Monday 20 February 2017

Syonan Gallery: Naming stuff is hard

Has this ever happened to anyone else?

I once told a taxi driver I wanted to go Marina Square and was driven to Novena Square instead.

I was nonplussed.

“You said Novena Square, right?” he said.

Did I?

That was when I realised how similar “Marina Square” sounds to “Novena Square”.

For a split-second, I half-considered getting out of the taxi and taking the train from Novena station just to avoid the awkwardness.

I felt foolish. And I was about to make the cabbie feel foolish too.

“No, Marina Square,” I said.

The driver was not having a good day.

“Aiyah, next time can say properly or not?”

So the cabbie very resentfully drove me to Marina Square while I sat in mortified silence.

Yah, I definitely should've taken the MRT instead.

You know who I blame for this? Whoever decided there would be a place in Singapore called Novena Square when there's already a place called Marina Square.

Why are we so bad at naming stuff?

Yes, that taxi anecdote was just my roundabout way (literally) to get to the topic of Syonan Gallery.

The name of the permanent World War II exhibition at the Former Ford Factory museum was criticised, you know, because Japanese Occupation.

It is roughly the same reason my father refused to buy a Japanese car. We had a Volkswagen and then a Ford. I doubt he had ever eaten sushi. He’s dead now. I’m not sure how he would feel about Pokemon Go or Syonan Gallery.

On Wednesday at the exhibition’s opening, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim defended Syonan Gallery, saying the naming did not express approval of the Japanese Occupation.

He said:
“Some among older Singaporeans who lived through that dark period feel that the name legitimises the Occupation. Others among them say that Syonan was a painful fact of history, and we should call it what it was.”

But two days later, the name was gone.

Dr Yaacob said:
“I have reflected deeply on what I heard. We must honour and respect the feelings of those who suffered terribly and lost family members during the Japanese Occupation.

“I have therefore decided to remove the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ from the name of the exhibition, and name it Surviving The Japanese Occupation: War And Its Legacies.”
He also apologised “for the pain the name has caused”.

So sayonara, Syonan Gallery, we hardly knew ya.

Also this month, it was reported that Changi Naval Base will be renamed “RSS Singapura — Changi Naval Base” to help commemorate the Republic of Singapore Navy’s 50th birthday this year.

Apparently, our navy is going through some sort of mid-life crisis.

Can't it just buy a sports car and have an affair like everyone else?

The backstory is that RSS Singapura is the name of one of our navy’s first ships half a century ago.

At least one person has written to The Straits Times to complain about the naval base’s waterlogged new name.

Dr Sunny Goh wrote:
“Most people — visitors and taxi drivers included — will pick either RSS Singapura or Changi Naval Base. No one is going to blurt out the entire mouthful in everyday situations.”
Yah, Singaporeans already have enough trouble deciding whether to say Espla-naid or Espla-nard.

Dr Goh also pointed out that the abbreviation of the new name, RSSSCNB, is “unwieldy”.

I would add that at first glance, it appears vaguely vulgar too.

(KNNBCCB, anyone?)

Remember the uproar over Eunoia Junior College?

It may annoy ya to know that’s it’s still Eunoia JC.

Remember the outrage over 1 Sengkang Mall?

The name has since been dropped despite it having nothing to do with the Japanese Occupation and the mall is now Compass One.

And yet people are okay with Tampines, the spelling of which is so close to tampons but it’s pronounced Tam-penis.

That’s wrong on so many levels.

Is the problem the names or is it sometimes our overreaction to the names?

Whatever happened to sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never cause me to go on a social media rant?

Just remember, the next time you tell the taxi driver you want to go to Marina Square, enunciate.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 February 2017

Dear Sir,

I read your article with interest as you can imagine, how confusing it can be to direct taxi operators (when I visit Singapore) to the Singapore Institute of Management, which did not work. I then went through a few permutations of "SIM" or S-I-M and in some instances, giving the actual address.

Now, I found that with the more experienced (not older) drivers, telling them about "chee-pow-kai" or the Union Farm Chicken Eating House also works in getting me to SIM.

I can identify with Dr. Sunny Goh's comments which were refuted by accusations that Dr. Goh was "ignorant" of Singapore Navy history. To be honest, visitors wouldn't care. Nonetheless, I suppose in terms of international visitors, only locals would call upon RSS Singapura Changi Naval Base.

Dr. Sunny Goh's comments were pragmatic, and should not be taken as being disrespectful nor ignorant or history.

Singaporeans seem to have a fun, perhaps cynical streak, and it is bemusing to see that taxi drivers now accept the "Durian" as accurate instructions for the Esplanade.

To the chagrin of the naval traditionalists, perhaps one day taxi drivers will be confused over the old "Rasa Singapura" food centre which will be a manifestation of a Singaporean style tension between food history and naval tradition.

Best wishes,