Bonny Hicks

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Bonny Hicks
Bonnyhicks.jpg
"Heaven can wait, but I cannot. I cannot take for granted that time is on my side." – Bonny Hicks
Born Bonny Susan Hicks
(1968-01-05)5 January 1968
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Died 19 December 1997(1997-12-19) (aged 29)
Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia
Cause of death
Blunt force trauma due to aircraft accident (SilkAir Flight 185)
Nationality Singaporean
Occupation Catwalk model, writer

Bonny Susan Hicks (5 January 1968 – 19 December 1997) was a Singapore Eurasian model and writer. After garnering fame as a model, she gained recognition for her contributions to Singaporean post-colonial literature and the anthropic philosophy conveyed in her works. Her first book, Excuse Me, Are You A Model?, is recognised as a significant milestone in the literary and cultural history of Singapore.[1] Hicks later published a second book, Discuss Disgust, and many shorter pieces in press outlets, including a short-lived opinion column in a major Singaporean daily that was pulled due to public dissent from Singaporean traditionalists.[citation needed]

Hicks died at age 29 on 19 December 1997 when SilkAir Flight 185, which she was aboard, crashed into the Musi River on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, killing all 104 passengers. After her death, numerous publications, including the book Heaven Can Wait: Conversations with Bonny Hicks by Tal Ben-Shahar, featured her life and thought.[2]

Although Hicks was deemed controversial by many during her lifetime because of her willingness to discuss human sexuality openly, her post-death legacy is understood to be important for Singaporean society.[citation needed] Hicks' legacy will remain as that of an important transitional social figure between old and new Singapore during its period of broadscale societal changes under the forces of globalisation. Her death resulted in the loss of a Singaporean national voice that was both growing and important, albeit a perhaps deeply flawed voice, considering the career-long push-back from Singaporean traditionalists that continually vexed her and likely informed her late-in-life decisions.[3]

Early life[edit]

Hicks was born in 1968 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to a British father, Ron Hicks, and a Cantonese-speaking Singaporean-Chinese mother, Betty Soh. Her parents separated soon after her birth and Soh relocated to Singapore in 1969 with her infant daughter. There, Hicks' formative social environment was multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and included Malays, Indians, and Chinese of various dialect groups.[4] Although she was multiracial, she identified as Chinese during her early childhood, speaking Cantonese and watching Chinese-language television at home.

When Hicks was twelve, her mother accepted a job as a caretaker of a bungalow in Sentosa, Singapore, and they relocated to the island away from a Singaporean Housing and Development Board flat in Toa Payoh.[5] Throughout her teens, Hicks lived with her mother on Sentosa Island,[6] and intermittently with her porpor (grandmother) with whom she enjoyed a particularly close relationship.[7]

Hicks never met her father. At aged sixteen, she traced him through the British High Commission, since he had been stationed in Singapore when Hicks was conceived. By then Hicks' father was married with children and he returned word via fax that he wanted nothing to do with her. Despite joking whenever publicly questioned about it, her father's rejection remained painful to Hicks throughout her life.[8][9]

Hicks' early years were marked by "few friends". She stated she made no real friends beyond the age of 15, until she met a pivotal person in her life, Pat Chan.[10]

Finding fame[edit]

Discovery and first mentor[edit]

After completing her A levels at the Hwa Chong Junior College, Hicks was "discovered" at age nineteen by Patricia Chan Li-Yin, a nationally decorated female swimmer who later retired to become a magazine editor and talent agent.[11] Hicks and Chan enjoyed a close, multi-leveled, complicated relationship that was both professional and personal. Hicks referred to Chan as "Mum", and some thought there was perhaps more to the relationship.[citation needed] Stemming from ambiguous statements Hicks later made in her first book, (e.g., "I was in love with Pat Chan"), Singaporeans speculated widely whether the two were involved in a lesbian relationship. While the statements in her book could be interpreted as indicating only an intimate mentoring relationship with Chan, whom Hicks clearly idealized and admired highly, she continued to be ambiguous on the subject whenever questioned. This created a sense of mystery about herself, and contributed to ongoing buzz and publicity.[3][9]

Modeling[edit]

