Friday, December 29, 2006

Letter home from Bangkok

Dear All,

I'm safe in Bangkok! My flight back is Airasia FD3507 and it arrives in Singapore on Wednesday at 2220 hrs.

Have unfortunately only seen the interiors of malls so far (Don and Terry are shockingly uninterested in Southeast Asian sculpture), but cultural reports are forthcoming. So far, service has been consistently bad, but food has been decent, excepting some bad ramen (Terry does not believe in going to Thailand to eat Thai food, either).

Am spending tomorrow exploring on my own. Have bought a grievous number of T-shirts - none at all for Yi-Xian, partly because he's a brat and partly because I haven't found the exact combination of blue ringer tee and yellow circle of the iconic Red Bull design yet.
E-Ching, do you want a T-shirt inscribed with the entire Thai alphabet? It's very philologically dinky. It's being sold exclusively to the farangs, however, so I have yet to come across a version that comes ina size smaller than Gargantuan.

I miss you all abjectly.



P.S. Spicy fried food is actually quite beneficial to a sore throat, provided that it's accompanied by hard tap water and Heineken.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Shouting her name forever

Columbia University, my alma mater, still refuses to apologise for expelling a student who protested our support of the Nazi regime.

"[Dean] Butler had Burke expelled for leading pickets protesting the Columbia administration's insistence on sending a delegate and friendly greetings to a major propaganda festival the Nazi leadership orchestrated in 1936 in Germany, the 550th anniversary celebration of Heidelberg University. Although he was a fine student and had been elected president of his class, Burke was never readmitted."
-Stephen H. Norwood, The Spectator

Y'know, most universities manage to make their alumni send them money. Columbia ends up making us at lest half-arsedly politically aware, and then flabbergasts us with their moral corruption.

Incidentally, I'm doing freelance writing for IBM, which of course was the company that gave Auschwitz the supercomputer that issued the serial numbers tattooed on the concentration camp victims' flesh. See here.

Was gonna post a bunch of photos about my last few days in Singapore before leaving for Bangkok tomorrow, but goddamned Beta Blogger won't let me post my pics. Blurty users, don't change armies.

Mood: belligerent.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thought for the day

Today's Comic

I was in the Singapore Art Museum yesterday evening and I ended up talking to a couple of New York girls, first answering questions on Singapore contemporary art and later stuff on Singapore itself. And one thing that came up was the fact that I'm really not that radical.

Despite the PAP's patronising attitudes, disconnectedness from broad sentiment and disregard for conventional definitions of human rights, I really do believe that at the end of the day they're thinking about the country's best interests. That there is a 'benevolence' to the dictatorship - often misguided, and self-justifying (hence the massive salaries), but ultimately that it's a government that wants to be the best government that it can be.

And it's a crying shame that you can't assume this as a given, to expect this from all the governments in the world. Maybe after a US education and the discovery that the American two-party system's just so mind-bogglingly lobby-driven and corrupt, it's harder for me to be idealistic about democracy.

Of course, you could point out that a religiously influenced government - the American religious right or Iran, for example - has a Messiah complex and thus believes it's the best government possible.

Hmm. Feel free to comment and disabuse me of my nepotistic, gerrymandering loyalties. I'm thinking aloud.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Technical difficulties

About a month ago, my digital camera suddenly started malfunctioning. As you can see, everything suddenly became bathed in a lavender wash:

At the Books Actually 1st anniversary party.

In the MRT.


I was going to spend megabucks on camera repairs, but the glitch has suddenly fixed itself. For how long, who knows?

Btw, the reason I needed to fix the machine was because I'm leaving the country briefly... details forthcoming.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Terry and Don, two of my bestest JC friends, have invited me to go with them to Thailand! I'll be there from the night of Wed 27 Dec to Wed 3 Jan. It's my first time in Bangkok as an adult. I have been told it's inspiring.

My friends will be flying back on Jan 1, but I couldn't get an AirAsia flight back any earlier; shoulda taken the bus and train; I mean, two days alone in Bangkok, what am I gonna do????? ;)

Seriously though, I could do with advice. E.g. I wanna write a Fridae article while I'm there but I don't speak Thai... how to be edgy news reporter like dat?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Texts consumed Nov 16- Dec 15, 2006

I wonder if these lists will ever be used as a criminal alibi? They really are one of those little compulsive rituals, though. It's got to the point that I try and read shorter books so as to prove to myself that I've read more - you'll notice I overdid the poetry and the graphic texts (i.e. comic books and children's books) this month.

