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My mother ran a brothel in Singapore: Interview with ’17A Keong Saik Road’ author Charmaine Leung

Charmaine Leung, memoir writer

Charmaine Leung, memoir writer

“17A Keong Saik Road is a memoir of my childhood growing up in the red-light district, Keong Saik Road, in Singapore, where my mother ran a brothel. I wrote this as an attempt to come to terms with my ignoble identity of being the daughter of a brothel operator—I wanted to be rid of the shame that I had felt growing up, and embrace the past that made me the person I am today.”

by Aminah Sheikh

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Writing is first and foremost a form of expression for me. I started journaling when I was a teenager—it was my way of airing the rumbling thoughts in my mind. As I grew up, the daily journals became monthly journals, and they eventually dwindled down to annual entries. Now, I just put down interesting thoughts as and when they come into my mind, it has become a lot easier with technology and easy access to apps for me to store these thoughts quickly. I’ve come to realise the spontaneous thoughts of the moment would become lost if I waited for a dedicated time to put them down, and I don’t want to lose them.

I write also because I have stories to tell. In addition to having an unusual childhood growing up in a red-light district in Chinatown in Singapore, and being surrounded by people who had interesting life experiences, I am a curious observer who enjoys putting down my observations in words. I believe everyone has a unique story.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I have just published my first book, a creative non-fiction work titled 17A Keong Saik Road. It is a memoir of my childhood growing up in the red-light district, Keong Saik Road, in Singapore, where my mother ran a brothel. I wrote this as an attempt to come to terms with my ignoble identity of being the daughter of a brothel operator—I wanted to be rid of the shame that I had felt growing up, and embrace the past that made me the person I am today.

I also wanted to share a part of Singapore history that is not commonly known, and give a voice to the things, and the people, who may have long been forgotten, or left unknown in the past. Continue reading

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New Release: 17A Keong Saik Road by Charmaine Leung

image003For the first time, Keong Saik Road’s history goes beyond “notorious red-light district” as Charmaine Leung retells the forgotten stories of the area through the memories of her mother and herself.

By weaving each other’s memories of growing up and living on Keong Saik Road, Charmaine charts the development and life of the area from the 1930s to 1980s. Her mother grew up serving the needs of a Keong Saik business entertainment house in the 1930s, and eventually became the madame of the brothel at 17A Keong Saik Road in the 1970s by circumstance.

“There were a lot more than just brothels: there was a strong community spirit, a variety of businesses from a Chinese calligraphy shop to an Indian provision shop, various festivals celebrated by the different communities who lived there, and also, heart-warming stories of resilience of the women,” says Charmaine.

Charmaine’s relationships and encounters with marginalised women like the Ma Je, Pei Pa Zai, and Dai Gu Liong gave her an insight to their way of life and the hardships that they had endured: a Ma Je who travelled from Guangdong with her toddler to seek a new life when she was accused as a jinx and disowned by her husband’s family after he died in a mine; a Pei Pa Zai who held her head high despite having to make a living entertaining men through singing and conversation; a Dai Gu Liong who escaped the bondage of a triad’s prostitution ring to work in the brothels of Keong Saik where she could at least dictate her services and earn money on her own terms.

“Despite their difficulties, the women of Keong Saik did not lose their ability to believe and hope. They made the best of who they were and what they had to strive for a better future, I truly admire that spirit of theirs,” Charmaine adds.

Not only tracing the transformation of the Keong Saik area from the 1930s to the present, her memoir unveils her mother’s journey as a young girl put up for sale to becoming the madame of the brothel at 17A Keong Saik Road in the 1970s, as well as her personal struggles with shame and identity of growing up in a red-light district.

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The EU together with LASALLE College of the Arts will inaugurate the European Union Writers Festival on May 26


image001Celebrating 60 years of the European Union (EU) and 40 years of EU-ASEAN ties, the EU together with LASALLE College of the Arts will launch its inaugural European Union Writers Festival to deepen its cultural connections with Singapore. The festival is a celebration of culture and literature that transcends borders.

With an opening event and full-day of panel discussions on May 26, the festival explores the themes in European contemporary literature and shares the insights of Singaporean authors who have travelled to Europe and written pieces in response to their journey. You can look forward to a series of talks by industry experts from arts, film, and writing backgrounds as they offer contextual understandings into the overseas and Singaporean literary scenes.

