More Than Just a Corridor: The History of the Five Foot Way

by Gan Siang Hong

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image credit: Thimbuktu

When designing Singapore’s town plan, Sir Stamford Raffles introduced many changes to Singapore’s architectural landscape. One significant feature he included was the five feet wide corridor that lined the fronts of shophouses, commonly known as the five foot way.

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image credit: Mothership

The five foot way served many purposes. It provided shelter from the sun and rain, a safe path for pedestrians, and a space for vendors to do business. A unique trend soon emerged from the existence of the five foot way: the five foot way libraries.

In the 1950s, the five foot way libraries were the best source of books for many avid readers of Chinese literature. The libraries had a wide selection of books, from tales of romance to adventure stories. For those who could not read, there was also an assortment of comic books available. To rent a book cost only a few cents, and would provide hours of entertainment for adults and children alike.

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image credit: The Long and Winding Road

The five foot ways were more than just corridors; they grew to become hubs for social and cultural activities (much like the void decks of today), and they hold fond memories for many Singaporeans.

To commemorate the spirit of the five foot way, the Chinatown Business Association has organised the Five Foot Way Festival, to be held on the weekend of 23 – 24 March.

As part of the event, Asiapac Books will be opening our very own Pop-up Five Foot Way Library featuring our favourite vintage and new comic books! Grab a stool and travel back in time to Chinatown’s early days of roadside libraries and storytellers. Make sure to play our old-school Tikam-Tikam Books game with attractive prizes to be won.

Do come early to reserve a good spot for the Street Storytelling performances on Saturday(2PM) and Sunday(3PM)!

five foot way library

Pop-up Five Foot Way Library
Saturday 23 March: 11AM-9PM
Sunday 24 March: 11AM-9PM

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Street Storytelling 讲古
Chinese legends narrated in English
Saturday 23 March: 2-230PM
Sunday 24 March: 3-30PM

We’ll see you there!

 

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Heroines of the Past, Celebrated Today: International Women’s Day 2019

by Gan Siang Hong

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AAJ News, 2018

Today, we commemorate a very special occasion: International Women’s Day. Even Google has changed its homepage to feature quotes from prominent female figures. Among these quotes, there is one by the Indian Olympic boxer Mary Kom that is particularly powerful. She addresses all womankind and declares, “Do not say you are weak, because you are a woman.”

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India Today, 2018

Indeed, the only true limits are the ones one sets for oneself, and Mary Kom asserts that a woman can achieve as much as any man. There have been many women who share Mary Kom’s mindset, playing significant roles in shaping history and society. To understand more about these heroines, we explore two of our graphic novel titles featuring women as prominent characters.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Hua Mulan: Legendary Woman Warrior tells of a story that has been related across countless generations, and is widely known across the world today. In the stead of her old and sickly father, Mulan joined the army and fought for her country. She became an iconic legend not just because of her achievements, but also because of her strong values. What she lacked in physical strength and endurance, she more than made up for with rigorous training and a sharp intellect. Never giving up and always putting her family and country before herself, Mulan is the embodiment of heroism that men and women should all aspire to.

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The second book is titled A Dream of Red Mansions, a comic book adaptation of the profound literary masterpiece that took China by storm in the 18th century. Through the bold, expressive style of Seraphina Lum’s art, we experience life in the shoes of the various members of the Jia Clan, a wealthy Chinese family. What is particularly intriguing is the fact that the family is a matriarchy, where women have the bigger say.

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the Beijinger, 2017

As the story progresses, we witness many of these women struggle with relationships, loss, family feuds, and ultimately forge their own path in life. Throughout various hardships, the characters display an admirable strength of will to remain true to themselves and their beliefs. It is no exaggeration, therefore, to say that the book is a veritable testament to the inner strength of women, and a celebration of their contribution to society.

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Untappd, 2019

Women have just as big a role in our society as men, regardless of the era. It is only right that we give them due credit for all that they have done, and perhaps try to understand better the struggles they face. For this purpose, look no further than Hua Mulan: Legendary Woman Warrior and A Dream of Red Mansions: the perfect reads for International Women’s Day.

