Monday, November 4, 2013

The Singapore Series: SINGAPORE WRITERS FESTIVAL 2013



SWF Festival Pass.

Who said Singapore is boring? There are plenty happening in this tiny city-state at any given time. Especially during the weekends. From 1st November to 10th November, book lovers and aspiring writers will be heading to City Hall to congregate at the hallowed tents erected on the lawn of SMU (Singapore Management University) to pay homage to writing legends local and abroad. Alright, not legends per se, but these writers are remarkable in their own rights. I will give you a low down on the happenings of the festival. As there is only one of me and so many events (one can only go to so many events), I will not be able to cover EVERYTHING. With great regrets. I would have loved to attend a lot more, but some events happen at the same time and I chose those that would be of interest to me (duh!). I am not going to summarise the events because this is not some meeting of minutes where you get a blow-by-blow account of what is happening. Instead, I will share my experiences, takeaways and some thoughts on each event.

Note: I have to first apologize for the terrible pictures. I am not one to sit in front or near the front.


2nd November 2013

Spicy Tales and Sweet Endings
2:30 – 3:30pm
Binary Pavilion, SMU Campus Green


L-R: Audra Ang, Aziza Ali, Sharon Wee, Sylvia Tan (moderator).

This one is interesting for an obvious reason, food. Yes, all Singaporeans loudly proclaim their love for food and their fiercely hold onto their claim as a nation of foodies (most Singaporeans anyway), and most of everyone in SEA have come to equate Singaporeans as food lovers. The three authors featured in this panel are; Audra Ang, who wrote To the People, Food is Heaven (2012); Aziza Ali author of Sambal Days, Kampong Cuisine; and Sharon Wee, with her background as a Perankan, who published Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen: Singapore Recipes from My Mother. Sylvia Tan, a published cookbook author and fellow Peranakan, moderates the discussion.

It was an interesting session where the authors (especially Aziza and Sharon) bantered back and forth about their experiences slogging in the kitchen and learning the tricks of the trade from their mothers. Both of them share a love for food, and love sharing that love with others. I learn that the Peranakan food culture is closely linked to that of the Malays. Their dishes are almost similar, and both Sharon and Aziza are familiar with each other’s cuisine. What was markedly different was Audra’s book, which is not a recipe book or an anecdote about slogging in the kitchen, but a collection of essays exploring the food culture in China, which corresponds to her day job as a journalist.

Sylvia asked each of them to read an excerpt from their books and what made an impression on me was Audra’s excerpt. It was from her last essay, which documents the catastrophic 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Audra has the exceptional insight to see that food heals and of associating the survivors’ recovery to what they were cooking or eating. For example, a young boy had no appetite for weeks after the disaster, but one day he asked for KFC chicken. That was the day his mother knew that it was a sign of recovery. Her book is contains accounts of her experiences working and living in China but manages to marry food into her accounts. I am very interested in making a purchase.


Singlish in Sing Lit
4:00 – 5:00pm
Binary Pavilion, SMU Campus Green


L-R: Faith Ng, Angelia Poon (moderator), Joshua Ip.

The Binary Pavilion (which is really just a white tent) was packed full for this session. It is a small tent, so packed means a crowd of about 50 to 60. I guess it is a topic close to everyone’s heart. Especially Singaporeans and the odd one or two ang mohs (Hokkien for Caucasians, literally translates to 'red hair') who are interested to know more about the weird and wonderful language known as Singlish, or Singapore Colloquial English in proper terms (any irony here about Singlish having a proper nomenclature in English?). Anyhow, the panellists comprise of Colin Goh of Talkingcock.com and Singapore Dreaming (local movie) fame; Joshua Ip, a local poet who uses Singlish in some of his poems to convey local flavour; and Faith Ng, a local playwright who employs Singlish in her dialogues to keep things real. Angelia Poon moderates the session.

I must say that I enjoyed this session very much. Velli velli much ah. I think I speak for those that attended too.

Colin Goh.

What caught me by surprise was that I actually liked Joshua Ip’s poems a lot. A lot a lot. Although I am an English literature student, I never enjoyed poetry because they are up there and I am down here. They are very cheem, if you know what I mean (‘cheem’ is a Hokkien term for profound, deep or intellectual as explained in Talkingcock.com). Therefore, I never really enjoyed poems and am much too lazy to decipher and tease out all the deep and profound insinuations and meanings. I will probably start to appreciate poems when I have all the time in the world. Which is never I suppose. However, Singlish in poems? Now that I can read, and understand, and be interested in. Joshua weds Singlish and sonnets very well. I mean really very well. They are humorous, meaningful, surprisingly insightful, and sophisticated. You may very well look down and sniff at Singlish in poems, but his poems reeks of finesse in English and Singlish. Not every poem are written in Singlish, but even his English poems tend to have references to local lingo. I wanted to buy his poetry collection, Sonnets from the Singlish (2012), at the Festival bookstore, but they are out of stock. It's all sold out, everywhere! I damn sad sia. But they are reprinting it so I will get it from Books Actually. And his second collection too, Making Love with Scrabble Tiles.

During the discussion, Joshua said that Singlish is exclusive. True. Singlish is only understood by Singaporeans and people who have lived in Singapore for a long time, which makes it something that is exclusive to us. However, in its exclusivity, Singlish excludes outsiders, those who scratch their heads, slack jawed and frowning at our use of lahs, lors, lampa. Funnily, Joshua admits that he found the Hokkien phrase “Lampa pa lan” very melodic and poetic. *cue laughter*

He is an arresting figure, very fascinating and witty.


Asian Women Write Back!
5:30 – 6:30pm
The Salon at National Museum Singapore

L-R: Cheong Suk Wai (moderator), Lakshmi Narayan, Ovidia Yu, Ameena Hussein.

This session features Asian women writers Ameena Hussein from Sri Lanka; Lakshmi Narayan from India; and Ovidia Yu, local author. Straits Time’s journalist Cheong Suk Wai moderates this session. The women writers all have one thing in common; they write books about strong women who does not fit the ‘mould’, so to speak. Another thing that they have in common, based on my personal observation and not at all highlighted in the session; all of them sport short hair. Stylishly short hair. Makes me proud of my short crop. I know, it is pathetic of me to associate myself with these remarkable female writers by way of HAIR. On a serious note, one day I will do some sort of research between women with long hair and women with short hair. There is something to be said if all these empowered female writers have the same hair length. I do not think it is coincidence.

Anyhow, I digress. I really like Ameena Hussein. I have not heard of her or read her books, it goes for the other two writers as well (SHAME ON ME!), but she has a feisty never-back-down attitude that comes across during the discussion. However, my takeaway came from the less feisty and much calmer Lakshmi Narayan, who said that women have to stop victimising themselves. We have to stop with the victim mindset and female writers should stop portraying women as victims. It is a wakeup call for me. I never saw it that way and I do agree with her. We are only victims of society if we allow ourselves to be. Another insightful point that Lakshmi made was that women should stop trying to be SUPER, especially in this age when women are trying to prove themselves equal to men (all that empowerment!). Because constantly trying to be SUPER, i.e. SUPERwoman, SUPER mom, SUPER worker, SUPER wife, tires and drains us. It is pointless and useless trying to be SUPER. Lakshmi suggested to just live.



This is all I attended on my first day. More coming up!

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