Archive for the ‘Non-art SIngapore’ Category
Image of the day: American painter Wayne Gonzales’ Seated Crowd, which depicts a movie audience. Gonzales, a native of New Orleans (one of my favourite places in the world, which is saying a lot), recently returned to the city of his birth to stage his first major solo exhibition in the country.
It’s a topical choice.
The following piece appeared in today’s edition of my paper - apparently the proliferation of CCTVs across public space in Singapore has now reached movie theatres as well, with anti-piracy measures being cited as the chief reason behind the move.
In other words, the watchers are now being watched, the subjects of the gaze simultaneously its objects.
Surveillance, in the Foucault-ian sense, has taken interesting new turns.
CCTVS TO KEEP TABS ON FILM PIRATES
By Tong Jia Han. Published: Apr 16, 2012.
Moviegoers, take note: Don’t be surprised to see an announcement flashed on the silver screen just before movies are screened, to inform you that you are being watched.
Cinema operators told my paper that they have begun installing closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras not just in the common spaces of their cineplexes, but in movie halls as well, citing security and movie piracy as reasons for doing so.
Over the last two years, film distributor and movie-theatre chain Shaw Theatres has installed CCTV cameras in all its newly established and renovated multiplexes, such as JCube and Lido.
Lido, located in Shaw House in Orchard Road, re-opened after renovation works in May last year while JCube, a mall in Jurong East where the Cineplex is located, opened on April 5.
Mr Terence ong,Hong, vice-president of media for Shaw Theatres, said that the CCTV cameras are meant mainly for anti-piracy purposes.
“However, we also realized that they allow us to trouble-shoot (in the event of) any disputes involving cinema operators or customers,” he said.
“Only authorised personnel have access to the CCTVs and their footage,” he added.
Mr Heng said there are plans to have CCTV cameras installed at all seven of Shaw’s multiplexes in due course.
The CCTV cameras have also helped in police investigations into one case so far, he said, without providing details.
A spokesman for leisure and entertainment group Cathay Organisation Holdings said that CCTV cameras are installed on their premises, especially at entrances, exits and in projection rooms.
The spokesman added that night-vision binoculars are also used to monitor piracy activities.
The Motion Picture Association (MPA) reported that about 90 per cent of newly released movies that are pirated can be traced to thieves who use digital recording devices in cinemas.
Mr Edward Neubronner, vice-president and regional operations officer of MPA Asia Pacific, said: “Despite measures to inform moviegoers that the use of recording devices is prohibited in cinemas, we still see cases involving students or foreign nationals caught using their mobile phones to record.
“It is of paramount importance to the local film industry that measures to deter illegal camcording remain a priority.”
Some cinema patrons are uneasy over the move.
School teacher Chue Weng Fai, 32, said: “It seems like an invasion of privacy and feels strange knowing that there are cameras watching your every move.”
Secretary Philicia Mok, 38, felt that the use of CCTV cameras to curb piracy would have limited success.
She said: “There are many ways to skin a cat. people will still find a way to steal content if they want to.”
Image from Shaw Online.
The bicycle installation at the National Museum of Singapore. Image from The Dreaming Wanderer.
Today’s the 70th anniversary of the infamous Fall of Singapore, which marked a spectacular humbling of the once-proud British empire, and the beginning of the Japanese Occupation – one of lowest, darkest points in the island’s history.
Here’s one of my favourite displays in the National Museum: a wall of bicycles, commemorating the er, rather unusual arrival of the barbarians at the gate.
An article over at Military History Online, aptly titled Bicycle Blitzkreig: The Japanese Conquest of Malaya and Singapore 1941-1942, describes it:
However, in the Malaya campaign the Japanese were able to stay right behind the retreating British, never giving them time to catch their breath. There were at least two reasons for this. First, the British abandoned vast quantities of stores and supplies. Tsuji refers to theses as “Churchill Supplies”, and the Japanese helped themselves to food, transport, and munitions, which greatly eased their somewhat tenuous logistical situation. The second reason was that the Japanese had issued their soldiers thousands of bicycles. Western Malaya had good hard surfaced roads, and the Japanese soldiers rode down them, as much as twenty hours at a stretch. The Japanese had sold many bicycles in Malaya before the war, so they were able to find parts and repairs in most towns and villages. When they could no longer repair the tires, they rode on the rims. If the Japanese soldiers came to an unbridged stream, they slung their bikes over their shoulders and waded through. When larger bridges were blown, the Japanese engineers performed prodigies of quick repair, so that not only bicycles, but tanks and lorries as well could pass over in a surprisingly short time. “Even the long-legged Englishmen could not escape our bicycles”, says Tsuji, “This is the reason they were continually driven off the roads and into the jungle where, with their retreat cut off, they were forced to surrender” ……
…… The Japanese advanced deliberately toward the center of the island over the next two days. Their goal was the village of Burkit Timah, and control of the island’s reservoir. The British attempted to establish a defensive line along the Jurong Creek, but although there was sporadic heavy fighting, most of the defending troops lacked enthusiasm. At British headquarters plans were made and orders were given for counterattacks and heavy resistance, but on the front lines not much was done. The smell of defeat was in the air, along with the burning oil tanks, and everyone had a strong whiff of it. Deserters, those unfortunate Australian “replacements”, and desperate civilians were all running around Singapore town getting drunk rioting, or looking for a way out. The harbor was still full of ships, and they began leaving. Most made it to some destination, although several were sunk with great loss of life. Some attempt was made to evacuate military specialists, such as Squadron Leader Harper’s ground crews. It took General Percival a few days to accept the inevitable, but on February 15th he agreed to surrender. Most books on the subject have pictures of the surrender at the damaged Ford Motor Company factory: Percival gaunt, unhappy, Yamashita sleek, triumphant.
(Read the article by Allen Parfitt in full here.)
Happy bicycle day, folks.
Image from The Language of Museums!
THE HUGO BOSS PRIZE 2010: Hans-Peter Feldmann at the Guggenheim Museum. Image from an article on freshome.
So a long-awaited review on local ministerial pay is finally out.
A couple of days ago, TODAYonline reported the following:
The committee set up to review ministerial salaries has submitted its report to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the Government is now studying the recommendations.
Channel NewsAsia understands that the report is expected to be made public early next month.
It also understands from several Members of Parliament (MPs) that the report is expected to be debated in Parliament soon. Next month could see two sessions of Parliament- one on Jan 9 as announced by the Clerk of Parliament – and a second sitting on Jan 16.
However, committee chairman Gerard Ee had said earlier that, with regard to how and when the report will be made public, the committee will stand guided by the Prime Minister.
The report comes after nearly seven months of consultations with the public, politicians and human resource experts. The review was announced by Mr Lee at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet at the Istana on May 21 this year, following the General Election.
Political salaries are currently pegged to top private sector pay.
Analysts say the report will likely go through a first run with Cabinet ministers before details are released to People’s Action Party MPs, possibly at the party caucus on Jan 3. They will have to decide whether to accept the report, or if they would go even further than what have been recommended.
They may even consider whether the recommendations will set the tone for top public sector pay.
Once these issues have been discussed, the report will be made public and debated in Parliament.
Analysts say it is important that the report is clear on the rationale for its recommendations, and that the new formula is seen as fair and acceptable.
The new wages will be backdated to May 21.
(Read the original here.)
Image from freshome.
