Set against the backdrop of 1830s Singapore where piracy, crime, triads, and tigers are commonplace, this historical romance follows the struggle of two lovers Zhen, a Chinese coolie and triad member, and Charlotte, an 18-year-old Scots woman and sister of Singapores Head of Police. Two cultures bound together by the invisible threads of fate yet separated by cultural diversity.
5 Random Things about The Red Thread
1. The title is based on a Chinese legend, the deity in charge of “the red thread” is believed to be Yue Lao, the old lunar matchmaker god who is also in charge of marriages. There are many temples and shrines establish for the worship of Yue Lao throughout Asia, an elderly man holding the book of marriage in his left hand and a walking stick in his right. Sometimes, the red threads can be seen too along with clay dolls symbolizing the couple. In these temples there could be couples praying for a happy marriage, singles in search of love or parents eager for their children to be married. In Taiwan, there is often a notice board where lovers or singles leave their wishes for Yue Lao. Yue Lao is believed to be in charge of heterosexual relationships. This has led to the emergence of the Gay Rabbit God in charged of homosexual relationships. In Taiwan, there is a Gay Rabbit Temple dedicated to this God.
2. Young poor Chinese coolies arriving in Singapore in the hope of making their fortune often took pseudonyms, calling themselves by often quite derogatory or humorous names. Their stay was deemed temporary. Fortune made they would return home and throw off the false identity, put this dreadful experience behind them and begin again. This rarely happened. Most of them remained abjectly poor and died young.
3. The main Chinese hero, Zhen, is educated; he can read and write. Because of this, he and his companion, Qian, stand out from the crowd of illiterate coolies and became instantly desirable as possible spouses for daughters of the wealthy Peranakan Chinese merchants, eager for new Chinese blood, who can fit into the business model as well as supplying families with plenty of sons and daughters.
4. Peranakan means ‘locally born’. Chinese sailors and traders came to Southeast Asian in the 16th and 17th century, intermarried with local women and stayed on building homes and businesses. They had children and down the decades developed their own unique culture – that of the Baba and the Nonya – a mixture of Southern Chinese and Malay dress, culture, language and cuisine. These families learned the language and ways of the colonial powers and prospered. I had never heard of this until I went to live in Singapore and became a guide at the Peranakan Museum. Noan, Zhen’s wife, and her family are Peranakan. The idea that any of these marriages could ever have been unhappy annoyed the local community in Singapore and I had acerbic comments. Many prominent families in the Southeast Asian Chinese communities are Peranakan.
5. Takouhi Manouk was the Armenian/Dutch mistress of George Coleman. They are real. They most likely met when he was working in the Dutch East Indies for her wealthy father. He built her a beautiful home opposite his on Coleman Street in Singapore and was almost certainly (though no absolute proof exists) the father of their daughter, Meda. I discovered this actually quite by chance (I suppose an instance of a random discovery) when looking through a book of paintings of early Singapore. The Armenian community was not pleased at having this relationship memorialised. Of course Takouhi is imagined. But the fact of her existence is not.