Ooh - new policy! I'm going to bold the stuff I really liked.

Eddie Tay's "Remnants"
Charles Bukowski's "Play the Piano Like a Percussion Instrument Until Your Fingers Start to Bleed a Little"
Hedwig Anuar's "Under the Apple Tree: Political Parodies of the 1950s"
Paul Tan's "First Meeting of Hands"
Maya Angelou's "Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem"
Mani Rao's "Echolocation"
Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet"

Max Brooks's "World War Z"
Zai Kuning's "Bluemonkish"

Bertolt Brecht's "Life of Galileo"
Euripides' "Medea", "The Trojan Women ", "Hecuba" and "Andromache"

Margaret Chan's "Ritual As Theatre, Theatre As Ritual"
Ian Blyth and Susan Sellers's "Live Theory: Hélène Cixous"
Gretchen Liu and Angelina Phillips's "Wayang: A History of Chinese Opera in Singapore"

Andy Riley's "Loads More Lies to Tell Small Kids"
Popjustice and David Whittle's "A Girl Called Madonna" and "A Boy Called Marshall"
Allan Ahlberg's "The Little Cat Baby"
Edward Monkton's "Life", "The Wonderful Man", "The Lady and the Chocolate", "The Pig of Happiness" and "The Shoes of Salvation"
Guy Delisle's "Shenzhen"

Alex Wang's "Believe"
Agni Kootthu's "O$P$"
Cake Theatre's "Divine Soap"
W!ld Rice's "Jack and the Beansprout"
Adrian Tan and Ng How Wee's "Pulau"
The Theatre Practice's "Mama Looking for her Cat"

Tony Scott's "Deja Vu"
Stephen Frears' "The Queen"
Lots of "QI" (ok lar, this was on Youtube)

Thursday, November 30, 2006


My little brother Yi-Xian is studying at the University of Virginia (that's him after skydiving below). He recently went to his roommate's house for Thanksgiving. His blog is password-protected, so I had to re-post his latest entry (with permission of course). It says a lot about the way we were brought up, as well as our strange sense of meconnaissance towards American suburbia.

"Prosperity. Abundance. Affluence. Thats what strikes me about Fairfax, which is in itself representative of America itself. Upper middle class America.

I am under no illusions of my own upbringing in Singapore. King Albert Park is not the long kaw street which i pretend it to be. But the life that I've lived, as compared to the life that my room mate is used to has discrepancies which strike me. Dad is new money, mom is old money who struggled through the trails of new money with dad. I've grown up to look at price first before looking at quality when making purchases. I buy what i figure i need.

When i was in Singapore, i did splurge at times, but certainly not often. Necessity and cost benefit analysis have always been factors in making material decisions.

Its not like that in America. In a nation with abundant prosperity, and where even the poor and homeless receive benefits, the kids here grow up with things around them they don't really need, yet they don't realize it themselves.

Clothing. Fridges. The multiple TV's, the multiple game consoles they have, the den's they have, the indoor gym they forgot they had downstairs in the basement. They leave lights on, and waste and waste. Its part of their culture I guess. Part of the American dream is to have the ability to do so.

Casestudy: Bottled water. In Singapore we live on a stable supply of clean potable water from the taps at a reasonable price. Here in America that isn't always the case. Hell in the Bahamas when we were staying in the cheapo Towne Hotel, we had salt water streaming down from the taps. (which in itself wasn't all that bad given the cheap cheap cost) But the Harris family here drinks bottled water only. And their water supply is fine, just as good as Singapore water. Why waste money.

This just came back to me. In Tekong we had to drink crap water, not that that's anything in itself. But I guess the Singaporean male population learns to drink water from the tap there. But a vast majority of Singapore girls (generalisations, I concede) find that repulsive. But at least they don't drive down to NTUC and purchase 10 gallons worth of water!

America amazes me. The houses. The lifestyle. I understand why people immigrate here now, after seeing it for myself. And why people queue up in the embassies all over the world for the Visa's. For the green cards. I think I do. But I don't identify though. I liked my upbringing, and i'll be damn sure my kids grow up with one similar to that. With cram education, KAP Macdonalds, rice rice and more rice, tap water, heavy schoolbags, report cards, a cane (still debating about that one), a moody gloomy father, and a healthy sense of parental respect plus the army. I know i'm half spoilt. But i don't want them spoilt. And if they're ¾ spoilt, thats good enough for me."