Just to put into perspective that claim about managerial … sorry, ministerial salaries being “pegged to top private sector pay”, this is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
In April 2007, the Prime Minister’s annual salary increased to S$3.1 million (US$2.05 million), about five times that of the then President of the United StatesGeorge W. Bush who earned US$400,000. The annual entry-level salary for ministers increased from $1.2 million to $1.6 million, and was projected to rise to 88% of the private sector benchmark by the end of 2008. Almost half of ministers’ pay packages was made up of an individual performance bonus decided by the Prime Minister, and a variable bonus component based on the country’s prevailing gross domestic product and capped at eight months of each minister’s annual salary. The pay increases were justified by the Government on the grounds that the salaries had to keep pace with those in the private sector to attract the best talent and to avoid corruption ……
In 2008, the annual salary for entry-level ministers was $1,924,300. In view of the worsening economic crisis in 2008–2009, as of January 2009 the Prime Minister’s salary was cut to $3.04 million, while the pay of ministerial-grade officers was reduced by 18% to $1.57 million. In November 2009 the Public Service Division announced that pay increments would be deferred for a second time in 2010 because of the uncertain economic recovery. A minister’s 2009 salary of $1,494,700 per year was therefore 22% lower than what he or she received in 2008.
(The relevant article here.)
The artist and his money. I mean, art. Image from T Magazine’s blog.
In anticipation of this momentous event (the findings of the report have yet to be made public), I’ve included pictures of Hans-Peter Feldmann’s installation last year at the Guggenheim, where he tacked a hundred thousand used dollar bills to the wall of a gallery. Feldmann had won the 2010 Hugo Boss Prize – and the prize money, unsurprisingly, was a hundred grand.
From a write-up on the Guggenheim’s site:
The installation, which uses money that has previously been in circulation, extends the artist’s lifelong obsession with collecting familiar material into simple groupings that reveal a nuanced play of similarity and difference. Throughout his practice, Feldmann has frequently divided an apparent whole into separate components; he has photographed every item in a woman’s wardrobe (All the clothes of a woman, 1973), presented individual images of the strawberries that make up a pound of fruit (One Pound Strawberries, 2005), and created a sequence of 100 portraits showing individuals of every age in a collective lifespan of a century (100 Years, 2001).
Feldmann also has a history of resisting the art world’s commercial structures, issuing his work in unsigned, unlimited editions and retiring from art making altogether for nearly a decade in the 1980s, at which point he gave away or destroyed the works remaining in his possession. Bank notes, like artworks, are objects that have no inherent worth beyond what society agrees to invest them with, and in using them as his medium, Feldmann raises questions about notions of value in art. But his primary interest in the serial display of currency lies less in its status as a symbol of capitalist excess than in its ubiquity as a mass-produced image and a material with which we come into contact every day. At its core, this formal experiment presents an opportunity to experience an abstract concept—a numerical figure and the economic possibilities it entails—as a visual object and an immersive physical environment.
All that green – and still but a fraction of what Singapore’s ministers earn.
When you take quantities out of its numerical abstraction and into the reified realm of money’s material reality, the immediacy of it can be … overwhelming.
Image from freshome.
Guess everyone’s heard of the planking phenomenon by now.
Local plankers have even set up a Facebook page … Here’s a picture I swiped:
Newsflash, folks: this ain’t new.
Here are images of artist Dennis Oppenheim‘s Parallel Stress performance way back when — in May 1970, to be precise.
“PARALLEL STRESS – A ten minute performance piece – May 1970. Photo taken at greatest stress position prior to collapse. Location: Masonry block wall and collapsed concrete pier between Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. Bottom photo: Stress position reassumed Location: Abandoned sump, Long Island”. Photographs and typewritten text on paper, in the collection of the Tate.
Ladies and gentlemen, the fountainhead of all that is plank-y.
Granted, posture-wise, he wasn’t so much planking as he was … er, Superman-ing ? In any case, though, contemporary plankers seem to have displaced Oppenheim’s original intent – reconfiguring corporeal engagement with the landscape – with an increasingly inane fascination with novelty. In the artist’s own words,
… the sense of physically spanning land, activating a surface by walking on it, began to interest me. When you compare a piece of sculpture, an object on a pedestal, to walking outdoors for ten minutes and still being on top of your work, you find an incredible difference in the degree of physicality and sensory immersion. The idea of the artist literally being in the material, after spending decades manipulating it, appealed to me.
(Qtd. in Ben Tufnell, Land Art [London: Tate Publishing, 2006], p. 61.)
Oppenheim emerged as an artist in the late ’60s, his practice informed by the most cutting-edge notions of the day: conceptualism, earthworks, body art. He never quite rose to the same hagiographic heights of renown that others of his generation did, though that doesn’t detract from some good stuff – Parallel Stress is a prime example.
Oppenheim passed away in January this year. His New York Times obituary:
DENNIS OPPENHEIM, A PIONEER IN EARTHWORKS AND CONCEPTUAL ART, DIES AT 72
By Roberta Smith. Published: January 26, 2011.
Dennis Oppenheim, a pioneer of earthworks, body art and Conceptual art who later made emphatically tangible installations and public sculptures that veered between the demonically chaotic and the cheerfully Pop, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 72.
The cause was liver cancer, his wife, Amy Van Winkle Plumb, said. Mr. Oppenheim, who died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, had homes in Manhattan and the Springs section of East Hampton on Long Island.
Belonging to a generation of artists who saw portable painting and sculpture as obsolete, Mr. Oppenheim started out in the realm of the esoteric, the immaterial and the chronically unsalable. But he was always a showman, not averse to the circuslike, or to courting danger. For “Rocked Circle — Fear,” a 1971 body art piece, he stood at the center of a five-foot-wide circle painted on a New York sidewalk while a friend dropped fist-size stones from three stories above, aiming for inside the circle without hitting the artist. There were no mishaps.
Mr. Oppenheim had a penchant for grandiosity. It was implicit in the close-up photograph of a splinter in his finger, portentously titled “Material Interchange.” It was explicit in “Charmed Journey Through a Step-Down Transformer,” a Rube Goldberg-like outdoor installation from 1980 that sprawled 125 feet down a slope at the Wave Hill garden and cultural center in the Bronx, its disparate parts suggesting engines, tracks, organ pipes and much else.
Sculptures like these, from Mr. Oppenheim’s Factories series, combined aspects of machines and industrial architecture with intimations of mysterious human processes, presenting what he called “a parallel to the mental processing of a raw idea” by both the artist and the viewer.
Many works involved moving parts, casts of animals (whole or partial), upturned or tilted building silhouettes and sound, water and fireworks, which on occasion prompted unscheduled visits by the fire department.
An athletic, ruggedly handsome man who maintained a shock of blond hair longer than seemed biologically possible, Mr. Oppenheim had a knack for the oddly poetic title — as in “A Station for Detaining and Blinding Radio-Active Horses” — and a penchant for the occasional sensational remark. “Korea is a nice place to be,” he said after executing sculptural commissions for the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, “if your work is hysterical.”
Dennis Allan Oppenheim was born in Electric City, Wash., on Sept. 6, 1938. His father was an engineer; his mother promoted his early interest in art. In the mid-1960s he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and an M.F.A. from Stanford. He moved to New York in 1966.
He first became known for works in which, like an environmentally inclined Marcel Duchamp, using engineers’ stakes and photographs, he simply designated parts of the urban landscape as artworks. Then, in step with artists like Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria and Lawrence Weiner, he began making temporary outdoor sculptures, soon to be known as land art or earthworks. “Landslide,” from 1968, for example, was an immense bank of loose dirt near Exit 52 of the Long Island Expressway in central Long Island that he punctuated with rows of steplike right angles made of painted wood.