Journey to the West: Vision, Perseverance, Teamwork

a review by Gan Siang Hong

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Modelled after one of the greatest chronicles in human history, Asiapac’s Journey to the West tells of Sun Wukong’s quest for immortality and enlightenment. By handpicking the most exciting parts of the story and compressing them into one compact, colorful volume, Chang Boon Kiat has created a gripping tale that can be enjoyed by all ages.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

A story would not be complete without a cast of interesting characters, and Xuanzang Sanzang’s merry band of Buddhist disciples do not fail to disappoint. The book hits the ground running with the flashy introduction of Sun Wukong, and Chang’s portrayal of the mischievous but powerful Monkey King hits the nail on the head.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

From Wukong’s dialogue to his simple but distinctive design, everything is taken into careful consideration to craft a character that is just as awe-inspiring as he is likeable and entertaining. Wukong’s fellow disciples, Pigsy (Zhu Bajie) and Sandy (Sha Wujing), while not as prominent within the story, are given similar treatment with their unique appearances and personalities.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Journey to the West seems to understand that a good antagonist is as crucial to the story as any protagonist. From imperial generals to bloodthirsty demons, every character has a strong design, making each one as memorable as the last. And, while interesting on their own, the diverse cast of antagonists truly shine when pitted against Wukong and friends, and their dynamic interactions give life to the trials and tribulations which they represent in the course of the journey.

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The Straits Times, 2018

An important dynamic that is explored within the book is the conflict between Sanzang’s benevolent character and Wukong’s impulsive and violent tendencies. Their encounter with the White Bone Spirit and Sanzang’s subsequent banishment of Wukong leaves the reader to consider this conflict’s significance.

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Maxiphoto, 2016

This dissension between teacher and disciple is representative of the conflicting ideologies of Law and Chaos and how it affects our actions. One may immediately assume that being lawful is the best course of action, but is that really true when Sanzang always ends up in danger, only to be saved by the chaotic Wukong? The profound lessons that this story imparts to its readers are simply another aspect of what makes it so engaging.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

All in all, Journey to the West more than does justice to the original Chinese novel. Chang’s adaptation transforms it into a wondrous tale of action and adventure that is thematically rich, yet easy to understand. Amidst all this, the true message of the story is made clear: that what is important is not the destination, but the journey.

Remember Where You’ve Been: Celebrating the Singapore Bicentennial

by Gan Siang Hong

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Singapore Bicentennial Office, 2018

A song by the popular rock band All Time Low goes, “Before you ask which way to go, remember where you’ve been.” As Singaporeans, there are many things we can do to commemorate our heritage and culture, and this is all the more relevant in the upcoming year. 2019 marks the Singapore Bicentennial: a yearlong event that encourages us to look back on Singapore’s journey and understand our roots.

 

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Singapore’s history goes a long way back, with records originating from the late 13th century. The prospect of approaching such a vast well of history may appear daunting, but the Singapore Bicentennial Book Bundle is certainly a good place to start.

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Zaki Ragman, 2010

We begin our journey through the past with Legendary Tales of Singapore. This compact yet intriguing volume tells of various folktales dating back to Singapore’s very early days under the rule of Sang Nila Utama. As far as legends and fairy tales go, the stories behind the origins of our Lion City are as interesting and exciting as they come, and Zaki Ragman’s quirky art style makes the book even more fun and approachable. Definitely worth a read.

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Singapore International Foundation, 2016

We now move on to Singapore’s age of globalisation, when Raffles first set foot onto the island. There is much to be learned and admired about the man, and there are few better sources of information than Stamford Raffles: Founder of Modern Singapore. Zhou Yimin’s well-drawn illustrations make exploring Raffles’ life an easy and enjoyable experience, and the book is a great way to understand the part Raffles played in Singapore’s rise to glory as a trading port.

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Asiapac Books, 2018

Next, we delve into Singapore’s more recent past as a rapidly developing city in the 1900s. Once Upon a Singapore – Traders features various tradesmen from this period, showing us how they contributed to the socio-economic aspects of life. Alan Bay’s vividly colorful yet simple art style serves the story well, and makes readers feel right at home in 20th century Singapore. Traders most valuable lesson, however, comes from reminding us of what these tradesmen could offer that today’s industries cannot: the human condition.

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Youth.SG, 2015

Just as Singapore is not complete without its diverse multi-culturalistic social landscape, the book bundle would not be complete without Gateway to Singapore Culture. This informative title tells you everything you will need to know about Singapore’s various ethnic groups and the traditions that they hold dear. The illustrations and photos breathe life into the text, enhancing the learning experience, and who knows? Perhaps your newfound knowledge may serve as a good conversation starter.