Hicks' modelling career began with the September 1987 cover of Singaporean fashion monthly, GO. She followed this with multiple appearances on other covers, print advertisements, catwalk appearances in designer clothes, and in a music video for a top-10 hit by the Singaporean band The Oddfellows. A year into her modelling career, Hicks began writing about her life experiences and ideas stemming from her modelling. By age twenty-one she had completed her first book, Excuse Me, are you a Model?[4] She continued to model for five more years and in 1992, at the age of twenty-four, released her second book Discuss Disgust. Hicks then left modelling to take a job as a department lead and copywriter in Jakarta, Indonesia. At the time, Hicks reiterated a statement she had made in her first book that she had never wanted to be a model in the first place.[12] Instead, her dream since age thirteen had been to be a writer. It was then that she had begun keeping a diary of her feelings and experiences, a practice she continued throughout her life.[3][7][9][10]

Brief marriage[edit]

Before her move to Indonesia, Hicks was married briefly to a former member of the Republic of Singapore Air Force. Hicks left him for Richard "Randy" Dalrymple, an American architect, who was with her when she died. Hicks first husband was a former colleague of the pilot of the plane in which Hicks perished. This connection would later become a troubling focus of the investigation into the crash that took Hicks' life.[13]

Literary contributions and controversy[edit]

Excuse Me, Are You a Model?[edit]

Hicks published her first work, Excuse Me, Are You a Model?, in Singapore, in 1990. The book is her autobiographical exposé of the modelling and fashion world and contains frequent, candid discussion about her sexuality, a subject that was not traditionally broached in Singaporean society at the time. The work stirred significant controversy among Singaporeans who held traditional literary and moral standards.[citation needed] The book was considered a "kiss and tell" book with "too much too soon" from a independent woman in her early twenties. Singaporean youth, on the other hand, had a starkly different view. In just three days twelve thousand copies were sold, and after two weeks, twenty thousand copies. The book's publisher claimed Hicks' work "the biggest book sensation in the annals of Singapore publishing." [14]

During the years leading up to her death, Singaporean English literature scholars had begun to recognise more than just a simple generational divide in the reactions to Hicks' book, and were describing it as "an important work" in the confessional mode of the genre of post-colonial literature.[15] The book is considered "a significant milestone in Singapore's literary and cultural history".[citation needed] By then, Singaporean young people had already established a localized literary movement, following Hicks' lead. Local markets were inundated with the autobiographies of youth, many not yet in their twenties.[1]

Discuss Disgust[edit]

In 1992, two years after Hicks' controversial entry into Singapore's literary scene, she published her second and last book, Discuss Disgust. She continued to broach issues not traditionally spoken of openly in Singapore.[16] The novella portrays the world as seen through the eyes of a child whose mother is a prostitute. Adding fuel to the controversy surrounding Hicks, a widely read, local traditionalist columnist dubbed it: "another one of those commercial publications which pack sleaze and sin into its hundred-oddpages" (sic).[17] While public understanding was greater than let on, traditionalist social pressures meant that few people publicly accepted the novella for what it actually was. This semi-autobiographical account of her own troubled childhood years, is considered a partially veiled, yet unsuccessful, cry for the public to reinterpret her early adult years through the trauma-lens of her childhood.[18] [19]

"The Bonny Hicks Diary"[edit]

Hicks was also a frequent contributor to Singaporean and regional press outlets.[4] Her frankly-written, bi-monthly column in The Straits Times, "The Bonny Hicks Diary", in which she often discussed her childhood on Sentosa Island, further incited traditionalists' feelings that Hicks was an improper role model for young, impressionable girls, whom they felt were being morally corrupted by her. Yielding to public pressure, spurred initially by a letter writing campaign to the paper, the Times pulled her column within a year. Esteemed editor, Richard Lim, voiced regret over what he considered a politically motivated decision by the paper. Pushing back as far as practicable, Lim began running frequent "special" columns by Hicks. Having taken an interest in Hicks' development as a writer since her first publication, Lim was uniquely authoritative when he noted the deepening of Hick's writings as she matured.[8]

Third Book?[edit]

