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Manoa 16.2 (2004) 47-65

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A play commissioned for the 2002 Singapore Arts Festival, Occupation was first presented by Straits Theatre Company at the DBS Arts Centre, Singapore, on 4 June 2002. It was performed by Claire Wong, and directed by Huzir Sulaiman and Claire Wong. The play was published in Huzir Sulaiman's collection, Eight Plays (Kuala Lumpur: Silverfish Books, 2002 ). The interviews with Haji Mohamed Siraj quoted in the play are excerpted from recordings held by the National Archives of Singapore.

Cast of Characters

Played by one actress:

Sarah, Chinese Singaporean, early thirties
Mrs. Siraj, Malay-speaking Indian Muslim Singaporean, seventies
Last Girl, Chinese Singaporean, twenties
Tony, Chinese Singaporean, early thirties
Ogawa, Japanese, early thirties



Mrs. Siraj
So when he was coming back from work he used to come. He was friendly with my brother, but he was more friendly with my brother-in-law. So he will come, knock the door. Why? Give paan...the betel. So whoever knocks the door he will give. And always, it was wartime, we cannot have bright lights, so we used to have dim, we put the cloth around. Then one day, I went to open the door—you see how God, God's this-thing—I opened the door, took the paan. My hand touched his hand, just like that, and then he went off. And it was from that, donno how, it's God's this-thing. [End Page 47] [Begin Page 49]


Times and places. They're all alike. They're never the same. Marine Parade. Marine! Parade!

With a pleasing circularity, here is where our story starts, and likewise here it'll end, in ninety minutes, with a wiggle six decades back, then a wriggle back again to now. We start right here, in blocks of flats, upgraded by a grateful People's Action Party, with views of ships from every room, a harbour's worth of blue beneath the steely hulks, great grey-hulled tankers from God-knows-where bleached by tricks of heat and light to match the whitened beach. And from this thirteenth floor it settles, framed by green, the slivered coastal park a border to the scene, a fragile membrane taut between the town and sea. Perhaps that's all a lie. Words come easy to me.

Occupation. My occupation: Oral Historian. Yes. Assigned to sift and dig through people's tangled mess of words, to interview, collect, refine, collate, and package everything politely for the State. Though let's get this straight: it is appreciated by the State. Thank you, they say, imperceptibly.

Bing-bong, madam, bing-booooooooong.

I'm here to conclude the interviews we've done with Khatija Dawood—or Mrs. Mohamed Siraj, as she is known—pioneering feminist and champion of Muslim women's welfare, et cetera, et cetera. My chosen image today is the Caring Bureaucrat. I look out at the morning sea, shimmering, flat.


Mrs. Siraj, hello.
Mrs. Siraj
You're Sarah, is it?
We spoke on the phone. How do you do?
Mrs. Siraj
Come in, come in. So you're taking over from the last girl—what was her name? Jacqui? She said she had a better offer, she's got to take it up. And so she took it up. come in and sit down. You've got a tape recorder for recording? You're going to record?
Yes, I'll set it up. what a lovely flat you have, Mrs. Siraj.
Mrs. Siraj
Well, thirty years already we've been here.
You and your husband?
Mrs. Siraj
Yes, he passed away two years ago. around this time, actually. You're not married?
Sarah, no. not married.
Mrs. Siraj
Would you like some tea? Always, four o'clock like that I have some tea. After all, we are British-era people. We must take tea! [End Page 49]


I reviewed the tapes last night, tapes from the last interview sessions conducted by my former colleagues—Jacqui, Agnes, and...