To Arrive Where We Started

28 July 2021

In my checkered pinafore and stockinged feet 36 years ago. (The Central Lending Libary of National University of Singapore, 1985)

In my youth, stairs & steps gave me anxiety attacks not just because they were hard to ascend, but also because I was ashamed of how ungraceful I looked when I climbed. It did not help that my campus was built on Kent Ridge which follows the undulating terrain of the landscape.

I used to joke that NUS stood for University of Steps.

Yet, despite my dread for steps and slopes, Providence gave me a job as student assistant in the Central Lending Library I was waiting for my letter of acceptance/rejection from the university.

Each day I would report to the Senior Librarian, Ms Susan at 9am. My job was to manuelly cut and paste selected news articles on A4 papers to be turned into microfilms for archival purposes.


This went on for a few months. By the time I matriculated, I knew every floor and every corner of the library. I even knew which desk by the window received the best natural lighting at different parts of the day.

By the time I became an undergraduate, the senior librarians and deputy directors were familiar faces that evoked feelings of discipline and kindness. They were nothing like the grouchy librarians depicted in movies.

I found this picture of Mrs Lee-Wang (first lady on the left) and her colleagues on the Hon Sui San Library write-up.

Years after I became a teacher, I paid the staff, Ms Hema and Mrs Lee-Wang a visit to thank them for their powerful and nurturing influence over me. Ms Namazie had retired by then, but it was from her I learnt that a hard boiled egg and some salad made a good lunch.

The Central Lending Library as it was called in my time not only supported me financially, but also emotionally & academically.

The Central Lending Library today. (July 2021)

In between lectures when I had no one to hang out with, the library was my friend. When lectures ended early and I did not want to go home to face family dramas, the library had me.

And if I liked a particular author that was in my required reading list, I would seek out all his or her other titles and read them obsessively sometimes literally from dawn to dusk.

Each day after the library closed, I would make my way slowly from the administration block to the Pasir Panjang bus stop. The long walk down the tree lined slope gave me time to mull over what I read and rest my eyes.

Some nights when I looked up, I could see the full moon weaving in and out among the tree branches like a shy protector who didn’t want me to know she was there for me.

With or without the pandemic restrictions, my compromised mobility makes me very conscious of where I go and allows me to develop very strong attachments to locations and buildings.

Last week I had a picture taken of me outside the library just like I did as a young girl decades ago.

The time lapse of 39 years being in the same space that has meant so much to me felt as if I was on an overseas trip.


In “Mango Dreams,” the onset of dementia prompted a man to travel over 400km to his childhood home before the disease robs him of his most cherished memories.

Perhaps while waiting for travel restrictions to ease, we could consider visiting local places that have made us who we are and given us the means to travel far.

That day at the library as a woman of advanced age in my leopard print capri and holding my walking stick, I truly felt T.S. Eliot’s, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

My affinity with this library started when I was 18 years old, 39 years ago. (NUS Central Library, Hari Raya Haji Holiday 2021)

So here’s wishing all friends the good fortune to arrive at where they started and without having to go too far.

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