“I’m currently a third-year history undergraduate at NUS. I chose to study history because I want to be a teacher, and I want to get a feel of what I can bring from four years of university education to my students in the future.

The more I study history, the more I find it to be amazing. It conditions me to be more critical in my reading, thinking and writing. I also like the discipline involved, and I like what the discipline can bring to students.

I studied a bit of American and European history, but what I mostly want to study is modern Singaporean history. In secondary school, we only learnt about Singapore in the 20th century, but NUS has a broader syllabus that makes history more applicable as a subject.

Anyways, I’m here at Grassroots today for the launch of Payoh by Jim Tan. My expectations of the book? It’s funny you should ask me that; I recently wrote a term paper about having expectations prior to reading a book.

My term paper discussed how a person’s experience with a book does not necessarily start with the person reading the content. Sometimes, it starts with the title. If you were choosing a book from a long list of titles, what is it about a particular title that attracts you to it?

To be honest, I’m not very in-the-know about the local writing culture; I only knew about the book launch through my friend who works with the publisher. She asked me what my expectations of the book were when the title asks, “Why does the caged bird sing?”

To me, the book seems to be a criticism of the Singapore system. You may not realise it from the title, but it seems to address how we’re all in a very huge cage with many other birds. It got me wondering if the bird is actually heard when it sings, and about how people would actually respond to the song.

As a historian, I want to learn about Singapore’s past in the form of a story. That’s why you hear the term historical narrative, where literature and history intertwine. I hope the writer answers the questions I have so that I can better understand Singaporean history through his lived experiences.” – Yeng Fai, 24

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