It will create a platform for European writers and publishers based in Singapore to discuss their work and ideas which inspire writing in many forms. Highlights include German writer and filmmaker Michael Schindhelm who will present his latest publication, Happy Tropics I and discussions on topics such as Art Writing, The Craft of Film Writing, The Fine Art of Publishing, and Writing in the Age of Social Media.

Opening night: Thu 25 May, 6pm – 7pm

Venue: Campus Green, LASALLE McNally Campus, 1 McNally Street, Singapore 187940

Festival: Fri 26 May, 10am – 3pm

Venue: The Singapore Airlines Theatre Foyer, Basement 1, LASALLE McNally Campus, 1 McNally Street, Singapore 187940

Admission: Free

For more information, visit the website here.


10am – 11am: In Conversation: Michael Schindhelm with Darryl Whetter

11am – 12pm: Art Writing and its Challenges

12pm – 1pm: The Craft of Film Writing

1pm – 2pm: The Fine Art of Publishing

2pm – 3pm: Writing in the Age of Social Media

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Call for an Anthology of Singaporean Short Film Screenplays

Filmwallas.com and the Screenwriters Association (Singapore) are calling in for The Singapore Short List 2017 – an Anthology of Singaporean Short Film Screenplays.

The theme of the short screenplay is ‘Race’. Participants are to submit their short screenplay based on their interpretation before 31st May 2017.

12 screenplays will be shortlisted, and published in The Singapore Short List 2017. Once the anthology is published, a further competition will be announced for directors and producers to turn the shortlisted screenplays into finished short films.

How to participate:

  1. Set up a profile at www.filmwallas.com (click on the sign up button on the top right of the homepage)
  2. Download this Registration form, fill it up and email it to info@filmwallas.com with the subject line: SINGAPORE SHORT LIST – before 31 May 2017
  3. Make a payment of S$20 per entry at http://bit.ly/2osx8R8


  • Entry is open to any Singaporean or resident of Singapore
  • Entry is free for members of the Screenwriters Association
  • Entry fee is S$20 per submission for all other entrants. Multiple entries are accepted. Each entry allows you to receive a complimentary copy of the published anthology.
  • Submission deadline is midnight on 31 May 2017
  • Scripts must be between 5 and 15 pages, in standard industry screenplay format
  • Selections will be made by a jury appointed by the Screenwriters Association committee and their decision is final.
  • The shortlisted 12 will be announced in June/July 2017
  • The anthology will be published in late September/October 2017.
  • Kitaab will retain the right to publish all submitted works in first and subsequent prints.
  • Royalties will be paid to all shortlisted writers on 2nd and subsequent prints.
  • The screenplays will remain the Intellectual Property of the individual writers.

For more details: http://filmwallas.com/contest/screenwriters


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Indonesian Children’s Stories to Take Center Stage at Singapore Book Festival

Indonesian children’s books, folktales and culture will take center stage at this year’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore, a representative of the Creative Economy Agency, or Bekraf, announced in Jakarta on Tuesday (02/05).

The Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) is an annual event meant to celebrate and promote children’s books and literature from the region, alternating its thematic “country of focus” each year.

The festival connects writers and illustrators with publishers to share, network and celebrate children’s content from Asia and from around the world.

The event will feature discussions with writers and researchers of children’s books and provide interactive educational sessions for those interested in learning about animation and other illustrative techniques used in children’s content.

More than 200 books from Indonesian authors will be showcased at the event, including “Didgit Cobbleheart Loves the Flora and Fauna of Western Indonesia,” by Aang Muljanto, “Indonesian Folktales,” by Fatimah Zahra, “A Gift for Komi,” by Fina Faza and “Mrs. Duck and Mrs. Hen,” by Fitra Hayanti.

Murti Bunanta, an AFCC board adviser and president of the Indonesian-based Society for the Advancement of Children’s Literature (KPBA), said reading often is important for children’s cognitive and emotional development. Read more

Source: Jakarta Globe

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The European Union and LASALLE College of the Arts launch inaugural European Union Writers Festival

As the European Union marks 60 years, the European Union Delegation to Singapore deepens its cultural connections with Singapore. On May 25-26, together with LASALLE College of the Arts, the EU launches its inaugural European Union Writers Festival (EUWF).

With EUWF, the EU Delegation to Singapore and LASALLE College of the Arts join their efforts to create a platform showcasing European authors based in Singapore. Through an opening event and a full-day of panel discussions on May 26, this festival will use literature and words to add to the rich Singapore-Europe dialogue and deepen long-established European connections in the city-state.