Monday, November 27, 2006

If Zoe can do it, so I can I!

I remember a while ago someone noted on my blog that most intellectuals' blogs are chock-full of political views... mine, however, consists of stray odds and ends about sport, sex, books and trivia. Said reader called this "refreshing".

I however would like to reiterate that I am ultimately also a political animal. And in protest against the retention of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which forbids male-male sexual acts, I offer this graphic in tribute:

Rock never die, babe.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

We live in a dangerous world

I'm making a list of concepts I've been learning in Wikipedia when I should have been writing.

For instance,

1. Hammerspace: in cartoon physics, the mysterious dimension where large objects may be stored behind characters' backs.

2. Lithopedion: aka stone baby; a calcified foetus, the result of an ectopic pregnancy which cannot be reabsorbed by the body. In surgery, a 76 year-old woman had a stone baby removed that was over 50 years old.

3. Simlish : a nonsense language invented by voice actors of the popular computer game, the Sims. Despite its lack of organised grammar, players have attempted to crack this language and codify its laws. The Black-Eyed Peas have recorded songs in this language.

4. Moon Type: a writing system for the blind, an alternative to Braille, reportedly easier to learn for those blinded after birth. It is used by only 400 people, all of whom reside in England.

5. Heterochromia: a condition in which the colour of an individual's irises is different. This may be congenital or acquired, through injury, inflammation, tumours or misuse of eyedrops.

6. Lori and Reba Schapell: craniopagus conjoined twins from Pennsylvania. They share 30% of their brain matter and have distinct personalities: Reba is a trophy-winning bowler, country and western music player and wheelchair designer. Lori is a laundress, and holds Reba's mike.

7. Suncake: 太陽餅, a popular Taiwanese dessert from Taichung and an alternative to mooncakes.

8. Sky Kingdom: Kerajaan Langit, the infamous Teapot Cult of Trengganu. Founded by Ariffin Mohamed aka Ayah Pin in 1973, it emphasised ecumenical dialogue, inter-religious harmony, dream interpretation, and worship of its leader, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Shiva, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. Designated as one of 22 heretical Islamic sects in Malaysia, its commune was demolished in July 2005.

9. Kanzi: a 26 year-old male bonobo ape from Des Moines, probably the non-human animal with the greatest command of human language. Kanzi has demonstrated understanding of over 3,000 human spoken words and communicates by typing via a system of 348 lexigrams. Efforts have been made to allow him to communicate with other linguistically talented apes such as the ASL-speaking gorrilla Koko and the orang-utan Chantek, via Internet chat.

10. Coulrophilia: Sexual attraction to clowns. Nuff said.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Texts 16 Oct 2006-15 Nov 2006

Well, I'm doing better on the numbers of books I'm reading... though this month I evidently cheated a bit by concentrating on poetry. Also, I'm definitely focussed on sex and gender in the non-fiction field.

Laurence Ferlinghetti's "Coney Island of the Mind"
Yeow Kai Chai's "Secret Manta"
Tony Harrison's "Under the Clock"
Dante Alighieri's "Purgatorio"

Pedro Calderon de la Barca's "Life is a Dream"

Hitomi Kanehara's "Snakes and Earrings"
Muriel Spark's "The Snobs"

Gerrie Lim's "Idol to Icon: The Making of Celebrity Brands"
Laurence O'Toole's "Pornocopia"
Michel Foucault's "Birth of the Clinic"
Xinran's "The Good Women of China"

*Graphic Texts*
Paul Di Filippo's "Top Ten: Beyond the Farthest Precinct"
Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home: A Tragicomic"
Design Singapore's "20/20 Movement: Singapore Design Tour"
Edward Monkton's "A Lovely Love Story"
Doreen Cronin's "Vote for Goat"
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's "The Gruffalo" and "The Gruffalo's Child"
(admittedly, the last few are children's books)

ETC's "Horseface"
Cake Theatre's "Cheek"
Eleanor Wong's "Jackson on a Jaunt"
Muna Tseng's "Stella's Room"
The Fun Stage's "Initiation International" (second night)
Joshua Greene's "Esther" (live reading of musical script-in-progress)

Asia Carrera's "Appassionata"
Annabel Chong's "Pornomancer"
"Akeelah and the Bee"
"DOA: Dead or Alive"
Kim Ki-Duk's "Time"
Davis Guggenheim's "An Inconvenient Truth
Martin Campbell's "Casino Royale"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Did I mention I'm also a performance artist?

