17 Nov 2018 // Filed under Articles

By Luther Chuah

Diploma in Creative Writing for Television and New Media

Singapore Polytechnic


“When I see these young people, I say, ‘Why are you all even interested, how did you hear about the book?’”

Charmaine Leung, 45, the author of 17A Keong Saik Road, never expected her readers to be so young. The book is a memoir of her childhood and growing up with the stigma attached to her mother’s job as a brothel owner.

While she was prepared for the book to get attention for touching on a controversial topic, she anticipated that her audience would be mainly women in their thirties. The work, though, has also captured the imagination of younger Singaporeans.

“We were born into a place that was very new (Singapore),” she recalls one young reader explaining, “but we don’t really know our roots , we don’t know our heritage.”

Passing on a culture

Looking back, she realises that the book was not just about her childhood and detailing the happenings of an area that was once a famous red light district, but also about capturing Singapore’s history and culture.

“When I talked about it, it was more from the perspective of untold stories, the real stories of early immigrants. I think it’s the story of a community, of very amazing women, amazing individuals.”

When reflecting on the meaning of the book, Charmaine says that it was also about embracing change, rather than just dwelling on the past.

Chronicling Keong Saik Road

In fact, the book was motivated by change.

After living in Hong Kong for 15 years, returning to Singapore was a shock to Charmaine. Suddenly, there were a lot more people on the streets, and she felt troubled over the loss of familiar places in her homeland. Her struggle to re-adjust to life in Singapore was the inspiration for writing the book.

Growing up, Charmaine Leung lived with the stigma attached to her mother’s job as a brothel owner (Photo Credit: Luther Chuah)


Her original intention was to have something to keep and pass between family and friends. But the draft impressed her friends so much that they urged her to get it published. Her mother eventually came around to the idea of this story being told. 

Although it was painful to walk down memory lane, Charmaine says she felt the need to write out her thoughts, as journaling had been her escape since childhood. Now, after positive reactions from her audience, she feels liberated from the stigma she and her mother had endured over the years. It was like a weight had been lifted off her mother’s shoulders, she says.

 “I could see the change in her as well, realising that what you think or perceive may or may not be what others are thinking.”



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