Says Dr Michael Pulch, European Union Ambassador to Singapore: “We celebrate literature with our inaugural European Union Writers Festival.”

Discussions to launch this festival started nine months ago and Dr Pulch adds the “aim is to create a platform for European writers and publishers based in Singapore to discuss their work and the many ideas that inspire writing in many forms.”

“We are delighted to partner with LASALLE College of the Arts. As we mark 60 years of the European Union and 40 years of EU-ASEAN ties, this collaboration strengthens our long- established connections with the city-state. It adds to the rich artistic and cultural dialogue between Europe and Singapore,” says Dr Pulch.

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National Book Development Council of Singapore shorts lists 6 entries for 2017 Scholastic Picture Book Award (SPBA)

The shortlist for the 2017 Scholastic Picture Book Award (SPBA) was announced on Tuesday by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (the Book Council) at the Makan & Mingle event. SPBA is a joint initiative between the Book Council and Scholastic Asia, the world’s largest children’s books publishing and distribution company.

The award is presented biennially to an outstanding unpublished picture book with distinct Asian themes by a writer and illustrator team of Asian descent living in Asia. As well as a $10,000 cash prize, the winning book will also be published by Scholastic Asia.

Ms Claire Chiang, Chairperson of the NBDCS Executive Committee, says, “We at the Book Council are very happy to see so many new and unpublished picture books from around Asia, and that the shortlist reflects this fantastically wide range of talent. We love to see different styles in writing and art, and hope that all of them will eventually be published at some point.”

There were a total of 137 entries from all over Asia, including Bhutan, Singapore, the Philippines, Iran, China, Vietnam, Japan, India, Turkey, and Indonesia. The judges have selected six titles for the shortlist, each from a different country.

Ms Rilla Melati, Singaporean author and publisher, and Chief Judge of the 2017 SPBA, says, “The entries were a joy to read overall, with some of the manuscripts and colourful artwork having the qualities to cross mediums and be turned into children’s apps. It was fantastic to see entries coming in from all over Asia, and to learn about the diverse cultures of different places through their stories and illustrations.” Her fellow judges on the panel include Mr James Foley, author and illustrator from Australia, and Ms Charlene Lai, author, reviewer, and blogger from Taiwan.

The winner of the 2017 SPBA will be announced during Opening Night of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) on 16 May, and will be presented by the evening’s Guest-of-Honour, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Leader of the House, Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien.


The Shortlist:


Name Title Country
Aytul Akal, Mavisel Yener, Kubra Nur Ozkececi, and Yasemin Yener  

The Flying Grandpa




Emila Yusof

How Rooster Became the Zodiac Animal  


Ho Jia En, Sabrine Ong, Shona Menon, Wong Shu Jing, and Melodie James  

The Little Durian Tree



Anuradha Ananth Huggler and Shailja Jain Chougule Poorni and Her Peepal Leaf India
Maria Karina Putri The Treasure of Kancil Indonesia
Le Thi Bich Khoa The Whale Whisperer Vietnam


About the shortlisted books and their creators:

The Flying Grandpa

An old man is bored and lonely, so he decides to get a job. What follows is a series of mishaps as he tries to get a job at pet shop, patisserie, carpet shop, grocery, music store, florist, toy shop, causing chaos every time. Until he reaches the one place where he might shine: the library.

Writer and translator Aytül Akal started as a journalist, and now has more than 150 stories, picture books, novels, poems and plays for children and young adults, many of which have been translated into German, Spanish, Hungarian, Arabic, Persian, English, and Bulgarian. She was a nominee for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2010. She is passionate about promoting reading culture amongst children, and has won several prizes for her devotion to children’s books.

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AFCC to showcase Singaporean children’s authors and illustrators at a pre- festival event Makan & Mingle

For the first time ever, the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), an annual children’s literary event organised by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS), is putting together a showcase of Singaporean children’s authors and illustrators at a pre- festival evening event, the AFCC Makan & Mingle.

This one-of-a-kind event is a lead-up to the eighth edition of the AFCC 2017, set to take place from 17 to 21 May 2017 at the National Library Building, Singapore.

Makan & Mingle will be held on 18 April 2017, at L5, The Treetop, *SCAPE, from 7–9pm, and will showcase more than 100 children’s and young adult titles created by Singaporean authors and illustrators, published in the last two years.

Titles will range from popular books penned by award-winning authors like Emily Lim, Hidayah Amin, Don Bosco and Neil Humphreys, to works by comic artists like David Liew and Evangeline Neo.

