Heritage. It’s the crack they dole out to cover up the cracks in the foundations, as the damp creeps up the walls and soils shift because they’ve dug too deep, siphoned too much, layered too many underpasses, tunnels and sewers one over the other like catacombs of the living dead.
Heritage only really matters here to the rich and political. Buildings are preserved as pillars of power, prestige or for the kitschy fridge magnets cranked out in their image and likeness. They are preserved to remind the ruled that things had been, and could still be, so very much worse. (At least now, the overlords are white only in cloth and not colour.) Buildings are preserved like shrines to both appease and imprison the ghost of a man-deity whose word is made fresh every National Day Rally.
Heritage is not the library you grew up reading; where words once went round, cars now tunnel through. Heritage is not in the hollowed-out shopping centres smelling of mopped mosaic floors and bubble lifts going nowhere fast. Heritage is not in the cemeteries bulldozed into BTOs, 99-year tombstones scraping the sky. Heritage is not the ethnic enclaves where shopkeepers and five-foot-way tradesmen eke out a living amidst rising rents and cat cafes. Heritage is not the local food fast disappearing, displaced by machine-made, factory-fried franchises colonising hawker centres and coffee shops, serving yesterday’s meals at tomorrow’s prices.
Heritage is perfectly pristine buildings conserved by capitalism, washed with champagne and clothed in designer wear, cropped to fit movie cameras and backdrop blockbusters; a sound stage to our country’s coming of age.
Heritage is not what you have lost, it is what they have seen fit to preserve, a facsimile of history to paper over our perversity; in wanting both steel and glass as well as culture and class. Heritage is the nakedness of a country with limited land married to unlimited ambitions, that now finds that reclaiming an eroded past is so much harder than land reclamation. Heritage is the boiling and reduction of suffering and oppression into a syrupy sweet concoction that masks all pain.
Heritage is what we choose to forget, what we choose to dismember. Heritage is the person who gets to remember.
Organised by the Substation, this competition asks for “a creative work in English, from 200 to 2,000 words long, in response to local heritage and what it means to you. There is no restriction to genre or form (narrative prose, creative non-fiction, and experimental work are welcome). Post the piece publicly on your Facebook timeline, tag the event page, ‘Utterly changed. The Substation Writing Competition’, and #utterlychanged. Entries are limited to 1 per Facebook account. The competition closes 3 September, 12pm.”
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