At the time of Discuss Disgust's release, Hicks reported to The Straits Times that she had been working on a third book, one that centred on correspondence between herself and an unnamed, female housemate. Hicks wrote of her social observations of the United States during a two-month visit, using this as a springboard to social commentary about Singapore. While the book idea further revealed Hicks' preference to write with a certain person in mind, it never materialised, not even in draft form.[7]

Life transition[edit]

Introspection[edit]

During Hicks' heyday, few people had evaluated her life and works within the larger social constructs that were bringing changes to Singapore during rapid globalisation. These gradual changes reduced the traditionally successful means of shaming and ostracizing people. Generally, the instinct for traditionalists was to fear Hicks' platforms, which they perceived as a moral threat. The belief was that Hicks was willing to degrade Singaporean society for personal fame and financial gain; even though the criticisms were not entirely fair, there may have been a bit of truth in the suspicions.[citation needed] The critics' collected efforts had long been taking a toll upon Hicks' perseverance. While she didn't avoid the opportunities for self-promotion, as Pat Chan had taught her, it became clear that Hicks had been introspective for some time, and had planned for a significant life and career transition. As Hicks matured, the changes in her approach became apparent. [18] [19] Of this period Hicks confessed,

I experienced great happiness and great sorrow in my life. While the great happiness was uplifting and renewing, the sorrow ate at me slowly, like a worm in the core of an apple. I realised then that stable happiness was not mine until I could eliminate the sorrow too. The sorrow which I experienced was often due to the fact that my own happiness came at a price. That price was someone else's happiness.[20]

New mentors, new growth[edit]

Despite her confession that she had harmed others in her search for fame, and her intention to avoid this in future, Hicks had supporters who saw her as a young lady not trying to offend, but to initiate critical conversations within a culture that was often resistant to anything other than the status quo. To her supporters, Hicks' anthropological philosophy of life that featured loving, caring, and sharing was not only refreshing but important. An evolving voice emerged clearly in her writings, and this attracted many Singaporeans and others, including some scholars. Two scholars would become influential new mentors and pivotal to the continued development of her thoughts.[3][4]

One of Hicks' new mentors was Tal Ben-Shahar, a positive psychologist, and professor of psychology at Harvard University. Hicks reached out to him, after being exposed to his writings, and the two corresponded about philosophical and spiritual matters for approximately a year, until her death. The correspondence later became the basis for Ben-Shahar's 1998 book in which he described Hicks' growth during the year.[4]

Hicks became a student of Confucian humanism, and was particularly attracted to the thoughts of Harvard professor Tu Wei-Ming, a New Confucian philosopher. Hicks attended Tu's seminars and the two corresponded over a number of months. With Tu's influence added to that of Ben-Shahar's, Hicks began to exhibit the increasing influence of New Confucianism on her thinking. In her occasional New Straits Times columns, she criticized Singaporean society for, among other things, its "lack of understanding of Confucianism". Just before her death she had submitted to the New Straits Times what editor Richard Lim considered her most mature column to date. The daily published the column "I think and feel, therefore I am", posthumously on 28 December 1997.[4] In it Hicks argued:

Thinking is more than just conceiving ideas and drawing inferences; thinking is also reflection and contemplation. When we take embodied thinking rather than abstract reasoning as a goal for our mind, then we understand that thinking is a transformative act.
     
The mind will not only deduce, speculate, and comprehend, but it will also awaken, will enlighten and inspire.
     
 Si, is how I have thought, and always will think.[4]

Tu asserts that Hicks' use of the Chinese character Si was "code language", meant to convey to the Chinese-speaking English readers a New Confucian thought. [4]

Redefining herself[edit]

Move to Indonesia[edit]

When Hicks penned Excuse Me, are you a Model?, the positive or negative reactions were not her first concern. Public indifference failed to garner the fame and popularity she sought. Hicks described her early motivations:

I wanted to be something all young girls aspired to be, I wanted to be that model that men lusted after, I wanted to be that model that people would recognise on the streets. I wanted to be that model that clients would never stop demanding for, I wanted to be that model, that face, that would launch a thousand ships. I wanted to be a star.[21]

