All of us has that one creative, free-spirited friend. For me, that friend is Xue Qiang (whom I fondly call Pang).
Our friendship goes a long way back since high school. We were table-mates who condoned each other, secretly sipping ice-lemon tea (him) and using phones at the back of class (me). We participated in model UNs together, and also created music together in concert band. I’d seen him through his crazy fan-boy days for Lady Gaga, while he’d had his fair share of exasperation at my absent-mindedness, searching high and low with me whenever I lose my stuffs in school!
But one common passion that ties us together till this day is our love for books and writing. Between us both, Pang is definitely the more accomplished one, having published his first annual Meantime Magazine last year! I know that to give up his full-time job, and pursue an unconventional path as independent editor was not an easy decision. Still, he chose to live life on his own terms and walk to the beat of his own drum. Not to be tamed by fear, nor conform to society’s norms. Now that he’s telling the tales of Singapore and getting into the hearts and minds of thousands around the world, I honestly can’t be any prouder of him :’)
Our friendship reaches a new level, as I interview him on his latest work: Meantime Issue #2: Ghost Stories.
About Meantime Magazine
Meantime Magazine is an annual publication that documents the history of Singapore through personal stories. In this second issue, it explores Singapore’s past through the lens of nine ghostly tales. The magazine starts off with exploring ghosts as scary, supernatural beings. But soon the stories evolve: Layer by layer, readers sink deeper into moments from our past that gnaw at us. From a family secret, the unresolved mystery of missing persons, the loss of architecture… to death.
This issue garnered a lot of attention with its heat-sensitive cover (just pay attention to how it responds to your touch!) Clearly, no details were spared in the magazine’s overall aesthetics. The torn pages (as though ripped apart by a vengeful spirit). The jagged edges. The clever mixing of translucent rice paper and art. This issue is masterfully crafted, bringing out both the fleeting nature of life, and a haunting, other-worldly feel.
Personally, the beautifully drawn graphics and the rich historical photographs stood out to me the most. They brought back a lot of forgotten scenes of the old Singapore from my own childhood.
One spread featured black and white photos of a bustling Ellenborough Market in 1963. Another painting depicted a typical old 3 room HDB flat in Telok Blangah. And finally, my favourite nostalgic series: The childhood photos of Singaporeans at Haw Par Villa.
These places were often taken for granted, but they had given Singaporeans our unique identity. A sense of permanence and attachment to where we belonged. As Singapore modernises and these old architecture are increasingly cast into oblivion, what we’d lost aren’t mere physical buildings, but rather intergenerational links to our past.
In the end, what is left are regrets, bittersweet memories and the ghostly residue of what once stood.
Why did you decide to focus on Ghost Stories ?
Everyone has a ghost story in their life. We all have fears, or a mystery, or a regret from the past. I think we are all haunted by something or someone. It could be something we are scared of, something we are hesitant to confront, or a lingering thought at the back of our heads.
Meantime Magazine documents the personal stories in Singapore. And I think talking about what haunts us is an intimate topic that connects people.
In what aspects does this issue of Meantime differ from your first issue on Love Stories?
I would say we pushed ourselves to be more adventurous in our second issue – both in the form and the content.
You’ll notice a lot of “ghosts” in the visuals and texture of the magazine.
The cover, for instance, has a special ink that changes colour when it reacts to heat from our hands and the environment. There are also many interesting print surprises, including torn chapter dividers and jagged edges that run along the edge of the pages. We use different papers to express the stories – such as translucent tracing paper, and I think the visuals of the photographs also help reflect the mood we want to achieve.
With the recent Covid outbreak, the 2nd issue of Meantime Magazine took longer than anticipated to publish. What were the some of the obstacles you’d met as an independent publisher?
I think the two main obstacles are our small size and money.
We are not big names. And so we do not have the clout that publishing companies have. We don’t produce a lot of copies, and so without the economies of scale, it also means the cost per copy goes up. But I think we make it work to our advantage. Because of the limited copies, we are able to have more personal handmade elements like the chapter dividers torn by hand, for example.
Perhaps the most important aspect is money. We do not run ads, and so we depend a lot on our readers’ support to keep going! In fact, in every issue, we have to always work from the start to find sources of funding.
Any hints on what readers can expect from Meantime Magazine in the coming future?
We have the concept for our third issue! But we’re keeping it a secret first to keep the surprise for later. We’re still in the conceptualization and research phase.
On this note, I think what many of us forget is that every issue of Meantime actually takes one year’s worth of research and creating. I think some people don’t see that. They may look at the price tag and think “I’m not going to pay more than $30 for a book.”
But that amount you are paying for is one year’s worth of creativity in writing, photography and design that you can keep and pass on to somebody. Yet, for that same amount, we are OK to spend for a meal at a restaurant that we may forget the next day.
I hope more people support works of art and creativity!
What advice do you have for others who are starting out as a writer/editor like you?
Never give up! Do it because there is an inner conviction inside you that is waiting to burst out of your being, and that you want to create something beautiful to share with others.
BONUS: Do you remember what was the spookiest thing we did together as friends? (HAHA)
Yes! This happened when we were teenagers in school. I remember at our old school compound, there was a mysterious and dark entrance hidden in a corner that led into this tunnel. You had to climb this huge drain to get to it. There were already stories circulating among the students about what could be “discovered” at the end of the tunnel – ghosts, spirits, weird sounds, sinister scrawlings on the walls etc. We heard about it, and we went to explore it one day together! We didn’t “see” anything though.
I think this just shows that “ghost stories” are memorable and stick with us for a long time! Because they are so impactful, one day, they will come back to haunt us again.
NATIONAL DAY SPECIAL: Quote “SG55” when you cart out Meantime Magazine Issue #2: Ghost Stories ($35) to get $5.50 off your purchase! Valid for all Singapore and international orders. Promo ends on 31 Aug 2020.
Get your copy online: https://meantime.sg/
Check out my other book reviews too here!