Scenes 3 and 8

It may seem easy to argue that Singapore, as a decolonised nation, should delve deeper into its British past and expose colonialism for the crime that it is. Or, at least, to not gaze at this history through rose-tinted lenses. What this fails to take into account is how big a can of worms we might find ourselves opening, or indeed, just how many worms there are in this can.

Singapore, in nominating a colonial artefact as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is rather unique amongst the post-colonial nations who often choose to emphasize a more local aspect of their memory. In identifying the Botanic Gardens as contributing to “world heritage” because of its role in rubber cultivation, Singapore has indirectly chosen to accentuate its role in propagating a cash crop that funded and fuelled British imperialism (and not to mention, a contemporary ecological crisis, due to deforestation for the sake of rubber or palm oil). By extension, a lot of “old money” can be traced directly to the emergence of cash crop cultivation. Perhaps there isn’t an appetite to discuss colonial historiography in Singapore because a lot of power, resources, and wealth, has been accumulated in the hands of those who collaborated with the British.

(Which, for full disclosure, includes me. My grandfather worked as a clerk with the British forces in Singapore, thereby attaining a fluency in the English language absent amongst his peers. 2 generations down, this literacy has given me an advantage in education, employment, and many other aspects of life.)

In these two scenes, we first sarcastically play on the image of the colonial as a God-man, who through economic policy is able to decide what plants live and what plants are discarded, with scant regard to its endemic qualities. In the later Scene 8, we consider just how hard it is to look at colonial history in black and white. An eagerness to relook these narratives exposes just how large the elephants in the room can loom at a social and personal level.

Scene 3: Gods and Plastic Plants

Walk with me
Over the corpses of flowers
That once bloomed
Under the bright blue skyOh what a sight
They endemically wither beneath the city lights
Oh what a sight
Over fallen petals we roughly rideNow come, raise a glass
Before gods who’ll do what they want
Tell them the how’s, when’s, and why’s, that
Water the earth where the flowers lie
See if they know
How seeds that were sown
Have made the trees growThen the gods named the streets
After the ghosts of flowers
That once grew
Where plastic plants now standIsn’t it nice
To have the best of both earth and paradise
They fantasize of themselves
As gods from true gods

So come, raise a glass
To gods and plastic plants
Watch how they climb to the sky
Cover the earth and make all the flowers die
See how they grow
See how they grow
See how they grow

And they cried, “timber!”

So come sing your praise
Come sing your praise
Come sing your praise
Come sing your praise

Adoremus
Adoremus
Adoremus
Adoremus

Scene 8: Anti-Colonialist (The Elephants in the Room)

Have you had enough of this charade
This neo-colonial masquerade
Camouflaged as commemoration,
How an alleged benevolence
Of a foreign interference
Led a fishing village to a 1st world nation Should we not question the legality
The abuse of regality
How white duplicity stole an island
Don’t you see, that gunboat diplomacy
Means the “founding” is just a nicer word for British occupation
If I could I would
Build a time machine
And walk in the gardens where imperial dreams
Germinated, flourished and bloomed
And its seed exploded not a moment too soon

The humble rubber tree
Has a simple flaw
It grows best on Southeast Asian shores
So men like Ridley rightly assumed
Plant a cash crop and we’d all sing to Blighty’s tunes

If I could take a ride
In that time machine
I would choose to land in 19th century mud
Tap the buds and milk on the streams
Of latex
And use the flowers to make rubber to

Rub, rub, rubber to rub the past away
Then we could have our rights and our say
And we could be free one day

From the echoes and hauntings of the past
Let this flawed narrative be recast
Erase the pages of occupation
Employ pre-emptive contraception
Strip the ghosts of their power
Here’s your rubber, chew on it!

I’m just trying to be a good anti-colonialist
Setting my priorities straight
No more sitting on the fence on things of consequence
A passive passenger of fate
My amateur scholarship of the relationship
Between our seas and Great Britain’s ships
Convinces me of our ability
To wipe the slate clean, make Raffles a historical fiend
Create a contemporary answer for this colonial cancer
I’m no starry-eyed royalist

(tries to erase the scripts used in previous scenes)

No matter how hard you try, papers are always left with marks
Look at me, beneficiary, of the things I rail about today

What do you do with the unerasable marks
A stale lipstick stain on a used paper cup
What do you do when the elephants in the room
Trumpet their displeasure at the nature of your tunes

What do you do with this thing called history
This cynically curated playlists of our memory
When it suits your agenda, it’s a guiding light
When it contradicts, you stick it out of sight

You can try to usher these ghouls out the door
With a counterfactual alternate F-4
But like creepers they inevitably grow
And slide back in through a side window
And make you sing “glory be,
Glory be to our many founding fathers
Our convenient paternal plurality
On some years we’re aged 200 or more
And on others we’re only 54

And the powers-that-be would have it that way
With a tabula rasa their might might hold sway
Look hard at these ghosts and maybe you’ll find
How power rides on beasts that were left behind

So darling we’ll never be rid of these marks
The imperceptible scars from a paper cut
But around these indentations we’ll find our niche
Write a new story with the elephants on a leash

I can drink to that
Let me drink to that