Although Hicks never fully attained her early goals, few people were completely apathetic, and that, as well as the controversy that followed her, fueled her popularity. While experiencing fame at a young age, Hicks' limited life experience did not prepare her for the negative reactions that she received. At the time, few people realized the toll that the negative words and societal shunning were having on her psyche. Hicks' move to Indonesia coincided with the release of her second book, Discuss Disgust. Her life changes were considered a plea for greater public understanding, and an attempt to escape the intense controversy the publication of her first book, Excuse Me, Are You a Model? caused in Singapore.[citation needed]Whether her departure was something of a victory for traditionalists, an admission of her limited ability to withstand societal disapprobation, the result of her increasing maturity, or some combination of the three, is speculation. What is clear is that she hoped to find a reprieve from the societal shunning she had been experiencing from traditionalists in Singapore.[3][4][9]

Heading to university[edit]

Part of Hicks' plan was to attend university. Although she publicly downplayed her level of education, she privately expressed regret that she had not studied past her A-levels, something critics had used continually to denounce Hicks and her writings. During the year leading up to her death, Hicks applied to numerous universities in Britain and the United States, including Harvard. During her application processes, she solicited support from her Harvard mentors in order to overcome any negative effects of her unremarkable academic record. At the time she applied, Hicks could present herself as an exceptional candidate to any university she wished to attend. Her upbringing, and determination to become a nationally known model-turned-author, had impressed the two high-level academics who had become the predominant mentors of her life transition. Both had provided her with a letter of recommendation. Hicks advised the Singapore press that she had received one university acceptance, refusing to say where, explaining that she was awaiting other possible acceptances before ultimately deciding which university to attend.[3][4][8]

Marriage and family plans, plane crash[edit]

Hicks had hoped to improve her image by marrying, settling down, and having children. Shortly before her death, she became engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Richard "Randy" Dalrymple, an American architect who had worked in Singapore and Jakarta, and had been featured in Architectural Digest.[22] Hicks and Dalrymple had boarded SilkAir Flight 185 in Jakarta en route to Singapore to celebrate Christmas with Dalrymple's family.

Death[edit]

Less than thirty minutes into the flight, SilkAir Flight 185 began a sudden, radical, high-speed nosedive at 35,000 feet toward the Musi River. The plane reached such a high velocity that it broke into pieces in the air, before being scattered across the river's surface. Local fisherman immediately scoured the crash site for survivors without success. Both Hicks and Dalrymple perished, along with the rest of the passangers and crew; not a single body was found intact.[3][13][23][24]

Crash investigations[edit]

No part of Hicks' body was ever found. Personal effects, such as her wallet and credit cards, were found by divers at the crash site and confirmed her death. SilkAir Flight 185 had crashed with such tremendous force that only six of the one hundred and four victims could be identified because of the condition of the bodies.[25]

The crash investigation revealed that Hicks' ex-husband was a Republic of Singapore Air Force friend of Tsu Way Ming, the Singaporean captain of SilkAir Flight 185. According to the recovered flight recorder, Tsu had walked into the first class area of the plane's cabin just minutes before the crash. It would have been hard for him to miss Hicks and Dalrymple seated together. Tsu was thought to have disabled the plane's flight recorder to prevent it from providing a clear record of the actions he was about to take. Additionally, investigators discovered that Tsu had longstanding personal problems and a string of troubling incidents as a pilot. Leading up to the time of the crash, he had been experiencing serious family and financial problems, in part due to gambling debts. This suggested that his plan to crash the plane was premeditated. A month earlier, Tsu had taken out a large life insurance policy on himself that went into effect just hours before the crash.[3][25]

Crash conclusions[edit]

By this time, the crash investigations were complete. Indonesian authorities concluded that the crash had occurred for unknown reasons, resulting in nearly universal criticism that they had politicised the report so as not to strike fear into potential passengers of its fledgling national airline industry. US authorities,[26] whose painstaking research had become the main reason for criticism of Indonesia's findings, took a confidently different view. Employing uncharacteristic brushes of rhetorical force in their final report, they ruled the crash a suicide/homicide caused by the deliberate actions of SilkAir Flight 185's Captain Tsu Way Ming.[25]