In other earthworks he cut abstract configurations in fields of wheat; traced the rings of a tree’s growth, much enlarged, in snow; and created a sprawling white square (one of Modernism’s basic motifs) with salt in downtown Manhattan.
He had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1968, at the John Gibson Gallery, then on East 67th Street in Manhattan, and his work was included in groundbreaking surveys of the new dematerialized art in 1969 at the Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland and in 1970 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In the mid-1970s, after tiring of the physical demands of body art and subsequently using his children in several works, he turned to custom-made automated marionettes, a solution that brought out his dark humor and theatrical proclivities and led to increasingly elaborate sculptural narratives. One of the first, “Lecture” (1976), centered on a marionette with Mr. Oppenheim’s face who addressed several rows of small chairs on the topic of the art world, talking especially about an artist whose preferred medium was assassination. Only one chair was occupied: by a marionette of a black man.
Mr. Oppenheim’s art-making could seem simultaneously driven and lackadaisical, fearless and opportunistic. Few of his contemporaries worked in a broader range of mediums or methods, or seemed to borrow so much from so many other artists. His career might almost be defined as a series of sidelong glances at the doings of artists like Vito Acconci, Mr. Smithson, Bruce Nauman, Alice Aycock (to whom he was married in the early 1980s) and Claes Oldenburg.
Yet few artists could give these borrowings such a personal, sculptural immediacy, as exemplified by “Recall,” a 1973 piece now on view in Manhattan as part of a group show at Salomon Contemporary in Chelsea devoted to art once exhibited at an artist-run alternative space in SoHo called 112 Greene Street.
In “Recall,” a video monitor shows a close-up of Mr. Oppenheim’s mouth as he recalls studying painting as an undergraduate, evoking the obsessive performances and gravelly voiced mumblings of Mr. Acconci, his friend. But in a glamorous, characteristically simple visual touch, the image of Mr. Oppenheim’s moving lips is reflected in the shimmering surface of a long, shallow pan of turpentine, the madeleine used to stimulate his memories.
Mr. Oppenheim’s first marriage, to Karen Marie Cackett, ended in divorce, as did his second, to Ms. Aycock.
In addition to his wife, Ms. Plumb, Mr. Oppenheim is survived by a daughter, Kristin Oppenheim, and a son, Erik, both of Brooklyn, from his first marriage; a daughter, Chandra Oppenheim of Portland, Me., from a relationship with Phyllis Jalbert; a son, Georges Poquillion, of Toulouse, France, from his relationship with Hélène Poquillion; his sister, Valerie Long, of Livermore, Calif.; and two grandchildren.
In the past two decades Mr. Oppenheim turned to smaller, less elaborate pieces whose all-purpose, rather coarsely made forms were generic and instantly legible. Among the 25 or so permanent sculptures from this period, several used enlarged objects in the manner of Pop Art: orange safety cones, Hershey’s Kisses, diamond rings, an easy chair, paintbrushes. “Device to Root Out Evil” (1997) is an inverted church, its steeple provocatively stuck in the ground. “Monument to Escape” (2001), a memorial in a Buenos Aires park to victims of the Argentine military dictatorship during the so-called dirty war, is simply a pile of three boxy house forms with bars added to their windows and doors.
His work was the subject of many surveys and retrospectives in the United States and in Europe, including a 1991 exhibition at the P.S. 1 Museum, and is represented in museum collections around the world.
Mr. Oppenheim’s best work had a transparency, almost an obviousness, that could seem hokey. But it also took the notion of communication seriously. It refused to talk down.
No art here. Word to the wise: as the title suggests, this post is a pretty random synthesis of inconsequential facts.
Now that that’s done with …
The date: 19 October, 1973.
The place: London’s Marquee Club.
The event: The taping of David Bowie’s The 1980 Floor Show concert, where he is to perform for the very last time as Ziggy Stardust.
The controversy: A duet, “I’ve Got You Babe”, with guest Marianne Faithfull, the latter dressed in a nun’s habit. Faithfull’s solo rendition of her biggest hit, As Tears Go By, also shocks some: the singer is clearly drugged out, completely wasted, blankly and badly singing along, with half-closed lids, to an old recording. The entire performance is shot through with a mocking irony. Looking almost angelic in a long white gown of satin and tulle, her hair cropped to a pageboy’s cut which shows off her bones to great effect, the contrast between her appearance and her stupefied demeanour is disconcerting. The tragedy is only compounded by the fact that she is crooning to her younger, sober self on a ballad of lost youth and regrets.
♪ “It is the evening of the day, I sit and watch the children play, doing things I used to do, they think are new …” ♪
Judge for yourself.
Marianne Faithfull performing As Tears Go By at the Marquee Club in 1973.
The emcee who introduces Faithfull, by the way, is Amanda Lear, who famously appeared in skin-tight black leather on the cover of Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure album (below) — about whose original gender there have long been rumours …
I love Marianne Faithfull.
Every gay man has a fantasy — secret, not so secret — of his ideal image as a woman.
I guess you could say she’s mine.
I’m a huge fan of the doe-eyed, waifish ingenue aesthetic. You know, fragile features; dewy expression; soft bangs; a lilting susurrus of a voice, a repertoire full of songs about melancholy and youthful world-weariness. (Francoise Hardy would be someone else who fits the bill marvellously.)
Faithfull’s struggles with drug addiction — and for a time, homelessness — are the stuff of rock legend. While she eventually beat her demons to come out on top, as her revitalized career the last couple of decades is wonderful testament to, the 1970s marked a pretty bleak period in her life. I won’t bore you with google-able details. Interestingly enough, though, in the latest volume of her memoirs, titled Memories, Dreams & Reflections, she recounts an otherwise little-known, drug-related episode that happened to her in – wait for it – ……
…… Singapore !
Of all places. God only knows what she was doing in this part of the world in 1974 (the year after her doped-up display above). In her own words:
Incident on Boogie Street
In 1974 Oliver Musker and I were staying at Raffles in Singapore – the old Raffles Hotel – it’s now quite ghastly, but back then it still reeked of faded colonial splendour. Oliver is the knight in shining armour who came and rescued me at my darkest hour, swept me away from all my demons and off to exotic locations. One evening Oliver and I decided to seek out an opium den on Bugis Street, affectionately known as Boogie Street, in the red-light district. We were both rather foolishly dressed as if we’d just stepped out of A Passage to India. Oliver in his white suit and panama hat, and I in a topi with a veil and a long grey suit with grosgrain on the collar and hem.
Unbelievably stupid to go down to Boogie Street looking like a couple of twits from the British Raj. Darling Oliver, who really is such a sweet guy. He eventually married an Indian girl and now lives in India, so he’s mellowed a lot, but in those days he had an unfortunate habit of going, “Come along now, chop chop!’ to natives who understandably did not take his supercilious attitude too well. Suddenly we were surrounded by a gang of Chinese felons and I heard this terrifying sound – swishhhhhhh-hhhh-eeeeee – as they brought their knives out.
And I thought, “Right, that’s it! We’re going to die – and in this incredibly stupid way!’ And then out of the blue who should appear but Roderick O’Connor, younger son of a good Irish family, on his way to Australia to try to pick up an inheritance, which he did not manage to do (he subsequently went to India to do a bit of grave-robbing). He’s a chancer but a really good friend of mine. Brave, quick-witted Roderick just stepped into this situation and addressed these vicious thugs in Chinese – obviously telling them something like, ‘Don’t bother with these two; they’re completely stupid!’ – and made them fall over laughing. He got rid of them just like that and we walked away.
