The Merry Spinster, by [Daniel] Mallory Ortberg. OMG, these are a level up from the stories that appeared on the Toast three years ago. Some are oldies like The Rabbit (a nightmarish version of The Velveteen Rabbit) and some I think are new because they just wouldn't work in a clickbait environment, like the sheer weirdness of The Wedding Party (inspired by The Goose Girl). They're also really interesting from the point of gender--this may be the first collection of fiction I've read by a trans writer--genders of characters are sometimes unclear, or just don't match their names and roles, like the the daughter in The Frog's Princess who's consistently described using male pronouns. They're also unnervingly cruel: all this abuse happens and it's treated as everyday. These tales aren't being retold to make their princesses more empowered--that would be far too comfortable. The point of the stories is discomfort and horror, because therein lies truth. #yishreads#americanlit
Yesterday I finally went down to Gillman Barracks and picked up Richard Streitmatter-Tran's clay sculpture of his own foot (he told me he'd give it to me on a whim after his residency). It was already missing a toe when I got it, but on the way back it suffered further amputations in my messenger bag. I've superglued the fragments but let it be known that I am a very bad art collector. (Also featured: art around Gillman.) #vietnameseart
So um... I think I do wanna say something about W!ld Rice and Tan Tarn How's Press Gang. It's got some incredibly important things to say about the futility of journalism in Singapore, but as a work of art, it was really flawed. Dialogue was often stiff (characters said each others' names over and over again); direction was static (very often it was just two people sitting down at a table); and the ending could've been so much more powerful. Mariam said she was going to release all those reports when she died--why not kill her off, and have real repercussions to the exposé? These things are salvageable through rewrites and creative direction--I'm reminded of how Kee Thuan Chye's The Swordfish Then the Concubine was leaden in 2008, but received an incredibly dynamic restaging by Young and W!ld in 2013. Veteran playwrights don't necessarily know what's going to work in the 2010s--just like the rest of us, they should be subject to radical revisions to create something beautiful. #sgtheatre
A selection of Singaporean zines I flipped through at the Queer Zine Fest! These were mostly by non-queer writers and artists, and for display only.
House of Horrors, by Mojokozine;
How to Cook Yourself, by Jia Zhen
The Mat Rep as subculture;
My Dismembered Selves, by Eve Yeob
Sotong, by Div.
#Icelollyproject 247: strawberry-rambutan-mango. Nice, but I'm starting to regret using so much strawberry in my recent lollies (mostly still unposted). We don't get the sweetest ones in Singapore. Or at least not in my family fridge.
Went for Chinatown Crossings by DramaBox last Thursday! You get a free Chinese fan (which you print yourself) and tea along with your ticket. But while I do enjoy mobile theatre and heritage and playwright Jean Tay's work, there's something ever so slightly off about the production, driven in part, I think, by the fact that it's made in conjunction with the Singapore Tourism Board. This may be why an awful lot of dialogue takes place in Mandarin and English when it could be in Chinese dialects (one character only speaks Cantonese, which is awesome); the character Ding Ding who supposedly hates Chinatown is nevertheless relentlessly upbeat about it in our presence; the child actors are wide-eyed and pure in a way that may be endearing but isn't all that interesting. But definite kudos for the centering of the story on Gunalan, a non-Chinese protagonist, to indicate that Chinatown/Kreta Ayer was never all-Chinese. #sgtheatre#sghistory
The Demon's Daughter, by Pingali Suranna. This is a translation of the 15th century Telugu poem Prabhavati Pradyumnamu, and it's pretty wild: a talking goose serves as a matchmaker between Prabhavati (the daughter of a tyrannical demon) and Pradyumna (a handsome warrior prince and avatar of Kama, the god of love) in order to liberate one of Krishna's cities. Quite aside from the goose's divinely bestowed abilities to debate philosophy, we've also got a tale of intense romantic love and longing which is ultimately resolved through lots and lots of supremely satisfying sex. I've gotta read more of these classics. #yishreads#indianliterature
Attended the first ever MASCOT: Mapping Southeast Asian Contemporary Theatre panel, featuring Alfian Sa'at (W!ld Rice, Singapore), Tananop Kanjanawutsit (Democrazy Theatre Studio, Bangkok), Pinya Chookamsri (Bangkok International Children's Theatre Festival), Omar Ali (KL Performing Arts Centre) & Khairi Anwar (Anomalist Production, KL). Alf had tried not to end up with an all-male panel, but the women he contacted were busy--also, he'd opted to bring in younger artists. (June Tan from Five Arts Centre was in the audience!) One interesting phenomenon in KL and Bangkok is that traditional Asian theatre is institutional: it's well-funded by the government (although some forms, like mak yong, have been marginalised for being insufficiently Muslim). Contemporary theatre is anything that emerges from a western tradition--although you do have artists attempting to reinvigorate traditional art or infusing it into western theatre, which leads to traditionalists sneering at perversion and contemporary theatre folks sneering at the work becoming too tourist-friendly. In both cases, contemporary theatre audiences are young and politicised--not unlike our own scene. But they lack NAC-style funding, which means it's hard for emerging groups to sustain themselves. #malaysiantheatre#thaitheatre#sgtheatre