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Gallery 5150, 2019

As we go about our everyday lives, we often lose sight of how important it is to appreciate how far we have come as a society. This year, it’s time to remember where you’ve been. The Singapore Bicentennial Book Bundle is ideal for anyone who wishes to glimpse into Singapore’s past and celebrate our achievements thus far, and readers both young and old can hope to take away valuable lessons from these four rich and engaging titles.

Get them from our website!

A Malay folktale: The Princess of Mount Ophir

It was said that a beautiful fairy princess lived at the top of Gunung Ledang. She had been raised by a group of beings that were half-man and half-beast. Because she was a fairy princess, she never grew old. Her beauty was enhanced by the breezes that blew atop the mountain.

Many sultans sought her hand in marriage. Yet perhaps the mountain sought to preserve her purity, for no messenger ever reached the top of Gunung Ledang. And so, the princess spent her days on the mountain, dancing and singing in the cool air.

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Then came the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah. He sent three of his best warriors to find the princess. It was believed that the journey was so tenuous that only one of them managed to make his way to the princess’ home. There, he put forth Sultan Mansur Shah’s proposal.

The princess replied that she would marry the sultan if he was able to provide her with three items: seven vats containing women’s tears, seven trays of mosquito hearts and seven drops of his son’s blood.

Upon his return to the palace, the warrior conveyed the princess’ message. The sultan was crushed when he heard it. As he sat in his royal chambers, he lamented, “I can provide seven vats of women’s tears and even seven trays of mosquito hearts. But to prick my son for even one drop of his blood is impossible for me to bear!”

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And so, for many more years, the princess remained atop Gunung Ledang. It was believed that she eventually did find her true love, a fierce warrior named Nakhoda Ragam.

She moved down from the mountain to live with him. Her bliss was shattered one day when they were spending time together. He had tickled her so much that she accidentally stabbed him with a needle as she laughed uncontrollably.

After the incident, the princess returned to the mountain and never laid eyes on another man again. Soon after, Nakhoda Ragam’s boat was destroyed in a storm and the debris became the six islands off Malacca.

An introduction to Chinese cuisine

To the Chinese, eating is a very important part of life. It is a social activity and helps to break the ice. In Chinese society, food is also a measure of success.

More than just eating, the Chinese also love to cook as it is seen as an art in itself. Chinese cuisine places emphasis on colour, aroma and flavour. Not only must a dish taste good, it must also appeal to the senses to be able to whet the appetite.

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Cooking methods

There are countless ways to cook the same ingredients, and each way of cooking imparts its own unique flavour to the food:

  • Steam
  • Boil
  • Double-boil
  • Stew
  • Poach
  • Braise
  • Stir-fry
  • Shallow-fry
  • Deep fry
  • … and many more!

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Eight main cuisines

  • Sichuan, with characteristic rich and spicy dishes like Gongbao diced chicken
  • Shandong, with dishes like Dezhou braised chicken
  • Suzhou, with its carefully presented steamed crucian carp
  • Guangdong, with distinctive sweet and crispy dishes like roast suckling pig
  • Fujian, famed for Buddha Jumps over the Wall
  • Zhejiang, which emphasises fresh food and natural flavours, particularly seafood
  • Huizhou, which favours delicacies from the land and sea
  • Hunan, which features rich foods with strong colours like cured meats

Now, tell us, which is your favourite?

 

A myth on how the Chinese language came about

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Legend has it that the written language was created by Cangjie, a subordinate of the Yellow Emperor. Cangjie was in charge of managing livestock and food supplies. As the animals and grain kept increasing, it became impossible to keep count. Hence, he made knots in different coloured strings to represent the numbers of different animals and food.

Seeing Cangjie’s ability, the Yellow Emperor put him in charge of many more things. Cangjie racked his brains as strings were not sufficient now.

One day, Cangjie went hunting. He observed the animal footprints on the ground and got a revelation: “If one type of footprint represents one kind of animal, why don’t I just indicate the different items with symbols?”

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Hence, Cangjie began to come up with different symbols based on the shapes of animal footprints and the natural environment. Later, others also adopted these symbols and started to communicate with them.

However, of course, this remains just a myth as the development of a written language is usually influenced by many social factors over a long period of time.

Editor’s Note: November 2018

It’s been two weeks since the start of our exhibition, and the response has been nothing short of amazing. We’d like to take this month’s Editor’s Note to thank all of you who took time out of your schedule to drop by, whether for our curated programmes or even just for a short bit while browsing at the library!

