Colin Cheong’s story, “Smile, Singapore,” is from the Akashic Books noir series, Singapore, Noir (Akashic Books). Cheong’s debut novel, The Stolen Child, was awarded the Highly Commended Fiction in English Award by the National Book Development Council of Singapore in 1990. His novellas have won the Merit Award (1998) and the Singapore Literature Prize (1996).
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, editor of the anthology, wrote in her introduction: “Say Singapore to anyone and you’ll likely hear one of a few words: Caning. Fines. Chewing gum. For much of the West, the narrative of Singapore–a modern Southeast Asian city-state perched on an island on the tip of the Malay Peninsula–has been marked largely by its government’s strict laws and unwavering enforcement of them . . . but beneath its sparkling veneer is a country teeming with shadows . . . And its stories remain. The rich stories that attracted literary lions W. Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling to hold court at the Raffles Hotel (where the Singapore Sling was created) are still sprinkled throughout its neighborhoods.”
Cheong said this about his story: “Smile, Singapore” is based on a few real-life crimes in Singapore that have been collapsed into a single narrative. About 15 years ago, a cabbie was hung for firing a smuggled revolver at a loan shark (who was hit in the butt and survived). A decade ago, a narcotics officer dropped his weapon in a fight. It was later found in a box of flowerpots. More recently, a group of white men beat up an elderly cabbie in front of a queue of cheering white tourists.
Much of Singapore’s current xenophobic reaction to loose immigration laws has its catalyst in the 2008 financial crisis, but a lot of it was already simmering a long time ago. I took all of this, as well my own experience as a police officer (and my own sentiments about guns) and blended them into “Smile, Singapore.” The title takes its inspiration from one of our numerous government public relations campaigns.