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Book Review: Vintage Singapore

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There’s something good in February’s air, we think. We’re feeling exceptionally generous this month and it’s group hugs all around to spread the communal spirit! So who’s up for some good conversation and amazing company, complemented with an equally interesting coffee table book? For brownie points this lovely month, we review a coffee table book that encourages all that and more. Bonding over books. Now that’s something we absolutely cannot resist. Get the gang around and take the afternoon reminiscing about old Singapore with Vintage Singapore: Souvenirs From The Recent Past.

Reviewed by Penny C.

Vintage Singapore: Souvenirs From The Recent Past, published by Editions Didier Millet Pte Ltd and the National Museum of Singapore, instantly reminds you of the precious memories, heirlooms and novelties your grandparents owned and your parents regretted throwing out during the early 90s.  Flipping through the pages triggers curiosity to spare the cat and instead, dig deep around the house  to unravel any remnants of old Singapore that might still exist.

Every relic you can ever think of, popular and well loved in Singapore is perfectly photographed in the book. It was hard to choose my personal favorites but with my lighting mind and a civil 20 minute struggle with it, I stand firm by my choices.

My votes go to the popular 1950s – 1980s porcelain cups and saucers, metal school badges from the 1950s – 1970s and the entire chapter on Singapore Dining and Singapore Home. Here’s a touch of communal spirit that can be found in Vintage Singapore – Before developed housing existed in the 1960s, people were comfortable living in Kampongs with basic sanitation and space because residents had a fierce sense of loyalty. The communal spirit meant that villages would take care of each others’ families and property. That’s one neighbourhood trait that’s been disppearing over the years.

It’ a revival of styles and Vintage Singapore widens the reader’s knowledge about Singapore, expanding themes and ideas in its chapters that even delves into the Singaporean nightlife  – “Singapore was quick to absorb Western trends and local pop music was unmistakably influences by both American and British music.” to Singapore home – “For those who had lived in kampongs there was a sense that the familiar spirit of gotong royong (mutual care) had been lost.

Singapore’s entertainment scene back then wasn’t as bad as most of us would imagine. Photographs of once famous land marks like the The New World Amusement Park, Jubilee Theatre and Roxy Theatre fill the pages ever so nostalgically. A capture from a YWCA Fashion Show held in 1966 showed that yes, wearing sunglasses in the first row of a fashion show has been the norm since way back then.  Local music were all the rage with bands like Thunderbirds, The Quest, Naomi & The Boys and The Crescendos emulating the musical styles and showmanship of their American and British counterparts. Film was going places too – “As Singapore moved towards independence and away from British rule, local film became a popular means to reflect the urban reality and social expectations.” Yessir, the 60s and 70s were cool like that.

The Crescendos – The Boy Next Door

Naomi & The Boys – I’m The Loser

The Crescendos – Bengawan Solo

Pictures tell a thousand words and in this book, the pictures evoke the senses. While I sat with Vintage Singapore in my lap, part of my brain was admiring the history while the other half was putting together fragments of what I saw, tasted, heard and felt when I was 6. Memories I thought were lost came rushing back behind my eyes. I went back in time feeling rather sentimental.

Vintage Singapore is one of the many amazing coffee table books you’ll ever lay eyes on. The only flaw I can find in this book is the lack of political events and racial uproars that took place in Singapore. I can’t fault it that much because Vintage Singapore is fundamentally a feel good book, uncovering souvenirs from the recent past. So what you see here is what you get.

It’s the perfect gift for everyone who appreciates the classic, familiar flavour of former Singapura filled with the essence of colonial rule mixed with languages and cultures from east and west – a quirk that’s everything Singaporean.

Did You Know?

  • In the 1930s, Hainanese-owned coffee shops were made-dominated placed where Chinese men would congregate and have their breakfasts.
  • After the Japanese occupation in 1945, the public returned to its booming cinema, music and entertainment scene for relief from post war struggles.
  • Bilingual education was made compulsory at the primary level in 1960 and at the secondary level at 1966.
  • When fashion preferences grew in the 1960s, women sought fashion inspirations from broader cultural trends through local magazines, as well as Hollywood and Hong Kong films for tips on wardrobe coordination and beauty.
  • In April 1963, Channel 5 was only broadcasting 5 hours of English and Malay programmes on weekdays and 10 hours on weekends. Chinese and Tamil broadcasts commenced later that year on Channel 8.

Reasons Why You Should Get The Book

  1. It’s the perfect window to Singapore’s colourful fusion of eastern-western past.
  2. It makes you look at the present and realise how much Singapore has grown. From an insignificant red dot to an exceptional one.
  3. Brings back the good old memories and is a great conversation starter. You’ll discover how much more you and your friends have in common.
  4. Beside your desktop, on your bed, in bathroom, on kitchen table – it looks ideal anywhere you put it. It’s treasure to have around the house.
  5. You will be envied by many.
  6. Share this with your family and it could be the start of a BFF type relationship with your grandparental/parental unit.
  7. For a coffee table book, it’s really not that heavy.
  8. You’re owning a piece of Singapore history.
  9. You’re now even more well informed and by default, you become cooler and smarter. We dig it.
  10. We love it. You will too.

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Get The Book

  1. The combination of words and pictures will cause you instant death, Avada Kedavra style.
  2. You really detest books with a passion and they make you sick with vertigo.
  3. Lifting hard covered books isn’t your thing. For the sake of your health and as proper, fellow human beings, we advise you to stay far, far away.
  4. You can’t look at the past because it robs your soul.
  5. Don’t be ridiculous. Do you think that you really shouldn’t be owning this book?

Thanks to the good people at Editions Didier Millet Pte Ltd, you can win a copy of Vintage Singapore too!  There are 5 copies of Vintage Singapore to be won and all you’ve got to do is follow these 4 simple steps:

1) Like our Facebook page (Contest is only open to Penny’s friends on Facebook!)
2) Browse through our photo album “Book Review: Vintage Singapore”
3) Look for the photo captioned “Caption This!”
4) Come up with a creative caption (humour us, we can take it!) send it to (subject: I want a Vintage Singapore!) Don’t forget the following details:

  • Name
  • Age
  • NRIC
  • D.O.B
  • Contact number
  • Occupation

Please be reminded that this contest is only open to readers living in Singapore who are friends on Facebook. All entries must reach us by Monday, 7th March 2011! Winners with the best caption will be contacted via email so look out for it!

*All pictures are from Vintage Singapore, except for the aged class photographs  – those are personal memories :)

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