Then Roderick took us to an opium den. It is the only opium den I’ve ever been to and it was as sublime as I’d always imagined it to be. A lot of people lying around on couches in deep dream states. You lay your head on a wooden pillow, servants prepare your opium pipe, and you fall into the most blissful reverie, for I
On honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
But, you know, even without Oliver’s colonial condescension we might well have stirred up the Boogie-dwellers’ wrath because we looked so mad. Of all the things to wear when you go to Boogie Street ! it’s the sort of rough, criminal place you should go to wearing a leather jacket and jeans. And here we were, blithely ambling through Boogie Street’s nightly transgender sex bazaar of ‘Billy boys’, freaks, drug thugs, and cutthroats, dressed up like Algernon Montcrief and Cecily Cardew in a revival of The Importance of Being Earnest. We were mad, mad in the way of characters who wander into the wrong movie, forget their lines and lose their lives.
A rare image of an opium den in Singapore, c. 1965. Photograph by Burt Glinn, from Magnum Photos.
Hmm. I’m not sure if I want to take her word for much in that little anecdote — I mean, c’mon, the woman calls a dope hole “sublime” (?!) — but it’s a fascinating nugget about local history nonetheless, if only for the revelation that opium dens persisted in Singapore right into the 1970s (and probably beyond).
Sure, the ladyboys of Bugis were infamous, but opium ? Kinda passé for the ’70s, ain’t it ?
Elsewhere, I’ve remarked that my own grandfather enjoyed chasing the dragon; I guess now it seems less strange that he was able to indulge the habit right up to his death sometime mid-decade. It’s not something the government enjoys discussing. I think they’d prefer it if we all just assumed that opium addiction went the way of the leftist movement, a dirty fact conveniently swept under the rug of historical amnesia … Which is our cue to segue into a brief mention of the remarkable Saint Jack. If you’re savvy enough, you’d have seen/heard of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1979 film, which to this day remains the only Hollywood movie to be shot entirely in Singapore. If you’re out of the loop, just head out to the HMV store at 313@Somerset; they had shelf-loads of copies the last time I was there. It’s not for those seeking celluloid thrills. The film is a pretty slow, meandering character study, but interest in Bogdanovich’s otherwise little-seen gem has been on the rise here, mostly because he managed to capture a seedy, seamy side of sunny Singapore that, even in 1979, as the director himself puts it, was on the way out. (Well, there’s still Geylang, I guess …) A significant portion of the film’s first half actually takes place on Bugis Street — the real Bugis Street of yore that is, the one inhabited by ladyboys, ang moh johns, hustlers, hoodlums, junkies, and other denizens of the dark, the Bugis Street where Marianne Faithfull, dressed like a “twit”, nearly met her end before that last toke on a joint. <lol> Oh, yeah, a long-ish trailer is available on Youtube for those of you who haven’t had the chance to see the film. When you get to the 2:26 mark, a brief clip of an erotic (supposedly) dance routine by two Bugis St. girls happens; in the film itself, if one looks very closely, there’s visible evidence that the long-haired chick is quite definitely pre-op …
Oh, and one other thing. Saint Jack also commemorates another seldom-discussed slice of Singapore’s past: back in the bad ol’ days, before the economy took dizzying flight and we morphed into one giant, hyper-glitzy, micro-managed megamall, the island used to be a regular stop for American GIs on R & R breaks from Vietnam. And apparently there were whole institutions, housed in their own buildings, that er, catered for this crowd — in existence thanks to tacit official approbation. Again, not something that makes it into the history books much. Westsiders familiar with Bukit Timah will know where Serene Center is; for the rest, it’s a teeny mall that sits at the junction of Bukit Timah and Farrer Roads (across the street from the Adam Rd. food centre).
Well, guess what dear ol’ Serene started life as ?
Um hmmm. A brothel.
Across the road from Coronation Plaza, Serene Centre is today a family-oriented shopping centre frequented by students in the area. However, during the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the building was known as Serene House and used for servicing US Army soldiers on rest leave in Singapore until 1968. Many residents of the area recall prostitutes being specially recruited and freely entering and leaving the building. There were also other such facilities off Bukit Timah Road for US Army soldiers at Shelford Road, across the road from Coronation Plaza, and Newton Road during that period.
(Blurb courtesy of Heritage Trails.)
Ben Slater has written a riveting, exhaustively researched book on the making of Saint Jack, called Kinda Hot. It’s a total page-turner. Among the many entertaining bits of trivia he dishes up — and the whole book’s full of ‘em, in between lots of solid detective work — is the fact that Peter Bogdanovich’s infamous Hollywood romance with Cybill Shepherd finally unravelled in Singapore, when she visited him on the Saint Jack set. (He’d been carrying on with one of the local extras, Monika Subramaniam, a Tamilian nymphet; Shepherd knew it was over.) Slater also has a blog which details his experience writing the book, and trying to track down the various local cast and crew members who worked on the film all those years ago.
One more of Marianne for the road:
A comparative look at the crowds at Pink Dot. Photos from Yahoo! News Sg.
Am actually right now trying to finish up a review of the latest show at the SAM – and it’s getting long – but I thought I’d take a timeout to post this.
What’s the Pink Dot ? The organizers write: “Red + White [the colours of the Singapore flag] = Pink. Everyone should have the freedom to love, regardless of sexual orientation. But fear, ignorance and prejudice often stand in the way. At PinkDot, we believe the first step to overcoming these barriers is for open-minded segments of society to come together. That’s why we’re providing this platform for individuals, organisations and businesses to identify themselves as advocates of a more inclusive, more loving Singapore. If you too feel that LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people deserve to express their love just like any other Singaporean, please join us …… Together, we can find ways to let the freedom to love prevail.” (See here.)
So, around this time every year, us local LGBT folk get all togged out in pink and head down to Chinatown with friends, family and pets for a picnic and a mini-concert – and, at some point during the festivities, mass together to form one ginormous pink dot as a show of solidarity. This year’s dot, observers note, was sizably larger:
A record crowd of over 10,000 turned out for Pink Dot at Hong Lim Park on Saturday evening –more than twice last year’s size.
This year’s Pink Dot attendance set a new record for the largest public gathering ever seen at the Speakers’ Corner since it opened 11 years ago.
The event, whose aim is to raise awareness and understanding of the need to love and be loved, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, was being held for the third consecutive year.
Participants were asked to come dressed in pink, to form a large circular ‘dot’ to show support for inclusiveness, diversity and the freedom to love, in line with its theme for this year.
Organisers had demarcated an observation area at the front of the stage for non-Singaporean or PR attendees, but the size of the dot — the highlight of the event — eventually filled the entire area of the park.
Event organisers were stunned, overwhelmed and humbled by the record crowd.
Pink Dot spokesperson Rebecca Ling, 27, told Yahoo! Singapore immediately after the formed Dot dispersed that she was stunned by the response.
“It wasn’t a pink dot, it’s a pink park!” she joked.
Co-spokesperson and legal counsel Paerin Choa, 35, added, “To have this many people celebrating this event with us is a truly humbling experience, and we are greatly touched by this show of solidarity and support from Singaporeans.”
(Read the full Yahoo! News article here.)
Indeed. A while back some Ozzie I happened to be bonking told me that he didn’t appreciate the local gay community – too much self-hate going on, he said. Sadly enough, that still seems to be the case all too often, especially when it comes to the neo-colonialist hangover that we’ve imported lock, stock and barrel from the populace at large: the hierarchy of desirability dictates that white men sit at the top of the pecking order, while the various local Asian races occupy the lower rungs.
