Traditionally speaking

What little tykes wear

When we gathered for the traditional Christmas family lunch yesterday, Packrat noted that he and Ondine had snagged the next-to-last French loaves at their neighbourhood bakery that morning. The shop owner had said to them, "Yesterday, this time, no more already." Then she had added, sagely, "Christmas, a lot of people eating curry."

I kind of miss having curry at Christmas. When I was a kid, for some reason the family lunch was crowned by large tubs of chicken and fish curry, which my parents would order from their Little India restaurant of choice for that year. At some point we transitioned to having turkey and ham as the centrepiece of the meal. Now that I sit and think about it, though, nothing says Christmas to me like neat slices of French loaves and copious amounts of brown curry sliding all over a disposable plastic plate.

Later, at a friend's gathering for strays-and-waifs (i.e. for friends who don't have family in Singapore to celebrate the holiday with), there was an attempt at pong pong croquet.

Houdini lurks

But I couldn't stay and play, because there was more Christmas food waiting elsewhere. And friends too, of course. We rang out Christmas with glasses of Choya (Japanese plum liqueur), which given its alliterative attributes, seems like a fine new tradition to spread around.

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Don't say Singapore got nothing to do

If you're not the Xmasy sort and/or you're wondering how to fill the hours meaningfully this holiday weekend, here are some totally cool, totally unrelated-to-Xmas things going on in Singapore that are well worth your time:

Pretext is a photography exhibition going on at 2902 Gallery (which is at Old School). As the official copy says, "Pretext brings together nine artists who explore the interplay between text and image in art." The images happen to be all sorts of things, from grungy Singapore toilets to warm domestic images to ... well, go see lah. The exhibition is on till 23 January.

(Full disclaimer: two of the nine artists happen to be my friends: the delightfully talented Ho Hui May and Jeff Chouw.)

Nature Borne is a sculpture exhibition going on at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, also till 27 December. There are over 25 artworks by ten artists --- five Korean and five Singaporean --- exploring "the interplay between man and nature". I haven't seen this yet, but I plan to make a little ramble tomorrow.

Finally, Burma VJ is an excellent documentary about some of Myanmar/Burma's freelance journalists (by which we mean individuals armed with small videocameras, internet links and the courage to file news stories about their country that its ruling regime would throw them into harsh labour camps for) and their eyewitness account of the 2007 protests by the country's monks. The documentary is straightforward, powerful and ... Argh, words fail me, just watch the trailer.

The film came out last year and I saw it at a special screening organised by MARUAH last month. Now it's got a really short run at the Picturehouse till 27 December. More information is available at the Facebook page for Singapore screenings.



Cultural cognizance

I realise this is going to make some sound damn kentang (Westernised), but several times this week I've had to swot up on my Singlish/Asian street cred. To wit:

Leceh (troublesome)
I've been mispelling leceh (troublesome) as leh cheh (see for instance here and here). This has been going on for as long as --- well, ever since I started typing these words.

冬至 (dongzhi, winter solstice)
I did not know anything about the traditional Chinese celebration of 冬至 until I saw Adri's tweet yesterday:
Guy next door said to the only Chinese girl in the group, "don't you know it's a big Chinese holiday today?" (No.) "You from Singapore?"
Now I'm chagrined to find out I've been missing out on a lifetime's worth of annual tangyuan (glutinous rice ball) consumption. Gah!

Potong (cut) vs. curi (steal)
Yesterday I wanted to use the Malay word for 'steal' in an IM conversation. For some reason all my brain would spit out was potong and even with my miserable knowledge of that language, I knew that potong was not exactly the word I wanted. (For curious readers, a little Googling threw up this recent article from The Edge Malaysia, "What is life without 'potong'?")

Anyway I had to resort to Dicts.info's online Malay dictionary, which clued me in to curi --- and the moment I saw the word on my screen, I could hear my mother's voice saying "Sometimes people curi-curi the thing ..." I knew the word, it just wasn't there when I needed it.

All right, with all this talk of cross-cultural communication, it's fitting that I leave you with this rendition of Jingle Bell [sic], which I just received from an Indiaphile friend (not Adri, this time):

Merry Xmas, everyone!

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To be a good guest

I'm not sure when it is that I developed the habit of not showing up empty-handed when I visit someone or show up at their dinner/party, but earlier this evening I was picking up some groceries and suddenly it dawned on me that I'd better stock up on wine, so that I can always grab something from the fridge when I'm on my way out to any number of social engagements that are coming up this Xmas weekend.

My mother is not the most custom-bound person, so this is not an upbringing thing. She's of the opinion that with close family and friends, you don't have to be so 客气 (scrupulously polite, to the point of standing on ceremony). Me --- maybe it's the fact that I'm not a good cook who can contribute anything to the dinner/party table. I feel a little shy if I show up to eat without proffering also at least some simple libations.

