In the first week, we were introduced to the structure of the workshops. To my surprise, for the first session, we were supposed to write a Children’s Book.
My group came up with one involving a girl who wanted to be a cloud. Its moral was: be careful what you wish for. The girl realized that being a cloud did not promise the life of predictability and constancy that she had fantasized about. As a matter of fact, it was one where, as the cliché goes, the only constant was change. This is due to the fact that clouds are part of this process of renewal and disintegration called: THE HYDROLOGICAL CYCLE.
Our short little children’s book, unbeknownst to us, was a parable on karma and dharma.
Anyway, on the journey home, I thought about how I’d first heard of that phrase: THE HYDROLOGICAL CYCLE. I vaguely remember a daytime TV series that was produced by what was then known as CDIS: the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore. There was a Eurasian man who appeared on screen, demonstrating useful science concepts such as photosynthesis, combustion experiments and THE HYDROLOGICAL CYCLE. I forgot his name, but I think his first name was Hamish. He wore spectacles and tried to make science sound like a lot of fun. Condensation. Evaporation. He had his work cut out for him.
Then I started thinking about the 80s. I was in Primary School at that time. It was a time of earnestness and innocence. Actually I’m sure everyone looks back at their childhood years as a time of earnestness and innocence. People tried to teach science on TV and make it look like a lot of fun. In 1987, the Miss Universe contest came to Singapore and for the very first time, a Singaporean was admitted into the finals. Was I too young and earnest and innocent to entertain the idea that this was because the contest was rigged and that the host country could always be assured of a free ticket into the finals?
Anyway, the contestant, I forgot her name now, was Eurasian. Was the 80s a Eurasian decade?
Anyway, going back to children’s books, I had an idea of writing a series based on the campaign mascots of the 80s, 70s etc that we had in Singapore. But tweaked with a contemporary perspective. With great hindsight comes great parody.
What were the campaign mascots that Singapore had produced over the years? They were almost invariably animals, and they were always smiling. Some of them wore pants and some didn’t. There was a squirrel invented by the Post Office Savings Bank, to exhort little ones to start saving early. There was also Teamy the Productivity Bee, who wore a yellow hard hat—oh the innocence of it all—Singapore was geared to become a manufacturing hub, and for some reason people had no quarrel with being compared to de-personalised, de-individualised automatons whose sole function in life is to serve The Queen Bee. And then there was the ubiquitous Singa the Courtesy Lion. He’s still around, pants-less, in MRT signs, telling people not to cross the yellow MRT line, because committing suicide is discourteous.
Anyway, the one mascot that appealed to me at that time was this enormous, pink, slightly effeminate creature called the Sharity Elephant (he was very nasal as well, because naturally those with trunks have major sinus problems). Sharity, as we were informed, was a cute word combining the words ‘share’ and ‘charity’ (how clever!). I think it was the Community Chest that propelled this animal into the national limelight. Anyway, Sharity’s message to Singaporeans was that it was fun to be a sharing and charitable person. Sharity had a heart emblazoned on his chest, a congenital malformation that would have made him an object of charity were it not for the fact that he was himself a greatly charitable manimal. Whenever Sharity has performed a kind turn, his heart would actually expand and miraculously lift him up into the stratosphere. Like a hot-air balloon, buoyed by the undying flame of altruistic action. There was, however, something so hyperbolic about this particular reaction that I vaguely recall wondering if this was some code for an orgasm that Sharity was experiencing.
My version of the children’s story will be like this:
1) Sharity Elephant sees an old lady trying to cross the road. He helps her across and then feels that familiar swell in his heart.
2) Sharity is ready for lift-off! His feet (are they called that?) start disengaging from the ground. The old woman faints. It’s a miracle!
3) Sharity is high, high up in the clouds. He’s on top of the world! People look like ants from up above. Singapore looks like a dot—not necessarily red, but a dot nonetheless.
4) Sharity says hi to the clouds, who are familiar with the sight of this pink elephant floating in their midst. Sharity waves hello at a rainbow, who doesn’t wave back because he doesn’t have hands.
5) The air is becoming quite thin. Science tells us that the higher layers of the atmosphere have low oxygen content. Sharity gets breathless.
6) Sharity is now the pink elephant with a blue head. He is showing signs of hypoxia. How can he get down? He tries squeezing his heart. It doesn’t work. He squeezes harder. It doesn’t deflate. In fact it’s growing even larger, propelling Sharity towards outer space!
7) Sharity meets the wise old owl in mid-flight. He asks for help. The owl tells him that there’s a simple solution to his gravitational problem. All Sharity needs to do to make his heart shrink back to normal size is to perform actions opposite to the ones he had done to make the heart inflate in the first place.
8) But that means performing evil deeds! But does Sharity have a choice? It’s his own survival that’s at stake.
9) Sharity meets a few pigeons, mid-flight. He breaks their necks and tosses their carcasses downwards. He manages to descend a few metres.
10) Sharity punches a hole though an aeroplane’s windscreen. The plane crashes. Sharity’s heart shrinks a bit more.
11) What else can he do now? He doesn’t see anymore victims around. He starts crying. Will he ever touch the Earth’s surface again?
12) Oh! The clouds! He pees into them, and they turn yellow. He ushers them over reservoirs. Ammonia rain contaminates Singapore’s water sources.
13) He’s approaching the ground now, our dear Sharity. One last thing to do. He takes a dump, and it lands splat on the old woman whom he had helped cross the road.
14) Sharity has now landed. Phew! For his relief, and the odious pong coming from the woman. The woman asks if he might be so kind as to use his trunk to suck up some water from the reservoir and bathe her clean.
15) Sharity has doubts. If he performs yet another good dead, he’ll be flung into the atmosphere again!
16) But he remembers that the reservoir is polluted with his pee. It’s golden shower time for the old woman!
17) That’s one last evil deed. Sharity’s heart shrivels up and peels off from his chest.
18) Sharity is sad to see his heart detach itself. But just as well, he thinks. Elephants were not made to fly.
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