I received the following email and comment from a reader:
Hello Victor !
I am Soo Yong, an architecture student currently writing a dissertation on conservation psychology, questioning the relationship between memory and object in the context of Singapore. In Singapore, when physical erasure is inevitable, I am to study the negotiation, struggles and resistance of individuals against state control urban transformation. I am interested in exploring the alternatives between complete conservation and total erasure of built object. Hence, I have a question in mind that I believe you are the most apt person I can refer to.
On the case of the old national library, I am a foreigner who didn't get to see or use the building before it was demolished. The left over brick post didn't strike any strong feeling in me. I am interested in knowing what helps you in recollecting the memories of the old national library so vividly (in your post dated 30 Jan 2010). Are they tangibles elements like photographs, the standing brick post or intangibles like a smell, a sound or an action? Which are they that trigger the recollection of the long gone time in the old national library? Or they are remembered purposely from time to time so that you won't forget?
Hope that my questions won't bother you too much. Just let me know which you feel comfortable with.
Hi Soo Yong, yes I did receive your email but I am still scratching my head on how to answer you. You see, I am afraid that your question is too chim (deep) for me. I can only answer such questions as a layman, not as an expert.
Thank you very much !
I am not sure exactly how one's mind stores and retrieves its memories, whether most people's minds work similarly or even how mine works (or don't). However, I do know that for everyone, there are good memories and bad ones. Neutral experiences do not make much of an impression and are seldom stored as memories. Hence there are mostly good and bad memories.
Most people will remember good memories with little effort. As for bad memories, most people try hard to forget but fail. So more often than not, both good and bad memories stay.
Some memories are both good and bad. A good example would be a boyfriend or girlfriend who didn't end up becoming your spouse, especially if the break-up was acrimonious.
Time will usually dilute most memories. If not, an aging mind stricken with senility will certainly do the job. That is why some old people have very clear memories of the distant past whereas they cannot remember events that happened recently. I think it is true that old people like to talk about olden times. Perhaps what makes them fond of doing so is that it brings back pleasant memories of their lost youth and vitality. You must have heard an elderly person who keeps repeating his old stories to you.
For memories that you want to keep alive, talking about it helps. Hence this blog helps to keep my nostalgic memories alive. To be able to write an interesting post about an old topic, you have to do research too, i.e. read other people's blogs and archived articles, collect old photos and maps, make site visits, etc. Doing so helps one recall forgotten details. (One example is when I found out from an old street directory that the Van Kleef Aquarium was located to the right of the National Theatre when looking from the traffic junction. I had all along thought that the aquarium was on the left.) In addition, when readers comment on the blog, they provide further information to refresh the forgotten memories.
When you have visited a place such as the old National Library hundreds of times in your youth some 30 years ago, it is easy to form an emotional attachment to the place. You will remember every nook and corner of the building. Even your experiences during that time which are unrelated to the building may come flooding back when you think about the library.
But still, there are only so many perspectives I can give. What I know and have wanted to say would have been said. After all, how many times can you "revisit" the old National Library, especially when it is no longer there? I don't want to be the elderly person who keeps repeating his old stories to you.
1. Vanishing Scenes of Singapore - Part 2
2. Old National Library Revisited
3. Changing Landscape Of Singapore (3)
4. Old National Library Revisited (2)