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ive been receiving quite a lot of flak over the lack of activity on my blog so here is a short (but relatively uncreative) entry to update a little as well as to placate my ‘tough customers’. 

so what has happened to me actually?  why the radio silence?  well, things have been a little rough in the recent two months both professionally and personally so ive been keeping to myself quite a bit.  nothing life-threatening but serious enough to keep me occupied and not want to speak up so much.  important thing is im alive, have enough to eat, enough to spend and a roof over my head, so it’s always crucial to keep the bumps of life in perspective, don’t you think so? 

a fren working alone overseas once told me that what cant kill you can only make you stronger.  i personally think that if one’s spirit ‘dies’, he is only a living shell.  it’s so important to always stay positive, keep communicating and also to hold on to the support of people who care so that one’s mental, emotional and spiritual self will continue to thrive.  so yes, all you avid readers and commentators here are treasured because you bring life to what are mere words on a screen.  keep at it! 

anyway, it will be a couple of months more before i take another 2-3 week holiday back home.  time really flies – without a doubt.  its getting colder here already but winter is a welcome relief after the tough and hot summer months that i had to endure here.  the air is still bad though – apparently the locals here also practise the burning of vegetation to clear the land ala the Indons so there’s a burning smell wafting in and out of my apartment day and night.  nothing like the smell of home eh?

looking forward to the year-end festivities indeed (despite a very busy work schedule in the lead-up to December).  last year was quite a fiasco spending Christmas here.  no atmosphere, no Christmassy lights, no Christmassy food and to make matters worse, no holiday either.  i had to keep my internet radio tuned to Christmas carols throughout December to create a semblance of the Christmas spirit! 

on another note, ive been thinking also a little about money recently.  i mean of course we need it.  and if i have it, of course i will spend it.  but seriously, its way overrated, no?  most of us (though not all) seem willing to literally put work/earning money at a higher priority than our health, family lives, relationships, political freedom and precious time, and just be fixated in wanting to accumulate more and more, and keep up with the Joneses.  seems like a Ponzi scam to me …

am i the only one here who has such a bizarre thought here?  what do you think?

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For your reading pleasure.

Thought that this was a good poignant piece.  Perhaps I truly have been away for too long.  Perhaps its because I can identify with the writer.  Or maybe simply because in busy busy stressed Singapore, I have learnt to barricade my eyes, ears and heart. 

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FAMILY PORTRAITS

You may strike a thousand poses but nothing in life will mean more than the one of you in a family photo

By Ignatius Low

 

Every Sunday morning, I go back to my parents’ house in Paya Lebar for breakfast.

For me, it’s the one time each week to catch up with my family and, a few weeks ago, we were engaged in a most serious discussion.

My mum had reminded us that we were going to the photo studio later that evening to take a family photograph.

‘Better dress properly,’ she said, giving my dad a pointed look.

‘Aiyah, it’s only a photograph what,’ he started to protest.

My dad, you see, is not one to fuss about and dress for the occasion. He is the type who secretly revels in showing that he cannot be bothered.

But this was no ordinary family photograph. It would be displayed next to other similar family photographs of my entire extended family.

These photos are part of my sister’s art installation for the upcoming President’s Young Talents 2009 exhibition. She has been nominated for the national award, together with three other artists. I felt I had to step in.

‘Do you want the whole of Singapore to walk into the Singapore Art Museum, look at the picture and say: ‘Eek, that’s the artist’s dad?’ ‘

I don’t know if it was my warning or some sense of occasion that eventually kicked in, but my dad showed up for the photo shoot more smartly dressed than I had ever seen him.

He wore a trendy dark purple shirt with a silver tie. He had also combed his hair neatly and put on his best pair of spectacles. When the cameras finally started clicking, I couldn’t help but choke back tears.

It was a Yasmin Ahmad moment for me. Like many of the characters in the late Malaysian director’s commercials, we stood there just so happy to be together after all these years.

And unexpectedly so, perhaps, but still proud as ever to pose together as one family.

When I got home, it struck me that in this digital age, we take more photos than ever before. Yet we hardly ever take any of our family.

I, for example, have thousands of photos of myself with my friends and colleagues. We’ve struck all sorts of funny poses and captured memories of everything from breathtaking scenery to fancy restaurant food.

But I can clearly remember only two other occasions when my family and I went before the camera.

The last time was during my sister’s university graduation in London, and the time before that was my own university graduation.

This means that in the last 20 years, I have taken just three pictures with my family.

Does this also happen in other countries and with other cultures? A cursory look at the online photos of some of my foreign friends seems to suggest otherwise.

