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Thoughts of Kuo Pao Kun

Cultural Orphans
In recent years, the idea of "cultural orphans" has been making a deeper impression on my mind. I
am not talking about the sentiments of a few people. This country and its citizens generally have the
mentality of cultural orphans: a sense of loss and alienation, and a kind of anxiety in the search for
self. On visiting the cultural homeland of our forebears, we might feel a certain kind of consolation
but we are unable to identify with it as our cultural home. We have long remained in a wandering
and searching state of mind. Some call this the consciousness of a people at the margins.
As an island state, Singapore is a thoroughly modern, man-made entity, created by hundreds of
thousands of hardworking people who left their homes and went far from their ethnic groups, toiling
with great diligence generation after generation. In the wave of post-war independence movements
around the world, our passion and struggle were just as intense. However, though successful in
establishing a moderately affluent economy, when we look back, we suddenly realise that apart from
the fragments of folk culture brought here from our ancestral homes, we have nothing else in the
spiritual realm which we can call our own special creation.
At the confluence of several great civilisations and in the international flow of information, Singapor-
eans sense the richness of interacting with every place but also feel the pain and frustration of not
belonging anywhere. Boundless space, boundless bewilderment, boundless loss and boundless
hope - there naturally emerges an orphan mentality and a condition of marginality. Even if we were
able to trace back and return to our respective cultural parentages, we would still not be at home in
the past.
The orphan can only grope for a way forward, to make his or her own spiritual home in the midst of
loss and alienation. It seems that in this increasingly plural world, we cannot help but accept a few
more lines of parentage so as to counter the cultural impurities already infused in our blood.
Kuo Pao Kun
Excerpt from "Images at the Margins : A Collection of Kuo Pao Kuns Plays (1983 1992)
Times Books International, 1995
Translated by Teo Han Wue.