Here are a few photos we took along the way that we thought you’d like to look back upon:

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Lim Li Kok, Managing Director of Asiapac Books, speaking to a lovely crowd at our opening party.
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Comic artist Patrick Yee browsing through our original artwork archives at our opening party. These documents go a long way back!
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Chairman of the Indonesia Comic Society Rizqi Rinaldy Mosmarth drawing on our doodle wall. Come see how it looks like today!
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Comic artist Wee See Heng and a bubbly group of kids after his Kids Make Comics workshop!

The exhibition’s still going on until 9 December 2018, so make sure you don’t miss it! It’s easily located at the Level 8 Promenade of the National Library Building. Check out below for our upcoming events:

Saturday, 1 December 2018 — Book Discussion: Chinese Classics in Comics
We introduce readers to the rich legacy of classic Chinese literature and discuss two new comic books, Journey to the West and Hua Mulan.

Sunday, 2 December 2018 — Workshop: Kids Make Comics (Eng)
You can be a comic artist too! In this introductory workshop, comic artist Zaki Ragman will teach students the basic concepts and skills for creating comics. Recommended for children aged 7–16 years old.

Saturday, 8 December 2018 — How to Publish a Comic Book
Ever thought about publishing your own comic book? Curious as to what goes on behind the scenes of a publishing firm? Join us for an interactive seminar with veteran publisher Lim Li Kok to find out more. Recommended for creatives in art and media.

Sunday, 9 December 2018 — Launch of Asiapac Books Reading Circle
Readers young and old are welcome to join our monthly reading group on Asian culture, history, and philosophy. Bring your favourite comic book to talk about!

Full details on Facebook or Eventbrite.

As the exhibition draws near to its last week, we’re really hoping for this opportunity to meet all our loyal readers and supporters. Please do come by and say hello!

A walk down memory lane

As you might already know, it’s Asiapac Books’ 35th anniversary this year. Having been in the book industry since 1983, we want to showcase just a bit of our catalogue of out-of-print books. Perhaps you’ve seen these before back in the day?

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Labour Pains was the first book published by Asiapac Books. It is a comedic book on gender inequality illustrated with cartoons and comic strips.

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These four titles are examples of paperback classics and Asian literature published by Asiapac Books in the 1980s.

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Two award-winning titles illustrated by renowned Chinese artist Lu Yuan Guang.

Check out more of our publications both old and new at our 35th anniversary comics exhibition today (it’s free)! We’re located at the Level 8 Promenade of the National Library Building from now until 9 December 2018. Oh, and don’t miss out on our upcoming events (updated list on Facebook or Eventbrite)!

The importance of editing your writing

Before you submit your manuscript, ask yourself: has it gone through an edit at least once?

Of course, publishers have in-house editors to do the job for you, but giving your raw manuscript a good look-through can greatly increase your chances of getting published. Here’s why.

1. Is your story consistent?

When writing a book, it is easy to get lost in the plot and characters, especially if you’re the creator. Letting your imagination run wild is great, and creativity should not be hindered in any part of the writing process. However, it is fundamental that the writer sits down and reads through the story later on to make sure that the tale is consistent, there are no plot holes and that characters are properly introduced. Basically, you want to make sure your reader understands your story without needing any preknowledge of the context (unless, of course, it’s a sequel).

2. If you were your targeted reader, would you read your book?

It’s not enough just to make your book understandable. You want it to interest your target audience as well. To do this, you need to make sure the tone and of the book are engaging. If your story lacks suspension, plug in those holes! The best kind of book keeps the reader glued from start to end.

3. Is your completed manuscript what you started out intending it to be?

Very often, plans change along the writing process. Sometimes, what was initially thought up as a sci-fi novel could turn out to be a romance thriller instead! When that happens, the important question to ask yourself is: are you still excited to market this book as it is? After all, you are the biggest seller of your book, and ensuring that it is exactly what you would like to promote is key to publishing your hard work. If you have doubts, perhaps there is something that needs to be changed within the script.

Check out more about the process of publishing a book at our 35th anniversary exhibition held from now till 9 December 2018, at the Level 8 Promenade of the National Library Building. Not only do we have a whole panel telling you about it, our founder Lim Li Kok will also be speaking about (comic) book production in a seminar on Saturday, 8 December 2018, 3–4.30pm! Sign up for free here!

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash