Showing posts from July, 2005

Getai Blues

The bald guy is supposed to be the getai big boss. Photos by J on his nokia Once perhaps every month, the Taoist temple next to J's HDB block stages a religious ceremony or show - it could be some elaborate ritual with costumed mediums, a simple opera or, as in this case, the rather secular getai . So instead of fighting its noise with our own, J and I abandoned our DVD movie plans and joined the Toa Payoh uncles and aunties for a good ol' rendition of 要拼才会嬴 (classic Hokkien song You Gotta Fight to Win ) and 无言的結局 (#1 Karaoke 80s weepy The Wordless/Silent End ). We were surprised by how genuinely funny the main host/singer was (see photo above of a rather plump lady in tights, a gold ultra mini-skirt secured with multi-coloured sashes, and a hot pink top). She was so good and did her job with so much pride she could have stood up to host a TV talk show with Taiwanese 菲哥. At one point, a group of Indians among the audience asked her to sing a Hindi song - something she gamely

Viva Cinema

In Singapore, censorship by the film & publications department (now under the Media Development Authority ) is something most of us have given up singing/shouting/ making a movie about . But two evenings ago, I was reminded that censors are not the only ones in charge of what we should or should not see. "Audiences, use your brain please!" - Tsai at the talk, with a cleaned-up version of the poster for Singapore. Though half asleep, I had dragged myself to listen to a Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Liang supposedly speak on "The Body, Love and Metropolis: An Affair with the Cinema of Tsai Ming Liang" at the Singapore History Museum on Thursday. It ended up that Tsai spoke instead on what cinema means to him and how audiences should learn to think. Despite his ignoring the topic, I was duly rewarded (no lah, there were no freebies, not even a sneak preview of his latest film The Wayward Cloud ) with this anecdote about his early movie Viva L'Amour . Viva is (


J made me this clay "cake" with an old biscuit tin and a metal chain to commemorate the end of my 8-year government scholarship bond yesterday. Inside the clay-covered tin is the rest of the chain, and the words on the side say "Bond Breaker" - the alphabets O-N-D have fallen off (but hey, that's because I'm no bond breaker). Thanks J! Here's the other clay object J made. ( Singaporeans can and do make things with our hands ) Function-over-form me thinks that this object is an ashtray...but with that phallic smiley rising from the ashes, it is best that I leave you to your own conclusions.

Promised Rest

click for larger pic Here's the drawing I promised for this post . I can't quite say why, but I think it's the right visual companion.

Obliging I am

J's shoe rack - much prettier and neater than mine! My Primary 4 teacher wrote in the comments section of my Report/Result Book that I was an "obliging girl". I remember I had checked the dictionary then for the meaning of that adjective and was not sure whether to be described as "obliging" was a good or bad thing...I still am ambivalent about it. But since tym asked and my teacher had so concluded, I shall oblige with the shoe meme. Total number of shoes you own = 22 > 9 Adidas (4 Mary Janes; 1 green/white Melbourne; 1 blue suede Titan; 1 Red&Silver; 1 classic red/white/blue; 1 something pumps-ish). J has a more fun selection of Adidas. > 6 Pumas (2 Mostros; 1 high-cut Schattenboxen; 1 shaolin pumps; 2 mesh) > 1 Asics Onitsuka Tiger Mexico > 2 X:odus ballet flats > 1 New Balance150 > 1 Grey Diesel > 1 (still fairly) white high-cut Converse > 1 White Birkenstock Most expensive pair of shoes : S$220 black Puma mid Schattenboxen


Today is my Grandma's birthday. I think 85 year-old Tan Poh Choo is the only bona fide artist in my family. For a long time, she was able to state on official forms that her occupation was "actress", or to be exact, "opera artiste". Sold when she was a child to one of the oldest Teochew Opera Troupes ( Lao Sai Toh ) in Singapore, Grandma Amps was its star in the 50s and 60s. Her popularity was attested by a series of photographs (one above), commissioned by a wealthy fan to be taken on the grounds of his house. Once, looking through her chocolate boxes of photographs, I had also spotted one of her receiving a congratulatory banner from the now Minister Mentor himself! L-Court of the Emperor (Centre: Grandma; 2nd from left: Grandpa) R -The Rare Tear (Right damsel: Grandma) Click for larger pic Since her strong features were made even more striking by the mask-like opera makeup, it was seldom that she played the role of the damsel, whether in love or distress. I

