Saturday, November 20, 2010
Singapore Books: Scribbles from the Same Island
After penning Notes from an Even Smaller Island, Neil Humphreys rose to substantial local fame, and was asked to write a weekly column for a newspaper. His second book, Scribbles from the Same Island, was a compilation of his columns, along with some expansions and additional original material. I wasn't crazy about the book. I thought the writing was a little sloppy at times. It was as though he'd stayed up all night the night before, drinking coffee and trying to conjure up a decent idea for the week's column, settled on something at 3 AM, hammered it out in the few hours before it was due, then handed it in unrevised. And while he was occasionally critical in his previous book, he was much more harsh in the next one. He speaks of other Westerners with such disdain. Humphreys lived in an HDB flat and worked in a school with a lot of Singaporean teachers while he lived here. Naturally, he made friends with a lot of his co-workers, meaning that he ended up with a substantial network of Singaporean friends. However, a lot of the people that move here for work end up in jobs with a bunch of other foreigners and relatively few Singaporeans. Those people obviously befriend their co-workers as well, which often unfortunately means that foreign talent end up with relatively few local friends. Rather than seeing this as the natural way of things, Humphreys endlessly criticizes all foreigners that come here, implying that they make no effort to fit in, and that they're being uppity and conceited by living in private condos instead of HDB's. He acts as though he's the only foreigner to have ever had the fantastic idea to live in government housing (he's not. We do, and so do some of our foreign friends). In the end, he sounds as though he believes himself to be the only foreigner capable of truly appreciating Singapore. To use his vernacular, I think he succeeds in sounding like an insufferable prat. When he wasn't knocking other Westerners or making sweeping generalizations about the local population, he sometimes made interesting and insightful observations about life here. But overall, I think there's a reason that you can buy a used copy of the book on Amazon for 38 cents.