When you recover from the invasion of polka dots on your smartphone—yellow-and-black, primary colours on white, pixelated stardust from some neon galaxy, arresting but soon annoying, with the never-ending shower of selfies, with Singaporean FOMOness suffocating all sensibilities—when you recover from that all, remember that Yayoi Kusama probably wanted you to embrace narcissism.
How else to explain the alleyway of convex mirrors, where you are forced to either stare down or stare at your reflection, sidestepping couples waiting patiently for a break in traffic. Or the Infinity Mirrored Room—Love Forever, into which you pop your head and see your friend’s face, and endless reflections of yourselves lit up by psychedelic lights.
And how else to explain the most popular exhibit, Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, a hanging-LED infinity mirror room, into which you walk, and immerse yourself in some glittering self-absorbed universe, trying not to think of the next person in line and the usher outside timing you, for precisely thirty seconds, with a stopwatch. (“It’s the only fair way.”)
“Up till Kusama, there were many artists from the Renaissance on, who were involved with perspective and infinity but it was all a fake because you knew, you were the viewer you were always aware that you were the master,” said Richard Castellane, a former gallerist, in a documentary on her.
With her infinity rooms, Kusama fools us in a way never done before. Does “Infinite You” prove your infinite worth or your infinite irrelevance?
The Singaporean, a species engaged in perennial status competition, is the perfect subject for her play. Over the years, we have become far more sophisticated in our social media mating dances. The garish displays of branded leather are disappearing. Today there is a new battleground: travel.
So we are treated to selfies that say nothing more than “I am here.” Of course, all this is not the preserve of the Singaporean, arguably less cultural than generational, of Xs and Ys. Still, as with most money-fuelled pursuits, Singaporeans tend to go the extra mile. (A photo of your holiday business class seat? Are you trying to show off your carbon footprint?)
No surprise, then, that Yayoi’s dots have colonised our smartphones. Yet now that the torrent has slowed, one hopes her audacious aesthetics are not the only thing we remember.
I will once again not be in Singapore for this year’s Pink Dot celebration, scheduled for 5pm, June 28th at Hong Lim Park (see here).
Aside from being our biggest civil demonstration, and looking like a rather fun party, of all the illiberal policies in Singapore, nothing offends my sensibilities more than the continued criminalisation of male homosexuals.
As I mentioned at the launch of Hard Choices (see here), I strongly believe that the presence of this law is a stain on our collective moral conscience. In the same way that future generations of humans may wonder how the world took so long to get ecological sustainability right, I am certain future generations of Singaporeans will ask how a developed, democratic, aspiring global city took so long to guarantee fundamental rights to a minority group.
Of course gay rights, just like ethnic rights, women’s rights, and every other human right, is a function of the social norms of the day. But this is the 21st century: while the rest of the developed world wonders whether or not to legalise gay marriage, some Singaporeans cling onto atavistic fears, dressed in cultural relativism, about legalising homosexuals themselves.
Though I have spoken publicly about this bigotry many times and touched on it in Floating on a Malayan Breeze, this is my first article or blogpost on the matter.
I actually didn’t think it necessary to write this—since many more enlightened souls have already spoken—but two people recently convinced me to do so. But since so much has already been written in Singapore and overseas, I will limit myself to what I believe are under-explored areas on the issue. This is not meant to be a comprehensive essay.
At the top of “6 o’clock”, a main street in Black Rock City, Nevada
The folks at UC Berkeley’s library have just kindly dug out my Geography Undergraduate Honours Thesis from 2002 and scanned it. I had somehow lost every single copy, a depressing combination of hard-drive crashes and absent-minded post-graduation packing.
It was interesting for me to reread it now, both for reminiscence sake and to ponder how my writing has changed over the years.
The Burning Man is a yearly festival in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Dessert that I have now attended thrice: in 2002 when I was walking around with a notebook interviewing people; in 2003, sans notebook, to partake in all the art, joy and partying that I had missed the year before; and in 2009 when my sister, brother-in-law, cousins and very good friend wanted to go for the very first time.
The Burning Man is very close to my heart, partly because of the great art on offer and partly because by living for a week in “the gift economy”, where money can’t buy you anything, one learns to appreciate labour and human interaction outside the mental confines of commerce. (One also learns to appreciate just how long the human body can go without a shower.)
Dear friends, unfortunately, I was not able to be at Hong Lim Park on Saturday, June 8th, to join the protest against the silly new Internet regulations in Singapore. I have just embarked on a seven-month trip across India and China, to do research for my second book. (Click here to read about my new project.) Andrew Loh, the organiser, asked me to send him … Continue reading #FreeMyInternet: My statement at Hong Lim Park
The Singapore model—why it struggles to produce knowledge workers
If we accept the argument that the average Singaporean worker will, compared to his/her paper credentials, underperform in a knowledge-based role, it is worth discussing some of the environmental and institutional reasons why.
This essay points to several factors: the nature of meritocracy in Singapore, the country’s pedagogical approach, the socio-political climate, and materialism.
One of China’s main challenges is “cultural habits that limit imagination and creativity, rewarding conformity….China will inevitably catch up to the US in GDP. But its creativity may never match America’s because its culture does not permit a free exchange and contest of ideas.”
– Lee Kuan Yew, Time, Feb 4th 2013
This essay argues that Singapore’s developmental model, while efficient at producing workers for most jobs in a manufacturing- and service-based economy, has failed to adequately prepare citizens for knowledge work. The average Singaporean worker will thus underperform in a knowledge role relative to his/her own paper credentials.
In particular, when compared to similarly-qualified workers from other developed countries, the average Singaporean is: less willing to challenge convention or question authority; more afraid to take risks/move out of comfort zone; and more likely to display a silo mentality with poor cross-collaboration skills.
This essay points to several factors that might explain these characteristics: the nature of meritocracy in Singapore, the country’s pedagogical approach, the socio-political climate, and the materialist culture.
Consequently, it is important for Singapore to enact specific reforms in order to better prepare Singaporeans for work in their own knowledge economy.
Among other things, this will boost Singapore’s overall productivity, lessen the dependence on highly-skilled foreigners and moderate resentment amongst Singaporeans against similarly-qualified foreigners who are currently being chosen over them for knowledge-based positions.
Dear friends, I appeared on CNA earlier this morning to talk about a transsexual being allowed to marry in Hong Kong (yay!), Nawaz Sharif’s election as PM of Pakistan, and Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Click here to watch. Continue reading CNA – Views on the News May 14th 2013