Title: Coverage
Materials: 92 Biennale badges, black tights, Biennale tote bag, names of Singapore artists not included in the Biennale scribbled all over my body.
Location: Biennale closing events.
Purpose: To raise consciousness of the lack of coverage of non-Biennale local artists.
Reactions: Generally positive, even from NAC staff. Biennale director Low Kee Hong was especially appreciative that I'd placed Tan Swie Hian on my crotch.

At LaSalle-SIA School for the Arts.

With a lovely young man in Tan Kai Syng's video art class.

Washing off the words. It was a rainy day and I was meeting a young man in the evening.
That being said, come to my poetry book promotion at Books Actually on Thursday, y'all. Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bye-bye Biennale

Yeah, I know I've been a Biennale bitch for all this time, but I'm sentimental about having been part of a seminal, I dunno, history-making cultural event. It's like the time I was in ACPS and we broke the World Record for the longest consecutive game of musical chairs.

Anyway, given that the Biennale's over, I figured I might as well upload a few last graphics of the Biennale site hardly anyone went to see - the heartland HDB flat, Block 79, Indus Road!

Below are two K2 boys who actually live in the flat and attend the mushroom-growing kindergarten and torment cats in the neighbourhood. They talked to me about the event when I got there just after the door had closed for the interior exhibition. And yes, the one on the left is holding a Biennale brochure.

The second time I went, I managed to view Santiago Cucullu's "Come to Me". It's right there, below - it's the stuff that looks like colourful laundry going down the line of the flat. Sometimes art is a little too well camouflaged.
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And as we approached, a signboard. And a cat. Loads of sleeping cats in this district.

I got to Learning Site's "Underground Mushroom Farm" late, but the ESO let me in anyway. They've taught Singapore kindergarten kids to grow oyster mushrooms in this giant truncated cuboctahedron. There's photos on the walls showing how the kids learn to cook this stuff too... breaking out of the commonplace capitalist cycle.

Unfortunately, the mushrooms need cold temperatures to grow. When the air-con broke down, the bags of shitake died. They ended up as these giant heaps of compost, like mutant pigeon turds.

And here's a man interacted with Nakhee Sung'smural, "Passage"! It turned out much better than her Tanglin Camp installation, "Radar", which was fugly.
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And here's the two tykes interacting with Takafumi Hara's "Signs of Memory: HDB Spaces". He interviewed various senior citizens who lived in the flats about their memories of the spaces. One woman remembered the Bukit Ho Swee fires. Residents were involved in the colouring in of these pictures later.

And just on the left - some found art! Two paper cranes left sitting on the chess table. I would have got a better picture, but it felt uncircumspect to touch them.

But of course, the gallery space must return to its inhabitants.
And what's up next? The National Museum opening! I'm pumped. Yea, state-sponsored couture! I'd hit it.
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Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I'm experiencing a fit of nostalgia for 2005. God, those were the days. New York, my thesis on Garcia Marquez and Mo Yan, a creative writing chapbook in the works and sex with boys all colours of the rainbow.

This is my ex, Chuck Alvarez. He is pretty.

This is my creative writing partner, Courtney Aja Barton. She's also pretty.

This is my sister, E-Ching. She can look pretty with a Viking hat on.

I, however, resemble a human turd.
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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sexy soba

I've been doing research for 251, my Annabel Chong play. I've been turning up loads of useless trivia:

Bukkake soba
ぶっかけそば – Cold soba served with various toppings sprinkled on top, after which the broth is poured on by the diner. It may include:
  • tororo – puree of yamaimo (a Japanese yam with a slimy texture)

I <3 Wikipedia. ;)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Substation Gallery
25 - 30 October 2006
Review by Ng Yi-Sheng
(article first appeared in the Substation Magazine in 2006, original photographs at Jeff Chouw's site.)

It's Hari Raya Aidilfitri, 2006. I'm part of a small crowd gathered inside the Substation Gallery. We're waiting for the guest-of-honour for Jeff Chouw's photographic exhibition 6ixth, which chronicled Chiam See Tong's 2006 battle to win his sixth consecutive seat in parliament.

The MP of Potong Pasir himself is due to arrive at 3pm. In the meantime, we circle the gallery space itself. Chouw has followed Mr Chiam through the period of his campaign, and displayed a chronological documentation of the fight in a counter-clockwise line around the room.

