Bilingual storybook captures Geylang Serai of the 1960s in Malay and English

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Maliki Osman with writer Rasiah Halil at the launch of the book. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Geylang Serai has evolved from a kampung dotted with traditional Malay houses to one filled with Housing Board blocks, but it remains the heart of Singapore's Malay community for many, said writer Rasiah Halil.

"In the 1960s, Geylang Serai was the place you would go for anything related to Malay food or culture, especially for Hari Raya, and it was the place my mother and my grandmother would always take me," she said.

It was this spirit and sense of community that Madam Rasiah, 65, tried to capture in the bilingual book titled Geylang Serai: Dalam Terowong Masa (Through The Tunnel Of Time), which she helped to write.

Published in Malay and English, the book was launched at an event at Wisma Geylang Serai on Sunday (Sept 26) as part of Bulan Bahasa, or Malay Language Month, attended by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Maliki Osman.

The book is reversible - one half is in Malay, while the other half has the same story translated into English. Each half has 51 pages.

It is part of a planned series of five books on the areas commissioned by Wisma Geylang Serai - part of the People's Association - and the Creative Malay Arts and Culture - an organisation that aims to hold and document Malay cultural activities.

Dr Maliki, who is also Second Minister for Education and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, spoke at the book launch.

He said he hopes that the book will be a useful and accessible resource for teachers and students, and that it contains many nuggets of local history not known to most, such as the old practice of selling chicks with dyed tails at the rate of 10 for a dollar.

The book follows a relationship between a woman and her granddaughter as the grandmother relates her memories of Geylang Serai.

Madam Rasiah told The Straits Times at the book launch that she hopes that the book will help the older generation relive their youth, and for younger people to get in touch with their heritage.

She added that although the area is very important to the Malay community, it is never exclusively so.

She said: "I had neighbours of all races and I hope that this book, being bilingual, will appeal to both Malays and non-Malays."

Madam Rasiah also wants the book to inspire younger Malays to bond with their mother tongue.

Madam Rasiah Halil (right) with a reader at the book launch. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Dr Maliki shared her sentiments. He told ST: "We have to acknowledge the fact that our students today are effectively English-speaking and we want to give them more opportunities to interact with the language... I hope that this book, being written in both languages, reflects the value of bilingualism.

"A lot of students feel that if they use a lot of English, it will compromise their mother tongue and vice versa, but it doesn't have to be that way."

A rejuvenation project is under way in Geylang Serai to strengthen its cultural identity. In January, a call was put out to redevelop three key landmarks in the area - Geylang Serai Market, Joo Chiat Complex, and civic centre and community hub Wisma Geylang Serai.

The four other books in the series will be published over the next few years and will focus on topics like the economic and trade activities that took place among the Malay community in the area.

Around 500 copies of Geylang Serai: Dalam Terowong Masa have been printed and will be distributed to various agencies and the National Library in November.

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