Last week, a friend and I were making a call on some older friends whom we don't know that well, and we fretted in Cold Storage about what to bring along. Eventually, we decided on fresh lilies and some chocolates. As it turns out, we lucked out on the latter and happened to select the very brand of chocolates that was the host's husband's favourite.

For this weekend's festivities, everyone is summarily getting wine, except for the party where I've volunteered to bring some food (from the delightful Garden Slug).

Speaking of parties, it's time for that immortal quote from Oz in season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Oz: We should figure out what kinda deal this is. I mean, is it a gathering, a shindig or a hootenanny?
Cordelia: What's the difference?
Oz: Well, a gathering is brie, mellow song stylings; shindig, dip, less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage; and hootenanny, well, it's chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.
--- "Dead Man's Party"
I don't think there are any hootenannies awaiting me this week, but there most certainly will be gatherings (though probably sans brie) and perhaps if I'm lucky even a shindig or two.

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Shifting technologies

After one week of iPhone use, I can safely say that I can, indeed, spend less time at my laptop. It's become that much more convenient to scroll through email, Facebook and and RSS feeds while lying in bed or on the couch, the only downside being that the accelerometer tends to misinterpret the angle at which I'm holding the phone and flips the display to landscape mode when I don't want it to.

"Has it changed your life?" friends keep asking me archly. In small ways, I think so. I like knowing how long I'll have to wait for the bus, or having foursquare tell me where some of my friends are hanging out, or being able to pull a phone number from an email because I forgot to scribble it down (old school!) or save it on my phone before going out for the day. Not that I couldn't do any of this on my previous phones, which were also 3G and wifi-enabled, but the iPhone just makes it that much easier.

It also happened this week that I had to send my MacBook into the shop to fix a little something. And then it turned out that the old iBook that's my backup wasn't quite in working order as well. So now I'm using ampulets' spare iBook (thank you, guys!), which is working great. But ...


But the thing is, once you get used to a certain level of personalisation with technology, anything that isn't set up exactly how you want it to be (down to specific Firefox Add-ons or the directory where files are automatically saved) just feels like it's not working right, even though the device is, in fact, working perfectly fine. I said to a friend a few months ago that if I ever took on a full-time job again, it'd be a deal-breaker if the employer had some kind of no-Facebook, no-IMing or no-Gmail rule, or wouldn't let me tweak certain settings for web browsing and other commonly used applications. Because how would I get any work done effectively if I couldn't use the tools I needed? It's as daft as if an employer curmudgeonly insisted that all employees couldn't have a phone at their desk.


So the iPhone's all personalised and I ought to have my MacBook back in a few days' time. Meanwhile I'm reluctant to change any settings on ampulets' iBook since it's not, you know, mine.

Although, um, I did upgrade Firefox and Adium and add the Tab Mix Plus Add-on.



Get your T-shirts here!

post-museum x ampulets tee post-museum x ampulets tee

My dear friends ampulets (who designed, among other fun projects, the spiffy email advertisement for our book events a couple of months ago) have developed two very nifty T-shirt designs for Singapore indie art space Post-Museum. It's a fund-raising effort for Post-Museum, so both designs are inspired by its location and raison d'être.

If you're looking for something with a little zip and zing for that T-shirt lover and/or Singapore aficionado in your life, why not get a T-shirt (or two) for them? "2 is better than 1" (above right) is $30, "Lost Without You" (above left) is available in a limited edition of 100 and costs $35. Order both T-shirts and you get the pair for a neat $60.

More ordering information available at ampulets' website or the Post-Museum Facebook Event page. Post-Museum is a completely independent cultural and social enterprise that provides not only residencies and exhibition space for artists, but also a weekly soup kitchen for needy residents of the area. Get some T-shirts and you'll be helping them to do even more in 2010!



Space for thought

Friday night

The thing about putting together a collection like this, is that some days you find yourself having meeting after meeting, and while they are good meetings in and of themselves, and quite enjoyable in the moment, afterwards you are left feeling like your brain has left the building and why isn't there a little capsule hotel where you can crawl in and nap for an hour so.

Lucky for us, Cheng Tju came to the rescue with the suggestion of The Black Sheep Cafe, and it was very pleasant to clink glasses in an unexpected little country-style cafe on the periphery of Little India.

Speaking of Little India, the exhibition Migrant Tales has just opened at the Migrant Voices space at 65 Kerbau Road (map). It draws from the oral history archive that Migrant Voices is building up, of migrant workers in Singapore. The exhibition is evocative and provocative, and the short film Confluence of Lands is well worth the 20 minutes it asks for. Go and see!