Arriving Home

The lesson I constantly learn growing older is that I am not invincible. Hmm, that sentence somehow didn't come out right. But you know what I mean. When you were 18 or so, the whole world lay before you for the taking. Just off to university (whether in Clementi or the ex-colonial master's hometown), anything you wanted was possible and also highly probable. You were invincible, invulnerable, needing no exercise routine, never having a hangover or fearing no healthcheck. When you sensed injustice, you got angry - fast, furious - because, well, since you were invincible, you must also be justified and no villain could deflect your righteous blows. You get the drift... And the day you realise that you are not invulnerable is also the day you accept that you are no different from anyone else. No one and nothing is invulnerable. I suppose anger can still be your response to injustice or suffering. But more often than not, anger is overtaken or even replaced by fear, anxiety, despa

in my city

Is it a bird? a plane? It's a butterfly! Another nabokov-inspired picture, another unsuspecting train passenger The romantics held music as the most sublime of the arts. Music can be mathematical in construct - and even then, it is still abstract. It escapes the confines of the word and can rise to levels of plotting and scheming higher than mere narratives can imagine. Music is not tempted by the figurative impulse in drawing, and does not feel destined to find its twin in the physical world. You musicians out there are lucky. What more, I am sure you will never get this sort of title or theme for conferences or festivals you attend. By that I mean "Text in the city", which is the theme of this year's Singapore Writers Festival : Built around the theme Text In The City , the festival programme is derived from the notion of the use of text in the city and various urban spaces/centres. The city is the context against which our contemporary interactions and concerns ar

My sis will be as big as...

Her . Maybe. Maybe not now or tomorrow. OK, and maybe not quite this famous. But the 17 year-old (yes, my sis is that young ) may be getting somewhere. Last Sunday, I had accompanied her to a recording studio on the 3rd floor of a dodgy-looking building in the Lavendar area to meet with 2 producers, one of whom had supposedly produced the latest album of this Singaporean . The future of the music industry in Singapore - buoyed by the larger East Asian market - is perhaps only one shade brighter than that of the publishing business , but I am ever hopeful. And on this hopeful note, the producers rang her today to ask for a second meeting to discuss a possible contract for her songs. I guess they must be serious because they asked that her "guardian" - er, that's me I guess - to be there again (I told them I was working for the gahmen in the arts, so perhaps they wouldn't try to pull a fast one on her). A soon-to-be famous pair of legs! Photo by J as part of the CD

Detainees and Boys in Blue

What am I doing here? - Photo by J I've always wondered about the Police Academy at Thomson Road. I remember sitting in my parents' car (back in those days when I still sat in my parents' car), driving by the Police Academy, and seeing these tanned boys with their shaven heads and dark blue shorts running two by two. OK, so I was wondering more about the Policeboys (ooh, policeboys sound like something naughty) than the Academy itself. But you must admit that the Police Academy does seem like a mysterious sort of place, situated beside that windy, ghostly Mount Pleasant road and the uppety Polo club. Someone once told me that ISD had previously occupied some buildings in the Police Academy where detainees were also "questioned" (my only picture of such "questioning" is from Edward Yang's excellent A Brighter Summer Day , of a man made to sit naked on a block of ice - yicks). Just over this weekend, I finally got my chance to enter the Police Academ


Hello hello? Click to see larger pic I posted Bishop's poem on the art of losing Saturday, and promptly lost my handphone on an SBS bus that very evening. How prophetic. Perhaps the lesson of poetry is best lived? My only consolation is that it motivated me to complete this picture of a man who, on his way home from a fishing trip, was desperately trying to connect while on the train. But to no avail. I hope, however, there is no prophecy contained in this picture; so that when the phone does ring in the coming week, you and I may get the reply we are waiting for.

Never far away from you

Last night, I walked by our neighbourhood faraway tree - and it was gone! OK, the tree is still there. But it is not the same tree anymore, not really. In a fit of upgrading fervour , HDB has finally found out this spot of un-touched, un-upgraded ground with its independent installation, and decided to impose their own idea of a hardland. So with their foreign workers in tow, they lay the base of the tree with cement. Hence the inhabitants of this sculpture garden - mr giraffe, frogman, mini-barbie, buddha himself!, the ubiquitous fisherman, orange bambi, those life-like birds etc - have been forced to re-locate. So it seems that even the faraway tree is never far away enough from HDB (which uses cement the way a student uses correction fluid). The only angel remaining on the original tree You can imagine, the artist of this magic kingdom was not too pleased. Shirtless, hairless and almost toothless, but not fireless, he saw J and I approaching from a distance, shock on our faces, a

how not to be kiasu

Since wheyface mentioned it , here is Elizabeth Bishop 's villanelle , " One Art " for a Friday night's digestion - ONE ART The art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master. Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster. I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn't hard to master. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster. ---Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master though it may


As a country, I feel we have a general disdain for any work or trade that is "manual". Maybe our predominantly Chinese population has laid on us that mandarin preference for all things scholarly. Labour is reserved for the buffalos, which you'll be reincarnated as if you had been way too lazy in your past life. Add to this the colonial inhertiancei.e. the British civil service. Plus probably some "founding father's" enthusiastic reading of Plato's Republic . And voila! We have all the ingredients for the birth of the public service scholarship (go read Tym's excellent/personal take on this). But what this disdain sometimes translates into is the lack of pride and passion in the things we do, make and create with our hands. Why create when you can just sit behind the desk and manage ? If you'll lay the egg, I'll hatch it Of course I am generalising. So does GR, a friend and hairstylist (his place is called Frontiers). He has seen too many ap


