Yes, shockingly, I’m actually keeping up my quota for MaNoWriMo. Usually I find myself doing an average of 1700 words a day, which hopefully will mean a nice cushion at the end as B. and I prepare for our trip. God knows how busy that last week’s gonna be.
I found out something very cool the other day as I was reading a book written by a doctor who was a medical student in Singapore at the time of the Japanese invasion and occupation. You see, during the entire process of writing and researching this novel, I’d been having a hard time picturing some of the scenes in the city. There are tons of books about the war itself, and quite a few on Singapore’s ordeal during that time period, but of course most of them are about military strategy, the politics of the time, blah blah blah. Unlike, say, American literature about WW2, which is rich in everything from details about specific battles to what films were showing in Honolulu in the days immediately before Pearl Harbor, there isn’t a whole lot of material out there that gives that kind of minute information about everyday life on the island.
I’m hoping that there will be plenty of that, however, when I get to Singapore, stuff that you can’t even get via Interlibrary Loan here in the US. (I’m deeply, deeply appreciative of the ILL office here in Mesa County for their invaluable help in procuring the most obscure reference books. Kudos to Karen!) In the meantime, though, what I decided to do was to think of my old high school in the Philippines. It was built in 1947, I think, and I remember even as a kid of 12-13, thinking that the school didn’t look like it had been cleaned since its opening day, much less updated. Heavy duty metal filing cabinets that looked as if they could double as miniature bomb shelters; 12″-thick whitewashed walls; chipped linoleum; chairs and desks coated with rust. Yeah, you get the idea.
I imagined what the place must’ve looked like in 1947 and used it as a model for what Singapore must’ve looked like during that same period. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s Southeast Asia. Singapore and the Philippines may be thousands of miles away, but they share very similar backgrounds: Malay roots, colonial legacy, a city with one foot in the past and another in the future. Plus, oh, did I mention the tropical climate that can melt paint off walls?
Well, whaddya know. So I was reading that aforementioned book by the doctor who lived through WW2 in Singapore was pleasantly surprised to find that, according to some of the grainy illustrations peppered throughout the book, I wasn’t too far off in using my old alma mater as substitute for some of Singapore’s interiors. Of course, I’ll be doing lots of firsthand research while I’m on the island, checking out what real interiors were like back then, but it’s nice to know that my instincts weren’t far off. And hey, bonus: we called our cafeteria a canteen at the school, and apparently it was the same term the medical students used to refer to their own dining hall. Small victory, I know, but still a nice one.