Singapore remembered the 75th anniversary of its surrender to the Imperial Japanese Army this month. More precisely, it is the surrender of the British colonial forces that had ruled Singapore for more than a century. On 15 February 1942, at the Ford Motor Factory situated in Bukit Timah, the British army, led by General Arthur E. Percival, signed, or behalf of the British Empire, the instrument of surrender, ceding the island to the Japanese invaders. Thence, for the next 3 and a half years, Singapore was renamed to the Japanese name 'Syonan-to' - meaning 'Light of the South'. To many, especially the Chinese and Eurasians, there was not to be any light, only darkness, fear and loss. Some managed to flee to up north, to the rural countryside in Peninsula Malaysia to eke out a living eating sweet potatoes and whatever else that could be gotten in war time. I know because my mother often mentioned about her life during those war years, an episode in her life that was anything but a bed of roses.
So when someone decided that the old Ford Motor factory be renamed the Syonan Gallery, I was surprised and a little disturbed. Wasn't there any other name that could be used? Hello, Singapore was 'liberated' from Japanese rule in 1945, and re-gained its 'Singapura' name. It took another 20 years for Singapore to gain independence and thence its proud name, Singapore. In retrospect, I cannot understand how and why some 'sick' mind(s) decided to name the Ford Motor Factory gallery to 'Syonan Gallery' after the sad and horrible period in Singapore's storied history.
Encik Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister of Communication and Information stood resolutely by this misnomer, giving his (the official) spin on the rationale for the name. Well, a fair number of Singaporeans did not share his spin and raised their voices in objection. It was a no-brainer, really, given that there are still people living in Singapore who had gone through the war and Occupation. To Encik Yaacob's credit, he reversed his decision and ordered that the gallery be given a more neutral name. Even Mr Khaw Boon Wan came out in support of this reversal, giving the reason that his maternal grandfather had suffered during the Occupation. One wonders, though, if he had objected to the name in the first place, or whether he had let is 'slide'. How strongly did he really feel about it, one wonders? Or is it a case of shedding political tears?
In any case, the matter is now settled amicably and, hopefully, a lesson learnt - that you cannot impose your view of the world on others, no matter how logical or reasonable it may be to you. There are feelings here and the weight of history that reason sometimes just cannot overcome.