Books and Toponymics…

My favorite place to visit here in Singapore is their National Library. I envy Singaporeans for having such an impressive public library system. Every time I drop by, all the library tables are crowded. This goes to show that they succeeded in cultivating a reading culture. The National Library of Singapore have branches island wide. You could borrow books from any of its branch and drop them to any of the branches!

The NLB’s main building in Victoria Street appears more like a corporate building than a public library. Their reading drives are remarkably creative too. There was a reading program for taxi drivers a few years ago. There are cool initiatives all year round to make reading enjoyable.

(1) The ultra modern NLB building (2) The lofty insides of NLB (3) The 2nd hand book shops have walls like this (4) The building that houses the 2nd hand book shops

And the library’s exhibits could rival any museum in town.

Earlier I was viewing the on going exhibit entitled “The Battle for Merger,” which features Lee Kuan Yew’s historic radio broadcasts calling on people to support the merger with Malaysia. His party was up against formidable communists who was blocking the merger after the British left. This brought to mind the communist insurgency in our country. Perhaps, one of the longest in Asian history. How come our leaders have failed to end it to this day?

Not far from NLB’s are book shops in Bras Basah known for its quality second hand books. I visit these shops from time to time but have yet to score a great find. Most books are in Chinese. The ones  I managed to find in English are enticing to add to my collection but are way too expensive for my wallet.

The area around the NLB was where José Rizal wandered around more than a hundred years ago. I wrote about the stops he made a few years ago thinking that there’s someone out there that might want to retrace his steps here in Singapore. Rizal inadvertently made a lonely planet handbook for Filipinos with his detailed travel logs. Most of the buildings he wrote about are still standing today.

NLB have an impressive stock of Filipiniana. It’s easy to get lost in their vast collection of books written by both local and foreign historians about our country. Earlier, I was reading “Daluyan”, the dictionary of the meanings behind the street name of Manila. It was released during Ambeth Ocampo’s chairmanship of NHI. Isagani Medina’s Streets of Manila’s better because of its amusing historical narrations compared to Daluyan’s straightforward definitions. But the latter is so convenient to use.

A few years ago I saw the exhibit “Toponymics: A Study of Singapore’s Street Names.” Upon entering the area where the exhibit was on going, free books were given away. It contains the fascinating history of the island’s street name. Since most streets in Singapore has been left unchanged I went around the old districts looking for the old street names listed in the book and found them. Filipino leaders on the other hand sees the need to alter street names which I take as a sign of insecurity. Or they have no better things to do.

I also checked some books written about the abhorred Friar estates which I’m currently doing research on. Ever wondered what happened to these lands? You would be surprised how it landed to some familiar historical names. Sometimes I wonder if our revolutions were conceived by opportunists businessmen and politicians. Well, we allow them to rule us so I guess we deserve them.

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