Even if I have wings, I still need to rest #2: Riding the Jam A school principal I was having coffee with today was telling me about school gangs. Well, they are not quite gangs until they do something "criminal", she clarified. Until then, they are just "mischievous". I asked her what exactly would constitute something criminal, as opposed to plain mischief. Waving a parang around and chopping off someone's arm off with it would be, she said as she recounted an incident involving students at a park near her school. And though it was not exactly criminal, getting caught smoking four times in a row will actually warrant a stay in boy's remand! But ripping a leg off a chair in class and throwing it at a teacher, for no apparent reason, while she is writing on the board is just crazy - even if the psychiatric test results are ambivalent. OK, my schools days are way dull compared to all this. Being in an all-girls school then, I suppose we had a penchant for the

My very own Superhero

A superhero who moves more silently than the bat Bruce Wayne, Mr Perseverance comes to your aid at your most dire and helpless moments, often without you noticing that it is he who has pulled you out from that pit of despair. I think he has planted a sensor in some of our brains and hearts (whichever organ you philosophically subscribe to as "you"). I must not forget to mention that Mr Perseverance usually partners other happier superheroes like the HopeGirl (though he no longer speaks with that sad granduncle of his, Myth Sisyphus. ) However, when I was introduced to Mr Perseverance this evening, he did not have any of his other superfriends with him. It was J who introduced us. Mr Perseverance appeared to J at 9pm at the Junction8 Coffeebean , where we have our usual Sunday coffee. I was completing yet another sketch of a train passenger, and J was busy working on his own doodles. There was no conversation between us. But unlike the girlfriend, Mr Perseverance needs not the

The Family Business

I have always wanted to run a publishing business. Nothing grand. Just a few books each year by good Singapore writers and artists. But publishing's a sure-fail business in Singapore: 1. The only publishing companies which survive do so with management books (which I guess I should read if I want to start a business), assessment books (those sinful instruments of torture) and cook books. 2. There are only, really, 2 bookstores in Singapore. Both won't deal with small publishers, only distributors. 3. There are only about 2-3 real distributors here. 4. Any book published in Singapore which sells above 1000 copies is considered a bestseller. 5. Who reads " local "? (that pernicious adjective synonymous with 2nd-rate) Except works which fall under #1. So what is on my side? So far, there seems to be only 1 happy factor. My dad runs a printing company. Ah, so you see, I can always just join the family business ! One of the tools of the family trade With that in mind, J

We'll be home for August

The last time J and I took a holiday away from our island was October 2003, Tokyo. In travel-mad Singapore, that must seem like a century ago. So having talking about a much-needed break for the past year, we finally decided on the fortnight after National Day. Of course, that would be just about the worst possible time to go to either of the two cities we've been planning to visit. 1. Taipei, Taiwan All those late night Jacky Wu variety shows did it. Of course, scores of talented Taiwanese directors and singers (pop, indie, boyband whatever) have fuelled the Taipei daydream for the past few years: a cheaper version of Tokyo that is equally mad, good food, fantastic bookstores...and that cafe where Sandee Chen supposedly still plays at. Plus friendly people we could at least strike up conversations with. Earlier this year, what stopped us from going were those Chinese missiles, poised to discipline that defiant Farmosa of fast talking Jacky-Wus. But what about August? August is w

Work to Eat

Even if I had wings, I would still need to rest #1 click for larger view . Mondays, as always, demand an extra dose of wisdom. And since the politicians are unlikely to provide any , the kind pastor had offered this wise reminder yesterday that work disguised as careers would never satisfy. His words were "Work to eat." Alright, taken out of context, this might seem reductive. But for me it was a liberating wisdom. And thus relieved of all work-related angst, I settled down this evening to colour this sketch of a woman at rest. To everyone no longer eligible for today's Youth Day festivities, this picture is for you.

Wisdom collected

Only The Real Thing I was at a Conference today on the virtues of public consultation (the "collective wisdom" all policy-makers should gather). The Conference's opening speech was delivered by a politician, who remarked that politicians must never lose touch with the people etc etc, especially in societies where class, cultural contexts and social conditions are diverse and divisive. Yet after admitting that ours is a plural society, he went on to say that the politician must always try to understand the concerns of the "REAL SINGAPOREAN". I was confused. Dear me. Who can possibly be the real Singaporean? Or rather, a fake one? Which politician would ever dare to name so confidently the "real American/British/Indian/Cambodian"? Maybe only a politician in real Singapore would ply this slippery rhetoric and politics of essentialism, and with such earnestness!