Anecdote: I’m out boozing with the posse one weekend, and make the mistake of mixing my drinks. So I’m sitting outside the bar with my head in my hands, feeling sick, when along comes this bunch of local queens – mostly Chinese – who park themselves next to me. One of them starts stroking my head (creepy), another goes “Aiyoh, angmo ah?”. (Translation: “White guy?”) A third says “No lah, please, asian lah !!’ That’s when all attention ceases. They just pretty much ignore me from then on. Never mind that I’m another human being clearly in some distress, but apparently only white men are deserving of sympathy.
I am not making that up.
It reminds of the Family Guy episode where Peter decides to give abstinence a go. In a classic instance of satire cutting too close to the bone, his rationale pretty much sums up the state of affairs in contemporary American society: “Sex turns straight people gay and turns gays into Mexicans. Everyone goes down a notch.” (Watch a clip here.)
Major events like Pink Dot and the IndigNation festival are fantastic, highly visible forms of positive self-representation for a community that not so long back was largely operating on the downlow, clandestine and abashed. Physically being with one’s brethren is a wonderful experience; nothing beats the feeling of belonging. That, however, still begs the question of what happens the other 364 days of the year, when the sequins and the pink and the songs and balloons and mass celebrations have been tucked away and we all return to our usual routines: does the self-affirmation also get chucked into storage, or do we – should we – actually begin to question the prejudices which inform our own attitudes, those cannibalistic assumptions that lie just beneath the occasional veneer of togetherness and cohesion ?
We can ask for respect for the choices we make, but it doesn’t excuse us from similar obligations.
Anyways. ‘Nuff preaching.
Hope everyone had fun on Saturday !
Participants at this year’s pink fling:
The charmer in the bouncy blond beehive is local performer Rima S.
A postscript: On the way home in the cab, a couple of us were wondering if the event would see much coverage in the local media – namely, of course, The Straits Times. GJ’s opinion was that the status quo would be maintained, for fear that news like this would offend the anonymous masses of homo-hatin’ folk out there. He was right, there were a couple of brief paragraphs and one photo in the Sunday edition (below).
What didn’t wash, however, was the usual argument that Singapore is at it’s core a conservative society, and those values must be adhered to, thus ruling out any “promotion” of alternative lifestyles – little distinction generally being made in the popular imagination between reference and advocacy.
Why? Here’s a double standard for ya: included in the same section was a TWO pager on the controversial Obedient Wives’ Club (below, bottom), which recently kicked off in Rawang, Malaysia, and now boasts a Singapore chapter. If indeed we Singas are so adverse to ‘deviancy’ – which is the oft-cited reason for media silence on topics of LGBT interest – then why on earth was the OWC permitted such extensive coverage ? These crackpots are regarded with some suspicion by mainstream Muslim society both here and in Malaysia, so why is one form of social divergence more acceptable than another ?
I’ll say this much for my people: at least we believe in equitable treatment for ALL.
SDP’s Vincent Wijeysingha, man of the hour. Image from The Temasek Review.
Boy, the upcoming general elections are really turning out to be a milestone in more ways than one.
As a direct consequence of a reenergized opposition, which arose largely in response to widespread grassroots dissatisfaction with the ruling party, now the formerly unimaginable has happened: the gay issue has been pushed to the forefront.
Apparently Vincent Wijeysingha, high-profile Singapore Democratic Party candidate, is gay. And there’s a Youtube clip to prove it.
That was the gist of a statement issued by PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan and his teammates yesterday. Balakrishnan and co. are in a contest for the Holland-Bukit Timah ward with Wijeysingha and his SDP colleagues, and after a couple of cryptic remarks to the press in which he alluded to the existence of a particularly damning video, he finally revealed his smoking gun.
My opponent’s gay.
Or at least, attended a gay rights forum where he was heard to declare that “I think the gay community has to rally ourselves.” (Italics mine; inclusive first person plural pronoun, Wijeysingha’s own.)
Is this the first time in Singapore’s history that the gay question has been in the spotlight – as opposed to being a footnote to ‘larger’ matters ?
Last year, local activist Alex Au and a number of other individuals sent out a questionnaire to the major political contenders regarding their respective positions on homosexuality, including the ruling PAP and the SDP. When I blogged about it, I said that “the entire exercise strikes me as being an important footnote to what will most likely turn out to be an affair dominated by other, more opportune issues …”
Well, I now stand VERY happily corrected.
The Straits Times ran an article on it today (26 April). Other pertinent links – vids, responses to Balakrishnan’s ridiculous fearmongering – beneath that.
ADDENDUM: I’ve realized that we have yet to hear from the man himself. Perhaps my excitement at the presence of a gay politician has obscured my better judgment; Wijeysingha, in fact – as Chee Soon Juan points out below – may not have any intention to address gay-related issues as a potential MP. (Though his attendance at a gay rights forum seems to suggest otherwise.) What I would LIKE to see him do is stand up and acknowledge his status as a member of the gay community, thus asserting public ownership of his identity. The SMART thing to do, however, would be to lie low and see how Balakrishnan’s attempt at political one-upmanship plays out.
I’m hoping for a quick career demise come polling day. For Balakrishnan, that is. This article at The Online Citizen sums it up.
PAP AND SDP SQUARE OFF OVER ‘SMEAR TACTICS’
PAP team asks if SDP intends to pursue gay cause, and Chee says no. By Tessa Wong and Aaron Low.
The opposing teams at Holland-Bukit Timah GRC squared off publicly yesterday over an online video which the People’s Action Party (PAP) said raised questions whether the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) had a secret gay agenda.
First, the PAP team led by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan asked in a statement whether SDP candidate Vincent Wijeysingha, who was filmed participating in a gay rights forum, intends to pursue the cause in Parliament.
This was countered in the evening by SDP chief Chee Soon Juan who in an online video said neither the party nor any of its candidates is pursuing such an agenda.
In a statement entitled “What is his agenda?” released yesterday, the PAP team said that a video has been posted on the internet showing Dr Wijeysingha participating in what it called “a forum which discussed the promotion of the gay cause in Singapore”.
The team added that the sexual orientation of Dr Wijeysingha is not the issue.
But it noted: “The video raises the question on whether Wijeysingha will now pursue this cause in the political arena and what is the SDP’s position on the matter.”
In his denial, Dr Chee said: “Let me state categorically we are not pursuing the gay agenda and none of our MPs will.
“our candidates have been selected because of their ability to serve you, the people of Singapore, as your representatives in Parliament,” he added.
“they have stepped forward because they love this country and they know that Singaporeans yearn for an alternative voice in Parliament. That is their only agenda.”
Dr Chee also called on Dr Balakrishnan, who is Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, to stop engaging in what he called ‘smear tactics”.
“We are better than that,” said Dr Chee. “We can disagree on policies without having to resort to personal attacks. Let us lead Singapore to a higher level of politics.”
The exchange comes two days after Dr Balakrishnan first mentioned the video in an interview with The Straits Times.
He said: “It has been brought to my attention – in fact it is the SDP which is suppressing a certain Youtube video, which raises some very awkward questions about the agenda and motivations of the SDP and its candidates.”
When asked to elaborate the next day, he would only say: “I would like the issue to play out first. I am also waiting for (SDP’s) manifesto to be revealed and then let things emerge.”
But yesterday, the Today newspaper went ahead to speculate that the video in question was a six-minute clip featuring lawyer M. Ravi.
It was taken during a public forum held last November by Mr Ravi on his constitutional challenge to the S377A clause of Singapore’s Penal Code, which criminalizes sex between men.
Mr Ravi is seen addressing a small room of participants, calling Dr Wijeysingha “Singapore’s first gay MP.”
The PAP team alleged yesterday that the forum “also touched on sex with boys and whether the age of consent for boys should be 14 years of age”.
