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Nick Ang

Words matter

Among the people I know personally, I am probably the most prone to romanticising writing. I don’t like that about myself and hope that I would become much more practical with the words I write. Romanticising wordplay is like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris: an insufferable joy ride.

I managed to borrow an e-book from the Singapore National Library about a week ago (even though I am in Berlin right now), and it is making me think a lot about my identity as a Singaporean. The book is Lee Kuan Yew’s The Singapore Story. Just looking at the title of this book makes me feel the bravado of this incredible man. I mean, his memoir is the Singapore story.

Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s first Prime Minister and founding father, and was in power for 31 years from 1959 to 1990. He stepped down in the same year I was born, so I never got to see what it was like to be governed by his iron fist. Combined with the fact that I am currently about 15 percent into the book, I dare not comment on his style of governance yet. But I will say this: while I have no first-hand experience living in a Singapore that was under his direct rule, I know that every part of the Singapore I grew up in for the last 30 years has been shaped heavily by this man’s ideas and character.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, a Singaporean living overseas does tend to feel nostalgic about home, so that’s reason number one. The bigger point, though, is about writing. Specifically, Lee Kuan Yew’s writing style. It is sharp, to-the-point, and for a memoir, vivid enough. He sounds on paper just like he sounds in real-life (I watched him speak on TV broadcasts growing up, as he continued to advise the government after stepping down as Prime Minister). And that is high praise, because Lee Kuan Yew speaks deliberately and powerfully, and he manages to achieve that effect in writing. I cannot help but feel a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that everyone has access to the same 26 letters in the English alphabet to tell their own Story.

So, today was interesting in this regard. I continued reading an important book. I also enjoyed reading and editing a well-researched blog post that my wife had just finished writing about the convoluted world of “clean makeup”. She is a makeup artist, and through this post, dug into the details of what constituted “clean” in personal care and cosmetic products. It is a win-win for her and her audience.

Anyway, aside from the content, I enjoyed reading her writing. She also writes just like she talks, which is clear and condensed. Every sentence in her post as far as I could tell is important. There is no fluff, just facts, opinions, and connective tissue. We have been together for about half our lives and I have seen her improve her grasp of English in strides over the years. She is better at writing than she has ever been and it makes my heart full to witness her growth. Language is an important tool!

I was inspired to write this post after reading the writing of these two very different people. I am thankful for words, because they matter.

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