"it's not meant to sound/look depressing, really."A quick sketch during a train ride to work.
It has been a long time since I've a reason to walk around the Mohamed Sultan area. Last Saturday, on our way to the Singapore Tyler Print Institute by the Robertson Quay to see the new print works of Indian artist Anju Dodiya, we walked past another expensive condominium/service apartment development that has mushroomed in the area, together with dozens of new Japanese and European restaurants, delis, pubs and fancy watering holes. A Japanese woman walked toward us holding the hand of her beautiful 8-year old daughter with brown hair and green eyes.
Y: J, are we in Singapore?
Y: Strange huh. Same country, yet we lead such different lives. This - and Toa Payoh.
J: You don't say. Aiyah, the truth is that even in Toa Payoh, if you take the 2 of us and a family living in the next block [of one-room flats], there's already a big difference.
Y: You are right.
And on this small island 3 degrees north of the equator, we can spend an hour looking at the recent works of an Indian artist who has incorporated - among other references - the text of a dead American poet writing in the late 50s-60s. The title of the exhibition All night I shall gallop is from Plath's poem Elm. The line, in full, reads - "All night I shall gallop, impetuously/". Impetuously is left out from the exhibition title. But I like Plath's insertion of "impetuously" in the context of the poem, the comma introduces a pause, emphasising that it is a deliberate, pointed assertion. But in the context of the exhibition, perhaps "impetuously" would be too specific, dictating too particular a stance and limiting the viewer's interpretation of Dodiya's layered prints.
At a conference last week that looked at the various scenarios for Singapore in 2030, this growing income divide* was one of the issues discussed. At the same conference, the keynote speaker used this phrase to deflect a participant's rather general moral question - that he preferred to look at "particular realities" instead of "abstract principles".
The phrase stuck in my mind. Of course it is all about context - political, social, economic. Of course it is about individual and particular experience and perception. In art - poems, images, stories - that is also what we are confronted with. But abstract principles matter. And it would be sad if we discount and dismiss such seeming abstractions as justice, fairness, peace...
Ah, but friends, the reality for me is that I'm now running a little late for Chinese New Year dinner at my mom's. So leaving aside all depressing thoughts about income divides and whether you are in the $2 or $200 angbao percentile (aiyah, we are no longer eligible to receive angbaos this year even!), us amps and our "latchkey kids" wish that you'll have a good, relaxing time with your family this long weekend.
*10th percentile monthly income is $900 vs $5625 at the 90th percentile. At the 50th percentile, it's $2058.