And, as you often see in television dramas such as Brothers And Sisters, many Western families seem to prominently display family photos in their homes as markers of the passage of time – even though their family ties may not necessarily be any stronger than ours.

I can think of two reasons why Singaporean families don’t do the same. The first has something to do with how unerringly practical we are. Many of us think we don’t have the time or the energy to be sentimental about something as mundane as our family.

The second reason has something to do with our country’s size. In most other countries, children leave home to work in the city or in another state.

They travel home only a couple of times a year for Christmas, Thanksgiving or New Year celebrations, so there is always a sense of occasion that calls for a family photo.

Whatever one’s misgivings, I’ve found that they disappear when you actually look at family photos and see how deeply poignant they can be.

I loved the photo that my family took that Sunday evening so much that I immediately put it up on Facebook for all my friends to see.

My parents look young even though they are both well into their 60s.

My mum is positively beaming in the photo and she has the aura of a woman who is genuinely happy about how her life turned out.

She worked in Tangs for many years where she picked up the finer points of selecting and selling silk and batik. In the photo, she is wearing one of the brightly coloured pieces from her own clothing label, which retails at OG.

My mum is the reason both my sister and I are in creative jobs. She’s fiery but kind-hearted in real life, and I inherited from her the daring to allow me to write a column like this, for an audience which she says will always appreciate you if you listen to what they want and speak sincerely from your heart.

My dad is smiling a lot more now that he is semi-retired and free from the worries of supporting the family. He was a para-legal in property conveyancing for most of his life.

From him, I inherited a conservatism that balances my mum’s creative spark. Because of him, I look before I leap and understand the benefits of moderation, both in work and in life.

But despite possessing what some might see as a serious, no-nonsense demeanour, my dad was also the author of some of my sweetest memories as a child – sitting with him and his guitar, singing country songs and driving in his Datsun to Queensway to eat and shop.

Finally, there is my sister Felicia, 33, who is four years younger than me but infinitely more mature.

We may possess the same sort of talents in life, but she has a singularity of purpose and a pureness of heart that takes her much further in life than I can ever hope to go. I am into public service but she is into social service. I aspire to be arty but she aspires to be an artist.

Because of this, she has broken new ground in many ways throughout her life. She studied A-level Art on her own because Catholic Junior College did not offer it as a subject. With the help of her secondary school art teachers, she not only scored an A but won a government scholarship to do an art degree in London’s Goldsmiths College.

As an artist, she has tried to fuse art with social work – working with prisons, hospitals and underprivileged or underperforming students.

Her body of work, which will be on display at 8Q@SAM as part of the President’s Young Talents award show, is so unique its genre doesn’t even have a proper name – it’s called New Genre Public Art.

She’s been nominated for many national awards but remains one of the simplest and most unpretentious people around. And she is still the one person in my life I am most proud of knowing.

It’s a simple picture – just the four of us, no kids who herald the future, no missing members that echo the past.

But it’s one that speaks volumes to me and will continue to do so for many years to come.

ignatius@sph.com.sg

Though a bit risque and R(21) for those a little on the prude side, i thought that the following continuation of the second comic strip from my previous post is simply hilarious! 

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Copyright:“Al Khan” by Tarek Shahin

As i’ve said this somewhere before, the problem with me is that i find everything’s funny …

Egypt and by extension, Cairo, never ceases to amaze me.

For all that this place is well-known for, its reputation is also trapped by perceptions that it is a place only good for sand, camels, pyramids, religiousity and conservatism.  The reality is that if you scratch the surface, you will find a differentiated and somewhat fragmented society like any other country.  Liberals and conservatives, Muslims and Coptic Christians, the poor and rich, all co-exist together here, for better or worse.  Practices, behavioural norms, attitudes and worldview also vary from region to region within the country.  My experience here really affirm the fact that the TV is a poor teaching medium and that one has to exit the expat bubble to really feel the vibes and heartbeat of the society.

Here is a good comic strip that highlights how ‘contradictory’ a place Egypt can be.  You surely won’t find such an occurence in good ‘ol “liberal” Singapore!  [Note: the incident illustrated is a true portrayal of what happens on the street.  I should know.  I actually experienced something similar to the scenario below!] 

