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Books in Singapore: Memoirs, herb guides and kids books to read in September 2014

Looking for a brilliant page-turner? Check out our top reads out in Singapore this September…



Memoirs of an International Sex Worker
Annika Cleeve
Monsoon | 335 pages

The sex worker autobiography is a popular genre, and all the more interesting when it involves familiar places. So I was attracted by the cover blurb: “Annika shows how sex work in Australia and Singapore led to jet-setting around Southeast Asia for $3,000 a day.”

That was Monsoon marketing the book in Singaporean. (In Australia, it’s titled Mattress Actress.) I had to get to page 255 – Part Three: Riding the Asian Tigers – to read about her experience in Singapore; working for the polite Mr Singh’s Orchard Road “escort” agency, she was for a while one of a coterie of working girls from all over the world whom he’d send off on lucrative jobs in the region and beyond.

The story starts with Annika’s miserably abusive childhood, which led to her voluntarily entering a brothel at the age of 14. More interesting are her memories of relationships between the working girls, their employers and their johns; descriptions of working for a club in Sydney’s underbelly Kings Cross area, complete with violent Greek pimps and corrupt city police; the story of her fleeing with her daughter to Perth, setting up “shop” there, and much more.

All ends well, happily. Annika achieves self-empowerment, not only paying for her daughter’s private school education, but her own, “obtaining a postgraduate degree and a string of letters after her name”. What’s more, she finds love, marriage and happiness.

This is a tale full of no-holds-barred details, yet it’s seldom gratuitously salacious. How is a brothel organised? What do the girls earn? How do highly paid call girls manage to spend all the money they earn? How do you fake performing lesbian cunnilingus? You’ll have to read the book.

Verne Maree



Singapore On the Couch
Ong Yong Lok
Monsoon | 238 pages

Wondering about the “SG 50” stamp on the cover? Don’t worry, it’s not the price – this book is supposed to be the first to have been published in honour of Singapore’s much-anticipated 50th anniversary celebration next year. Appropriately, it seeks to answer the question: What does it mean to be Singaporean?

Ong Yong Lok is a retired Singaporean psychiatrist who worked abroad for much of his life, which may gives him a fresh perspective on the national character of his fellow countrymen and women.

Having defined a few core themes – “brawn”, business, the arts, religious faith and humour – Ong interviewed two or three representatives from each theme, simultaneously. Brawn, for instance, is represented by identical twins Ray and Roy, both of whom are competitive bodybuilders. The performing arts are represented by Wild Rice director Glen Goei and conductor Darrell Ang. Writer Sylvia Toh Paik Choo, together with Dream Academy’s Selena Tan and blogger Mr Brown, prove that Singaporeans do indeed have a sense of humour, though it’s not always particularly in evidence, acknowledges the author.

The final chapter is reserved for just one ATAS – “A Truly Astonishing Singaporean”: Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador At Large (amongst his many other achievements and titles).

Ong’s quirky insights leaven the text and keep it entertaining. For anyone who’s interested in Singapore, and particularly in its people, this is a book well worth reading.

Verne Maree



Asian Herbs, Spices and More
Devagi Sanmugan
Marshall Cavendish | 80 pages

Devagi Sanmugan, also known as the Spice Queen of Singapore, presents a practical introduction to 40 ingredients – from ajwain (or lovage) and asafoetida to bitter gourd, chilli, fenugreek, galangal, ghee and saffron – all illustrated for easy identification. Not only will you discover their benefits, but you’ll also learn how to use them in meals, or prepare them as a natural remedy. For example, cumin cures indigestion; and turmeric is good for stomach upsets. At the end are recipes for scrumptious cardamom tea, tamarind rice, steamed bananas with coconut and other delights.



Asian Leaves and Roots
Devagi Sanmugan and Christopher Tan
Marshall Cavendish | 80 Pages

Ever wondered what you might do with some of the puzzling piles of leafy vegetables or foreign-looking roots at your local market? This practical guide to 40 of them is a collaboration by Spice Queen Devagi and food consultant and author Chris Tan. Finally, you’ll be able to tell your roots apart: your cassava from your sweet potatoes, and your taro from your turnips. And in no time, you’ll be airily whipping up your own stir-fried sweet-potato leaves, steaming spicy otak-otak for the family or frying crispy cassava chips from the selection of recipes provided.



Personalised books
Based on the rhetorical question, “Which child doesn’t think the world revolves around them?”, a Singapore-based studio has launched two personalised books for children. ABCMe is the brainchild of American expat couple Jawan and Althea Parker, who have four children of their own.

The Perfect Name ($39.90) spells out, letter by letter, the child’s first and last names, together with a sweet tale of all the animals in the land coming together on his or her birthday to contribute the letters.  You can also ask for the child’s birth date, zodiac sign and other personal information to be included.

My ABC Book ($29.90) is an alphabet book, each letter presented together with rhyming verse such as, “A is for alligator with an amber hat,” and ends with a letter addressed to the child. Either of these two books would make a good gift for a very young reader, or even for a newborn.

Order online. Orders take two weeks and island-wide delivery is included in the price.