Category Archives: history

Vintage Pilot pen (circa 1940) and a glimpse at a dark past




As you can see from the pictures this vintage Pilot eyedropper isn’t in good condition. The once-translucent barrel has ambered so badly that I can’t tell what colour it used to be. There’s also a line that spirals around the barrel, like a toilet roll tube. Perhaps the celluloid was originally a strip that had been rolled into a spiral to form the barrel?

The cap, though retaining more of its translucence, is ambered and cracked. The plastic resembles algae in dirty water ;p It’s a mismatch with the barrel too.


I was curious about the pen’s origins and type of nib. Thanks to Ron Dutcher (Kamakura Pens) and Stan (Ryojusen Pens), I’ve been able to date the pen to around 1940.

– The nib is a Pilot stenographer nib, as indicated by the rectangular breather hole.

– The date code stamped at the back of the nib — 2.40 — indicates it was made in 1940.

– The barrel was most likely made between 1936 and early 1938. It has the “Pilot Pen Mfg…” imprint with the “N” inside the logo.

– The sword clip was made between 1935 and 1954

To illustrate their points Ron and Stan also provided images of advertising cards from Pilot.

Courtesy of Kamakura Pens
Courtesy of Kamakura Pens
Courtesy of Ryojusen Pens
Courtesy of Ryojusen Pens

Stan’s card led to another curious diversion down darker paths.The “2600” refers to the 2600th year since Emperor Jimmu, descendant of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, supposedly founded the Yamato dynasty from which the current Japanese imperial family claims an uninterrupted line of descent. This was identified with 1940 in the Gregorian calendar, and that year saw special rituals and events to commemorate this event.

One such event was the unveiling of the Hakkō ichiu tower. Situated at the site of where Jimmu’s palace was supposed to have stood, the tower was the architectural embodiment of the Japanese regime’s expansionist ambitions, fueled by militarist-nationalist beliefs of the Japanese being a divine, superior race via the imperial family.

I was surprised to learn that the tower still stands today in Miyazaki prefecture, even retaining its carved calligraphy of the imperialist slogan Hakkō ichiu. It’s now disingenuously named the “Peace Tower”.

Maude Hutchins

Maude [Hutchins] is best known for her novel “Victorine,” which the New York Review of Books Classics series is reissuing in August. The catalogue copy says it all: “Hutchins had one theme—sex—which she explored with an extravagant, needling, disconcerting genius.” The novel, about a twelve-year-old upper-middle-class New England girl on the “visionary” cusp of puberty (Castle’s word), sounds ultimately less interesting than the unwritten biography of Maude, who has probably been given a slanted portrayal in the respectful biographies of her husband.

From the New Yorker Book Bench blog.

University of Chicago students would recognise that surname. Robert Hutchins was President at the University of Chicago from 1929 to 1951, and was largely responsible for two defining characteristics of a UofC education — the Common Core and a relatively lousy reputation in most sports. Hutchins took the UofC out of the Big Ten and halted the football programme — something that the Athletics Department probably rues till this day considering the importance of football to, well, just Americans (esp. males).

An evolution: Japanese language and “connectivity”

Looking forward from a point in time: not too long ago, people used to think of that the Japanese had extremely advanced and sophisticated mobile device networks and habits, but not as advanced internet tools e.g. they paid their bills through their keitai and chatted with others using BBSes.

Looking backwards from a point in future: Now that it’s clear that what we previously thought of as “online” and “mobile” worlds are converging however, those looking back at this period in future (researchers, analysts, academics?) might see that the Japanese experience simply evolved differently.

Lisa Katayama sketches in a Wired article:

The Internet didn’t take off in Japan the way it did in the US. It was strictly a place for geeks and otaku until relatively recently. The key reasons were obvious: Most sites were in English, and typing in Japanese on a computer keyboard was arduous and counterintuitive. (Even today, more people in Japan access the Web via their cell phones rather than on their home or work computers.)

Tokyo had its own mini-dotcom movement called Bit Valley in the late ’90s, and a few of those boom-era companies remain today, including popular Web portals like Rakuten and LiveDoor. But there’s a generally accepted sense that the country has lagged behind the West in developing its own innovative companies focused on the Web. Tellingly, some tech companies that vanished entirely from the US when the bubble burst, such as Infoseek, still exist in Japan.

(via her blog Tokyomango)

This parallels a bit Chinese writing was first absorbed into Japan, innovated on to suit local conditions — hiragana, katakana — but had certain elements that stagnated, such as kanji writing. Visually, some characters in Japanese are still written in ways that aren’t used any more. Practically, meanings have changed too.

