backBack to Archives

Rain Historian

02 May
Mon, 12am

by Shawn Hoo


The rain has always been documentarian to history which is why we learn spells to stop the rain.

On 22 February 1861, a French ichthyologist in Singapore reported a case of fish—later identified as walking catfish—raining from the sky. The locals rushed out of their homes with baskets as soon as the sun set up. After the piscine downpour, the leftovers continued walking on dry land for days.

The colour of rain, like the colour of methane, is never neutral.

Mai Der Vang, in Yellow Rain, recalls the Hmong sightings of jaundiced, gluey showers after the Vietnam War, chemical warfare and its anonymous “author of poisons” explained away by a honeybee hypothesis.

The ocean, where rain goes, is not a transparent body.

In Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain, Yasuko’s diaries speak of a rain that had “fallen in streaks the thickness of a fountain pen” (in John Bester’s translation)—rainwater mixed with carbon and soot—in the wake of the American nuclear bombs in Hiroshima, 1945.

Having no sense of border, rain was first everywhere.

Blood rain fell, without explanation, twice in Kerala’s modern history, fifty years apart. Who would have guessed that spores dispersed from a green algae would be responsible for an apocalyptic scenography? Purple rain, purple rain, as the Prince song goes, is used to represent the end of the world, I only wanted to see you bathing in the purple rain.

Rain is a translation of sky to ground.

Cloud seeding, the practice of artificially inducing rain by dispersing miniscule particles into the structure of clouds, is apparently unfeasible on an island the size of Singapore. The fattened clouds would swoop by without as much as a sighting of their prey. That It Never Rains on National Day, to borrow the title of translator Jeremy Tiang’s short story collection, is either a mystery or a myth. There is something incommensurable about translating the sky to the ground that makes rain such a miracle when you’re too small to demand its direct mapping.

A sheltered walkway is also an anti-rain spell.

Here, there are at least two hundred kilometres of walkways that link homes (an anti-rain spell) to public transports (an anti-rain spell).

Rain is an ideographic system.

In Leanne Chai’s Dry Spell, we learn that when chillies and onions are arranged vertically on a satay stick and stuck into the ground, it is said that the rain in Singapore will be pushed away. In Thailand, the practice is translated into lemongrass. In Taiwan, to drive the rain away, you “burn the turtle”: drawing, on a piece of paper, as many turtles as possible facing the sun.

Rain is an ideographic system.

When we try to imagine the end of the world, we cannot help but return to elemental metaphors. Robert Frost states it bluntly: “Some say the world will end in fire,/ Some say in ice.” Almost every religious and literary tradition contains a deluge which will alter the earth irrevocably.

Rain is an ideographic system.

At the end of the world, the last human wants to view the sun before it expires. Because it is impossible to witness the explosion of our own sun, we imagine that its final moments too will resemble a kind of rain.

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse the site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.