As a result of Indonesia's findings, survivor benefits were paid in full to Captain Tsu Way Ming's wife and children. However given the U.S. conclusions, it was almost universally accepted that Tsu had murdered Hicks, along with the one hundred and three others aboard his plane.[25]

Aftermath of death[edit]

Hicks' death at age twenty-nine shocked Singaporeans, as well as others around the globe, and prompted a swirl of activity as people sought to interpret the meaning of a life that had been suddenly cut short.[27]

Legacy[edit]

Post-modern author[edit]

Hicks is a transitional, yet often still-controversial, figure who lived and tragically died amid an important period of debate over changes between traditional and globalised Singapore. Both in life and in death, her status as a writer came to eclipse her status as a model. Today she is most recognised for her contributions to Singaporean post-colonial literature that spoke out on subjects not normally broached, and the anthropic philosophy contained in her writings.[4] Describing the consensus of Singaporean literary scholars in 1995, two years before Hicks' death, Ismail S. Talib in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature stated of Excuse me, are you a Model?: "We have come to realize in retrospect that Hicks's autobiographical account of her life as a model was a significant milestone in Singapore's literary and cultural history". This recognition preceded Hicks' death, and in light of the controversy, and even the societal shunning she faced because of her early writings, took her and many around her by surprise. It also helped fuel the life transition she underwent prior her death.[1][3][9]

Interpreting a life cut short[edit]

As answers and unanswered questions continued to trickle out from the flight investigations, literary scholars, both in Singapore and elsewhere, began their own investigations of Hicks' writings. Some did so anew, while others did so for the first time.[3]

Tu Wei-Ming characterised Hicks' life and philosophy as providing a "sharp contrast to Hobbes' cynic[al] view of human existence", and stated that Hicks was: "the paradigmatic example of an autonomous, free-choosing individual who decided early on to construct a lifestyle congenial to her idiosyncratic sense of self-expression". More than anything, Tu said, "She was primarily a seeker of meaningful existence, a learner".[1][15][19]

Singaporean post-colonial author Grace Chia interpreted Hicks' life with a poem, "Mermaid Princess", that parodies the traditional Scottish folk song, "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean." An excerpt of the poem characterises Hicks as one who:

spoke too soon
too loud
too much out of turn
too brutally honest
too empowered by your sense/x/uality
too much of I, I, I, I –
I think
I know
I understand
I love
I, I, I, I.[6][28]

Richard Lim, the editor of the The Straits Times, interpreted Hicks in a eulogy by recalling her life and contributions to the paper, and by publishing an excerpt of the famous essay "Whistling of Birds" by D. H. Lawrence. Lim began his piece with a line from the famous folk/rock song Fire and Rain by James Taylor. "Sweet dreams and flying machines, and pieces on the ground," sung into his readers' memories in Taylor's highly somber tone, seemed to perfectly encapsulate much of the retrospective feeling across Singapore about Hicks' life and sudden death.[8]

On the first anniversary of her death, in December 1998, Tal Ben-Shahar published Heaven Can Wait: Conversations with Bonny Hicks, in which he wove together his and Hicks' year-long correspondence with his own philosophical musings. The book is described as an extended postmodern "conversation" between two seekers journeying intensely together in a quest for meaning and purpose. It takes its title from an article Hicks submitted to The Straits Times just days before her death, which ever after took on a hauntingly prophetic air. In it she wrote: "The brevity of life on earth cannot be overemphasized. I cannot take for granted that time is on my side—because it is not ... Heaven can wait, but I cannot".[20][29] In an earlier Strait Times piece that memorialised her grandmother, Hicks confessed that she believed in life after death.[4]

Non-racialism[edit]

Especially among Singaporean youth, who in the years since Hicks' death have become increasingly uncomfortable with their country's traditional backdrops of racialism, Hicks is recognized as a person who learned to cross cultural boundaries, who found a comfortable niche in the betwixt-and-between of contesting cultural traditions, and who lived as one who was race-blind to see people for who they really were.[4]

Memorials[edit]

