I should state that Josephine Chia is my mentor in a writing program so my review of her book may not be perceived as objective.
This book is a sequel to Kampong Spirit (review here: https://vickychong.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/kampong-spirit-gotong-royong/), which had readers requesting for more.
I’ve never lived in a kampong, growing up in urban Cuppage Road and atas Dyson Road. I only first visited my friend’s kampong when my secondary schoolmate invited me to visit, and remember walking 45 minutes to her house from the main road. The second visit to a kampong was during my university years when I took part in an orienteering competition.
Each chapter in this book is based on a year, from 1966, just after Singapore’s independence, to 1975, when the Kampong was demolished and the residents resettled into HDB flats.
Although I’ve heard Josephine tell her kampong stories on numerous public reading occasions, the book still manages to capture my attention, with its vivid narratives and intimate stories about friendship, hope and growing up. If there is a coming-of-age story for me, this is it. In the book, she intertwines personal stories about kampong lives of herself and her neighbours with bigger news happening in Singapore and the world between 1966 to 1975. There is the flood, Robinson fire, moon landing etc. Nostalgia aside, there is a deep affection resonating in the book. The language is simple like its characters, who are genuine and non-demanding, unlike the people now.
At the recent book club meeting last week where we discussed this book, the writer pointed out that because of Singapore’s rapid development, many do not appreciate the world class living that Singapore has now, which they take for granted. Another person points out that there are many such kampongs still around in Asia, with poor sanitation and no water supply. Yes, life was simple in the kampong and neighbours forged a close relationship, but Josephine would not want to go back to that type of living. To her credit, Josephine has tried to bring back the kampong spirit to HDB estate, organizing monthly potluck with her neighbours. She urges us to smile at our neighbours, join the RC and bring back the kampong spirit.
Go buy the book, support Singlit and get an informal history lesson on Singapore’s lost heritage.