June 29, 2013

Ten Sticks and One Rice by Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng

Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng. Ten Sticks and One Rice. Singapore: Epigram Books, November 2012. This graphic novel is a story based on a family living in Singapore years ago. It tells a story about what kind of lifestyle did most of the Singaporeans had post-independence. One particular family, Hok Seng's family, were hawkers to make a living; having a small restaurant and selling pork barbecues, chicken barbecues, and rice. Aside from providing comfort foods, they also had them very affordable for everyone during those times. The story has a sense of post-independence history on a man's teenage life from being an illegal bookie, secret society member and street hawker.

At present time, having known his health condition, Hok Seng is very sensitive about it to the point that he doesn't want anyone else to know except his family. But one of his friends frankly told him that his health condition is 'common' at their age and should not feel embarrassed about it. In one of their conversations, Hok Seng found out that the man whom he respects as a brother died from cancer, and decided to arrange the funeral for his dear friend. He began reminiscing about their younger years from when he started to be part of a secret society with his dear friend, climbing up and down a steep hill filled with bamboo plants without any shirt on, and a ritual for brotherhood wherein both had their fingers sliced just enough to drop some blood on a bowl filled with water, heated, and drank. And told to remember the Ang Soon Tong Commandments: Respect one another and help a brother who is in trouble. If a brother has no food to eat, you must share yours with him. You must not steal your brother's wife. And if a brother is in prison or dead, you must take care of his family. Brotherhood aside, Hok Seng is also struggling in keeping it all together with his own family. He wanted his sons to be with him especially now that he has cancer, too. But they seem to be busy with their own lives as well. One time, they all gather together as a family and Hok Seng, despite his sickness, is still very strict with time just as how strict he is with his business. During that dinner together with everyone, Hok Seng asked his sons to dismantle his very own designed invention of a grill, that has been working since they just started the business until now, which has a smoke suction hood on top, drawer, a cupboard below it, wheels on the base, and glass panels on three sides. And said it is time to quit. He reminded his sons to must look for one another and once he is gone they should look after their mother. Everyone understood him but never really got emotional about it.

The story built a comparison between the time of Hok Seng's younger years (around 1960's to 80's) and the time of Hok Seng's son's younger years (2010 up to now) in Singapore. Hok Seng had experienced brotherhood in which he was able to live by over the years through a brotherhood ritual. Nowadays, especially Hok Seng's sons, never experienced a ritual for brotherhood but just plain brotherhood as being part of a family. The book conveyed the importance of brotherhood and the means of family. Even on the present day in modern age, he reminded his sons the value of brotherhood in spite knowing that they could never have the same experience in life as he did.

Ten Sticks and One Rice is a story that has etched the meaning of brotherhood. Apart from that, it re-tells a story about a man's younger self from being an illegal bookie, a secret society member, and a street hawker to being the same man but is now more experienced and struggles to make sense in living. As a graphic novel, it has very detailed, neatly-done sketches that makes it interesting to read. The style of writing is well-organized from present to past and back to present time. Somehow it doesn't confuse the reader with the time. Also, what makes it more interesting is that it tells first-hand experiences about what kind of lifestyle do they have back in the early days in Singapore and the kind of lifestyle there is right now.

I think this book is a good read and a must-read as well. Especially for those in Singapore and everyone who wants to know a part of post-independence history of the country. I highly recommend this book. 

Thank you to the authors Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng for such a valuable story and the graphic skills they have made for the book. Also, to Good Reads for hosting the giveaway! :)


  1. I like the changes you made to the blog! Looks nice :)

    1. Hello,, Susie! Thank you! :D


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