people packing the National Library headquarters' programme zone on Wednesday night (June 27) to hear ST Opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong discuss her new book Singapore, Disrupted.

Ms Chua, a political journalist with the paper since 1991, spoke with the event's moderator, ST senior executive content producer Denise Chong, about the essays in her book, which spans 27 years.

The subjects range from observations about Singapore's late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his family, to the class divide in Singapore.

The book has sold more than 2,200 copies in the past six weeks since its publication and spent three weeks on the ST bestseller list for non-fiction.

Audience members peppered Ms Chua, 49, with questions, ranging from whether universal basic income could be feasible in Singapore to whether the government adage "every school is a good school" really holds true.

"I think every school aspires to be a good school," she said. "But in reality, we know different schools have different reputations. But it's a noble aim that we can move towards if we have a good spread of resources."

Ms Chua, the daughter of street hawkers, lived in an attap house as a child and did not speak English when she started primary school. Today, she lives in what she admits is an "upper middle-class bubble".

"I am glad the Singapore system has allowed tens of thousands of us to enjoy a better life," she said.

"The responsibility is on us, who have benefited from the system, to speak up when things are not going quite right and to remind the younger generation, who may take things for granted, that things may not always turn out this way."

This means pushing back against inequality when one sees it, such as the prevalence, until recently, of alumni admission and affiliation schemes in some schools, which gave those with connections an advantage in getting in.

"I find this horrific," she said.

She also said she was troubled by the way in which the image of the heartland has shifted from being part and parcel of local life to a symbol for the elite to engage with the ground, such as when People's Action Party candidates in the 2015 General Election held introductory sessions in coffee shops.

"As society stratifies more and more and people become remote from each other, there is a great danger that members of the elite start to look at the ordinary core as a symbolic gesture."

Members of the audience said the session had covered even more topics than they had expected from the book.

"What she wrote resonated with what we experience in everyday life," said marketing manager Michelle Oh, 50.

Teacher Jasmine Yap, 33, added: "I found it very engaging.

"There was a very wide range of issues covered and it has inspired me to further explore some of them, like social inequality."

The rebranded book club takes over ST's non-fiction book club The Big Read Meet and runs every last Wednesday of the month.

The next session on July 25 will feature poet and author Felix Cheong, who will discuss his writing journey and new children's picture book Use Your Head with ST assistant sports editor Rohit Brijnath.

Readers can register at http://str.sg/oMiE.