Sparks

Seeing/reading and thinking about other people’s work is often generative and inspiring. 

In recent weeks:

I got around to watching Bong Joon-ho’s award-winning film Parasite. Many people had told me I had to see it. The film is indeed, as everyone promised, amazing. Thanks to an invitation from Arts Equator, I had the opportunity to reflect on the film in this review. This is one of those films that stays under your skin for a while. If you haven’t already seen it, do

Illustration by Jolene Tan

One of my ongoing research projects is the study of basic needs through the Minimum Income Standards (MIS) approach. Recently, a two-part series by Channel News Asia,  and a 2018 report by the SMU Lien Centre for Social Innovation, put food insecurity in Singapore under the spotlight. It got the MIS team thinking about our findings about food–how our participants thought about and discussed a baseline, how ‘basic’ in the context of food means more than filling the stomach, but also involves needs for choice, autonomy, and social participation. We are reminded once again of the importance and urgency of figuring out, through empirical study, where to draw a baseline of standards of living below which no one should fall.

Finally, I had the good fortune to preview Cherian George’s Air-Conditioned Nation Revisited (2020). It is the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking book, Air-Conditioned Nation (2000), and this forthcoming book of essays draws from that as well as his more recent Singapore, Incomplete (2017) and a number of new essays. These are my thoughts on the forthcoming Air-Conditioned Nation Revisited

Cherian George is one of Singapore’s most astute political observers and social commentators. This collection of essays, drawing on events that traverse the last few decades, takes us through intriguing encounters and noteworthy moments in Singapore’s recent past. From political dissidents to governing elites, newspaper editors to bloggers, the presidential election to Hong Lim Park, Professor George reminds us of incidents and people too quickly forgotten or under-interpreted. Each matters because they clear up some puzzle as to how we got here. Even better, they invite us to reconsider: where is ‘here?’ Infused with Cherian’s wit, humor, audacity, and above all with his steadfast idealism and generosity, this is that rare book on politics that encourages clear-headedness and yet holds cynicism at bay. Read it, share it, read it again: this book will spark feelings, stir thoughts, create conversations, engage our muscles for debate and disagreement—all things we deserve as humans living in society.

The book ships on March 13, and you can pre-order a copy here

Doing: the work of dreaming

I participated in the M1 Peer Pleasure Youth Theatre Festival as a member of their resource panel. Here are some of my reflections:

In a theatre, it is possible to conjure up another world, other worlds. Here is perhaps where this festival is at its most dreamy and yet also where the solutions it has already enacted are the most concrete. The other worlds are most obviously witnessed in the final products – in the fantasy scenes performed on stage, in the transformation of single actors into multiple characters by costume and lighting, in the interplay between real-life words and imagined sentences.

But what I am thinking of here goes back to process: in a city in a hurry, these naughty people insisted on taking up time, filling up hours, days, months—with meetings, workshops, conversations, movement, community walks, devising, rehearsing. In a culture uncomfortable with difference, these renegades held steady with diversity and disagreement – creating safe circles, playing games to diffuse tension, talking through uncomfortable feelings in small groups, giving each other feedback, relentlessly insisting on respect but also on honesty. In a society fixated on performance as measured by narrow criteria and static outcomes, the festival has focused on scaffolding – for continuous thinking, learning, interacting, challenging, being; the process is as important as the outcome. Radical, yet concrete. Sometimes when you want a different world, a better world, you have to begin occupying your current one as if you’re already living the dream.

You can read the full piece here.