Stories About Stories ... with Monica Lim
In this instalment, authors Monica Lim and her daughter Lesley-Anne, dug deep into the roots of the world's only tropical garden to be named a Unesco World Heritage Site, unearthing hidden gems about the Singapore Botanic Gardens that most don't know about.
For instance, did you know that there is a natural spring in the Gardens that supplies enough water to fill one Olympic-sized swimming pool every month? Or that the oldest orchid in the world — a tiger orchid, planted in 1861, measuring 5m in diameter — lives there? Or that there are brick steps that were made by Australian POWs during the Japanese Occupation?
Here, Monica spills the beans on what went into making the book.
Why did you decide on the Botanic Gardens for this instalment? It was actually decided for us! Epigram Books approached Botanic Gardens about producing an edition of Secrets of Singapore for them, and they were very keen on the idea.
How long did it take for the two of you to write the book, from concept to completion; and what was the biggest challenge? As with most of our books, the writing doesn’t take that long. Maybe three months? It’s usually the other parts of the publishing process, such as the editing, fact-checking and illustrations, that tend to take more time.
The biggest challenge was deciding what would go into the book. In the same vein as all the other Secrets of Singapore books, we wanted this book to be fun and entertaining for kids. We didn’t want to focus on boring, commonly-known facts. When Dr Nigel Taylor, Director of the Botanic Gardens, brought us on a tour, we asked him to tell us all the deep dark secrets that few people know.
Could you tell us three fascinating facts about the Botanic Gardens?
1) There used to be a zoo at the Botanic Gardens! This was in the late 1800s when the head of the Gardens, James Murton, wanted to attract more visitors. Some of the animals included a leopard, emus, monkeys, kangaroos and a rhino. However, it was difficult and expensive to feed and house the animals properly. When word got out that the staff sometimes fed live stray dogs to the tiger, there was public outcry and that marked the beginning of the end for the zoo.
2) It’s hard to imagine but some trees have been standing since Sir Stamford Raffles came to Singapore! There’s a Tembusu tree in the Botanic Gardens that’s more than 170 years old. In fact, we see this tree all the time but may not realise it — it’s so famous it’s featured on the Singapore $5 bill.
3) It was difficult to collect specimens from high treetops, so EJH Corner, the assistant director of the Botanic Gardens before World War II, trained five macaques to climb trees and collect specimens for him. He claimed they could understand and obey 18 different commands in Malay. He happily told people that they were the first monkeys working for the government!
What would you like readers to come away with after reading the book? Some readers may think that plants aren’t all that interesting. We hope that after reading the book, they will come to see that plants can be as different, wacky and colourful as human beings.
Are there any more Secrets of Singapore planned? We just received news that another edition of Secrets of Singapore has been confirmed. We will announce this at a later date, but for now, this is still … secret!