Poems 2 (Personal Notes), by Yeng Pway Ngon / 英培安. These bilingual editions of Singaporean vernacular poetry are invaluable for semi-Sinophones like me: I get to slowly experience the rhythms and music of the original while glancing at Goh Beng Choo and Judith Huang's transcreations to get the gist of the meaning. And damn, there's so much glorious angst here, like in 军中散草/Army Sketch, a 1970 poem that expresses so much more than Robert Yeo's jingoistic Boys in Jungle Green; or 太阳花/Sunflower, a 1967 piece that cries out to God asking to become Byron, to become an earless sunflower and a swirling Van Gogh. All this richness and passion in our early vernacular writing, putting the contemporaneous English tradition to shame. #yishreads#sglit
Went for a high tea marking the 15th anniversary of What's Up: News For Kids, the children's newspaper I've been writing for since 2006! (Yes, I'm a children's journalist as well as being a writer and queer activist.) The paper is co-edited by siblings Cherian George and Mary Cherian; the former gave a talk on how the principle of values-driven journalism for children drives his beliefs about journalism for adults; both editors also gave me an award for being the most productive writer (which is what happens if you stick around aimlessly for 12 years). Part of the award was Merci chocolates; the other was an angpow with a rupee coin stuck to it. Mary said she found it on the floor of Mustafa Centre. I told her that's how some horror movies begin 😉
#Icelollyproject 245: yellow dragonfruit-grape. I'm a sucker for novelty fruits, so I ended up giving in when a Clementi fruit market uncle charged me $8 for a single yellow dragonfruit, claiming it was sweeter. Turns out it's true: they're seriously yummy and fruity, nothing like the salty-nothing flavour of normal dragonfruit and with the same flaky crystal texture. And yes, it freezes well with grape 😁
Here's a #latergram from Monday night, when 17 relatives from China came to visit because they were attending a wedding in town. Back in 1948, the Brits exiled a whole bunch of Communist Singaporeans to China, including my grandfather's brother AND his parents and a few of his siblings; these are their descendants. (One of them told me that my roots will always be in China; I countered that by the same logic, his roots will always be in Singapore.) A lot of forgotten histories emerged over the course of the evening: how my great-grandpa was a hand puppeteer in Fujian before he came to Singapore and set up a lumberyard (it was where the Fu Lu Shou Building is now). After the family got repatriated all the boys had to join the Red Guards to prove they were loyal to Communist China--they were suspected of treachery in China just as they were in Singapore! Oh, and a lot of them became teachers. Education runs in the family. 😁
Perhaps what surprised me most was how *familiar* they felt. Their Mandarin had no Beijing accent; it was instead inflected with Hokkien which they spoke fluently, while also being completely understanding about my lack of facility with either language. The kids spoke English, but they were playing with their phones throughout--I might've done the same at their age.
Anyway, I might take up their offer to visit my ancestral village of Guzha someday. Especially if the government exiles me too.
Since it's #throwbackthursday , here's a copy of my favourite book as a child, The Story of Slappy Duck! I used to get my mum and I to read this to me every night, so a few months ago, in a fit of nostalgia, I went on Ebay and had a copy delivered to my sis in the USA.
When it got here, of course my mum wanted to reenact the ritual, so we sat down and read the book together... Which was when I realised it was about dysphoria. I must have related to it on both a gender and cultural level. #yishrereads#britishlit#accidentallyqueerlit
Pics from Monday's Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship sharing!
Nicholas YH Wong talked about the early years of Nanyang studies founder Hsu Yun-Tsiao; he delved into his Pattani diaries from the 1930s, revealing that his sense of Nanyang cultural syncretism predates his arrival in Singapore. Plus American researcher Scott Abel talked about how 19th century Malay shipping merchants and crews got screwed over by their own rulers in favour of Chinese shippers.
Unfortunately a lot of this went over our heads, and during Q&A we in the audience mostly just asked Nick about what Nanyang studies actually was. Poor Scott actually got cornered by a woman afterwards who was just wanted to see a white man speaking Malay.🙈 #sghistory