Like me, most of the audience is in their 20's and 30's, a generation given our first opportunity to vote during the recent General Elections, empowered by our use of the Internet as a political tool to disseminate information on the opposition that the print media had seen unfit to publish. We have witnessed the power of a single photograph of the crowds at a Workers' Party rally on, and expect to be inspired again by an array of new images, celebrating the leader of the Singapore Democratic Alliance, another long-standing rebel against overwhelming PAP majority rule of Singapore.

In his photos, however, Chouw reveals something quite different. Chiam is indeed the focus of many of the pictures, but never appeared as the archetypal hero, glowing, numinous, canonised by the adoring lens of the camera. Instead, with stark clarity, the camera underscores the man's greying hair, his smile-lines, his tiredness. Introduced amidst the sombre grey of his campaign centre, a makeshift cubicle of stainless steel against void deck walls, Chiam comes across as quiet, solitary, reflective; nothing like the idol politician that we'd have him be.

Plunged into parades, citizens clamouring about him, Chiam is the still figure in a storm, raising a mug good-naturedly with kopitiam patrons, listening intently to a resident's effusive greetings, but never striking a pose, never smiling directly for the camera's benefit. With his fly-on-the-wall style of photography, Chouw is able to capture the fragile humanity of the man, sweating, fatigued by the routine of the electoral exercise as any of us might be when plunged into such a game of demagoguery and character assassination.

Chiam is consistently upstaged by his supporters - leaning out of HDB windows, banging pots and pans to greet his passage, yelling out of loudspeakers, filling the grassy squares of rallies, engineering their own slogans in bursts of creativity - one woman holds a placard reading "Chiam See Tong, bu dao weng", comparing the man to a traditional doll that always uprights itself, no matter how hard it is knocked down. They, rather than their leader, are the vessels of life, overflowing with the excitement of the campaign.

It's curious to note that at the same time as 6ixth occupies the gallery, the belief-themed Singapore Biennale is displaying works by local-born artists Donna Ong, Ho Tzu Nyen, Brian Gothong Tan, Jason Wee and Erika Tan, all expressing profound disbelief in aspects of the government's management of its citizens. It is instead Jeff Chouw who ironically is able to portray a section of Singapore that was enthralled by the positive power of belief - unwavering devotion to an embattled politician, pitting him as an alternative to a hegemonic leadership system.

Of course, Chouw is able to thumb his nose a little at the establishment in a few photographs - one of them caught a moment when a constable, policing the rally, has his cap drawn over his eyes, appearing both absurdly cartoon-like and faceless. In another picture, Chouw wanders from the SDA rally to a PAP rally, where the annoyed, humourless people waving him away contrast sharply with the exuberant SDA throngs of the neighboring pictures.

But Chouw offers no titles, no dates, no clues as to at what point Chiam's victory was declared - only a scene of decampment after the rally, as the stainless steel cubicle goes down. There's a sense of anticlimax at the end of the circuit, as we return to the door of the gallery. We're driven to return to the other photographs, reluctant to have our memories of the election end on such an unfulfilling note.

Forty-five minutes late, Chiam See Tong finally arrives to our reception, apologetic, having driven his car all around the Substation in fruitless search for a parking space. He says a few uneasy words, clearly unused to honouring arts events, and unveils a picture on the far end of the wall. The photograph shows a child with a sign reading, "I'd vote SDA if I was older."

It's at this point that I realise the significance of the title of 6ixth. Yes, a sixth consecutive win is a triumph, but it's only a return to the status quo. The MP seat been a dead end for Chiam's political career - in a PAP-dominated government, he's unable to rise any higher in parliament, to effect more than nominal change. He's become largely tolerated as a harmless presence by the ruling party, which nonetheless strives harder every five years to eradicate him from his turf.

He's been fighting this fight since 1984, and he's 71 years old this year. When that child turns 21, will the SDA still have a candidate in Potong Pasir?

In the photographic series and in person, Mr Chiam does not come across as exhausted. But he moves slowly, carefully, like the old man he has become. He has a limited time ahead of him for his work, but he continues earnestly, holding his seat, staying there so that people may have a figure to believe in.

Before I leave the gallery, I look again at the publicity poster, derived from one of the portraits of Chiam See Tong, on his cellphone at night, on a void deck bench, organising for the campaign. He is full-bodied but distanced from the camera, and his face and body are turned away. Sitting there alone, he could be any one of us.