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Telling Stories Through Love

BY Yeo Sze-G / Nanyang Technological University, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication of Information - Communication Studies | 31-Oct-2019
In commemoration of the Singapore Bicentennial, Chong Kai Yan and Pang Xue Qiang put a twist on Singapore’s history by retelling it through love stories. (Published in 2018. Written by: Loh Yun Jin, Edited by: Dewey Sim, Photo by: Loh Yun Jin)
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Telling Stories Through Love
Pang Xue Qiang and Chong Kai Yan put a twist on Singapore's history by retelling it through love stories. (Photo by: Loh Yun Jin)
Forget ploughing through thick history textbooks. Chong Kai Yan and Pang Xue Qiang have come up with a new way to appreciate Singapore’s past: through old love stories.

The duo’s project – an independent zine titled “MEANTIME” – includes a variety of mediums such as photos and fictitious letters to showcase the stories of their newsmakers.

In 2017, Chong and Pang were awarded a S$20,000 (USD$14,552) grant by Yale-NUS to develop the zine. It will be published in February next year as part of The Future of Our Pasts: History Reimagined, a festival which explores lesser known narratives in Singapore’s history.

MEANTIME is a side project for the pair, who both hold full-time jobs. Chong is a business development and account manager for local video publisher Our Grandfather Story, while Pang is a writer for content agency The Nutgraf.

The idea of telling history through personal stories was inspired by Pang’s family gatherings where his elderly relatives would surface old photographs and reminisce about old times, the 27-year-old explained.

“These photos became a catalyst for conversations and was a very good bonding activity,” he said.

Making History Sexy:

When they were brainstorming content for “MEANTIME,” Pang and Chong had wondered what kind of personal stories would appeal to Singaporeans.

“History has this reputation of being dull (and) boring,” said Pang. “We thought, how can we make it sexier?”

As both Chong and Pang are avid readers of The New York Times’ Modern Love – a weekly column that explores the joys, complications, and tribulations of love – they decided to look at history through the lens of love stories.

This prompted their search for couples who had a personal stake in Singapore’s history.

Finding their newsmakers was a tedious, pain-staking process, explained the duo, adding that they relied largely on word-of-mouth and sifting through newspaper articles and blogs.

They uncovered a story of a woman who was born during the World War II; her father was a Japanese soldier while her mother is Singaporean. Such “forbidden love stories” in times of war are a rarity, said Pang.

Another couple who was featured had an arranged marriage – a normality back then but much less common now, said Pang.

Behind The Name:

The title, “MEANTIME”, can be interpreted in two ways, said Pang.

Even during periods of hardship in the past, such as the Japanese Occupation, love could still blossom for some people “in the meantime,” said Pang.

He added that the title is also a wordplay on how time can be unkind to some. “The passing of time is a negative and malignant force, (causing) things to fade,” said Pang.

With “MEANTIME,” Chong and Pang want readers to “slow down” time. Instead of skimming through the content of their magazine quickly, they want readers to flip through the pages unhurriedly and take their time to internalise the love stories.

Pang said: “We hope that through this project, people will be interested to find out more about their own personal history.”

Breathing life into old stories is a recurring theme for Pang’s projects.

Besides “MEANTIME,” Pang is also part of a four-man team behind an Instagram project that shares little-known stories of the Tai Seng estate. The project was featured on the heritage and community section of The Straits Times in September.