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Showing posts from July, 2006

the singapore idyll

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J: Hey, remember A? The girl we met at the exhibition opening who works for that ad agency? Y: Oh yah. What's up with her? J: Nothing. I bumped into her last night and found out that she lives in that fancy condo by the river - Y: That's nice! J: Yah, lucky thing. Y: Yah. But I love living where we are. I like living in a HDB flat. J: Oh, I remember, it's your proletariat dream. Y: Exactly! Since the flat's really just a 99 year lease from the government, we don't actually own any property. Legitimate proletariat. J: ... Living in a HDB flat, you learn the names of the neighbour's children, observe the coming-and-going of the folks in the opposite block, guess from the free-roaming aroma what yummy soup the lady 2 floors down is boiling, note the rumbling engines of the feeder bus every 10 minutes or so, make small talk with the hawkers at the market, wander past the lady who insists on growing the stray cat population with her generosity, lament t

the daily planet

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sunset world - image by J There's a scene in Superman Returns of Clark Kent channel surfing after he has returned from a 5-year space orbit. Of course, Superman doesn't need the news to tell him that the world is in a mess and needs his saving, but he watches anyway. In this one act, he is like us - and why he is Superman and not Superalien. Cloistered in on our little island, the tsunamis and bombed out cities can seem far away dramas - the latter more crazy than the former, since we can pretend not to understand nature. As part of our island life, we can be thankful for small comedies instead, like the mr brown fiasco (enough, please!) and that rather unreal smiling for the IMF/WB folks. And still smaller, in our HDB flats, the little sadnesses, hurts and doubts in between meals and dreams - not entirely incomprehensible. It's hard to write when the context in which you write appear uncertain. The global, the national, the domestic, the personal. And though the

the very first time

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The first novel is a curious thing. (I've never written one myself, sorry, so I am speaking here only as a curious reader.) If I was an editor handed a first novel, would I edit out the rawness? The parts that appear over-written but, given the context and the rawness of emotion, those dramatically paused sentences that actually seem wrong in a right way? Would I suggest that the story arc be less obvious, less naive? Instead, suggest that it assumes a more deceptively meandering form so that when the pages towards the end literally thin out, the reader would not be so conscious that the story is reaching a point of conflict that will, no doubt, be resolved? Oh lucky thing I'm also not an editor! Still, it is equally hard to be a curious reader nowadays. The reviews give out the whole deal. The hype that surrounds each book reaches you through the newspapers/blogs, word of mouth, bookcovers that try too hard, and fancy displays in bookstores - that now ubiquitous top

hair-brained

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In many ways, in spite of meritocracy, democracy or whathaveyou that we put on, it often feels like we are suffering from the weird lingerings-on of a primitive system... But this is really about hair and hairdressing. Before, During, After... hair art by J A one-party landscape and a monarchy have these common types - an emperor, the crown prince, a select group of favourite princes/princesses, eunuchs, courtiers and generals...everyone else a tax-paying subject. On a small island, substitute the emperor with a feudal lord and his clan. In such a world, that rigid, unquestioned hierarchy of occupations also prevail. The way to the top is either to commandeer troops or be a scholar, and rise to be a magistrate, first in the small town, and perhaps to the capital to join the court of ministers. Merchants are respected and disdained for their wealth. Poets drown. Artists (if they survive) must pander to the taste of the emperior and the court, or the lord and his clan - service t

you quit, i quit

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poster by J J's post , numero 2 : I popped the question to her today. She is still single. Still beautiful, in her early 40s, I think. She did not seem surprised. It was as if she read me like an open book. She smiled and asked me about my plans. I told her I have no plans, but I know it will be a period of explorations, experimentations. She told me she had expected me to pop the question. She had felt it would be so every year when she asked me about my performance. Her reply this time was short and sweet. You know you are absolutely dispensible when you ask your boss "is it ok that I quit next month?" and she does not even ask you to stay a little longer. Y: So, congratulations! J: ... for what? Y: Well, for finally telling your boss you are leaving your job! J: I guess it's about time. After 8 years of lying to myself that I can be good with this corporate shit, maybe even be a director or a consultant. Y: Haha. Con sultant. J: Maybe I am still lying t

what you learn at art class

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There are things that you can learn at art class besides how to make a pretty picture. (1) Like how NOT to make a pretty picture. 4 ugly monoprints of my hansem J Because the monoprint is a one-time thing (it literally means a print you only make once, by applying pressure directly on the paper against ink), and because it doesn't allow for too much fussing or control, it demands a certain spontaneity when you make a picture. In fact, the more you ask of the monoprint a precision and clean-ness of form, chances are the more the image you have in your mind slips from you. It demands, therefore, that you accept the possibility of failure from the start. (2) Like how obsessed, typical Singaporean that I am, with achievement and success. How I struggled with the monoprint! Not that it is a complex process, it is not. I told N, the teacher, that even the sketch book I carry around with me is not filled with random casual sketches, but "complete" drawings. Since I draw

sure win!

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a giant BBQ chick wing? It's a whole BBQ pig! - photo by J Our friend demonstrates yet again why his name is Wings . (this exchange is in mandarin) Wings: : Long time no see. J: Hey, where have you been the past few weeks? We came by, but your stall was either shut or there were no chicken wings. Wings: Ohr [ he glances at his parents by the satay pit ], they two old ones went for eye operations mah. J: Eh, [ lowering his voice to a conspiratorial level ] I tell you, we went to that chicken wing place and tried their wings...you know, that old-style hawker centre you said you thought about joining last time, the one with the high rent...now it's behind the "durians", you know... [ J refers to the "Makansutra Glutton's Bay" ] Wings: Ohr, that one! [ he pauses, then drawls, knowingly. ] Hoowww? Niicce? J: Not nice lah! Wings: See, I told you! J: They're not very tasty. Wings: I told you. I ate there once. Went there to try. Not nice! J:

the young, the old, and the missing

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Helen is too big for our island? The National Arts Council will be supporting the 2nd NOISE festival in Singapore this year. The trick with NOISE is that once you are above the age of 25, you are essentially disqualified from submitting any work. Not that such a festival makes much of a difference (as its name implies) or that the age limit cripples anyone, but it did bring to mind the conversation J and I were having recently about growing old in Singapore. In Lee Kang Sheng's directorial debut The Missing (2004: companion piece to Tsai Ming Liang's Goodbye DragonGate Inn ), the title refers to 3 groups/people. One is the grandchild, who goes missing in the Park. The second is the grandma who is desperately searching for the child. Hence, figuratively "missing" is the lost grandma - she misses the child and misses the company of society in what is a bewildering and increasingly alienating Taipei. But the third is all the working population in Taipei. Shot dur