One and Many

Photo: Jennifer Kwan. Bookstagrammers with Kirsten in the middle; she is wearing blue and holding the blue version of The Singapore I Recognise. From left to right: Brentha, Kessandra, YZ, Elfarina, Firqin, Tanvi, Kirsten, Jolin, Vanessa, Cherry, Ka Leng, Tara.

We are at the Ethos Dreams pop-up at Old Airport Road, looking into the shopfront of the One Book Bookshop. Under the Dakota Dreams signboard, flanked by many copies of the one and only book on sale, you see a group of bookstagrammers, each exuding their individual personality, standing alongside Kirsten. How beautiful to see – their vibrant colours coming together with the blue and terracotta of Kirsten’s book. This version of Singapore makes me hopeful and makes me smile: it is both one and many, it is one because it is many, and it can be many because it is one.

To be one is not as straightforward as a birthday wish: we know this, in the various roles we take on, be it friend, daughter, son, brother, sister, lover, spouse, parent, neighbour or colleague. How straightforward can it be, when we have differing tastes and views?

So, what is the secret behind this photo and this moment of one-ness? Openness. Each bookstagrammer stands on their own feet, thinking feeling and believing in their own ways, but common to each of them is the quality of openness. Sitting down with these bookstagrammers and listening to them talk, you appreciate how much they value discovery; reading is a window into perceptions and universes beyond their current worldview.

In a place where journalists and journalism are accountable to a government dominated by one political party, they value Kirsten’s views and experiences, who speak for the Singapore that they too are creating. A Singapore of one and many, a Singapore that can mean so much more when it is one with open-mindedness.

When a place accommodates differences, it feels closer to home. When a nation learns to accommodate disagreement, it becomes closer to a democratic society based on justice and equality. To Royston Tan and the many contributors to this year’s National Day, thank you for Building Our Shared Future Together As One. Together, let’s create more pockets for difference and disagreement.

Our land is bounded, and still, our country can be as capacious as the seas that surround us and the sky that shelters us.

Photo: Nicholas Yeo. Sarah Bagharib, the founder of Crazycat, watching Kirsten autograph her copy.

Kah Gay
Publisher, Ethos Books

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