It added that Dr Wijeysingha had said in the video that “I think the gay community has to rally ourselves”, and that people interested in gay issues could come together to “further rights issues in relation to gays and lesbians”.
It continued: “We believe that candidates should be upfront about their political agenda and motives, so that voters are able to make an informed choice.”
The statement was signed off by Dr Balakrishnan and his teammates, Mr Christopher De Souza, Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Ms Sim Ann.
Dr Wijeysingha, a 41-year-old civil society activist, is contesting Holland-Bukit Timah GRC along with Mr Tan Jee Say, Dr Ang Yong Guan and Ms Michelle Lee.
All four were called to the SDP’s headquarters last night for an emergency meeting following the release of the PAP’s statement.
At 11 pm, the party posted the video response by Dr Chee on its website.
In the clip, Dr Chee said he was proud of his candidates, whom he called “people of integrity and capability”.
He added: “When we speak up we do so for all Singaporeans, not just a segment of Singaporeans.
“At the very core of our country’s pledge is that we do not discriminate against anyone, be it on the basis of the colour of their skin, the faiths in the hearts, whether they are young or old or what their sexual orientation is.”
Accusing Dr Balakrishnan of not having “the courage to say what he really wanted to say at first”, and of “beating around the bush”, he said the party is disappointed at how the issue was raised.
He ended the video with a request to Dr Balakrishnan to “reciprocate” by making public the accounts of the Youth Olympic Games.
He also reiterated the party’s invitation to a public debate.
Both Dr Wijeysingha and Ms Lee declined to comment last night.
Dr Ang told The Sraits Times that he had come to know about the video “one to two days ago”, after he was introduced as an [sic] SDP candidate last Friday.
He said a friend had sent him alink to the video.
Dr Ang, who is a Christian, said he would be “comfortable” standing on the same ticket as a gay person.
“To me, very frankly, a person’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter. What’s important is his vision, his ability, his personality. So what if Vincent may be gay? Its immaterial to me.”
he added: “I’m a Chrisian, but my personal view is that I will respect a person’s sexual orientation. It’s not for me to impose my values on them.”
Mr Tan echoed Dr Ang’s comments, saying Dr Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation is “immaterial”.
He said: “It’s not an issue. Even Lee Kuan Yew says it’s not an issue.”
The aforementioned videos:
The incriminating evidence. (Be prepared for an anti-climax though.)
Chee Soon Juan’s response to Balakrishnan. (He’s the big kahuna over at the SDP.)
Alex Au, the gay activist who was one of the people responsible for the questionnaires, takes an informative look at the episode on his always enlightening Yawning Bread site – in a piece aptly dubbed “Vivian’s bomb goes boo boo.”
An individual named Lisa Li also wrote a scathing letter in to the online edition of Today, reproduced in full below. You can read it on their site here.
PAP’s statement on Wijeysingha disappointing
Letter from Li Shi-En, Lisa
02:55 AM Apr 26, 2011
I refer to the TODAYonline article “PAP on Wijeysingha video: Candidates should be upfront about motives” (April 25). The PAP team, led by Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, said in a statement on April 25 that a YouTube video shows SDP candidate Dr Vincent Wijeysingha at a forum discussing gay issues. Dr Balakrishnan added that the video “promotes gay causes” and that this “raises the question on whether Dr Wijeysingha will now pursue this cause in the political arena and what is the SDP’s position on the matter”.
Firstly, I am surprised that Dr Balakrishnan does not know SDP’s position on the matter because the party has always been upfront about its stand. Its vision is that “as a nation, we must not only show tolerance but also acceptance of our fellow citizens regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion”. In October 2007, the SDP also publicly supported the call to repeal 377A in accordance with its party principles. All this information is on their website, and Singaporeans who take their voting seriously already know this.
Secondly, I am not sure what Dr Balakrishnan means by “pursuing this cause in the political arena”. If he is referring to the possibility of Dr Wijeysingha (or any other politician) raising the issue of 377A in Parliament, that is only to be expected at some point in the future, not because of Dr Wijeysingha’s personal sexual orientation or alleged personal cause, but because of SDP’s clearly-stated vision for an inclusive Singapore.
I am keen to elect politicians who are able to articulate sound, thoughtful and diverse views for discussion on any number of issues in Parliament, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. As such, I am disappointed that Dr Balakrishnan paints such a negative picture of MPs “pursuing causes in the political arena”. Isn’t that what we are voting them in for? In any case, one Dr Wijeysingha in Parliament will hardly swing the votes and abolish 377A, if the majority of politicians and Singaporeans are against this move.
Thirdly, Dr Balakrishnan describes the video’s forum discussion as having touched on topics like “sex with boys and whether the age of consent for boys should be 14 years of age”. This is a very misleading description. Viewers of the video will know that the forum speaker mentions the different age of consent for different countries, for example Sweden, where the age of consent for sex is 15 years (the speaker mistakenly says 14 years). However, not a single one of the forum participants proceed to discuss whether Singapore’s age of consent should be lowered or not, which suggests that this was never their aim.
Finally, Dr Balakrishnan says that the video “promotes gay causes”. What exactly is the “gay cause”? If gay men wanting to remove the clause that criminalises their private behaviour is the “gay cause” that Dr Balakrishnan refers to, this video could equally be described as one that supports basic human rights – the right for gay men not to be classified as criminals in Singapore. In the days of apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was jailed for fighting for the “black cause”; nowadays, we refer to this as equality.
During the April live political debate on Channel NewsAsia, Dr Wijeysingha showed Singaporeans that he is an articulate, capable speaker who is passionate for social justice. My opinion of him has not changed.
However, I am saddened by the appearance of such gutter politics from one of our Ministers and his PAP teammates, Mr Christopher De Souza, Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Ms Sim Ann, who signed off on this misleading statement. Instead of showing us why they are better leaders for Singapore or engaging the Opposition on policy differences, they have resorted to a smear campaign based on a Youtube video posted by an anonymous netizen.
Qingming 清明 happened earlier last week.
Wikipedia describes the festival thus:
The Qingming Festival …… Pure Brightness Festival or Clear Bright Festival, Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese festival on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox), usually occurring around April 5 of the Gregorian calendar …… The Qingming festival falls on the first day of the fifth solar term, named Qingming. Its name denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime (踏青 tà qīng, “treading on the greenery”) and tend to the graves of departed ones.
My family, ever thinking ahead, has made a tradition of sweeping our tombs a couple of weeks in advance of the actual date, so as to avoid the prodigious crowds that tend to show up at Choa Chu Kang cemetery around this time. The paternal grandparents are buried in different parts of the site. Grandpa – Hakka immigrant from the village of Dabu in Guangdong, China; opium addict; unseen presence in my life, having passed on in the ’70s – is buried in the older, Chinese section of the cemetery. Grandma – daughter of durian money from Kukup, Johor; pillar of strength; dispenser of two-dollar bills to the grandkids and dearly, dearly missed – was laid to the rest in the Protestant graveyard.