What happens after the movie is made?

Radio Station Forgot To Play My Favourite Song is a documentary on Singapore rock circa 2003, shot as a final year project. It’s up on the internet now — available for all to see.

Part I:

(To be honest, I’m generally not as enthusiastic about rock/alternative music. I think our musicians are as good as any in the world, even better, but I’m not crazy about any music “scene”, local or foreign. I pick and choose – a few singers, the odd duo or trio. Anyone with solid lyrics and a pleasing arrangement.)

Wanted to highlight the saddest part, from the blog of one of the ex-documentarians:

The 3 of us have always enjoyed the compliments over the years but its also a little sad that none of us are within even sniffing distance of the hotshit rockumentarians we were 5 years ago – in fact we’ve all joined the SYSTEM and are civil servants now. If there were still anything remotely creative and edgy left in us, it probably would’ve been shat out of us by now. Sadly, we’re fading away instead of burning out. At least we still try to have our weekly beer sessions, which had its beginnings in RSFTPMFS’s preproduction stages.

Which reminds me of another postscript (post-mortem?):

The people who won the big awards in the NYU festival that year haven’t done much better than I have. I now live in Hollywood, as do many of my classmates from NYU. We all work day jobs to pay the bills, we all write screenplays in our free time. We get together and read one another’s screenplays sometimes. We go out for drinks and complain about our jobs and ponder whether any of us will ever direct another film.

Deep down we all still believe we will be making films again sometime soon. But the truth is time is passing and film school is receding into memory. And a few thousand more film school graduates move into town every year and compete for the same directing jobs.

written by Tom Edgar, a co-author of Film School Confidential. His and his co-author’s stories are here on their website.


NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information has teamed up with the National Museum to screen some very much older Singapore films from the 60s.

Featured are films which had reigned Singapore’s golden and most prolific film-making period:
P. Ramlee’s Seniman Bujang Lapok
Salleh Ghani’s Tun Fatimah
B. N. Rao’s Sumpah Pontianak
Hussain Haniff’s Hang Jebat

To add on, Perspectives Film Festival will also screen Singapore’s first Chinese-language film, Lion City by Yi Sui! Despite being our debut Chinese-language film, Lion City is rarely seen with its last appearance being 3 years ago at Screen Singapore 2005!

You’d think that a “school of communication and information” would come up with a better website, but here it is.

Most of these movies were made before Singapore became a nation-state of its own. Back then, almost everyone thought of themselves as “Malayan”. How meaningful is it then, to appropriate these movies as part of an ideal Singaporean film past?

Randomness #785D

  • R.I.P. Gary Gygax. Found out from, of all places, How The World Works:

    In the deep structure of ancient Internet culture, where the same computer programmers who helped build the Net often spent their leisure time pretending to be online wizards and warlocks, there’s no underestimating the genetic influence of Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax’s legacy is built into the infrastructure. I hope he took pleasure in that as the years went by, and I hope Gygax always knew how much millions of gamers and fantasy-dwellers, whiling away their hours on online quests, owe to him and his co-author Dave Arneson.

    Order of the Stick has a charming tribute too.

  • Zhou Enlai was born today, 5th March 1898. My impression of him was that of the model civil servant (not necessarily a compliment), managing to survive while Mao offed all his contemporaries. But what was he thinking on the inside? What kind of conscience did he have? I bought Gao Wenqian’s The Last Perfect Revolutionary with those questions and others in mind. Only managed to read a bit before being distracted by other books — should go back to it soon.
  • Jottings From The Granite Studio also informs us that 5th March was the start of the “Learn from Lei Feng” campaign too. Ah, a man for all (propaganda) seasons
  • When in London, why not visit the Stanley Kubrick Archive?
  • Turns out that the rumours of a new lime-green Lamy Safari are true. Here’s one for sale on eBay.
  • What happened to our National Day Songs?

    This year’s National Day Song, like its recent predecessors, is forgettable. (What’s it called? Uhh… “There’s No Place I’d Rather Be”). As if admitting its own absence of originality, the lyrics and arrangement both sound like a bowdlerised “Home“.The only thing that makes this year’s song a little more memorable is that two YES 93.3 DJs have parodied it:

    Their version is more likely to resonate with the public.


    What happened to our National Day Songs?

    Older songs like “Stand Up For Singapore”, “Five Stars Arising” and “We Are Singapore” are jingoistic, but they gave the distinct impression that they were written to be sung by a mass of people. They were meant to be jubilant and defiant at the same time, with simple language and frequently repeated choruses set to rousing arrangements.