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Don't ask me why it took six hours

Waiting for my iPhone
Taken by G-man

Things I did while waiting for my iPhone:
  • Stood in line for two hours
  • Text-messaged people who might be sympathetic to my plight
  • Text-messaged iPhone-expert friends for advice on which phone/data plan and which capacity iPhone to get
  • Updated Facebook and foursquare
  • Wandered around 313@Somerset with sangsara and determined that there was no good reason for us to return
  • Bought sangsara teh (tea) and kaya toast, in exchange for sitting with me to while away an hour
  • Pondered Xmas gifts for friends in Muji
  • Pottered around Guardian Pharmacy for toiletries
  • Had dinner
  • Finished reading Farish A. Noor's The Other Malaysia
I could tinker with the new phone all night, but now I'm going to bed.

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New book project

The two questions I've been fielding the most lately are:

1. "How are the sales of your book?"
2. "What are you doing next?"

The answer to the first question is that it's doing all right and there seems to be a pretty positive response so far --- though no author rests easy till the book's sold out, so if you were contemplating some kind of Singapore-themed Christmas gift for your friends, may I be so bold as to suggest that our book would be an excellent choice.

As for the second question, I've now got a partial answer: putting together a book of essays on women, gender and sexuality in Singapore and Malaysia. Our call for papers (reproduced below or available on H-Net) was sent out last week. Yes, it'll be a very different kind of book from Singapore: A Biography and with good reason. We're long overdue for a volume like this in our part of the world.

If you or anyone you know might be interested in this book project, read on. Abstracts are due by 31 January!

CFP: Troublesome Women in Asia: The Politics of Gender in Singapore and Malaysia

Since they became independent nations during the period of post-war decolonization, Singapore and Malaysia have made impressive leaps in economic development, becoming the envy of both developed and less developed countries. With economic success has come rapid modernization and urbanization, and today Malaysia and Singapore are two of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries in Southeast Asia. At the same time, these two countries are characterized by stable political regimes which often have been criticised as authoritarian, even draconian. Both countries perennially draw concern from international organizations such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, and some of their economic and cultural policies have been singled out as being discriminatory against particular ethnic or social groups.

While interest in Singapore and Malaysia is strong in the fields of international politics, economics and comparative development, less attention has been paid to the ways in which women, and the concepts of gender and sexuality, have been affected and transformed by this accelerated degree of development. This volume intends to bring ‘the woman question’ to the construction of Southeast Asian modernity, creating a text that will be a useful interdisciplinary reader in understanding the role of gender and sexuality in this region. How have women from Malaysia and Singapore adjusted to the fast pace of economic development within both countries? How do women in these two Asian countries walk a balance between tradition and modernity? How have different groups of women – influenced by class, ethnicity, religion or the urban environment – contributed to the changing role of marriage, the family and sexuality, as well as to male-dominated domains such as politics and business? And how have matters of sexuality been affected by how gender is constructed in these countries?

The volume aims to provide a broad representation of how women and gender have been described and problematized by scholars so far, as well as to present contemporary new insights on the subject by both emerging and established voices. We invite contributors from all areas in the humanities and social sciences addressing research on women and gender in Singapore and Malaysia. We are interested in, among other issues, the following topics:

1) Gender theory
2) Political change
3) Representation and culture
4) Modernization
5) Globalization
6) Sexuality

Previously published papers will be considered, provided the author(s) are granted license from the publisher.

Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be sent to the editors, Adeline Koh and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow ([email protected]), by January 31, 2010 for advice on whether a full paper is required for the reviewing process. Full contributions of 4000-6000 words will then be required. Longer papers will be considered on an individual basis. Please send all completed submissions by June 30, 2010.

About the authors

Adeline Koh is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Singapore, and will be Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Studies at Richard Stockton College in 2010. She has published an edited volume on third cinema, and is currently working on a book on postcolonial women’s literature and political theory. Her research interests are in comparative feminisms in Africa and Asia and in new media and globalization.

Yu-Mei Balasingamchow is a writer and independent scholar based in Singapore. She has co-authored with Mark Ravinder Frost Singapore: A Biography (2009) an accessible yet rigorous history of Singapore spanning seven centuries, as well as worked extensively on research projects with the National Museum of Singapore. Her current interests are in post-war women’s history in Singapore and the relationship between the internet and civic participation.

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Be kind, Rewind

It's an odd thing to have an acquaintance come out to you as you're on your way out of a jam-packed inch-sideways-through-the-crowd gay bar --- not odd as in "I don't need to know", but odd as in I guess him seeing me in a gay bar made him think, ah, she's hanging out here, she must be okay to come out to, and so he did, half-shouting it so that I could hear him above the music and crowd noise.

Of course, it's even odder to have another friend introduce me to his gay friends at that same bar, only to follow up every introduction with an emphatic, "But she's not a lesbian." He said it's so that they know to introduce their eligible straight friends to me. I said it made me feel like I should have a disclaimer plastered to my forehead.

Not-odd was stumbling across another acquaintance's birthday party at the same bar. I didn't clink any champagne, but I gave him a hug and it was very nice to see him surrounded by the people he loves and who love him dearly.

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