A legion of us headed out with bagfuls of paper offerings to visit the paterfamilias first. His grave (below), like countless others in this part of the cemetery, follows the design of a headstone fronting a burial mound – a departure from the traditional semi-circular ‘armchair’ grave favoured by southern Chinese communities, examples of which can still be found in China, Hong Kong and parts of SE Asia (below, bottom). The history of, and preference for, this particular design has been explained as such:
Nevertheless, most Chinese, especially those in southern China, have regarded the form of an armchair as the ideal shape of the grave … An armchair gives a sense of wealth, comfort and dignity. In historic times, only the elite class or the mandarin Chinese could afford armchairs. Moreover, armchairs symbolise authority and power, for in the olden days the armchair was the seat for the magistrate when he presided in court. By erecting the grave in the armchair shape, people believed that their ancestors in the yin world could enjoy comfort, dignity, and pride. The interaction between the yin and the yang would thus be harmonious and beneficial …… The history of building graves in the armchair shape can be traced to the years of the Northern Song Dynasty, 960-1127 A.D. In pre-modern times … an illustration that first appeared in the 1830s, shows, the grave resembled an armchair in shape, with higher turf protecting its three sides, on its back, as well as to its left and right. The front was left open to the field …… This armchair shape for graves has thus persisted for a long time, reflecting its acceptance by the Chinese as a desirable way for the construction of yin houses [i.e. graves].
(Read the essay in full here.)
An armchair-shaped grave in Kuching, Sarawak. Image from My Thoughts, Stories and Articles.
Unlike the mandarin’s armchair, Grandpa’s mound – appropriately enough – resembles a bed rather more. Appropriately, because he’d spent a large part of life lying on one, puffing away at his opium pipe. I’m not kidding. It sounds like something one reads about in history books, but as recently as the 1970s he was still indulging the habit. God only knows where he managed to procure the stuff. Aunt Nancy, who married into the family shortly before the old man passed on, recalls being shocked at meeting an actual opium smoker … that he was her father-in-law to be probably didn’t help.
The headstone consists of a central column bearing the deceased’s name and place of origin (Dabu county in Guangdong province, China, where the Lee family also trace their roots to), flanked by two shorter columns inscribed with the names of his children, and set before it is an altar space inlaid with cerulean-blue mosaic patterns and boasting an incense burner carved from granite. What surprised me were the features in the low walls emanating from either side of the headstone: images of landscapes painted on ceramic tiles, tranquil, serene vistas of a sea-girded, snow-peaked mountain that I’m assuming is the Mt. Penglai of Chinese fable, an enchanted nirvana where the elixir of immortality was said to be found. Legend has it that the man who first unified China, the Emperor Qin, obsessed with the idea of eternal life, dispatched several missions to locate this magical Never Never Land, but to no avail. (One such delegation reportedly stumbled onto Japan instead.) Penglai also plays a big part in Taoist mythology, being the home of the Eight Immortals. I’m not sure if its representation is common practice in Chinese burial tradition, or more of a local adaptation; in any case, its presence is likely a straightforward reference to the desire for everlasting life. My grandfather’s grave, though, was also decked out like a home, which in essence it is, a yin dwelling 阴府 for the dead: a pair of stone guardian lions (below), with marbles for eyes, stood at attention at both ends of the wall, and at one corner was a small shrine dedicated to the Earth God, or tu di gong 土地公. The lions are an ubiquitous architectural component of grander Chinese structures, their most famous manifestation, of course, being at the Forbidden City; the Earth God is worshipped in many homes, with a small altar located to one side of the main entrance, as the one here is. Perhaps these signifiers of the domestic, along with the conjuration of the immortal playground of Penglai, indicates that the grave itself was intended as a specific abode for the soul’s life after death ?
As anyone who has participated in Qingming knows, quite a few trees have to give up their lives for all the paper that’s involved. Coupled with that fact that most of these offerings are openly burnt, the festival is really one huge middle finger in the environment’s face. Janet Scott Lee’s For Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors: The Chinese Tradition of Paper Offerings (Hong Kong University Press, 2007), a scholarly tome entirely devoted to the subject, has this to say of their use in ancestor worship:
Burning paper offerings to the ancestors satisfies the requirements for the sacrifices which are, and were, a significant way to maintain the ongoing relationships between ancestors and descendants … In his edited volume on death ritual, Watson has observed, “A central feature of Chinese funerals and postburial mortuary practices is the transfer of food, money, and goods to the deceased … In return the living expect to receive certain material benefits, including luck, wealth, and progeny” … Individuals who were loved and provided for in life are also provided for when they leave this world, and reciprocal relationships maintained. A common perspective is that the condition of ancestors directly affects the fortunes of their living descendants, for burning funeral goods allows the givers to claim the deceased’s property … or allows the deceased to become a “property-owning spirit, as a person without property cannot conceivably become an ancestor” … Descendants also benefit materially, a theme appearing in studies of Singapore funerals, where mourners, at least privately, understand the benefits:
“I suggest that what is important is not simply the inheritance of the property of the deceased, but also the potential for greater benefits that motivate the descendants to spend so much money. It is believed that by converting the deceased into a rich ancestor, the now well-off ancestor will see fit, and is in fact expected, to return the favour and reward descendants with even more wealth.” …
if this most persuasive and instrumental line of reasoning be true for Hong Kong, then it would add an explanation for the great variety of paper items available, the seemingly endless array of goods that can be offered to the ancestors (and also to the gods and even to the ghosts). In simple terms, it would be an echo of what has been termed the “hardnosed view of the Chinese ancestral cult” … a form of reciprocity in which one gives to receive something in return …… This combination of spiritual conspicuous consumption and an emphasis on egocentric gain should be sufficient to explain all this burning and point to the real meaning behind offerings.
…… [However] Worshippers interviewed saw no automatic link between the quantity or quality of offerings and ancestral blessings. At least, they did not have the conscious intention to benefit materially. Some respondents said that, while they vaguely remembered hearing of that benefits could be gained in this way (although they could not recall just when or where they had heard about it) they did not believe it to be true, while others said that they saw no direct relationship between burning to the ancestors and obtaining any benefits whatsoever; they had separated the two concepts … The reasons respondents provided for giving paper offerings included providing for the ancestors expressed one’s devotion and respect, giving offerings reflected one’s sincerity, gave psychological comfort, and eased one’s heart. What is significant, as one lady expressed it, is that, “Offerings are necessary to show our sincerity and devoutness and the ancestors need them. We must respect them and help them to have a better life” … In short, worshippers did benefit from giving offerings, but in a spiritual way far removed from the concrete rewards of this world.
(Lee, pp. 228 – 31.)
I dunno if I agree with that last bit, especially where my family is concerned. Sure, reverence for Grandpa definitely played a part, but er, requests for good fortune, good grades (where necessary) and winning lottery numbers also got bandied about – even if only half-jokingly. The variety of offerings did not include anything so elaborate as miniature houses and cars, but money there was a-plenty, ranging from imitations of silver and gold taels, to paper notes featuring Yama, the King of Hell, to Buddhist paper charms folded into the shape of ingots (below). That day we certainly made millionaires of Grandpa, Grandma and First Aunt – though where the latter was buried no one seemed to be able to recall …
The personal touch, though, cannot be denied. The food offerings were real (below), and apparently included some of Grandpa’s favourite makan. I asked about a small dish of salt place among the plates of sticky rice 糯米饭 and buns and fruit, and was told, “Ah Kung (Grandfather) likes it salty.” Okay. So now I know where I get that from. And cousin Chris actually lit a cigarette on one of the candles and left it there, smoking away, as an offering – opium and excessive salt intake weren’t the only vices Grandpa enjoyed.