Translated titles, as well as several titles written in other Mother Tongue languages, will also be featured. Participating publishers include Epigram Books, Ethos Books, Math Paper Press, Armour Publishing, Bubbly Books, Crimson Earth, Pepperdog Press, World Scientific, Balestier Press, and others.

“We hope that Makan & Mingle will become a regular showcase for the talent and works of Singaporean authors and illustrators,”says Mr Kenneth Quek, Festival Director of AFCC 2017. “We are excited to be able to display these home grown works in one space, and to highlight them to the industry as well as the general public in Singapore, as a precursor to UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day which falls on April 23.”

Guests include local writers and illustrators, publishers, pre-school and primary school teachers, parents and general readers. At the free-to-enter event, guests can browse through the book exhibits, interact with the authors and illustrators, and also purchase titles from the pop-up bookstore set-up by Closetfulofbooks.

Publishing professionals and representatives from partner organisations in the industry, such as the National Library Board, POPULAR, and The Select Centre, will also be present. Members from other key organisations like ECDA have also been invited.

The AFCC Makan & Mingle, which doubles up as an important networking opportunity for industry players, will conclude a cocktail reception and the announcement of the shortlists for the 2017 Scholastic Picture Book Award and the 2017 AFCC Asian Children’s Book Award by Genting Singapore, both of which are managed by NBDCS.

For more information, please see visit www.afcc.com.sg

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Singapore May Have Designed the World’s Best Bus Stop

By Mimi Kirk

While the U.S. is known for its sorry bus stops—despite creative grassroots efforts to improve them—Singapore’s bus stops are already pretty decent. In the year and a half I lived there, I never came across one without seating and a roof—vital in a tropical climate prone to downpours. Still, they’re pretty humdrum affairs, and not places you’d want to spend much time in.

What if the humble bus stop could be a place you actually looked forward to frequenting? That’s the question the Singaporean firm DP Architects aimed to answer. “We wanted to redesign a commonplace thing we take for granted,” says Seah Chee Huang, the firm’s director.

Now, thanks to DP Architects in collaboration with various agencies of the Singaporean government, there’s a bus stop in Jurong, an area in the southwest of the island city state, that has elements you might find in a café, park, or your living room—all places you’d probably prefer over a bus stop.

The stop features ample seating, a rack of books geared for all ages, from Enid Blyton to Ray Bradbury, bicycle parking, a swing, artwork by the local illustrator Lee Xin Li, and a rooftop garden, complete with a small tree.

The space is also hyperconnected. In addition to the print books, users can scan a QR code to download e-books from the National Library, charge their phones, and peruse interactive digital boards that provide arrival times and a journey planner to find the fastest route. Read more

Source: Citylab.com

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Singapore: The Poetry Festival invites entries for National Poetry Competition 2017

The Poetry Festival (Singapore), formerly called the National Poetry Festival (NPF), is calling for entries for the National Poetry Competition 2017.

Each participant is encouraged to submit his or her best poem, which should be unpublished and not submitted simultaneously to another competition, by midnight on March 31, 2017. Chinese, Malay and Tamil entries will be judged in the original mother tongues. English translations are required for readers in other languages.

The winning entries and merit awardees may be featured in the Poetry Festival (Singapore) in July and published in the Sg Poems 2017-2018 anthology. Winners will receive trophies, certificates and book vouchers.

The competition details are below:   

Categories: Junior (below 18 years old) and Senior (18 years old and above)
Length: Up to 40 lines
Language: English, Chinese, Malay or Tamil
Theme: Regardless of Race

The violence and mayhem caused by race riots in the nation’s formative years highlight the need for harmony and cohesion in this multiracial society. But more can be done to address biases and to realize a vision in which all are brothers and sisters under the skin. Poetry can provide a space for everyone on this island to seek respect and to realize dreams regardless of race.

You can send entries to nationalpoetryfestival@gmail.com in Word and pdf formats.

See the National Poetry Competition rules and entry form at http://www.nationalpoetryfestival.sg/poetry-competition.

The Poetry Festival (Singapore) offers a programme of lectures, panel discussions, readings, displays of poetry and interpretations in the other arts and workshops by both established as well as emerging poets. Among the NPF’s directors are Cultural Medallion winner Edwin Thumboo, critically acclaimed poets and academics Tan Chee Lay, Azhar Ibrahim, as well as educators from LASALLE College of the Arts, Republic Polytechnic and the National University of Singapore Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.