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Copyright:“Al Khan” by Tarek Shahin

The next comic strip depicts the very rampant (female) sexual harassment problem in the streets of Cairo (and other cities as well).  For a very religious country, this may come as a surprise.  However, sexual frustration (due to many young men’s inability to marry as wages are low and the cost of married life is inching skywards) and living by the law and not by the spirit of the law are some of the root causes of this problem.  The biggest irony is that even the ‘ninjas’ (i.e. females wearing the fully-veiled clothing known as  burkhas – see comic strip below) are being harassed!  So much for irresponsible and bigoted views that a woman’s dressing are the main cause for the uncontrollable lust of men.  

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Copyright: “Al Khan” by Tarek Shahin

As in many things in life, nothing is really black and white.  So it is always important to keep an open and enquiring mind to what is around us.

So do spend some time thinking today.  It could give you a whole lot different perspective of life so that you can live it even more meaningfully.

i have been stricken down with a very mysterious ailment since Wednesday night.  Fever, headaches, very inflamed tonsils and small reddish spots all over my body came at me without warning over the space of a few hours.  To compound matters, the spots itch like mad.  Funny thing was that my fellow colleague, who occupy the same room as me, had the exact same ailment and was diagnosed as such by the doc.  “Tonsillitis” was the official diagnosis.  What do i think?  A likely attempt on the lives of two simple, hardworking, small-time diplomats appear to be the case. 

You see, in doing some detective work, we have narrowed down the cause to one of the following:

(a) the pizza that both of us partake for lunch – while it was our usual favourite pizza joint, someone could have paid the delivery chap a couple of Egyptian pounds to look the other way while the pizza get extra “liao” (Hokkien for ingredients);

(b) the airconditioning system – its summer and knowing how aircons are at full blast in all offices, a little fungi and mold placed into our aircon ducts/pipes, plus a bit of moisture and warmth from the searing heat and voila!  self-replicating “silent assassins” that two unsuspecting chappies would inhale throughout the day;

(c) the pesticides – the pest controller came to our room a few days back to fumigate and spray God-knows-what stuff to kill the bugs, but they could have gotten the proportion “wrong” purposely, and left residues of the pesticides that had a dosage still strong enough to kill two elephants.

anyway, i survived and am on the mend … while i still look as pink as a lobster in a pot of boiling water, and am scratching everywhere even as i typed this entry, im just glad the worse is over, at least for now

im sure this episode was a warning to me.  i will have to tread carefully henceforth. 

the plot thickens …

One of the most fascinating conversations ive ever had with the ang mohs, Arabs and other ethnic groups that i meet here is when i have to share a bit more about the sunny island that i hail from.  You see, contrary to popular belief (mostly held by the MIWs), seriously not many people know the Little Red Dot.  Most of their experiences with Singapore can be categorised into:

(a) “Yes, of course i know Singapore.  It is clean and green.  What’s that?  Oh, unfortunately i couldn’t see more of your country as i was on transit at the airport”

(b) “You are from Singapore eh?  So tell me, is it true that you can’t chew gum there?”  [note: a variation of this is when im speaking to an American, in which case he would say that he recalled us caning/spanking some American kid].

(c) “You are a Singaporean?!!?  So you are a commie! Interesting…”

Anyway, the most exasperating moment is when i had to explain what is the language of Singaporeans.  You see, this is a complicated process that requires a lot of patience from both sides!  A sample dialogue goes like this:

ang moh: so you are from Singapore? wow, great [note: usually said in a fake way that you can tell] … so may i know what language does the Singaporean people speak?

me: oh, we speak English as we are a multi-ethnic society.

ang moh: oh i see, so English is your national language?

me: oh, nope.  it is Malay actually … according to the Constitution anyway.

ang moh: right.  so you can speak Malay, great.

me: erm, no.  actually i cant put a sentence in Malay beyond my national anthem.  my mother tongue is actually Chinese/Mandarin so i learnt that instead.  im a Chinese you see.  

ang moh:  ok, so since you are a Chinese, you speak Chinese all the time right?  you must be fluent in Mandarin then. 

me: erhhh, no again.  i actually use English most of the time as its the language most used at the workplace and in schools etc. 

ang moh: hmmm … ok, Malay is your national language but you don’t speak it, Chinese is your mother tongue but you aren’t exactly fluent in it, while you are good in English but you aren’t exactly a native speaker … how strange!

me: i know its confusing … but have i told you that i can speak Cantonese too, which is what the people from Hong Kong speaks?!

the dreaded summer heat is fast coming … yup, the thermometer’s been on a steady increase since i was last in cairo … sweaty armpits and perspiration will be the order of the day soon …

also, since last week, daylight savings kicked in and i am now officially GMT+3 on the time zone … wats that you say?  why should you care that i am 5 hours behind s’pore time instead of 6 hours behind a week ago?  …

oh …