Oh, and before I forget, here’s Lee on the Chinese practice of burning offerings, the reason for which has always puzzled me (aside from the practicable fact that paper burns very well):
Burning changes the nature of the offerings, for in their original form they cannot go anywhere; burning accomplishes the vital transformation which sends the items to the ancestors, the gods, or the ghosts. as Sangren explained for the burning of incense, also an integral part of worship, “A tarnsformative process is represented, and it is fire that possesses transformative power” …This transformative process is even more pronounced for paper offerings, for example, funeral offerings. “Effigies made of coloured paper are burnt at the graveside in the hope that they will be translated into the spirit world for the assistance of the manes of the dead” … Even earlier, De Groot noted that silver money for the ancestors, “These sheets … are, according to the prevailing conviction, turned by the process of fire into real silver currency available in the world of darkness, and sent there through the smoke to the soul …” … paper offerings possess a shape and a form within the world of the living, and can be handled, measured and recorded using the same methods as are other artifacts and items of material culture …… However, these same offerings are only tentative, replicas in a state of becoming, and it is burning which transforms them into real objects as their destination in other worlds.
(Lee, p. 20.)
In other words, alchemy for the dead.
One last point: furthering the intertwining of grave and home, death and domesticity, I’m sure the parallels between the crowded, cramped nature of CCK cemetery and the almost indistinguishable likenesses of the graves themselves, and the high-density nature of public housing hereabouts and the modular, standardized look and layout of HDB blocks, have been noted. If one considers the columbaria that are increasingly taking the place of burials in land-scarce Singapore, with its individual niches divided up into ‘blocks’ not unlike apartment buildings, then the correspondences between accommodation for the dead and the living really begin to take on eerie – even erm, uncanny – resemblance. (See this blog, for one.) Similarities aside, however, housing estates for the dead are shared with wild fauna in a way that has been eradicated by the nation’s post-Independence urbanization, situated as they are in the largely uninhabited regions near the island’s Western water catchment area. The balance between Man and Nature seems in some ways to have been restored by the open, lush, unperturbed landscape of CCK cemetery and its reversal of humanity’s dominance over our animalian fellows, resulting – literally – in a heterotopic idyll, as Foucault imagined it …
The front page of The Straits Times on 22 March, and 29 March:
Both stories feature the new crop of politicians that the ruling PAP (People’s Action Party) is fielding in this year’s General Elections – rumoured to be taking place sometime in May, or even as soon as late April.
Notice the difference ?
The picture of Desmond Choo, Ong Ye Kung and Janil Puthucheary (top) has them up close, smiling, relaxed. In other words, looking for all the world like their victory is assured, a troika supremely confident of their qualifications for, and chances of, leading the country. PAP men indeed.
The one of Tin Pei Ling (bottom), however, in a rare departure, presents a view of her back instead. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone’s back on the front page of ST. Not only is her visage occluded – which is unusual for a politician in the news, especially up-and-coming ones gracing the front page – the photograph actually shows her being grilled by a bunch of reporters, their mics literally shoved into her (unseen) face. It looks less like a meet and greet, and more a press conference to announce some scandal or disaster or other.
Actually, ‘scandal’ wouldn’t be a bad way to put it. Ms. Tin, all of 27 years old, has been on the receiving end of much flak – for her youth, her perceived inexperience, her juvenile deportment and, most damning of all apparently, being married to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s private secretary.
Is The Straits Times‘ er, rearview image of her to be understood as visual commentary then ? How crafty.
Shoutouts to ?? and XY for the links.
In Act I, Scene 5, of Antony and Cleopatra, the Egyptian Queen, writhing in the throes of separation anxiety, is heard bemoaning her naughty past with Julius Caesar:
My salad days,
When I was green in judgment: cold in blood,
To say as I said then! But, come, away;
Get me ink and paper:
He shall have every day a several greeting,
Or I’ll unpeople Egypt.
These days one doesn’t have to depopulate the Nile Delta just to dispatch a missive, or for the want of some greens. However, if you live in Singapore, as I do, you might have to put up with a rather limited variety of salads, the only native – and by that I mean SE Asian – versions that come to mind being Malay rojak, Indonesian gado-gado, or Thai som tam. Or the little sad-looking bowls of lettuce with freeze-dried carrot slivers and a tomato quarter or two that you get at ‘family restaurant’ chains like Pasta Mania, served with a side of dressing-in-a-packet …
Anything else can be kinda hard to find hereabouts.
Thankfully, with a slew of salad bars having sprung up of late, the situation seems to be improving. The Salad Shop at UOB Plaza on Boat Quay mixes up a mean, green, fibre-rich machine – or any way you want yours done, really. (Props to BX, who first introduced me to the place.)
So this is how it works: everything they have available is printed on layered slips of carbonless copy paper, where you check off little boxes to indicate what you want in your bowl (or takeaway container), before you hand it in at the bar and head off to the cashier’s with a copy of your order to pay up. Ingredients are categorized into main feeds, supplementary feeds and prime feeds. The first are your basics, the second the slightly pricier stuff, and the last, meats and cold cuts. Which is pertinent for your choice of salad size: rabbit (8 SGD), which includes six main feeds; zebra (10), six mains and two supplementals; and elephant (12), which is basically the zebra + a prime.
Before that though, there are six bases to choose from: mixed lettuce; deli leaves; baby spinach; extra base; potato; and cous cous. (Pick one.) Then the main feeds, of which TSS offers an absolute plethora. You have the standards like carrots, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, beans and sweet corn, along with more unusual selections like pickled seaweed, jalapenos (?!), brown rice and almond flakes. Best of all, they also have egg white ! – which is basically a hard-boiled egg, cubed, without the yolk. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I don’t see this around much, either here or in the U.S. Major brownie points, especially from yolk-haters like myself. The supplementals are fancier: apricots, dried berries, avocado, roasted veggies etc, plus a smattering of cheeses (Swiss, blue, parmesan). The meats include chicken tikka, crayfish, prawns, smoked duck, salmon, tuna, parma ham, roast beef, honey baked ham, roast chicken and turkey.
Finally, you decide on your dressing, which, as common sense would suggest, really makes or breaks a salad. So crucial is this concluding step that I’m going to list all the options. TSS offers 23 different dressings, a goodish number of which are vinaigrettes: extra virgin olive oil; balsamic vinaigrette; red wine vinaigrette; dill vinaigrette <shudder>; sundried tomato; pesto vinaigrette; lemon vinaigrette; citrus (?); sweet Thai chilli; chilli lime; mint yoghurt; honey mustard; Oriental; Thai; Caesar; Ranch; Thousand Island; lemon juice; avocado; Blue Cheese; white wine vinaigrette; French; Italian.
TSS also does soup, but I haven’t tried those – an oversight that will be corrected the next time round.
When I was there late on a Thursday afternoon – a nutritional prelude to the ArtScience Museum, more on which in a later post – I settled on this particular er, elephantine combo: on a bed of lettuce leaves, carrots, corn, roasted pumpkin, raisins, olives and egg white, along with grilled zucchini and bacon bits (the supplementals), and parma ham, all tossed in some honey mustard. Which was good, don’t get me wrong, except for two major distractions.
1. Their fault: Iceberg lettuce does NOT work as a salad base. In NYC at least I was used to delis and supermarkets utilizing crunchy romaine stems instead, which tend to maintain their crispness better under the onslaught of the dressing. Iceberg leaves, not so much – they get soggy and wilt. Also, the anemic colour doesn’t look quite as good in a salad mix, plain and simple.
2. My fault: the Parma ham was a bad idea. The briny taste and slimy texture of parma sorta gets lost in a dressed salad, really just ending up as large, chewy tongues of cold meat in your mouth that overpowers the light, chill briskness of the veggies. If you’re the kind who enjoys some yang in all that yin though, like I am, a julienne of honey baked ham works just fine.
Otherwise a nice break from the constant greasy sinfulness of local cuisine.
The Salad Shop
80 Raffles Place, #01-20 UOB Plaza 2, Singapore 048624.