    This was expected, if you consider that National Day Songs were meant as rallying symbols for Singaporeans — avenues to celebrate our unity.

    In recent years however National Day Songs have lost all flavour, sounding like the bland tinsel songs-of-the-hour that thrive on our pop radio stations.

    Is this the unintended outcome of some initially well-intentioned move to make the songs more contemporary? 1998’s “Home” could probably be considered the first of this new wave of gentler, more sentimental National Day Songs. “Home” is a memorable work, but its successors have all failed to capture the imagination and memories of Singaporeans in comparison.

    I’m particularly concerned with the content of the songs. Lyrics always suggest a singer in a particular context. Where previous National Day Song lyrics implied a community in Singapore celebrating its unity and togetherness, now they are sung as if by isolated individuals comparing Singapore with other countries.

    It seems to me that the target audience for the older songs was broader, encompassing all Singaporeans. The new songs however, with their emphasis on individual belonging and staying in Singapore despite having experienced life abroad, appear to be geared towards a certain class of Singaporeans which constitute a minority here. Growing, perhaps, but still a minority. The majority of Singaporeans would probably not be able to identify with the globe-trotting personae of these songs.

    I wonder if this isn’t detrimental to Singapore in the long run.

    “Leila Majnum” – earliest film to be made in S’pore?

    I don’t understand why this article needed a near-gloating tone though:

    Though Indian filmmakers have repeatedly been criticised for lifting storylines straight from Hollywood, India has nonetheless inspired Singapore’s film industry. One of the earliest films made in the island nation was ‘Leila Majnum’ – a remake of an Indian film!

    ‘It is really extraordinary that Singapore’s earliest film was a remake of an Indian film,’ Bee Thiam Tan, executive director of Singapore’s Asian Film Archive, said Tuesday at the ongoing 9th Osian’s-Cinefan film festival here.

    Everyone knows that the film industry in India has had a longer history than Singapore’s, right? Besides, remakes are nothing shameful. All this is moot anyway: the film’s lost.

    What I’d like to know is: what else did Tan Bee Thiam say?

    btw, the Indian independent filmmaker Tan is referring to is probably Rajendra Gour. A small retrospective of his work will be screened at the National Museum on 25th August 2007, as part of Short Cuts this month.

    The Last Wayang – 31 Aug

    Was browsing the pamphlet for the upcoming Singapore Art Show (which btw comes with special post-its attached) when this event caught my eye:

    The Last Wayang

    Situated at the disused Capitol Theatre, The Last Wayang provokes a reflection on Singapore’s old films.

    Date: 31 Aug
    Time: 7pm – 12am

    I emailed NAC for more info:

    The Last Wayang is a project helmed by Lasalle Masters students and graduates. It consists of video projections on the facade of the disused Capitol Theatre. One projection is of stills of old film posters, and the other is an MTV style video.

    Below is an excerpt of the project description from the artists “The video comprises of [sic] images of past films and how they have contributed to the flourishing local films of today. The highlights will be done in a trailer / MTV superimposition to apply this contradiction of nostalgia and modern times. “

    I often wish the Capitol would reopen as a cinema.

    (earlier posts about the Capitol)

    Invisible City (备忘录)


    Clever advertising for Invisible City at the Arts House — except that if you were already there then there was a good chance you were already going to watch it, like the Better Half and I.

    Still, great concept (probably by Mindwasabi) that echoes the subject matter of Tan Pin Pin’s latest documentary very well.

    (You’d probably have read all the reviews by now, so I don’t need to tell you that Invisible City is about how people remember and how those memories are recorded or – often – not)

    She said, during the post-screening Q&A, that one of the points she wanted to make is that the act of remembering — whether dredging up personal memories, re-recording old footage, or literally digging in old army forts — requires much effort and time. The process is painstaking.

    Invisible City is also meant to be a record of its own, as the Mandarin title implies. 备忘录 might be the more accurate title: a record prepared with the expectation that one will forget.

    Moreover, it seems clear that remembering is rarely appreciated, in this country at least. In the documentary Han Tan Juan, trying to carve out what he sees as the rightful place of 1960s Chinese student activists in Singapore’s history, remarks after a talk he gave to students that they didn’t seem to care about his story, let alone Singapore’s history.

    So at the risk of sounding trite, this work is as much about forgetting as it is about remembering. If I may borrow Alex Au’s words:

    By the end of the film, I was slumped in my seat, feeling quite defeated. Ken Kwek, a Straits Times journalist, told me on the way out that far from showing us how history is recorded, the film showed “how big the gaps are”.

    (earlier posts on Invisible City)