Good evening, friends.
Hello, Chye, Filona, and Corey. Many thanks, Chye, for inviting me to speak at your book launch.
I have had the privilege of serving ginger tea and other titbits at my home, to several of you present, this evening. You had admired the shelves and shelves of books in my living room. If you had ventured to the upper floor of my house you would have seen many more shelves of books. By the side of my bed there is a side table with a lamp. On that table there are about ten books – my treasured collection which I read over and over again before sleep overcomes me. In July this year, when Chye presented me his book The Chronicler: One Man’s Diary on Life, I placed it on my bedside collection and I have read and reread it again and again.
I was fascinated with Chye’s book the minute I started reading the Prologue. It reminded me of the book, Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. Chye’s book, like Tuesdays with Morrie, is similar not only in size and packaging but is just as fast moving and inspiring. The prologue could have been a book by itself. In just 22 pages, Chye has written his biography. “Brevity is the hallmark of the wise” is one of his staunch beliefs, and he has put that into practice, especially in his writing.
The Prologue is precise, the prose is expressive and it connects with the reader. The Prologue is first the heartrending story of his hardship – in Kamunting (Malaysia) where he was born, became an orphan and later in Ipoh - where he grew up and completed his schooling and second, it is a story of deliverance – that begins when Chye is invited to USA and goes to the university at Utah. Then comes the final and third part of the story which is the story of success – when Chye emerges as he is today - a philosopher and an oil and gas lawyer travelling around the world.
To me, it is a special story as Chye talks of Ipoh - where I went to Primary and Secondary school. I must have met his guardians Tai Ku and Yee Ku who operated the hawker’s stall near the famous Ruby Theatre in their spare time. As a young boy I used to see the latest English movies at the Ruby Theatre. I remember going to watch Elvis Presley’s “Jail House Rock”. That movie was a hit among the teenagers and we merrily rocked back home with a fistful of cigarettes and sweets bought probably from Tai Ku and Yee Ku.
Again, I might have met Chye earlier – he as a Primary School boy and I as a Secondary School student - somewhere in the Ipoh Padang where we had probably listened to the fiery and much loved and admired Ipoh politician, Dr D R Seenivasagam. Unknown to us, we must have crossed each other sometime then in some part of Ipoh if not at the pandang. The time then, I believe had not come for us to meet formally and become friends.
Books set in Singapore and Malaysia connect as these ring a bell and evoke our nostalgia. The familiar faces, places and experiences of the past come rushing back again on the pages of such books. I was thrown back to the old times and felt energised as I relived the past on the pages of Chye’s prologue. Thanks to Chye for sharing his early life. It has drawn us closer in friendship.
A recent Reading Writing Survey indicated that:
about 88% of the Singaporeans do not read Singapore Literature,
one in two Singaporeans cited lack of knowledge and exposure to Singapore Literature.
More would read Singapore Literature if you gave them books and stories that relate to their interests, experience and environment as Chye has done. And many of you must follow suit and tell your story so that Singaporeans could read and relish your narratives and reminiscences. And if such a wonderful book launch like this one is organised for good books published, then Singaporeans would become more aware of Singapore books.
Chye’s book is not only about his life, his hardships, his relationships and his achievements. Its main focus is on his thoughts and reflections. There are 15 chapters of short, crisp and in-depth revelations of his innermost ideas which Chye had written over the past 35 years and put together under appropriate headings. Like a poet working strenuously on his stanzas, Chye embeds in each of his finely crafted paragraphs words of wisdom as well as deeply felt thoughts and ideas.
Hence, the book The Chronicler will be remembered for these thoughts for they are profound and astute. They would make anyone pause and reflect. Through them you discover that Chye is no ordinary man like many of us. He has his other life of thoughts and reflections that he puts down in writing painstakingly and yet succinctly. Some of them evoke in us a deep-seated feeling and an appreciation of a familiar experience, a finely felt sensation which we cannot put down poignantly enough in writing ourselves.
Let me explain. For many of us here, English is not our Mother Tongue. Nevertheless, most of us think and write best in English though at times we may not express our thoughts as eloquently in writing. Our innermost thoughts and emotions are only felt and often not revealed. Our mastery of the English language is inadequate to narrate them as they are. However, what we have not been able to verbalise and communicate effectively Chye has put in a nutshell most aptly and powerfully. Just consider the following:
“Death puts an end to our physical being, but our spiritual one lives on”
“It is arrogant to think that your sorrow is greater than that of the world”
“We cannot overcome death, but the fear of it we can”
“I have my mind to observe as it always accompanies me. What then is boredom?”
“Do not underestimate the importance and the power of patience”
“A person who is emotionally secure seeks not for fame, power and attention”
“Wisdom almost always involves courage – the courage to act and the courage not to act”
“Love like all things good, requires restraint. Lack of restraint results in indulgence and harm”
“One can bring the world into one’s home with a button except its people”
“We go through so much trouble to be convinced that life is indeed simple”
Much has been said and written about Koh Chye Hock's book. The foreword by Dr Rajesh Ghandi and the Publisher, Tan Chin Kar’s preface assert, and I agree, that this is an outstanding book. It entices the reader, captivates and makes him reflect. And other distinguished reviewers quoted on the book jacket and the blurb have said the same as well. Now I have added my views. As a book man I have to urge that it is time for you to read the book now. All you have to do is to buy the book and read it. Many of you have said that you do not get the time to read – I suggest try reading in bed when you retire for the day. Make time for reading. Make it a habit. It is worth it.
One last but important point that keeps recurring in my mind when I think about Chye and his book is this. How often do dreams come true? My dreams like those of some of you are still dreams. In Chye’s case his dream became a reality – the opportunity to go to the States. Chye’s life is an embodiment of the Power of Dreams - how one small stroke of luck can make such big changes in one`s life. His stay in the United States was a game changer - it had unwittingly unleashed his full potential. It has made him a philosopher and a leading oil and gas lawyer. This is the beginning just like the Chronicler- his first book – I believe is the forerunner for many more books to come in the tradition of Mitch Albom. During the next 50 years I foresee Chye achieving greater heights and greater fame which some of us who are younger, would be around to witness, celebrate and be inspired.
For now, Chye is simply a dear friend of all of us here this evening. My congratulations to Chye on the launch of his remarkable book the The Chronicler: One Man's Diary on Life. May the Power of your dreams continue to drive you. Meanwhile, we will continue to savour your wine and relish your food and persuade you to share with us the untold story of your many exciting, exhilarating, and exotic escapades.
National Book Development Council of Singapore