A memorial in honour of the victims of SilkAir Flight 185 stands beside the Musi River crash site in Indonesia. Another is at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, Singapore.[30]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Ismail S. Talib (September 2000). "Singapore" (PDF). Journal of Commonwealth Literature 3 (35): 105. (subscription required (help)). 
  2. ^ "Divers battle muddy water at Indonesian crash site". World News (CNN). 1997. Retrieved 27 December 2006. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Institute of Policy Studies (Singapore) (1991). "Yearly Publication". Times Academic Press for the Institute of Policy Studies. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Tu Wei-Ming (1998). "Celebrating Bonny Hicks' Passion for Life". Harvard University. Archived from the original on 21 November 2005. Retrieved 27 December 2006. 
  5. ^ Maureen, Koh (26 August 2008). "Mum spends birthdays at crash site". Singapore: The New Paper. 
  6. ^ a b Grace Chia (1998). "Mermaid Princess". The Literature, Culture, and Society of Singapore. Retrieved 27 December 2006. 
  7. ^ a b c Tan Gim Ean, "A Bonny way to tell the truth" New Straits Times, 30 May 1992, 28.
  8. ^ a b c d "Cover Girl from first to last". Life Section. The Straits Times (Singapore). 28 December 1997. Retrieved 29 December 2006. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Rahman, Sheila, "Don't judge a covergirl by her looks," New Straits Times, 2 Sep 1990, 10.
  10. ^ a b Excuse Me, 7.
  11. ^ See http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1376_2010-04-29.html for an encyclopedia article on Patricia Chan Li-Yin
  12. ^ Majorie Chiew (27 May 1992). "Model Bonny opts for a change in scene". The Star (Malaysia). Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 29 December 2006. 
  13. ^ a b "SilkAir". The Los Angeles Times. 5 September 2001.  Dalrymple's architecture in Singapore was featured in: Dalrymple, Richard. "Pavilions for a Forest Setting in Singapore." Architectural Digest (4/91), 48 (4).
  14. ^ "About Flame of the Forest Publishing". Flame of the Forest Publishers. 2006. Retrieved 27 December 2006. 
  15. ^ a b Poddar, Prem; Johnson, David (2005). A Historical Companion To Postcolonial Thought in English. Columbia University Press. p. 518. ISBN 0-231-13506-8. 
  16. ^ Interview and review by Koh, Buck Song, "Little girl lost", The Straits Times 21 March 1992.
  17. ^ Tan Gim Ean, "That's why mummy is a tart" New Straits Times, 30 May 1992, 28.
  18. ^ a b Hicks, Bonny (1992). Discuss Disgust. Angsana Books. ISBN 981-00-3506-3. 
  19. ^ a b c Eugene Benson & L.W. Conolly, eds.; Wei Li, Ng (1994). Encyclopedia of post-colonial literatures in English. London: Routledge. pp. 656–657. ISBN 0-415-27885-6. 
  20. ^ a b Ben-Shahar, Tal (1998). Heaven can Wait: Conversations with Bonny Hicks. Singapore: Times Books International. ISBN 981-204-991-6. 
  21. ^ Excuse Me, 86.
  22. ^ See for example the April 1991 and November 1993 issues.
  23. ^ Dalrymple's architecture in Singapore was featured in: Dalrymple, Richard. "Pavilions for a Forest Setting in Singapore." Architectural Digest (4/91), 48 (4).
  24. ^ Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
  25. ^ a b c d "The pilot who wanted to die", Sydney Morning Herald, 10 July 1999.
  26. ^ U.S. authorities investigate crashes that occur on foreign soil whenever Americans were aboard the plane.
  27. ^ See, for example, an essay by The Straits Times columnist Koh, Buck Song, "Bonny, you must wear a mini", 12 January 1998.
  28. ^ Chia, Grace (1998). Womango. Singapore: Rank Books. ISBN 981-04-0583-9. 
  29. ^ Geoff Spencer (21 December 1997). "Most passengers still strapped in their seats". Associated Press. 
  30. ^ "Families of SilkAir MI185 Association – Memorial Dedication Ceremony Speech". Home.pacific.net.sg. Retrieved 16 July 2010. 

Attribution[edit]

This article is derived from the Citizendium article "Bonny Hicks" by Stephen Ewen, which is licensed under the Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution on the face of the article is required, per the author.

External links[edit]